Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!

Hiking the West Highland Way in 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos (& Hiking Advice)

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. When some friends from Berlin announced they would finally come to visit me, the decision was easy – we would hike at least part of the West Highland Way, followed by a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train (aka Harry Potter train) and a day in Glasgow. This photo essay will make you want to literally follow our footsteps in no time!

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When to hike the West Highland Way

The best time for hiking West Highland Way is spring and early summer. In April the trail is not as busy as in summer yet, baby lambs can be spotted everywhere along the trail for added cuteness, and the dreaded Scottish midges are yet to emerge. Waiting until May can have the benefit of drier weather (May is after all the driest month to visit Scotland), but the traffic on the trail is picking up and early swarms of midges frequent the trail (particularly on drizzly days and around dusk).

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Amazing view from the top of Devil’s Staircase (which is not as bad as its name suggests).

Most of the northern half of the West Highland Way leads through a tree-less landscape. Be prepared for mercilessly sunny days as well as horrendous rainy days – there is often no shelter from the rain or sun whatsoever.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
No other hikers in sight – only Ben Nevis.

Despite May being quite a busy month for hiking the West Highland Way, fellow hikers quickly disappear behind the next corner or over a hill. The windy nature of the trail constantly gives you the illusion of being alone on the trail.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
It’s always sunny in Scotland.

Solo hiking the West Highland Way

Would I hike the West Highland Way by myself? I asked myself this question every day, particularly because I want to pursue more solo long-distance hiking. The short answer is YES. The longer answer is that on the first day I might have been a bit nervous – it was drizzling and humid, guys hiking in groups passed by us and disappeared along the forest trail, the thought of carrying everything by myself, rather than splitting the load with my friends made my backpack seem even heavier. BUT in the end, I knew that those feelings of uncertainty were only an effect of being on a long-distance hike for the first time ever.

I was happy to be able to share every moment of the trail with my friends, but I absolutely would encourage any woman to hike this trail on her own. There is regular phone reception, no necessity to wild camp, there are plenty of other solo hikers on the trail and there are luggage transport services providing cheap transfer of your bag so you only have to carry a day bag.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Descending to Kinlochleven.

Speaking of luggage transport services – we decided against carrying everything ourselves, and had two bags filled with spare clothes and food transported from hostel to hostel by Walkabout Scotland. Walkabout Scotland is a company providing walking holidays in Scotland, among which you can find the West Highland Way. While we drafted our itinerary and booked all accommodation ourselves, going through an experienced company like Walkabout Scotland can save you a lot of hassle navigating the many options along the way.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Our hiking squad.

Hiking with friends has of course the advantage of having someone to talk to when the day on the trail gets hard or too long to bear. We usually had our most intellectual debates walking down, kind of to forget about the pain walking downhill caused our knees…

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
In lack of a belt, the hip flask was tied to my backpack.

What to pack for the West Highland Way

My no. 1 advice for staying warm and keeping up the spirits (pun intended): a hip flask filled with single malt whisky.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
3 essentials: hiking boots, hip flask and walking sticks.

The most important piece of equipment to bring when hiking the West Highland Way is of course a good pair of hiking boots. I recently replaced my trustworthy, but worn-out hiking boots with a brand new pair of Zamberlan Ultra Lite boots. Hiking with new boots comes with a great risk of blisters and worse, but the Zamberlan boots surprised me with a perfect fit, even though I only managed to take them out for two little walks prior to hiking the West Highland Way. The wrong footwear can cause an early end to any hiking adventure, so make sure you have suitable and worn-in footwear!

 

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Not the most ideal hiking backpack – but certainly photogenic!

Just as crucial is a good backpack with hip belts (I use the Osprey Tempest 30 daypack*). My friend had brought her regular daypack from home, and while it’s more stylish on photos, her shoulders were considerably sorer due to the distribution of weight on her back. Sometimes practicality counts more than style…

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Where there is water, there are midges…

As tiny as it is, the dreaded Scottish midge can ruin your hiking holiday. In advance of the hike I purchased the specifically developed midge repellent Smidge* and thought it worked extremely well. If you decide to camp, consider investing in a midge net* to protect your face (mind that a mosquito net does not work for midges).

Scottish blogger Nicola gives great advice on how to survive the Scottish midge.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Burgers are easily “veganised”!

Places to eat: Vegan food on the West Highland Way

Hiking the West Highland Way as a vegan is absolutely doable. I generally prepared my breakfast (musli with coconut milk) and packed my own lunches – many hostels offer packed lunches for walkers, but vegan options are a rarity.

We were particularly surprised to stumble across an adorable artisan cafe, Country Mumkins, on our way from Crianlarich to Tyndrum, which was located a few minutes off the trail in an old church. Remote as it seemed, they even fixed up a soy latte for me – the last I should have until reaching Costa in Fort William…

Dinner, however, was surprisingly easy to sort as most pubs we ate in along the way (Crianlarich, Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe) had a vegan(-isable) option available. Surprisingly, Fort William was the hardest town to navigate, but even there the staff at The Grog & Gruel was very accommodating and helped me choose create a vegan meal.

There are no shops between Tyndrum and Kinlochleven, although there is a tiny shop with snacks and fruit at the West Highland Sleeper bunkhouse in Bridge of Orchy, and you could do a detour to the shop in Glencoe village if necessary.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Traveling Scotland as a Vegan

 

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
So nice to return to the beautiful Glencoe Independent Hostel – fell in love with it on my first trip to the Highlands.

Where to stay on the West Highland Way

We stayed in hostels all the way, which is cheaper than B&Bs and more comfortable than camping. However, it is advisable to book several months in advance, especially if you’re hiking the West Highland Way from May onwards.

For our first night, we chose the SYHA Hostel in Crianlarich. It is right next to the train station and in walking distance to nearby pubs serving food. However, there are also self-catering facilities! We had a room with three single beds, out own sink and shared bathrooms just down the corridor. As per usual with hostels of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, the hostel was clean, all facilities in great condition and the staff really helpful.

Book at SYHA Hostel in Crianlarich here!

 

Our next stop was the West Highland Way Sleeper bunkhouse in Bridge of Orchy, which could do with an upgrade (and cleaner showers). Still the uniqueness of sleeping in the middle of an operating train station won me over. It is also the only budget accommodation in Bridge of Orchy, apart from camping.

I was happy to return to the Glencoe Independent Hostel in Glencoe for our next night. The village is slightly off the trail, but since the bunkhouse at the Kingshouse Hotel is currently undergoing renovation (due to re-open in 2019), there is no other option than making your way to Glencoe. I spent a cosy October night at the hostel a few years ago and was not disappointed this time around. We stayed in a 4-bed dorm with shared bathroom and self-catering facilities.

Book at Glencoe Independent Hostel here!

 

Our favourite hostel along the way was definitely Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven. It is located in beautiful surroundings and has great self-catering facilities while also being nearby the restaurants in town. Nearby, you can even go for a refreshing dip in the icy cold river behind the hostel!

Book at Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven here!

 

In Fort William we stayed at Muthu Hotel (previously, West End Hotel), a traditional highland hotel that could do with a bit of modernisation and more generous vegan breakfast options. The hotel’s location & views however, as well as the exceptionally helpful reception staff easily make up for that. We had a triple room with a bathtub – there is not more you could ask for after a long-distance hike!

Book at Muthu hotel in Fort William here!

 

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Clouds hanging low on our first day of hiking.

What’s the best guidebook and map?

Throughout the hike, we relied on the West Highland Way guidebook by Charlie Loram as well as  a West Highland Way map by Harvey. The map was great to get an overview of each day’s distance and terrain – we frequently checked it to get an idea of where we are and how long we had to go.

The book provides detailed descriptions of the trail and lots of practical advice – it’s a great resource when preparing for your trip. The only thing I would add is that the book’s estimated walking times (even with the suggested 20-30% added on for breaks) must have been calculated for very fast walkers. It usually took us longer than suggested in the book, even though we didn’t take extensive breaks.

If you can, I would recommend bringing both, a guidebook and a map.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Crossing the railway between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy.

How fit do you have to be for the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is a physically and mentally challenging walk. That said though, you neither need particular hiking experience or navigational skills, nor expansive physical preparation.

It is a great long-distance hike for enthusiastic beginners like myself and comes with perks such as B&Bs and pubs along the way, affordable luggage services, and plenty of drop in/drop out points accessible by train and bus.

So, yes – you can do it!

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
The Bridge of Orchy train station, where the station house has been turned into a bunkhouse.

Budget for hiking the West Highland Way

Depending on your budget, you can go all out or do the hike on a shoe string budget. We paid between £14 and £30 per night per person in the hostels which all included bedding. In pubs we spent around £15 per meal per person including an alcoholic beverage. Luggage service costs about £45 for the whole Way.

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
The West Highland Way is well signposted which makes it easy to follow even for inexperienced hikers.
Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Rhododendron brightens up much of the West Highland Way.
Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
View over Loch Tulla.
Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Looking back towards Kinlochleven.
Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Welcome to Scotland!
Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Loch Tulla
Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Crossing the finish line in Fort William.

I hope my photos, stories and advice have convinced you that hiking the West Highland Way is worth the trek (another pun?!?). Most visitors cover the distance from Glasgow to Fort William in something like two hours by car, zooming by some of the most beautiful landscapes Scotland has to offer. Hiking the West Highland Way is a unique way to see the country and makes for memories that will last a lifetime!

Hiking the West Highland Way had been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Scotland. This photo essay is a one-stop source for inspiration and advice!
Pin this for later!

Disclaimer: We were provided free luggage transfer by Walkabout Scotland and free accommodation in Fort William by Visit Scotland. All opinions are my own.

44 comments on “Hiking the West Highland Way in 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos (& Hiking Advice)

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  2. Great article! We were walking WHW last summer and it was amazing. You can read our travel story here:

    https://magicaltravelling.com/misty-scotland-430

  3. Courtney

    Hi Kathi! Thanks for writing such a helpful post on the WHW. I’m doing it later this month and am considering a new day pack – is your Osprey waterproof? With the weather we’ve been having I’m not anticipating a terribly dry walk!

    • Hi Courtney, I would say the backpack is pretty water-resistant, but I would definitely get a rain cover for it, just in case! It is made from fabric, so if it’s pouring, it will leak through. These rain covers aren’t expensive and don’t take up much space or weigh loads. It’s worth buying! Have a great trek!

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  10. Bruce Rossi

    Love the site, the wife and I hiked WHW in 2016, May time frame late enough for the midge hatch! Only bummer of the trip. Your photos bring back so many memories, lunch at the bridge on Rannoch Moor!!!! Thanks.

    • It was my favourite lunch spot – so serene! Too bad about the midges though – they can really ruin an evening… We were so lucky, and not camping helped too!

  11. Heather Sythe

    Anyone hiking in the Highlands this summer, grab a few bottles of the midge lotion. Best stuff on the market and not too pricey either.

    Second summer up there and the midge never bothered us, buy from Mary Jean (www.maryjean.co.uk) highly recomended.

    • Yes, that’s absolutely crucial to bring during the summer! I use Smidge, which is a great repellant too!

  12. Hi Kathi
    Vielen Dank dass du deine Geschichte und die tollen Bilder mit uns teillst.
    Es zog mich richtig hin. Ich will jetzt los…
    Ich werde alleine losziehen habe das vor 10j. Auf dem Jakobsweg auch gemacht. War ne suuuper tolle Erfahrung.
    Ich hätte nur noch ne Frage. Gibt es genügen übernachtungs möglichkeiten hotels, herbergen, bed and breakfast…
    Ich möchte nicht zelt und schlafsack… mit schlepen.
    Ja und ich möchte wenn alles klappt jetzt ende Juli losziehen.
    Vielleicht siehst du das ja und kannst mir noch nen tipp geben.
    Alles gute dir
    Liebe grüsse
    Katrin

    • Hi Katrin, super – freut mich, dass ich dich inspirieren konnte! Übernachtungsmöglichkeiten gibt massenhaft – in manchen Orten sehr viele, in anderen nur ein paar – aber du findest alle entweder in dem verlinkten Reiseführer, den ich echt nur empfehlen kann, oder auf dieser Webseite (die leider nicht sonderlich user-friendly ist): http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk/walkingtheway.asp? Ich würde so schnell wie möglich zu buchen beginnen, weil die Unterkünfte oft lange im Vorhinein ausgebucht sind! Ich hoffe, es klappt trotzdem!! 🙂

  13. You know, I don’t like walking much less hiking, but you’re making me want to hike part of the West Highland Way! A friend of mine hiked the whole thing for her 30th birthday and she said it was amazing but tiring of course haha the train between Crianlarich and Forth William is the best bit, so I can only imagine hiking it must be amazing!

    • It was the best experience I’ve had in the highlands so far. I think the views beat any feeling of dislike you might have for hiking 😀

  14. What an awesome guide! This is the first I’ve heard of this hike but I can definitely see myself doing it if/when I travel to Scotland (still high on my bucket list!)

    • Oh you should – it’s so beginner- and traveler-friendly, because all you really need is a pair of hiking boots, waterproofs and a daypack; and most travelers in Scotland will have all of this already 😀

  15. Well I’m sold! Now to convince Phil to come with me… I’ve been wanting to do this for ages too but never looked at the practicalities. I had no idea you could stay in hostels and that there are PUBS. I think I’ll emphasize the pubs bit haha.

    • Haha I won’t ever get Thomas to do that with me – despite the pubs… But yeah, you can do it pretty much as luxuriously as you want (also cute B&Bs and hotels on the way); you only have to walk yourself, everything else can more or less be taken care of! It’s a lot of fun to do with a group of friends, in case Phil can’t be convinced 🙂

  16. This sounds like an epic walking holiday and with beautiful scenery along the way. I love your photo of that cute lamb! Never knew that midges were such a pain in Scotland, we were clearly lucky as we visited in May.

    • Lucky you – the midges are terrible in the Highlands and on the islands! Lamb season is my favourite time of the year to hike – even though it’s sad to think about what will probably happen to them… But for the time being, they’re just too adorable not to enjoy!

  17. Your Photos are making my longing for Scottish adventures real!!! I’m not big on hiking for days., but there is definitely something beautiful about being completely immersed in nature with great friends or just your own will and thoughts! Inspiring!

    • The good thing about the West Highland Way is that you can even just do day sections of it, if you’re not into long-distance hiking – so you still get all the beauty 🙂 Of course there are also lots of other shorter walks for a taster – walkhighlands.co.uk is a great resource for that! Hope you get to visit one day!

  18. Such a comprehensive and useful guide! I’m always toying with the idea of doing a proper long-distance hike but I think I still need to work up to it a bit. This definitely gives me a bit of motivation to do so!

    • Honestly, with all the amenities and perks of the West Highland Way, it’s a great LD trail for beginner’s – it was my first and I was surprised how easy to was. Not having to carry all my stuff certainly helped and you don’t get that in too many other places 🙂 Hope you work up the motivation to do it!

  19. Amazing pictures! Great tip about hiking in the spring, the right time of year makes all the difference!

    • Totally – particularly when hiking at the right time means beating the little biting beasts 🙂

  20. Fabulous photos – love the reflection in the ones of the Lagangarbh hut.

    All my childhood holidays were to Scotland, so it’s not a novelty to me, but the more I see of the world, the more I appreciate what is on my doorstep. The Highlands are truly the most stunning area in the world. Just magical. Glad you had such a good time – I’m sure whisky may have helped!

    • Thank you! I’m always so happy when people like my photos 🙂 Sometimes it takes a while to appreciate the places you know from your childhood – I’ve certainly learnt appreciating the city where I’m from more, since I moved away. It’s not as beautiful as Scotland, if you ask me though!!

  21. What a helpful post. I’ll be saving this one for later. I’ve always wanted to do the WHW, but just never gotten round to it. Was thinking of even just doing it in parts, so will keep this in mind for future tips!

    • It’s so easy to split up into several trips or even just 1-2 day sections – it’s perfect for a taster of long-distance hiking. Can only recommend it 🙂

  22. Hi, i love this post. I am a long distance walker, and this is one of the last ones on my long long list as I want to include it on my walk Lands Ends to John o groats walk. Ill bookmark this to help me plan! 😀 thankyou for a great post

    • That’s awesome! You’ve got quite a big walk ahead of you – how long does it take to hike from Lands End to John O Groats? I’m hoping to do the Hebridean Way next year – 150 miles, let’s see how that goes 😀

  23. Such amazing scenery! And baby lambs. Oh wow. Looks like an epic place to go hiking

    • It definitely is – one of the best hiking grounds I’ve ever been to!

  24. So gorgeous views all around! Love your tip about hiking boots and blisters – I’m considering buying a good pair of hiking boots for my future hiking trips and certainly that tip to wear them out first will come in handy!

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m soon going to publish a review of my new hiking boots I took on this trail – watch this space! Wearing them in is an absolute must – no matter which boots you end up buying 🙂

  25. Der Weg sieht richtig schön und verlockend aus, wäre wohl auch das Mehrtageswanderpensum, was ich schaffen würde 😉

    • Ja voll – vier Tage war genau das richtige für den Anfang! Wobei ich echt sagen muss: kein Muskelkater! Der Körper gewöhnt sich echt schneller als Gehen und Tragen, als gedacht 🙂

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