The West Highland Way is acclaimed as the most hiked long-distance trail in Scotland. It attracts about 85,000 people every year, of whom more than 30,000 hike the entire route. Despite being so popular it is still possible to hike for miles along the 96-mile route between Milngavie and Fort William and pass only a few people. It does depend on where and when you are hiking but there are long sections that are remote and far less hiked. We get lots of questions about the West Highland Way, and here we will answer some the most common.
Where is the West Highland Way?
Many people have heard of the popular long-distance hiking trail but they are still not sure where it is. The 96-mile (154.5km) route officially starts in Milngavie shopping precinct. Milngavie is a small community on the northern outskirts of Glasgow, which is Scotland’s largest city. The signposted way heads north and west through the fabulous countryside from lowlands to Highlands to reach the town of Fort William on Scotland's west coast.
How long does it take to hike the West Highland Way?
It depends on fitness levels and what you want to see along the way. Most people take between five and eight days to hike the route, although it is possible to do it in only a few days, or a little longer. There are even some super-humans who run the way in less than 24 hours! It’s up to you whether you want to take your time and enjoy the walk, scenery and places to visit en route, or whether you want to push on a break personal records. This blog post on "How many days to walk the West Highland Way?" may help.
What is the best time of year to hike the West Highland Way?
Legend has it that the midges are less present in May and September, so those months are very popular. Spring and autumn are two of the favorite seasons for hiking the WHW, when temperatures are fine for daily hiking and days are often dry. Be prepared for fickle Scottish weather, however. In one day you can experience three or four season regardless of the time of year so it’s important to dress and carry kit to suit a range of weather conditions.
If you are keen to hike the West Highland Way in May, you would be best advised to book as early as possible, because accommodation spaces fill up fast, and due to the remote nature of much of the trail, once it is full it is full! Macs Adventure will always do what they can to find you a place to stay, and you can see example accommodation on our website itineraries.
Summer is also a great time to hike the West Highland Way when days are longer and generally warmer.
In winter snow, ice, rain and mist are common in Scotland and if you plan to embark on the West Highland Way in winter you should be highly skilled at navigation and remote winter hiking. Macs Adventure does not offer hiking holidays on the West Highland Way during winter, sorry.
Will I need a West Highland Way Map and a compass?
The West Highland Way is very well waymarked with signposts and marker posts. You get access to the Macs App with GPX tracks, points of interest and personalized accommodation listings. We also send a physical map and guidebook.
Is accommodation easy to book?
There are plenty of accommodation providers along the WHW route but they fill up early, especially in the spring and summer months. We have selected the best and most suitable cozy hotels, B&B’s and guesthouses along the route to enable seamless hiking. We visit properties often to ensure the highest quality and friendliest service that Scottish hospitality is so renowned for.
Will my accommodation be close to the route?
We endeavor to book accommodation as close as possible to the route. Usually you will only have to hike less than a mile from the trail to get to your accommodation.
I have heard that ticks in Scotland carry Lyme disease
It’s true that there are Lyme disease carrying ticks in Scotland and in areas along the West Highland Way but the chances of being infected are very low. It is a good idea to check your skin for ticks every day and to carry a tick removal device (a little instrument freely available in most outdoor shops and stops along the West Highland Way) with you as a precaution. If you do receive a tick bite that grows red or swells up or if you feel unwell you should seek medical advice.
How do I get to the start of the West Highland Way?
MacsMoment by JD at the start of the trail.
You can drive or catch the train or bus from Glasgow to Milngavie. There is no official parking for the West Highland Way in Milngavie, although there is on-street parking throughout the community. The best option is to leave your car behind and arrive by train or bus. If customers of Macs Adventure need to leave their cars, the best option would be to contact your specialist on firstname.lastname@example.org in advance.
How to I get back from Fort William?
There is a regular train service from Fort William to Glasgow, which is the most popular option and takes around 4 hours. At busy times it is a good idea to reserve a seat, which you can do in advance using Scotrail's website, where you can also check timetables. Sometimes, if you have an early flight the next day, a taxi is required. This is a very expensive option, so should be avoided unless necessary, and the train journey is a highlight, offering wonderful views. You can also get a bus from Fort William to Glasgow, which takes around 3 hours, and should be booked in advance.
Are the midges / no-see-ums a major problem?
There is no denying that midges / no-see-ums can be a nuisance. They will bite if they find bare skin but they do not cause illness. Some people suffer from itchy bites. The worse time for midges in Scotland is June to August when the weather is warmer yet still damp. The best solution is to carry midge repellent with you.
Midges are more prevalent in early morning and dusk when the sun is rising or setting, so ensure that you cover bare skin with long sleeves and trousers. A midge net for the face can be very useful. During the walking day (and especially if there is a light breeze) you may find you don't even notice them. Read our blog about midge repellents!
Will I get cellphone service?
Whilst there will, of course, be remote areas where you do lose signal, you will find that along most of the route you will pick up cellphone service. Mapping on the Macs Adventure app can be saved offline in advance so you can navigate without data/signal.
Can I get laundry done along the way?
If you are booking a trip through Macs Adventure, you will find that some accommodation providers do offer a service, and even in those that do not offer a formal service, well, you can always ask! Some accommodations offer drying rooms too for your outer layers, which is very useful.
Should I take trekking poles?
This is down to personal preference. If you like hiking with poles, do bring them. Likewise, if you are at all worried about the long days, they can really help ease pressure on the joints and be very useful to improve stability.
Do we tip for services along the way?
The tipping culture in Scotland is quite informal. In restaurants and cafes, it is commonplace to leave a 10% - 15% tip if you feel you've enjoyed the service. In taxis, it is commonplace to "round up" a little to leave the driver a tip. For services booked through Macs Adventure (for example taxi transfers and accommodations), you are not expected to leave a tip.
Should I carry a bunch of cash or are there ATMs along the way or just take my card?
There are some ATMs along the West Highland Way, particularly in the bigger stops (Drymen, Tyndrum, Kinlochleven etc). Cards are often accepted for meals in pubs & restaurants.... We would suggest you do carry some cash, enough to last a few days and pay for any incidentals for example snacks from shops, tips in bars, or packed lunches, which many B&Bs sell (these are not included in the Macs Adventure packages).
Recently many establishments small and large have gone cashless. Please ensure that you do take a credit card for this purpose. Many places take visa and mastercard, less so American Express.
What footwear will I need, are hiking shoes OK?
Again, this is down to preference. We would always advise that footwear is waterproof. This is key to a happy hike! Whilst we suggest hiking boots for ankle support, many do take on the trail with hiking shoes. If that's what you are most comfortable in, it is up to you. If hiking with trail shoes, we would suggest adding a pair of waterproof gaiters to your packing list though, in case of rainy conditions.
How about cycling the West Highland Way?
Many people do now cycle the WHW. It can be done in one to three days although there are sections, such as the shores of Loch Lomond, that require good levels of skill on a mountain bike. Cyclists should show courtesy to walkers and might find that an early morning start is a good idea at busy times of the year.
Can I wild camp alongside the West Highland Way?
The favorable Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows for wild camping along most sections of the WHW although this must be done responsibly, taking away all rubbish etc when you leave. However, most people choose to book with Macs Adventure (that's us!) or similar organizations. We arrange accommodation in B&Bs and hotels on the WHW and daily transfer for your main luggage.
Are dogs allowed on the West Highland Way?
Unfortunately Macs Adventure do not cater for dogs on the West Highland Way. This is due to many of the accommodations not accepting dogs, and should transfers by taxi be needed, they also will often not transport dogs.
Why I need travel insurance to walk the West Highland Way?
Travel insurance is an essential part of any trip. It's often low cost up-front and will cover you and your belongings. For example, if an illness means you can't go on your trip, or you are prevented from completing your West Highland Way due to illness, injury, or circumstances out of your control, travel insurance could cover the costs of curtailment or cancellation. Whilst injuries are few and far between, and often minor, you should always ensure you have medical and emergency cover for overseas. Every policy is different, so check yours thoroughly before departure.
This post has been updated.