The thrill-seeking Absolute Escapes team are forever exploring, and we have each chosen our favourite short walk in the country. We hope this list will inspire you to lace up your walking boots and discover why Scotland is one of the best hiking destinations in the world.
Some walks are a stone’s throw from our major cities while others require a bit more effort to reach, but all could be incorporated into an unforgettable self-drive holiday in Scotland.
North of Ullapool, just off the North Coast 500, you’ll find one of the most spectacular little hills in Scotland. Standing alone in a relatively flat landscape, Stac Pollaidh (pronounced “Stack Polly”) offers unbroken views over the empty wilderness of Assynt – a patchwork of lochs and moorland punctuated by the occasional mountain rising up out of nowhere.
From the car park by Loch Lurgainn, a well-constructed path circles around to the back of the hill, then heads up fairly steeply to the lowest point of the ridge. From the ridge you’ll be able to make out the Summer Isles to the south, and the magnificent mountains of Suilven and Cul Mor to the north. For those with a head for heights, scramble up to either the east or west summit of Stac Pollaidh.
Distance: 2.75 miles / 4.5 km
Time: 2 – 4 hours
Ascent: 510 m
South of Glencoe, Coire Gabhail, commonly known as the Lost Valley, is a short, rugged walk into the valley where Clan MacDonald hid their rustled cattle. The path steeply clings to the side of the gorge, and within a couple of hours ascends to the beautiful, isolated valley, alongside a dramatic stream.
The MacDonalds famously fell out with the Campbells, culminating in the infamous massacre of Glencoe in 1692, and many took to hiding in Coire Gabhail while their houses burnt down. The wide, flat valley floor, spectacular mountain views, and intense stillness evoke a sense of this fateful night in history.
Distance: 2.5 miles / 4 km
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Ascent: 335 m
When searching for the best hikes in Scotland it’s easy to instinctively head for the Highlands – home to the highest peaks and deepest valleys – but travel south instead and you’ll discover a dramatic, unexplored landscape full of incredible walks like the Grey Mare’s Tail & Loch Skeen.
Ten miles east of the attractive market town of Moffat you’ll find the Grey Mares Tail Nature Reserve. From the car park you’ll instantly spot the 200 foot waterfall – the 5th highest in the UK – cascading down the hill. Follow the path to the right hand side which climbs steeply up the hanging valley to the source of the waterfall – Loch Skeen, which appears to be magically suspended in the sky, before retracing your steps back to the car park. This extreme landscape was shaped by glacial erosion over millions of years, and there are spectacular views throughout.
Distance: 2.75 miles / 4.5 km
Time: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
Ascent: 278 m
Mention the Isle of Skye and you think of its famous mountains the Cuillin Hills, but my walk of choice is the scenic stroll at the most westerly point of the island along Neist Point reaching out into the sea.
From the beginning of the walk you are rewarded with the iconic scene of An t-Aigeach hill with the lighthouse peering behind. As you climb the path over An t-Aigeach, turn around and you’ll have Skye’s second highest cliffs watching over you – The Hoe and Waterstein Head. Once you reach the lighthouse, continue to the edge by the cliffs as it’s one of the best places on Skye to spot whales and dolphins.
Time your visit wisely and you’ll be treated to a stunning sunset, the days final rays glowing against the rock, but if you miss it there is always tomorrow.
Distance: 2 miles / 3 km
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Ascent: 142 m
Nestled in behind Contin, near Inverness, Rogie Falls is a hidden Highland beauty spot. Beginning at an easily accessible car park, the well waymarked path winds through dense forest descending down to the Blackwater River – a popular spot for seeing jumping salmon.
The spectacular falls can be admired from a dramatic suspension bridge, and once across the bridge you enter a woodland paradise. The forest track guides you to a viewpoint from which you can look over to Loch Achilty. The trail continues upwards leading to the picturesque Loch Na Crann. During Spring, the loch is overrun with beautiful lily pads and wildlife alike. The path continues along the shore with peaceful picnic spots a plenty!
Come winter, hundreds of determined cyclists descend on this area to compete in one of the world’s toughest mountain bike challenges – The Strathpuffer. Competitors cycle constantly for 24 hours in below-freezing temperatures, ice, wind and rain! The Strathpuffer Race isn’t for everyone, but a walk over the stunning falls and through the forest can be.
Distance: 3.2 miles / 5 km
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Ascent: 165 m
Close to Scotland’s capital is Allermuir Hill, a great short walk within the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh. This walk offers spectacular views over the city and, on a clear day, across to the Kingdom of Fife. The path starts and finishes at the Midlothian Snowsports Centre which is easily accessible from Edinburgh’s city centre.
The steep ascent is worth it for the panoramic views at the top. The route descends into the picturesque village of Swanson where you will rejoin the main road back to the Snowsports Centre. This walk gives you a great chance to experience Edinburgh from a different angle, and is a lovely afternoon outdoors without having to travel too far from the city.
Distance: 3.75 miles / 6 km
Time: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Ascent: 493 m
The Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland has no shortage of short and enjoyable walks. The King’s Cave Circuit, close to Blackwaterfoot on the west of the island, offers wonderful views and a variety of landscapes.
The walk begins from a forestry car park approximately 3 km north of Blackwaterfoot, initially venturing through thick forest before opening up and descending down a rocky gully to follow the coastline. This is an enjoyable crossing through gorse and heather which offers incredible views of the sea cliffs and the shore ahead. As you reach the shore you will join the Arran Coastal Way which leads up to King’s Cave. As legend goes, this is the location where Robert the Bruce encountered a spider and was inspired to continue his fight for Scottish independence.
As you continue to follow the path, the route will take you to higher ground, climbing back up towards the forest. This section offers breathtaking views of the coastline behind, and green valleys and farmland ahead.
Distance: 2.75 miles / 4.5 km
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Ascent: 140 m
When people dream of Scottish islands, Colonsay is the kind of paradise they have in mind. With a population of just over 100 and promises of crystal clear waters, magnificent white sandy beaches, big empty skies, and one of the highest records for sunshine in Scotland – this island never disappoints.
As with most islands off the west coast, the best way to explore is always on foot, and one of my favourite walks takes you from Colonsay across to its tiny neighbour, Oronsay. The two islands are connected by a tidal causeway and this makes for a great half-day walk, picking your way across The Strand beach at low tide and exploring the 14th century Priory on the other side.
After visiting the priory, you then follow a wonderful coastal path that takes you past a seal colony with fine views across to Islay and Jura. As Oronsay is an RSPB Reserve you’ll need to look out for corncrakes and choughs as you make your way back to the causeway before the tide returns.
Distance: 6.25 miles / 10 km
Time: 3 – 4 hours
Ascent: 50 m
Loch Muick lies just twenty minutes outside of Ballater, on the Balmoral Estate. The route begins at the Spittal of Glenmuick Visitor Centre, which is maintained by the Balmoral Ranger Service. Here you will find plenty of information on the seasonal wildlife in the area.
The route runs along the shores of Loch Muick, passing by the southern side of Lochnagar, a popular Munro and the subject of Lord Byron’s poem ‘Lachin y Gair’. Here you will find Glas-allt Sheil house – a lodge built in 1868 by Queen Victoria following the death of her husband. She referred to it as her “widow’s house” and it is plain to see why she chose this location as her escape from the world where she could grieve in private.
Continuing along the path takes you through woodland, over rivers, and along the shoreline. It boasts impressive views throughout and the constant presence of the loch is calming on the mind.
Distance: 7.75 miles / 12.5 km
Time: 3 – 4 hours
Ascent: 170 m
Beginning at the Laggan car park in the picturesque village of Comrie, this fully waymarked circular walk takes you through Laggan Wood by the side of the River Lednock and upwards to spectacular forest views. The walk continues through the open air of Glen Lednock surrounded by imposing cliffs and down past the Deil’s Cauldron Waterfall – an impressive cascade with a fabulously dramatic viewing platform built by local volunteers.
Highlights of the route include ‘the shaky bridge’, which is supported at one end by a large sycamore tree with a little rocky, riverside beach underneath, as well as the optional (but highly recommended!) ascent to Melville’s Monument atop Dunmore Hill.
Returning to the car park, you’ll stroll through the village where you can stop at the Deli for coffee and cake, or perhaps visit Comrie Fish & Chip Shop for a fish supper or that new age Scottish delicacy – the deep fried mars bar!
Distance: 4.75 miles / 7.5 km
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Ascent: 260 m
Immerse yourself in a woodland wonderland on this magical walk through the spectacular Perthshire forest. Originally designed in the 18th century for the Dukes of Atholl, The Hermitage is now a popular spot with walkers and mountain bikers alike. When I visited there was even a wedding taking place amongst the towering Douglas firs and stunning autumnal foliage!
There are multiple paths to choose from, and I can personally recommend the circular Braan walk, which takes in the best of what the forest has to offer. The path explores the Hermitage woods, where on a quiet day red squirrels can be spotted, and soon leads to Ossian’s Hall, a folly built overlooking the tumbling waterfall below. The Rumbling Bridge, an old stone bridge built over an imposing gorge is another must-visit. After a short climb, the vista opens up to reveal stunning views of Perthshire and beyond.
Distance: 4 miles / 6.5 km
Time: 2 hours
Ascent: 140 m
This short but challenging walk begins from the romantic ruins of Melrose Abbey and takes in the three shapely summits of the Eildon Hills which surround the town. These hills are a distinctive element of the Scottish Borders and are perhaps the best known landmark in the region. The ‘triple peaks’ are certainly unique in their origin and formation, and are what’s left of a chain of volcanic activity. Unlike most volcanoes, the eruption occurred underground and the solidified lava was then uncovered as the softer rocks above eroded away.
The summits are marked by cairns and enjoy stunning views towards the Leaderfoot Viaduct, Galashiels, and on a clear day, look out to the Lammermuirs, Moorfoots and Upper Tweeddale Hills. Perhaps the finest viewpoint in the Borders, the outlook has depth as well as distance. You also have the added bonus of encountering parts of the St Cuthbert’s Way and Borders Abbeys Way en route.
Distance: 5.5 miles / 8.75km
Time: 4 hours
Ascent: 477 m
This is one of the finest and most straightforward Corbetts around. The appeal of Meall a’ Bhuachaille is how accessible it is, unlike many of its larger neighbouring hills.
This very popular walk starts from the Glenmore Forest Park Visitor Centre, only 20 minutes drive from Aviemore. With great paths all the way to the top, you don’t have to worry about navigating and can really admire the landscape. An easy start to the walk, the path will take you past impressive Scots Pines and lead you onto the magical Green Loch. Once you reach the Ryvoan Bothy the steady climb to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille will begin.
Your reward at the top, on a clear day, is spectacular. The landscape opens up for 360 degree views over the expansive Abernethy Forest and Cairngorms in the distance. On return to the car park I highly recommend visiting the Rothiemurchus School House for a well deserved cup of tea and slice of cake.
Distance: 5.25 miles / 8.5 km
Time: 3.5 – 4.5 hours
Ascent: 543 m
This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the multitude of wonderful short walks available from the Scottish Borders to Shetland, but we hope that it inspires you to discover what makes Scotland a world-class destination for hiking.
The only problem is deciding which to walk first!
P.S. As well as self-drive holidays, we also offer packages on some of the best long-distance walking trails in Scotland, including the West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Skye Trail and St Cuthbert’s Way. If you need any help planning your trip to Scotland then please do not hesitate to send us an enquiry. Thanks to our friends at WalkHighlands for being a constant source of inspiration for walking in Scotland!