walking in the highlands

It’s never too late to take to the hills in Scotland! From small coastal strolls (just perfect for part-time ramblers) to gargantuan Munros (that promise world-famous summit views), the Scottish Highlands provides a playground for all abilities.

Hillwalking and hiking are versatile activities that appeal to people of all ages. They’re a fantastic way to experience Scotland’s great outdoors and serve as an uplifting activity for solo travellers and groups alike – ideal for days out with family, friends, and even work colleagues. Walking has long been celebrated for its many mental and physical health benefits, and spending time amongst nature has been proven to reduce rumination – known for promoting emotional distress.

Our small county’s resilient and rugged countryside is a prime destination for keen hillwalkers – with the magnificent diversity of the Highlands coming out on top every time. If you’ve never tried hill walking in the Highlands before and want to give it a go, our beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know before setting off …

1. Research and plan your walking route ahead of schedule

If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to try a smaller hill before attempting to ‘bag’ a Munro. Building up your stamina and understanding the environment is key to a successful hiking experience.

Many have walked in your shoes and have been kind enough to record their experiences along the way – to get you started, we recommend visiting the Walk Highlands website, an excellent source of information that covers difficulty levels, estimated walk times and route photographs, alongside parking/toilet facilities. We encourage you to explore their safety page, which includes a dedicated section covering winter skills and safety.

There are over 160 walking and climbing clubs in Scotland (so knowing where to start can seem like a challenge). The Highland Hillwalking Club meet every weekend for different routes and events, and we recommend you take a look at their Highland Diary of Events for walk inspiration and a touch of group encouragement.

2. Be aware of weather conditions

Whilst there are plenty of places that will provide an estimate of the weather around your route, the true reality of Scottish weather is that the reports are often quite wrong. Rainy days can blow over faster than expected, and unexpected snowstorms are no rarity as you ascend the higher peaks of the Highland Munros.

Though it should be a given that beginners avoid the more challenging climbs in winter conditions, it’s alarmingly common for new climbers to overestimate their abilities whilst tackling Munros. Often, the climb from the base can look relatively mild, and many don’t realise their mistake until they’ve reached the less sturdy grounds above the clouds. In this space, the weather is unpredictable and changes fast – and mountain rescue teams are regularly called out for injured walkers.

3. Wear the correct clothing and carry the right equipment

One of the most important parts of your clothing/equipment should be a good pair of comfortable, sturdy shoes or (preferably) walking boots, for additional ankle support. Ideally, you should look for a waterproof style with a good grip. Comfortable trainers may be suitable for smaller hills, though not ideal if the weather is wet – soles can become slippery and compromise your safety. Before your trip, we’d recommend you visit an outdoor clothing store where they will find the right footwear for you.

Next, and it’s a big cliché (but we’re going there) … there’s no such thing as bad weather in Scotland, only bad outfit decisions. Scotland’s weather is unpredictable (even in summer), therefore, ensuring you have the right attire is not only important for your safety, but also for comfort – nobody wants a soggy walk.

For any outdoor activity in Scotland, our (not to secret) tip is LAYERS! Layers to keep cool, and layers to warm up! Walking an incline will raise your body temperature, and you may need to remove clothing quickly to adjust and cool down. However, as you climb higher, you might want to add more clothes to stay warm.

Having a small supply of clothes in your backpack is therefore a must. We suggest a lightweight waterproof jacket, and a thermal or fleece top. An extra pair of socks might come in handy, as will a hat and gloves.

On top of this, we also suggest packing a small torch, high-protein snacks and extra water, as well as slotting your phone into a waterproof cover.

views across loch melfort

4. Get charged

Most of us have become quite reliant on our phones to help us find places, with many swapping maps for apps. Whilst this poses little threat when exploring built-up towns and cities, we recommend (if you are going to rely on your phone for directions/maps) that you make sure they are downloaded in advance. Phone signal and 4G can be temperamental up in the hills of the Highlands. If you plan on doing one of the longer trails or Munro hikes (plenty of these can up to 6-8 hours), take a portable charging device, and consider packing a backup map with your marked route.

5. Respect the surrounding lands and wildlife

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code means visitors are free to roam the countryside at their leisure. But with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s important to respect your surroundings. So please pay attention to signs and notices and adhere to any advice you’re given. Also, look to see if fields contain animals, and always make sure you close the gates (for your safety as well as theirs).

One last thing. Watch out for ticks and midges. We’ve seen plenty of first-time visitors fall foul to the question, “How bad can the midges really be?” They might be small, but these tiny little flies love to travel in swarms, and in the high seasons, will put a miserable end to your adventures.

Eager to stick to your skin, ticks are usually found in long grass and more remote areas of the Highlands. To avoid them, opt for trousers or leggings that cover your leg rather than shorts, and roll your socks up over their seams. If you pick one up along the way, use a specially designed tick removal tool to ensure you remove all of the insect’s body and prevent it from spreading disease by releasing additional saliva or regurgitating its stomach content. Note: certain species of ticks carry Lyme disease.

6. Hill walking, forest strolls, and mountain hikes in Argyll

An impressive mix of pebbled shores, lush green woodlands, and exciting mountain ranges, Argyll is a wonderful place to start your Scottish hiking and hillwalking explorations. The diverse landscape allows ramblers to gradually work up to a level they feel comfortable, with an impressive offering for those wishing to explore some of the lesser-trodden paths of the Highlands. Take a look at our detailed list, “10 of the best Argyll walks”.

So, now you’re ready, opt outside and start exploring the wonders that the Highland hills have to offer. And, most importantly, stay safe – and have fun!

Did you know that Loch Melfort Hotel is the perfect base for hillwalking, our team are always on hand to suggest walk routes and point out their favourite stops. Keen to explore the Argyll area in a little more detail? Our Self-guided Walking Holidays are a fantastic way to explore Scotland’s west coast at your own pace without the stress of itinerary planning – we’ll provide downloadable maps for varying levels of ability with notes providing clear directions and points of interest.