The West Highland Way is a popular long-distance walk in Scotland, with ~35,000 people taking on the challenge each year. The route’s popularity is owed to the unique landscape, from the towering peaks of Glen Coe valley to the lush shores of Loch Lomond, and the wild emptiness of Rannoch Moor.
In this Maximum Adventure article, you’ll learn about the West Highland Way route, from the trail’s total distance and ascent to the route’s itinerary (with the best sections detailed). You’ll then learn how to prepare for your WHW challenge, which involves following a detailed training plan and a kit list.
- What is the West Highland Way (WHW)?
- WHW fact list (West Highland Way distance, ascent, footfall + more)
- West Highland Way map
- The history of the West Highland Way trail
- West Highland Way route
- How to prepare for the West Highland Way
Sound good? Let’s get started!
What is the West Highland Way (WHW)?
The West Highland Way is a linear long-distance route in Scotland, spanning over 154 km (96 miles) in length. The route runs from Milngavie – north of Glasgow – and ends in Fort William.
The West Highland Way is an iconic route that’s deemed to be Scotland’s best-known long-distance walk. When walking the WHW you’ll travel through the wild expanse of Rannoch Moor, the immense and majestic Glen Coe valley, and the picturesque tranquility of Loch Lomond.
Passing some of Scotland’s best scenery has propelled the path’s popularity, with 35,000 people walking the route annually.
WHW fact list (West Highland Way distance, ascent, footfall + more)
- Total distance: 153km (96 miles)
- Footfall: ~35,000 people walk the whole route annually, but don’t be deterred by this, the route remains isolated, giving you the perfect balance of solitude while also allowing you to connect with others completing the challenge.
- Total ascent (plus the highest point): 4,312m (12,143ft) with the highest point at the top of Devil’s Staircase (548m above sea-level).
- How long does it take to complete the route?: Most complete the route in 6-8 days. You can book to complete the route with Maximum Adventure in 6 days, 7 days, 8 days, or 9 days. You can also choose to complete the route in a north (4 days) and south (3 days) split.
- Is the route signposted?: Due to the route’s popularity, it is well signposted from start to finish. Yet the detail of these markers will differ along the way, meaning we recommend some pre-planning before you complete the walk. Look out for the symbol of an enclosed thistle which is signature of Scotland’s Great Trails.
- Best sections: It’s the consensus that the sections between Inveroran, Kingshouse, and Kinlochleven are the best sections of the WHW. These stages cross Rannoch Moor, the Glen Coe valley, and tackle the famous Devil Staircase – stages renowned for their beauty.
- WHW world record: Ultrarunner Rob Sinclair completed the WHW in 13 hours and 42 minutes, claiming the world record in 2017. Let’s take a minute to appreciate that time for a second. Sinclair ran 153km (96 miles), and 4,312m (12,143ft) ascent in half a day. 😲
If you plan on smashing Sinclair’s time, why not get in touch as we’d love to support your ultrarunning mission.
For most, walking the WHW is a challenge in itself, and completing the route is an immense achievement and one you’ll feel lifelong pride in.
West Highland Way Map
When you book your West Highland Way Walk with Maximum Adventure, we’ll provide you a guidebook and route map. We’ve detailed the route on the map below for your consideration. We’ve labelled the main towns the route passes through.
The history of the West Highland Way trail
Did you know the West Highland Way was Scotland’s first official long-distance walking trail?
Scottish businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Tom Hunter proposed the trial which was approved in 1974. Hunter’s aim was to find a way to protect the Scottish countryside from overdevelopment. The WHW overcame opposition from landowners, local authorities, and the Countryside Commission, and received tremendous support from the hiking community. Before the WHW, there were no trails of this kind in Scotland.
In June 2010, the WHW was co-designed to be part of the International Appalachian Trail. Later in the same year, the route was extended by 1 mile to finish in the town centre of Fort William.
2020 marked the 40th anniversary of the WHW, however, plans were soon interrupted by COVID-19. Instead, a virtual exhibition was set up to showcase the route’s history, memories, and highlights of the first 40 years.
The West Highland Way route
The West Highland Way route flows through some of Scotland’s most breathtaking areas. You’ll walk from Milngavie, through to Rowardennan, down the edge of Loch Lomond, and then towards the Bridge of Orchy before reaching Kinlochleven to finish in the centre of Fort William.
The number of days you wish to take to complete the route will determine your exact route itinerary. To give you more of an idea about the West Highland Way, we’ve detailed the itinerary of our 6-day adventure challenge below.
West Highland Way itinerary
- Day one – Milngavie: Your walk starts in East Dunbartonshire, a quiet suburb of Glasgow. Stay the night here before you start your big adventure the next day.
- Day two – Milngavie to Drymnen: Head to the official starting point of the West Highland Way, which is identifiable by a grey granite obelisk that stands proudly in Douglas Street. Follow the signposted route along gentle paths through the Mugdock Country Park Estate to Craigallian Loch. The route then winds past Gartness and down into the quaint village of Drymen.
- Day three – Drymen to Rowardennan: The route then goes through Garadhban Forest, where you’re faced with a choice. Do you take the high road, or do you take the low? The higher route heads to the top of Comic Hill, where your efforts will be rewarded with views over Loch Lomond and the Highland Fells. The route heads into the pretty village of Balmaha, where you can stand on the shore of Loch Lomond. Meander through the native shoreline that hugs the loch until you reach Rowardennan.
- Day four – Rowardennan to Crianlarich: Loch Lomond extends over 23 miles and is dotted with 38 islands. Your route will take you along forest tracks that pass gushing waterfalls until you reach Inversnaid where you’ll enter RSPB’s nature reserve. This nature reserve houses redstarts, red deer, and black grouse, you might even encounter the odd wild goat. The route then climbs away from Loch Lomond to Dubh Lochan and into Glen Falloch. Follow the river until you reach the village of Crianlarich.
- Day five – Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy: From the village of Crianlarich you’ll walk up through woodland paths where you’ll encounter fantastic views of the mountains Ben More and Stob Binnein, before heading down to the River Filla and the fascinating remains of St Fillian’s Priory. You’ll then walk towards the village of Tyndrum, passing the area’s lead mining relics. As you come out of Tyndrum, you’re greeted with impressive views of Beinn Dorain, an instantly recognizable peak. You’ll travel towards the Bridge of Orchy where you can enjoy the views of the valley and walk to the top of a small ridgeline from which you can look across Loch Tulla, Black Mount, and Rannoch Moor. There’s a short descent that takes you into the Bridge of Orchy where your accommodation awaits.
- Day six – Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven: Walking the section of the WHW that takes you into Kinlochleven is a favourite for many. The wild expanse is designated an SSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and has inspired many authors and poets due to the unique landscape and wildlife. Leaving Inveroran, the trail ascends Black Mount, an expanse of high moorland, and crosses over Rannoch Moor, climbing a total of 445m (1,460ft). The route descends past Glencoe ski station and into Kingshouse. From here, there’s a steep walk up the Devil’s staircase. Don’t be fooled by the daunting name as the walking is straightforward. You’ll gain a total of 548m in elevation, and you’re greeted with views over the Mamores and Ben Nevis, before descending into Kinlochleven.
- Day seven – Kinlochleven to Fort William: Leaving Kinlochleven, the final day’s walk takes you through some of the best scenery in the Scottish Highlands. You’ll begin with a steep ascent out of Kinlochleven with wonderful views of Loch Leven, climbing towards the top of Lairigmor pass. You’ll walk to the right are the Mamores, which are a ridge of mountains approximately 15km in length, and rise steeply on the far side of Aonach Eagach. After the pass, you’ll have a gentle walk down beside a cascading mountain stream to a conifer plantation. The final leg takes you through Nevis Forest and into Glen Nevis, where you’ll get a glimpse of the Ben towering 1344m (4,406ft) in height. Your walk will finish in the centre of Fort William. Why not stop here for a few days to explore and plan your Ben Nevis ascent?
How to prepare for the West Highland Way
Are you ready to take on the West Highland Way challenge?
If you book your WHW with Maximum Adventure, we’ll take care of the route planning, accommodation, and luggage transfer for you. We’re here to help you achieve your goals safely which is why we also provide 24-hour emergency cover. All you have to do is make sure you have the right kit and follow a training plan. To help you get prepared we’ve detailed this information below.
West Highland Way kit list
Bringing the right kit is the eternal dilemma of most long-distance hikers. It’s about finding a careful balance between weight vs comfort. If you’ve booked your route with Maximum Adventure though, we can organize luggage transfers meaning you only need to worry about your day pack. Once more, we’ll book all the accommodation for you, so you don’t need to bring a tent.
We’ve summarised key kit items you’d need to bring below. Be sure to pack these along with other spare clothing items:
- Walking boots: Having a comfy, sturdy, and well-fitting pair of walking boots is a must. You’re going to spend a lot of time in these so be sure to find boots that offer fantastic support for your walk.
- Waterproofs: Note, it rains a lot in bonny Scotland. Be sure to pack a waterproof coat and waterproof trousers. Buy a coat and trousers that are made specifically for hiking in the mountains.
- Insulating fleeces and jackets: It can get cold in Scotland in the mornings and evenings, even in the summer, and especially as you gain altitude. Note also that in the early spring months there will still be snow patches up high. Wrap up warm with insulating fleece layers and jackets. I’d even consider packing a thermal base layer.
- Hat and gloves: On the topic of keeping warm, having a hat and a few pairs of gloves (as they’ll get wet) is essential. Take both a woolly hat and a sunhat, as the weather in the mountains is ever-changing meaning you can get caught out.
- Suncream: Take sun cream for those hot days – yes they do happen in Scotland.
- Midge repellent: It does work – trust us. The Scottish midge season runs mainly from the end of April through to the end of August.
- Penknife: Make sure to bring a non-locking pen knife, you never know when it will come in handy.
- Walking poles: Walking poles are a great way to take the strain off your knees, especially while you’re carrying a heavy rucksack.
- First aid pack: Purchase a fully-packed first aid pack and make sure you stuff it full of blister plasters and antiseptic cream. Also consider buying support bandages, especially for your knees.
Training for the West Highland Way
You must build your fitness up for the West Highland Way given that every day is a demanding hiking day. You’ll enjoy hiking the walk more if you’ve worked to get your fitness up.
The best way to prepare for the WHW is to head out walking and then supplement this with a variety of cardiovascular exercises to increase your stamina.
Start training at least 12 weeks before your walk. Aim to build up to 3 cardiovascular training sessions a week, and plan a day’s walk over hilly terrain over the weekend. If you can, plan an expedition weekend, where you walk multiple days in a row.
When you book your West Highland Way walk with us at Maximum Adventure, we’ll send across a fitness plan to help you prepare for your challenge.
Book your West Highland Way adventure with Maximum Adventure
At Maximum Adventure, we offer a variety of challenge options for your upcoming West Highland Way walk. When you book with us, we’ll take care of the boring part. All you have to do is get kitted up and follow a training plan. You can choose from the following West Highland Way challenge variations:
- West Highland Way – 6 Nights
- West Highland Way – 7 Nights
- West Highland Way – 8 Nights
- West Highland Way – 9 Nights
- West Highland Way (North) – 4 Nights
- West Highland Way (South) – 3 Nights
The West Highland Way is an epic, notorious walk, and one to aspire to achieve in your lifetime. Make memories, connect with our natural world, and have an adventure. Book your trip with Maximum Adventure today!
Why not check out some of our other Scottish adventures? We’ve listed our favourites below:
Are you thinking of completing the West Highland Way walk? Do you have any questions that we’ve not covered in this article? We’d love to hear from you, please get in touch, and out team will be happy to answer your queries.