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Undoubtedly, winter is one of the most beautiful seasons in Scotland; snow-dusted mountains and moorlands turn into magical white wonderlands. Despite having a reputation of being wild and inaccessible, Scottish hills provide fantastic winter hiking experience.
Winter doesn’t mean we can just hide under thick blankets and hibernate; quite the opposite – it brings countless opportunities for unforgettable hikes and experiences. In a country like Scotland, where a lot of ground is boggy or swampy, wintry frost can actually make hiking easier! It’s better to walk thru white fluff rather than wade ankle-deep in mud, right? But, to be honest with you, sometimes Scottish winters are pretty much snow-less, with temperatures rarely dropping ‘below zero’, you can then enjoy the ‘extended autumn’ with stunning orange and brown foliage dominating the landscape.
Also, shorter days don’t necessary mean you can’t discover new trails! All you have to do, is to ensure you have enough daylight for the hike itself. In winter we often drive to the trail head before sunrise and return home after sunset. The shortest winter day in Scotland provides approximately 5-6 hours of daylight, this is totally sufficient for many walks! What is more, short wintry days give opportunity to enjoy both sunrise and sunset along your chosen hiking trail, without the need of extra early wake-up. It’s as much a pleasure for the eyes, as it is a fantastic photo opportunity!
And finally, winter in Scotland has another ‘ace up the sleeve’. Did you know that very often you can observe the northern lights on Scottish night sky?
Have we already convinced you to leave the warm comfort zone of your living room and discover the pleasures of winter hiking in Scotland?
Below we listed 11 recommended hikes and Scottish areas to discover in winter. These locations are spread-out across the country; also we ensured to include easier walks as well as more challenging ones, so everyone could pick one and go explore!
Please note: some hikes require basic winter skills, other may require use of winter gear like ice axe, mini-crampons or micro-spikes. We recommend carrying a torch (preferably head torch) when venturing into the wilderness in winter. No matter how challenging the trail, always be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. Remember to check the weather forecast before heading out! Stay safe!
11 AMAZING WINTER HIKES IN SCOTLAND
1. BEN A’AN
Total time 4 hours. Total distance 2.5 km. Trail head directions.
Ben A’an is one of our all-time favourite hikes in Scotland, despite being a relatively short walk. It’s located in Loch Lomond And The Trossachs National Park, over stunning Loch Katrine, only a short drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
At first, the trail winds thru an old forest and the summit can’t be seen. Only once you come to a small meadow you’ll see the summit of Ben A’an for the first time; its rough rocky cone will tower above you! Don’t let the view intimidate you; the climb up (although steep) is easier than it seems! The higher path consists of stone-made steps and you’ll gain height quickly. Summit views will make you forget all the effort you made to reach the top!
As Ben A’an isn’t a separate mountain, but only a lower summit of Meall Reamhar, most of winter it’s snow-free. This makes it a perfect winter viewpoint to the surrounding snow-covered (and higher!) mountains, and Loch Katrine stretching far till horizon! On a clear day, you will be able to see far peaks of Arrochar Alps, a fascinating group of mountains near Loch Lomond.
Be careful when climbing Ben A’an: despite often being snow-free, the trail requires a lot of care in winter, as the higher sections may be slippery or iced!
Detailed information on Ben A’an hike, including a hiking map, HERE.
2. THE COBBLER
Total time 5-6 hours. Total distance 10 km. Trail head directions.
The Cobbler, aka Ben Arthur, is a perfect mountain for winter adventure! The hike can provide an amazing experience for both, the beginners as well as seasoned outdoors enthusiasts. As there are 3 possible hiking routes, everyone can pick a suitable approach trail!
The most popular way up The Cobbler starts at the large car park in Succoth. The trail gradually climbs thru the forest and only once you reach the upper glen (Scottish for ‘valley’), you’ll finally see Ben Arthur. It stands proud at the valley’s end, opposite rugged slopes of Beinn Narnainn. Although The Cobbler is the lowest mountain in the area, its rocky massif with ‘horns’ sticking out at each end are rather impressive. You can easily imagine why this area is called Arrochar Alps!
The easiest way up The Cobbler follows the glen till very end and climbs its rugged slopes over a path and man-made steps.
We have visited The Cobbler several times, but it was the winter visit that we enjoyed the most. It’s a relatively easy and popular hike, but snow and ice considerably add to the level of difficulty and hiking time. We recommend gearing up with micro-spikes or mini-crampons and walking poles.
If you’d like to extend Ben Arthur winter adventure, why not add its neighbour mountain – Beinn Ime? Hiking this gentle mountain would add 2.5 – 3 hours to the hike, so ensure to have sufficient daylight!
Detailed information on The Cobbler hike, including a hiking map, HERE.
3. STAC POLLAIDH
Total time 4 hours. Total distance 4.5 km. Trail head directions.
Stac Pollaidh (or Stac Polly) can be called The Queen of Northern Scotland. It’s a small mountain, but its location makes it a perfect viewpoint. Stac Pollaidh summit views are just incredible! To the north is Inverpolly – a land of small lakes and ponds with ‘random’ monolith massifs of Suilven, Cul Mor and Cul Beag; scenery to the south is dominated by large loch (Scottish for lake) and mountains of Coigach.
Stac Polly is our favourite hike in Northern Scotland, it never disappoints with views, which are even more dramatic when clouds and snow play their endless game.
In winter, often there’s little snow at Stac Pollaidh foot, but as you hike on, the white cover becomes deeper. As the trail runs along a tree-less eastern slope, it totally disappears under snow. But don’t worry, climbing to the summit ridge is easy enough, you have to follow the path only ‘roughly’. Final section of ascent to the summit ridge is steep, and in winter will most likely take some effort and time. But it’s worth it!
Most hikers are satisfied with hiking to Stac Polly summit ridge or eastern top only, as they’re relatively easy to conquer. Reaching the true summit, located at the western end of the ridge requires good head for heights and good hand on rock skill. It’s a challenging venture in summer; in winter it’s only recommended for experienced mountaineers geared with ice axe and crampons.
Detailed information on Stac Pollaidh hike, including a hiking map, HERE.
4. MEALL NAN TARMACHAN
Total time 5 hours. Total distance 13 km. Trail head directions
Meall Nan Tarmachan is located over famous Scottish Loch Tay. This grassy mountain is connected by a ridge with another two peaks, which together are named The Tarmachan Ridge. The whole ridge can be hiked in winter, but as there is a ‘bad step’ past the second peak, we recommend it for experienced hikers only. We believe that in winter a hike to Meall Nan Tarmachan provides enough excitement and gives a very good feel of the massif, and the area.
Hiking trail to Meall Nan Tarmachan starts at a large car park at the edge of Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve. Its high elevation makes a walk to the Tarmachan’s summit relatively short. Nonetheless, the area gets a decent amount of snow in winter and if you decide to tackle Meall Nan Tarmachan, you can be sure to wade calf-deep in snow.
Meall Nan Tarmachan is a great entry-level winter hike; it’s a popular walking destination and a relatively easy hike hence (most definitely!) you won’t be alone on the trail.
If you fancy a challenge: once you reach Meall Nan Tarmachan, you can continue along the wide ridge towards the next two peaks; however, if the ridge traverse proves too difficult, just retrace your steps.
Killin is a village you should definitely visit on way to trail head, only a couple of kilometres away from Meall Nan Tarmachan. It’s a small settlement at west end of Loch Tay, home to famous Falls of Dochart – beautiful cascades on river Dochart (you can’t miss the falls, they’re directly along the road).
5. GLEN AFFRIC
Several walks. Car park directions
Glen Affric is located approximately 30 minutes drive from Inverness in northern Scotland. It’s a remote area of great beauty; we believe it’s much more spectacular than nearby Loch Ness!
Glen Affric takes its name from Scots pine woodlands growing in such manner that they remind of the African savanna. The scenery is unique, hence we recommend adding Glen Affric to your itinerary whatever the season!
There are several hiking trails in the Glen Affric area, a couple of them starting at the glen’s end, at Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin car park.
The easiest and shortest is the route to a viewpoint directly over the car park, only 30 minutes walk. Located slightly higher, the viewpoint provides a fantastic overview of Glen Affric unique woodlands!
Directly on the opposite side of the car park is ‘River Affric Walk’, a circular trail running thru Scots pine forest, along River Affric. In winter, sun glistens in frost covering the heather bushes, woodland turns into a wonderland! This hike takes approximately 1.5 hours.
The longest hike in Glen Affric passes the Affric Lodge over Loch Affric, and ventures west along Affric-Kintail Way. As much as the Way is a multi-day hike, a circular walk around Loch Affric provides a fantastic day-hike experience, rich in spectacular scenery. Despite being 18 km long, it can be completed within approximately 7 hours; it’s a narrow path along northern shores of Loch Affric, then it crosses a wooden bridge at loch’s head and follows southern shores along a well-made forest track, all the way back to the car park.
Finally, Dog Falls walk is a 3 km route running thru another spectacular woodland to a small waterfall. It’s a pleasant, signposted walk with a couple of viewpoints along the way. Keep in mind that Dog Falls dedicated car park is located approximately halfway between main road A831 in Cannich and Glen Affric.
6. MAYAR AND DRIESH
Total time 7-8 hours. Total distance 14 km. Trail head directions
Mayar and Driesh are hidden deep in southern Cairngorms National Park, at the very end of Glen Clova. These two gentle giants are located very near each other hence hiking them together makes the most sense. They’re rounded, belly-like mountains, perfect for a winter adventure!
Hike to Mayar and Driesh starts from Glen Doll visitors centre and initially follows a country track towards Corrie Fee – a rugged lower slope of Mayar (the steepest section of this hike). Although approaching Corrie Fee you may think you’re just about to climb a high, steep wall, you’ll find that it’s not as difficult and you’re gaining height quickly. Once on higher ground, you’ll already see the gentle summit of Mayar directly in front of you.
The two mountains are connected by a wide rounded ridge, in winter you can expect snow cover to be around 30 cm deep. Traversing to Driesh won’t be too difficult; you’re most likely to follow footsteps of other walkers, as this route is very popular. To reach Driesh’s summit you’ll have to gain a bit more height, but it’s only a gentle ascent for most of the way.
Mayar and Driesh are a very good introduction to winter hiking in Scotland for those, who love long walks. The route is not difficult and even in winter (in good weather) is easy to navigate.
The path back to the car park is well defined and visible even when covered by snow.
Rounded slopes of Glen Clova mountains are possible to climb without crampons, but walking poles may be handy!
Detailed information on hike to Mayar and Driesh, including a hiking map, HERE.
7. PENTLAND HILLS
Several walks starting at different locations.
The Pentlands are Edinburgh’s most local hills, easily accessible by a 30-40 minutes bus ride. They’re a very popular hiking destination among Edinburgers and local communities. The amount and variety of hiking trails and access points makes Pentland Hills suitable for all outdoor enthusiasts, no matter how fit they are!
All trails of Pentland Hills Regional Park are suitable for winter hiking. The hills are gentle, therefore easy to walk on even with snow cover (which, by the way, rarely exceeds 10-15 cm)
So, what about the recommended winter hiking routes in The Pentlands?
For beginners, we recommend a 2 hours hike from Bavelaw (near Balerno) to the waterfall at Green Cleugh and back. It’s a gentle walk over flat, open moorland, offering views to the highest hills in the area. If you’re looking for a longer walk, it can be extended by walking further, to the ‘white house’, along two reservoirs, and back to Bavelaw via Harlaw visitors centre. This extended walk is relatively easy, it involves only one long ascent along the way.
For more seasoned walkers, we recommend hiking from Flotterstone visitors centre over the main Pentland Hills ridge. This route involves a couple of ascents as it passes 2 or 5 hills (depends how long you want to make it), including the highest hill of the regional park, Scald Law. This route can be made circular (return via Glencorse ‘valley’, along Logan Burn), alternatively you can finish the hike either in Balerno or Nine Mile Burn (both have regular bus connections to Edinburgh). The classic hike from Flotterstone via Scald Law to West Kip and back to Flotterstone takes approximately 7-8 hours in winter conditions.
8. BEN VANE
Total time 6 hours. Total distance 11 km. Trail head directions
Beautifully located in The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Ben Vane may not be the highest of mountains, but definitely, it doesn’t lack character!
The hike starts over Loch Lomond, one of Scotland’s most beautiful lakes. Initially, you’ll walk along a tarmac road towards Loch Sloy; an easy and gentle hike. The views to surrounding rugged mountains of Arrochar Alps will already be amazing, especially if dusted with snow! Hiking thru the glen, Ben Vane will be directly in front of you. Only once at the glen’s end, you’ll start climbing the slopes of Ben Vane.
It’s a relatively short and rewarding hike, however climbing to the summit of Ben Vane does require some effort. Additionally, the final section before summit plateau, although brief, is very steep and during our visit we had to use ice axes for support.
Why do we think Ben Vane is especially suitable for winter? The ascent is relatively short but requires some winter skills, also winter equipment may be needed higher up. The hike is perfect for entry-level mountaineering training as it gives an opportunity to learn using crampons and ice axe.
9. MONADLIATH MOUNTAINS TRIO
Total time 8 hours. Total distance 15 km. Trail head directions
Monadliath Mountains are the lower and lesser-known neighbours of the Cairngorms. They’re easily accessible by public transport (to Newtonmore or Kingussie), or by car.
The Monadliath are rounded mountains, cut by numerous valleys and countless streams, therefore many valleys and lower slopes can be muddy or boggy. The mountains are perfectly suitable for hiking in winter thou, as frozen ground makes exploring this area much easier! When it comes to snow cover: the outer layer often freezes due to cold wind sweeping thru the landscape, so even when the snow is relatively thick, wading thru it may not present much problem.
One of the most prominent mountains of the Monadliath range is A’Chailleach, at 930 masl. It’s one of the most characteristic peaks in the area as its eastern slope is almost vertical. It’s also relatively easy to climb. A’Chailleach is the first peak of a fine horseshoe walk; the other two hills are Carn Sgulain and nearby Am Bodach. From Am Bodach you can descend directly to the valley and end the hike at the car park (the trail head) making the route circular.
You can also extend the hike by continuing towards the fourth mountain, Geal-charn, and descend along its gentle southern slopes directly to Newtonmore village.
Completing this circular route in Monadliath Mountains is a long day out, ensure to have sufficient daylight and set off early in the morning!
10. OLD MAN OF STORR
Total time 2-3 hours. Total distance 5 km. Trail head directions
The Old Man of Storr is one of the most iconic landmarks on the Isle of Skye, at the west coast of Scotland. Despite being located on an island, it’s easily accessible – Isle of Skye is connected to the Scottish mainland by a bridge.
The Old Man is a large, needle-like pinnacle, standing proud in front of a massive rock cliff of The Storr. An amazing view indeed!
Venturing to the pinnacle and roaming amongst other rock formations in the area provides a fantastic insight into Scotland’s geological history.
For those, who seek to experience a different perspective, we recommend extending the hike and climbing at least a part of The Storr ridge. You don’t have to conquer the very summit, there are a couple of lower viewpoints – visiting them will already provide an unforgettable view!
Despite being located at the coastal area of Isle of Skye, hike to Old Man of Storr involves total ascent of approximately 300 metres and is not to be taken lightly. Good news is, that very often the trail to the Old Man and other quirky rocks of the Storr is snow-less, due to close proximity to the sea. Always be careful, thou, you may come across patches of ice on higher ground, especially if venturing to the viewpoints of The Storr!
11. BEN VRACKIE
Total time 4 hours. Total distance 10 km. Trail head directions
At 841 masl, Ben Vrackie is the highest mountain rising above a charming town of Pitlochry. Its peak can be seen for miles and miles around, although very often it tends to be shrouded by low clouds. Nonetheless, a hike to Ben Vrackie summit is a pleasant, moderate hike and gives a fantastic overview of this beautiful part of Perthshire.
You will find Ben Vrackie trail head only a couple of hundred metres from Moulin Brewery and Heritage Centre, less than a mile from Pitlochry train station, which makes it a perfect day trip from Edinburgh or Inverness.
Hiking trail to Ben Vrackie starts as a gentle path running across open moorland. Having passed a small lake, you’ll come to the mountain base and start direct ascent to the summit. It’s rather steep in places, but don’t worry, there are steps built to help you gain height easier. Mind your step; there may be a thin layer of ice underneath snow!
Summit of Ben Vrackie is spacious, marked with a cairn (pile of stone). If you have nice summit views instead of a ‘whiteout’, consider yourself lucky! Ben Vrackie is a moody one!
After the hike you can get refreshments and a hearty meal either in Moulin or return to Pitlochry, there are countless cafes and pubs!