Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens!

Scottish Highlands Travel Guide
Best Things To Do in the Scottish Highlands
Highlands, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are just as beautiful as you’ve imagined. Here are my tips for exploring the best of the highlands on your Scotland road trip adventure.

The Scottish Highlands have been on my bucket list for years. After returning from a wonderful 4-day road trip through the region of Lochaber and the West Highlands, I wanted to share my Scottish highlands itinerary with you.

Why should you visit the Highlands of Scotland?

Well, if you’re a fan of hiking majestic mountain ranges, floating mist-covered lochs, or exploring ancient forests, then you’ll love the Highlands.

This region in Scotland north-west of the Highland Boundary Fault (between Helensburgh & Stonehaven) provides travelers with fantastic landscape photography opportunities and a hearty dose of Scottish charm.

The Scottish Highlands are also a playground for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and anyone else who loves outdoor adventure.

Scottish Highlands Map

How To Use This Map

Above you’ll find a map of Scottish Highlands highlights. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places I mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!

My Scottish Highlands Itinerary

1. Setting Out from Glasgow

Shaggy Cow in the Scottish Highlands
The Famous Highlands Coo!

My Scottish Highlands road trip itinerary began in Glasgow after taking the train from Edinburgh. From there, I rented a car and began driving up to Fort William along route A82 on my way to the Isle of Skye in early July.

The area of Lochaber around Fort William is considered the outdoor adventure capital of the United Kingdom. So I spent most of my time there.

The Scottish landscape was exceptionally green after weeks of rain.

Weather in the Highlands of Scotland is often cold, windy, and rainy — however don’t let that dissuade you, these conditions also produce some very dramatic scenery.

There’s tumultuous history in the countryside too… dark tales of epic clan battles and murderous plots. Mythical legends of lake monsters, fairies, and goblins!

2. Beautiful Loch Lomond

Driving the Highlands of Scotland
Route A82 By Loch Lomond

My first stop on the drive from Glasgow into the Highlands was the town of Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond. The area is part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

It was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t stick around too long, but I did walk aboard the Maid Of The Loch, a fantastic 60-year-old paddle steamship currently undergoing renovation.

Further up the road, make sure to pop into the 300-year-old (and some say haunted) Drovers Inn for traditional Scottish food or a dram of whisky (unless you’re driving of course).

This quirky historic stone lodge sits directly in front of a steep mountain waterfall. Stepping inside the building feels like stepping back in time…

Glen Etive Mountain Road
Glen Etive in the Highlands
Foxglove Flowers in Scotland
Deadly Foxglove Flowers

3. Driving Through Glen Etive

A winding single track lane passing into the narrow valley of Glen Etive will have any driving enthusiast grinning from ear to ear. It’s a wonderful little side trip while driving through the Scottish Highlands.

You’ve probably already seen Glen Etive before, but didn’t know it. The landscape was a filming location for the popular James Bond movie Skyfall, where James takes his iconic Aston Martin DB5 out for a drive.

The icy cold Etive River passes beside the road, and for the more adventurous, it’s a great place to go cliff jumping. Hiking or kayaking (with your own gear) around Loch Etive at the end of the road is another option.

Wild camping is popular in the glen, but PLEASE remember to leave no trace. It would be a shame to ruin such a beautiful landscape with trash from disrespectful campers…

Hiking in the Highlands
Steall Falls Hiking Trail
Wire Bridge in the Highlands
Crossing a Sketchy Wire Bridge

4. Hiking The Scottish Highlands

If you’re a hiker, the Scottish Highlands have trails for all levels. Lochaber is home to Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain at 4,416 ft (1,346 m).

Munro bagging is a popular activity — summiting mountains over 3,000 feet.

For those who enjoy long-distance treks, the West Highland Way stretches some 96 miles through the best of the Highlands and takes most hikers 5-7 days.

You can carry everything with you, or hire a company to transport the bulk of your gear to guesthouses ahead of your arrival.

Countless shorter day hikes can be found in the area too.

One of my favorites was Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge, where the trail follows a mountain river funneling into a narrow rocky gorge. It ends with Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall dropping over 300 feet.

Three Sisters Peaks Highlands
Three Sisters Mountains in Glencoe
Sheep hiding in grass
Random Sheep Everywhere!

5. Dark History Of Glen Coe

Widely considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, the spectacular valley of Glen Coe has a haunted past — a 17th-century massacre of 38 members of the MacDonald Clan in the snow.

Another 40 women & children died of exposure when their homes were burned to the ground.

Yet the landscape is equally as haunting as its past. Driving around the towering peaks of the “Three Sisters” under foreboding clouds & drizzling rain, you can feel the weight of sadness on this place.

Pull off in a parking area for photos, or spend an afternoon hiking some trails. Further on is the village of Glencoe, where you can find lodges, cafes, or restaurants to help break up the drive.

Train in Scottish Highlands
The Jacobite Steam Train
Hogwart's Express Scotland
Real-Life Hogwart’s Express

6. The Jacobite Steam Train

Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? Well, that train really exists! The Jacobite Steam Train has been called the most scenic train journey in the world, and for good reason.

Starting in Fort William, this 84 mile journey takes passengers deep into the Highlands, ending at the small fishing village of Mallaig.

Along the way it travels across old stone bridges, through misty mountain passes, and past deep freshwater lochs.

Tickets sell out fast, but if you’re driving nearby, you should stop at the lookout over Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the train passes around 11am and 3pm for wonderful photo opportunities!

Loch Ness Scotland
Banks of Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle Highlands
Urquhart Castle Ruins

7. Monster Spotting At Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a deep, cold, and very murky lake in the heart of the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness. For years locals and tourists have reported witnessing a large unidentified creature with a long neck swimming through the water.

A popular activity is sailing across Loch Ness to the ancient ruins of Urquart Castle, searching for the Loch Ness Monster (aka Nessie) along the way.

I stopped by Loch Ness while driving back from Skye to catch a train to Glasgow at the end of my journey.

Some people believe Nessie is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur who’s survived to modern times by living isolated from the sea within the loch.

What do you think? Is the Loch Ness Monster real?

Mountain Biking Highlands
Mountain Biking in the Highlands

8. Mountain Biking Nevis Range

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, lies the Nevis Range mountain bike trails. They have trails for all levels, from relaxing forrest routes to white-knuckle World Cup downhill tracks.

You can rent all sorts of different bikes and protective gear from £25 – £60 per day, and either cycle uphill through the cross country trails on your own, or ride the gondola lift up to the world-class downhill trails.

I spent the morning riding the “Witches Trails”, a fun mix of single track and wider trails that wind through the trees, with the occasional wooden boardwalk or ramp. A low mist had the forrest looking particularly eerie.

Scotland is home to quite a few professional mountain bikers, including Danny Macaskill, the star of an epic short YouTube film called “The Ridge” shot on the Isle of Skye. It will make your heart race!

Eilean Donan Castle Highlands
Scotland’s Eilean Donan Castle
Episcopal Church Highlands
St. John’s Episcopal Church Ballachulish

9. Ancient Castles & Cathedrals

It goes without saying that Scotland is overflowing with its share of magnificent castles. There are literally hundreds of them, both ruined and active residences.

Scotland’s castles were built as military fortifications, and there are plenty of epic battle stories or sensational legends to learn about once you visit them.

I had the chance to visit a few, like the incredibly picturesque Eilean Donan, the MacLeod family stronghold of Dunvegan in Skye, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness.

If you’re a fan of old stone churches too, make sure to stop by Glenfinnan Church, St. Andrews, and St. Johns of Ballachulish as you drive through the Highlands.

Where To Stay In The Highlands

The unofficial capital of the Scottish Highlands is the town of Fort William. During the summer high season, hotels can sell out fast so it’s important to book in advance! If you’re wondering where to stay in the highlands, here are my recommendations.


Best Accommodation In Scottish Highlands


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Camping Options

Wild camping is allowed all over the Scottish Highlands, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. Remember to leave no trace! There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

Transportation In The Highlands

Rental Car

The best site to book your rental car is with Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car for driving in Scotland.

By Train

Traveling by train is a wonderful way to see the Scottish Highlands. You can find train schedules on the ScotRail website. But while traveling by train is possible, there aren’t many stops in the highlands, so you’ll miss a lot without a car.

Weather In The Scottish Highlands

Scotland’s weather is famous around the world! Famous for being bad. Yes, you’ll probably encounter some rain on your trip. But you might see the sun too!

The weather can change quickly from day to day, or even the same day. The best time to visit Scotland is in the summer months, generally May – September. May & June are the driest/warmest months.

Scottish Highlands Tips & Advice

Mountains and Rivers in the Highlands
Buachaille Etive Mor

Once you visit the Scottish Highlands, the area will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve returned home. Here are a few tips to consider before you arrive, to ensure you have a great trip.

  • Everyone thinks of Scotland and the UK as expensive places to visit. While that may have been the case a few years ago, right now the exchange rate is almost equal (thanks Brexit!).
  • Scotland is often wet. So make sure to pack waterproof gear because the weather can, and does, change very quickly year-round.
  • While the drive from Glasgow to Fort William only takes about 2.5 hours, you’ll want to set aside more time to explore! I recommend at least 3 days in the Highlands, if not more.
  • Don’t be afraid of the food! Yes it’s greasy, heavy, and often made of animal guts. I recommend trying Haggis, Blood Sausage, and a Scottish Breakfast.
  • You may find some single-lane roads — with two-way traffic. It can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention. Watch for little pull-offs on the side of the road to let other cars pass.

Travel Video: Scottish Highlands Road Trip


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Travel Planning Resources For Scotland

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.

Book Your Flight

Ready to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.

Cheap Accommodation

Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Highlands & Islands
Suggested Reading: Scottish Fairy & Folk Tales

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Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens! Take a look at my Scotland Highlands road trip itinerary to get some inspiration for your next adventure. ExpertVagabond.com #Scotland #UnitedKingdom #Roadtrip #Adventure #Travel
Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens! Take a look at my Scotland Highlands road trip itinerary to get some inspiration for your next adventure. ExpertVagabond.com #Scotland #UnitedKingdom #Roadtrip #Adventure #Travel

READ MORE SCOTLAND TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to exploring the Scottish Highlands! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Have any questions about traveling the Scottish Highlands? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (24)

  1. We locals are fed-up with the incompetence of visitors driving and their lack of awareness for others. Read and pay attention to the driving information you are given when renting the vehicle. Do not block the “passing places” by using them to take photos.

    It’s also stupid to stop in the middle of the road to take photos of highland cattle!

    • You should definitely visit the Scottish highlands if you have a chance! It’s a beautiful area — and perfect for those who love the outdoors (or are fans of Harry Potter).

  2. What an awesome post. I read this because I have just been in Ireland, but I have heard so many good things about Scotland. After seeing these pics, I am ready to take the plane :-) Nice article, keep up the good work.

    • Scotland can be similar to Ireland, the rolling green hills, rainy weather. However the mountains in Scotland are much larger! The Scottish highlands has some excellent hiking if you’re into the outdoors.

  3. Love the Highlands! Went to Scotland in 2000, and couldn’t get enough of it. Most of the places you went, I also have been and I am ready to go again anytime. Loved Glen Coe, and really have a picture of “Nessy” either coming or going. It is a wonderful country and so enjoyed your Blog about beautiful Scotland. Thank you.

    • Great to hear Kathy! I only got to scratch the surface of Scotland on my visit, I’d love to return and see other parts of the country beyond the highlands — like the North Coast 500 drive.

  4. All the green reminds me of The Hobbit set in New Zealand! It looks gorgeous. I’d have to get used to the food, I admire your bravery in embracing it.

    I’ll keep Scotland in the back of my mind!

    • Have fun on your trip Siggi! I hope the weather is nice for you. You’ll love the Scottish highlands either way, but it helps to have a bit of sun!

  5. Looks amazing! I’ve always wanted to hike the West Highland Way and keep putting it off. This just inspired me to move it up on the list!

  6. Wow your photos are amazing, we went round the highlands last year with EasyWays and they were amazing, your pictures reminded me of some great times – far better quality than the ones I took at the time!

  7. oh mannnnnnnnn! Scotland is beautiful!!!! I just read another scotland post (from another blogger) now im a little addicted and stumbled upon your post! Im sure the pictures dont do is justice but DAMN its green and beautiful! I so want to go!!!
    All the awesome places to travel to are on the othersie of the world!!! I think i need to stop eating for a few months to save up enough to come over for a few months haha!

  8. Funny Brexit is already affecting the exchange rates. I’ll like to visit the Old Pines Hotel And Restaurant with my young family. Looking forward to the adventure next month. Thanks for sharing, Matthew.

  9. This looks like an epic trip and loving the photos! My husband used to travel often to Scotland and is a big fan. One of my regrets of living in Europe for 6 years is not going to Scotland. Hopefully I’ll get there soon!

  10. I love the Scottish Highlands! I went on a cruise there in 2014, and saw many of these places mentioned on the article. I also saw the Orkney and Shetland islands.

  11. Great photos! I traveled around Scotland on my honeymoon and this took me right back! We took the other way around though; Glasgow – Edinburgh – St. Andrews – Inverness – Skye – Glen Coe – Glasgow.

  12. Great photos per usual!

    Was catching up on some back episodes of the Amateur Traveler podcast and heard your Greenland episode. Great stuff!

  13. Love this post! I lived in Edinburgh earlier this year and did a roadtrip from the capital to Isle of Skye via Glencoe and this post made me wanna do it all again… Your photos are just amazing.

    If anybody’s reading this an wondering whether to go or not – just do it! :-D

  14. LOVE the photographs! I lived in Scotland for a year last year as an American student, and I have been to all the areas you listed. For the rest of the readers, if you’re into hiking, also do all or part of the West Highland Way! Scotland is an amazing and beautiful country, and although wet, is well worth the visit.

    • I kept running into hikers on the West Highland Way during this trip, and wish I had more time to join them. Another time!