> Hillwalk Tours Blog > Featured Posts > Ultimate Guide to the Great Glen Way
POSTED BY May 18, 2023
great glen way with hillwalk tours 26

Route Overview

Where is the Great Glen Way?

The Great Glen Way, a cherished part of Scotland’s official Great Trails, was established in 2002. Stretching for 127km (79 miles) from the western town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands to the eastern city of Inverness. It is customary to embark on the Great Glen Way from west to east, aligning with the prevailing wind.

Along this route, awe-inspiring and atmospheric landscapes unfold, showcasing some of Scotland’s most breathtaking scenery. Hikers are treated to uninterrupted vistas of the expansive Loch Linnhe and Loch Oich, while passing through enchanting forests that overlook the deep and enigmatic Loch Ness. Keep a keen eye out for the legendary ‘Loch Ness Monster,’ although you might be left waiting, as Loch Ness is the largest lake in the UK by volume.

Why should you walk the Great Glen Way?

Experience timeless Scottish Highland scenery with lochs, forest trails and heather covered hills, and maybe even catch a glimpse of “Nessie”, the Loch Ness Monster! Follow this stunning coast-to-coast hiking trail all the way across Scotland, as you trace the route of the Caledonian Canal from Fort William on the Atlantic to Inverness on the North Sea. Enjoy spectacular surroundings, minus the climbing, as most of this relatively gentle hike keeps to lower levels of the Great Glen.

For those willing to spend a little more energy in exchange for more dramatic views across Loch Ness there is also a higher-level route option between Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit. Visit the iconic Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. The famous ruins of this 13th Century stronghold will give you a taste of how it felt to live during medieval Scotland.

When is the best time to walk the Great Glen Way?

The climate of Scotland is temperate, and tends to be very changeable. It’s not uncommon to experience all four seasons in one day! The warmest months are July and August with temperatures at an average 17°C. Rain falls throughout the year and April, May and June are normally the driest months.

Annual rainfall in the western Highlands can be more than 3,000mm while the east coast receives an average of less than 800mm. The prevailing winds are from the west and southwest are a constant feature in the Highlands.

How long does it take to hike the Great Glen Way?

The 127km (79 miles) long Great Glen Way trail usually takes between 4 and 9 days to complete. This depends on the pace you walk it, fitness levels and what activities and attractions you may like to visit along the way.

At Hillwalk Tours, we offer Gentle, Moderate and Challenging tour grading levels depending on the balance of physical challenge and comfort level that you require. Within these levels, you can choose between 4 to 9-day hiking tours to complete the full trail or part of it. All you have to decide is how many kilometres / miles you would like to walk per day and we’ll take care of the rest!

Tour Route

Types of Trails

Choosing the right hiking tour for you can be, at times, tricky. It is always important to consider your own physical capability and comfort levels.

For example, at Hillwalk Tours, we have grouped each trail route we offer into three categories depending on personal preference and fitness levels. These are – gentle, moderate, and challenging. Each of these categories, depending on the destination, will include anything from 4 to 13-day itineraries, with customers given the option to add rest days where they see fit.

Our gentle hikes are perfectly suited for those who would consider themselves as a part-time hiker who enjoys taking photos and meeting locals while taking in the spectacular scenery. Our moderate hikes will suit people who are used to regular exercise and appreciate the opportunity of covering plenty of ground each day without going beyond their limits. Finally, our challenging hikes are for hikers who look to set off early in the morning and not stop until they have reached their destination.

With regards to our Great Glen Way trail, we offer a range of 4 to 9-day hikes across gentle, moderate and challenging levels. Each of these hiking categories cover the following average hiking distance and time each day:

Gentle: 15-17km or 9.5-11 miles and between 4-6 hours per day

Moderate: 18-22km or 11-14 miles and between 4-7 hours per day

Challenging: 26-30km or 16-19 miles and between 5-8 hours per day

great glen way with hillwalk tours
Great Glen Way Hiking trail

Hillwalk Tours Guide Notes

If you decide to walk the trail with Hillwalk Tours, you will receive a detailed walking pack once you have fully booked your hiking holiday. This walking pack will include detailed maps and unique route notes and walking directions written and constantly updated by our route development team. By personally walking each trail and creating our own detailed route notes, it allows us to provide more itineraries, route options and alternatives than what you will typically find across generic guidebooks. It also includes GPS tracks meaning you will never have to worry about getting lost.

Starting and Finishing Point

The trail commences from the edge of Loch Linnhe, a sea loch that opens out onto the Atlantic Ocean. The route takes you to the various freshwater lochs, which make up the Caledonian Canal inland waterway. For those “Nessie” believers, this majestic waterway is linked to the magical Loch Ness, where you will have the opportunity to see if you can spot the mythical monster. The way heads into open moor and farmland before entering the hustling, bustling streets of Inverness where the route finishes. Much of the route follows forest tracks and roads as well as the well-maintained and mostly level towpaths of the Caledonian Canal. For the more experienced walker, a more challenging route with more climbs and slightly more rugged terrain is available.

Sample Great Glen Way Itineraries

The following are examples of Hillwalk Tours Gentle, Moderate and Challenging itineraries of hiking the Great Glen Way:

Gentle 5-Day

Day 1: Arrival in Invermoriston

Day 2: Alltsigh to Drumnadrochit (11.2 or 18km)

Day 3: Blackfold to Drumnadrochit (17km or 10.6 miles)

Day 4: Blackfold to Inverness (14km or 8.7 miles)

Day 5: Departure from Inverness

Moderate 6-Day

Day 1: Arrival in Fort Augustus

Day 2: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston (14 or 12km / 8.7 or 7.5 miles)

Day 3: Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit (22 or 24km / 14.9 or 13.7 miles)

Day 4: Blackfold to Drumnadrochit (17km or 10.6 miles)

Day 5: Blackfold to Inverness (14km or 8.7 miles)

Day 6: Departure from Inverness

Challenging 7-Day

Day 1: Arrival in Fort William

Day 2: Fort William to Spean Bridge (23km or 14.3 miles)

Day 3: Spean Bridge to Laggan (29 or 25km / 18 or 15.5 miles)

Day 4: Laggan/Invergarry to Invermoriston (29 or 25km / 18 or 15.4 miles)

Day 5: Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit (24 or 22km / 14.9 or 13.7 miles)

Day 6: Drumnadrochit to Inverness (31km or 19.3 miles)

Day 7: Departure from Inverness

great glen way with hillwalk tours
Hikers on the Great Glen Way

Hillwalk Tours Great Glen Way Map

The Great Glen Way Terrain


The Great Glen Way is generally very well sign-posted throughout its entirety. You will regularly see a blue and black signpost throughout which will help indicate your every next turn, making it significantly difficult for you to get lost or take the wrong turn.

If you are ever in doubt, you can also check the Hillwalk Tours turn by turn directions and route notes including GPS coordinates. We also supply all you need to know about local information and history as you pass, along with trail alternatives and other activities.

Want to learn more about how to read a map? Check out this blog post.


Much of the route follows forest tracks and roads as well as the well-maintained and mostly level towpaths of the Caledonian Canal. The new higher route options (from Fort Augustus to Invermoriston, and Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit) offer a more challenging walking experience with more climbs and slightly more rugged terrain. The high-level moorland around Blackfold between Drumnadrochit and Inverness can be exposed to the elements.

Aggregate ascent over the whole route is approximately 2,600m, and there are very few sustained or steep climbs. The highest point on the Way is 422m above sea level, on the slopes of Creag Dhearg, which is just above Alltsigh.

Sights & Attractions

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a large freshwater loch extending for approximately 37 kilometres (23 miles) southwest of Inverness. It takes its name from the River Ness, which flows from the northern end. The loch is famous for inhabiting the mythical sea monster ‘The Loch Ness Monster’ or ‘Nessie’. To this day there have been no notable sightings, and any apparent sightings have been debunked, of this mystical creature so it has been widely regarded as a myth. The loch still gathers many tourists each year in hopes that they will catch a glimpse of Nessie.

Loch ness on the great glen way
Loch Ness on the Great Glen Way

Caledonian Canal

The Caledonian Canal stretches 60 miles along the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness. This stunning Highlands waterway runs from Inverness to Fort William. It passes through a range of pretty towns and villages, lochs and countryside, providing a beautiful scenic setting for tourists.

fort augustus and loch ness
Caledonian Canal

Scottish Highlands

By far the largest region in Scotland, the Highlands covers nearly 10,000 sq miles in northern Scotland. The region is home to some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, flora and fauna as far as the eye can see. With welcoming people, a unique culture, dramatic landscapes, and a fascinating history it’s no wonder that it was named as one of National Geographic’s ‘Best of the World’ destinations for 2023.

Scottish highlands
Scottish Highlands

Urquhart Castle

The magnificent Urquhart Castle, once one of Scotland’s largest castles, saw great conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. Control of the castle passed between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. The last of the government troops blew up the castle when they left leaving what’s left of the castle. Today, the beautiful remains offer visitors glimpses into medieval times.

Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle

Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe, along the Great Glen Way route, boasts fantastic scenery and beautiful evening sunsets. The area offers many other outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, sailing and walking for all visitors to enjoy. The Loch is 31 miles in length and stretches past Fort William.

Loch Linnhe
Loch Linnhe

Loch Oich

Loch Oich is a freshwater loch which forms part of the Caledonian Canal. This narrow loch lies between Loch Ness and Loch Lochy along the route. Loch Oich boasts some beautiful fauna ranging from a variety of fish to reptiles.

Loch Oich - Source: Wikimedia Commons
Loch Oich – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Neptune’s Staircase

The magnificent Neptune’s Staircase is a staircase lock on the Caledonian Canal. Designed by canal and bridge builder Thomas Telford, the staircase comprises of eight locks and takes boats roughly 90 minutes to travel up the staircase to the top. It is the longest staircase lock in the UK.

Neptune's Staircase - Source: Ravenswood B&B
Neptune’s Staircase – Source: Ravenswood B&B

Hogwarts Express Steam Train 

The famous ‘Hogwarts Express’ runs from Fort William everyday to give all those Potter Heads a chance to follow in Harry’s footsteps. Hop aboard the Jacobite steam train, and live your Harry Potter filled dreams. This trip can be made at the beginning of the Great Glen Way walking tour.

Hogwarts Express Steam train
Hogwart’s Express Steam Train


Wildlife is plentiful along the Great Glen Way route with a vast array of ospreys and oystercatchers, bog myrtle and butterwort, wild boar and wildcats. Other notable wildlife include, red deer, buzzard, red squirrel, wood ant, pine marten, raven and black grouse. It is of course great to get up close and personal with any of these animals. However, to maintain these experiences as much as possible, it is important that hikers interact as little as possible with the wild animals.

The do’s and don’ts regarding wildlife are, as always, self-explanatory. Feeding is of course out of the question, but also try not to run after animals for photos. Leave the animals alone as much as possible – after all, you are visiting their “home”.

History of the Great Glen Way

The Great Glen unveils a remarkable tale of a tumultuous tectonic clash that uplifted the Scottish Highlands and carved a colossal crevice stretching across the entire breadth of the nation. Embraced by the lofty peaks of the UK’s most majestic mountains and graced with four vast lochs. This glen encapsulates the abundant heritage of the Highlands and stands as an unparalleled wilderness for intrepid souls seeking adventure. Since then, the Lords of the Isles, Robert the Bruce and the Jacobite’s have given the Great Glen area its fair share of historical stories to tell.

In more recent times, advancements in modern engineering made it possible to construct a network of canals that linked Scotland’s eastern and western coasts. This enabled boats to navigate through the terrain instead of undertaking voyages around the northern coast. Utilizing the majestic waters of Loch Ness, Loch Lochy, and Loch Oich, these canals seamlessly connected each body of water, resulting in the creation of the renowned Great Caledonian Canal.

The Great Glen Way itself was opened in 2002, and is designated as one of Scotland’s Great Trails. The Great Glen Way is generally walked from southwest to northeast to follow the direction of the prevailing wind.

Great Glen Way Pop Culture

Film and TV

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and his friends regularly passed through the Scottish Highlands as they made their way to and from Hogwarts aboard the Hogwarts Express. One of the most famous images from these movies is the sight of the train crossing the marvellous Glenfinnan Viaduct. This trip can be made at the beginning of the Great Glen Way walking tour in Fort William.

Hogwarts Express
Hogwarts Express

Brave (2012)

Urquhart Castle, which can be seen along the Great Glen Way on the shores of Loch Ness, inspired the creators of this film when they visited Scotland for ideas in 2006 and 2007.

Brave - Source: Disney.com
Brave – Source: Disney.com

Braveheart (1995)

The area around Fort William has starred time and time again in a series of movies. Glen Nevis stars heavily in Braveheart.

Braveheart - Source: Motivated2Inspire
Braveheart – Source: Motivated2Inspire

Rob Roy (1995)

This cattle rustler turned folk hero was memorably played by Liam Neeson in Rob Roy. The film enjoys a series of spectacular locations all over Scotland and two in particular around the Great Glen.

Rob Roy Way - Source: IMDb
Rob Roy Way – Source: IMDb

Loch Ness Monster (Star of multiple films and series)

Nessie, Scotland’s beloved enigma, reigns as one of its greatest celebrities. Her presence has graced the silver screen almost as frequently as she has tantalised us with grainy and inconclusive photographs. From her inaugural appearance in the 1934 feature film “Secret of the Loch” to her cameos in renowned productions like “Scooby-Doo,” “Lassie,” and “Doctor Who,” Nessie has made her mark in countless films and TV series.

Scooby-Doo - Source: Entertainment.ie
Scooby-Doo – Source: Entertainment.ie

Food and Drink

Below are just some of the food and drink synonymous with the country of Scotland that should be tried while walking the Great Glen Way:


When you think of Scottish cuisine, Haggis is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. It is a savoury pudding which is made up of a delicious combination of sheep’s pluck (organ meats), oatmeal, onions, salt, and spices. To some, haggis isn’t often the prettiest of foods, but makes up for it with its palatable taste.

Haggis – Source: Pollock Williamson

Tattie Scones

Whenever you see tattie in Scotland, you can be quite sure they are referring to potatoes. Tattie scones then are traditional potato scones made in Scotland. They are made from mashed potato, flour and butter which is then rolled out and put on an ungreased griddle to cook. It is said that no Scottish breakfast is complete without a Tattie scone – and we wholeheartedly agree!

Tattie Scones - Source: Tastie
Tattie Scones – Source: Tastie

Full Scottish Breakfast

Depending on where you go, a full Scottish breakfast is typically made up of sausages, bacon, baked beans, hashbrowns, black pudding, mushrooms, tattie scones, fried eggs, tomatoes, and toast. Found in B&B’s, restaurants, and cafes up and down the country, it is the ideal breakfast to set you up for a great day of exploring one of our Scottish trails.

Full Scottish
Full Scottish – Source: Tasting Table


The seafood caught in the surrounding waters of Scotland is known for its fresh quality. So much so that it is served in many of the finest restaurants across Britain and Europe. Examples of this fabulous seafood includes smoked salmon, seatrout, scallops, lobsters, and oysters. For all of you fish and chip lovers out there, you have not lived until you have tried a Scottish fish ‘n’ chip!

Seafood - Source: Ardconnel Court
Seafood – Source: Ardconnel Court


Commonly mistaken for fudge, tablet is a medium-hard sweet which originated in Scotland. The sugary confection is typically made from butter, condensed milk, and sugar. It is then often flavoured with anything from vanilla, chocolate, raisins or even rum.

Tablet - Source: Baking with Granny
Tablet – Source: Baking with Granny


Shortbread biscuits, otherwise known as shorties, are a traditional Scottish biscuit which are unique as baking powder or soda is not used in the process of making them. Instead, the scrumptious shorties are made with sugar, butter, and plain flour. We highly recommend that you ‘dunk’ yours into your tea or coffee…thank us later!

Shortbread - Source: BBC
Shortbread – Source: BBC

Scotch Whisky

It is hard to ever mention Scotland without ever thinking of their world-renowned scotch whisky. It can be made from malted barley, wheat and/or rye with every whisky having to be aged in an oak barrel for at least three years. With the first written record of whisky recorded in 1494, there are now around 140 whisky distilleries currently operating in Scotland. Fancy a tipple? You will be able to visit Ben Nevis Distillery upon your arrival at Fort William. If you’d fancy more than just a tipple then check out our Speyside Way Whisky trail.

scotch whiskey
Scotch Whiskey


Often referred to as Scotland’s second national drink, Irn-Bru is an orange-coloured soft carbonated drink that holds a distinctively sweet, tangy taste. It is so popular throughout Scotland that it has long been the best-selling carbonated drink ahead of Coca-Cola and is the third largest selling soft drink across the United Kingdom. The Scots are such fans of this fizzy pop that they even use it to glaze their ham or to make cupcakes!

irn bru
Irn Bru

Is the Great Glen Way Vegan Friendly

The vegan diet has become more and more popular throughout Europe in recent years, and you will find that there are plenty of vegan options available in most eateries. Each of the accommodation we work with at Hillwalk Tours have given us their guarantee that vegan breakfasts will be catered for once they have been informed. That being said, some of the more rural locations of the trail may have limited options so we advise bringing certain items such as plant-based milk, nut butters or protein powders if you so choose.

In addition, the following apps show restaurants which offer vegetarian and/or vegan options:

Nearby Trails

There are various other Scottish & UK trails available to you once you have completed the Great Glen Way. Here are some other Hillwalk Tours hiking tours we offer:

Great Glen Way Tips and FAQ

Probably one of the most common questions asked when hiking the Great Glen Way or any trail for that matter is – what will I pack?

Once you have fully booked your Hillwalk Tours hiking holiday, you will receive a detailed ‘recommended equipment’ list inside your Walking Pack. For those who are still unsure of what to bring, here are some of the things we advise you bring with you along the Great Glen Way:

– Waterproof Clothing
– Fleece and other warm clothing
– Base Layer
– Light, comfortable Trousers
– Wicking Socks
– Suitable Hiking Boots
– Backpack/Rucksack
– Hat and Gloves
– First Aid Kit and Foil Blanket
– Whistle and Torch
– Insect Repellent
– Mobile Phone
– Plug Adapter/Converter

For more on what to pack – check out these packing musts.

As it is such a popular National Trail, you will never be alone as such while walking the Great Glen Way. You will always meet people along the way with the only exception of course being in the depths of winter.

If you experience any difficulty or an emergency of any level, it is advised that you phone the relative emergency services on 999 or 112. It is also important to note that mobile/cell phones can call this number with or without mobile/cell phone reception.

For those who have fully booked their Hillwalk Tours hiking holiday on the Great Glen Way we provide 24/7 on-call support to all of our customers and you will also receive a detailed description on how to remain safe on your hike.

Yes, many people chose to take the Great Glen Way as a solo hike. As a result of its popularity, the trail is also deemed safe for female solo hikers.

We believe that the beauty of the Scottish countryside should be enjoyed by everyone. With this in mind, we have designed our hiking tours to cater for practically all levels of fitness. Our range of ‘Gentle’, ‘Moderate’ and ‘Challenging’ hikes in all regions allows you to decide how far you wish to walk each day and the pace you set. So, whether you are a novice walker or an experienced hiker, we always have a tour to suit you.

Our 7-Day tours include 5 days of hiking. The first and last days of all our hiking tours are travel days used to transfer to/from the town where your hike will begin/end. If you would like to hike for 7 days, simply select one of our 9-Day tours.

Generally, our tours take place between the months of March to October to hopefully allow for good, dry weather and longer days of daylight while you carry out your tour. This will hopefully ensure that you enjoy your hiking experience with us to the fullest. You can also check out the individual tour page for the Great Glen Way on our website.

To ensure you’re fully equipped and informed throughout your trail we provide a very informative ‘Walking Pack’ that you take with you on your trail. This pack has every detail you will need to successfully finish your trail without any disruption. We advise that you carefully look through this pack before embarking on your journey so that you have some sort of idea of where you’re going and what you will entail throughout the journey. Included in this pack is as follows;

– Route notes (prepared by a member the Hillwalk Tours team who has walked every step of your tour)
– Detailed hiking map(s)
– Waterproof map-case
– A sneak-peak at where you will be staying
– Our tips on the most interesting attractions to visit along the trail
– A look at fascinating local history
– A guide to the best places to eat and drink
– Mountain safety information, emergency contact details & the country code

A single supplement is an additional charge for walkers booking single accommodation (a room for one person).

This is due to the fact that most accommodation providers price their rooms for double occupancy, meaning that they don’t discount the rooms even if they are only occupied by one person. Furthermore, accommodation providers have outlined that the cost of cleaning the room is the same regardless of how many people are in it, and also the potential cost of giving up a double occupancy (or more) sized room for just one person at a cheaper rate, when they could sell the room to more than one person at the normal rate, is too high.

Therefore, the total tour price for individuals who request a single room is “the price per person plus the single supplement”. This added supplement covers the extra costs associated with accommodating a single person in their own room.

The Great Glen Way Image Gallery

Hillwalk Tours

About Us

Hillwalk Tours is an award-winning walking tour operator which specialise in self-guided walking holidays in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Our goal is to create happy experiences for all of our customers, suppliers & staff.

Fill out the form below with any questions you may have and we will get back to you promptly.

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Leave No Trace

We like to walk in nature and since you are reading this – we believe you do too! It is important to ensure that our impact on the environment is limited so that hikers can enjoy the same view after us. The rule applies: when you leave, make sure that nature looks the same as when you arrived or simply put “leave no trace.” As more and more people take to the great outdoors, our collective mark on the environment increases.

What does this mean in reality? Of course, do not leave any rubbish or waste behind. Do not collect stones, flowers, or other “souvenirs”. Don’t carve your name on a tree or break branches… I think you get the drift. It is imperative for walkers to play their part in making sure litter, damage to vegetation and all forms of pollution are limited.

Noise can also be a form of pollution. Whoever walks through a forest talking and laughing loudly, for example, ruins the peace and quiet of other walkers, who can no longer hear the birds. The same goes for cell phones that suddenly start ringing. Keep the volume down and respect your surroundings. Ultimately, the point is to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy walking through nature. So that applies to you, but also to those who tread the path after you.

Hillwalk Tours proudly supports sustainable tourism and loves the countryside as it is – wild, peaceful and clean. We are proud to support the “Leave No Trace” initiative that aims to preserve the natural beauty of each nations countryside where we offer hiking holidays. We try to create happy experiences for our accommodation too, and the restaurants, shops and taxi companies that serve our walkers. These are often small businesses located in isolated areas that have been left behind by urban migration and a lack of investment in rural regions. Their warm hospitality and friendly welcomes epitomise the magic of a Hillwalk Tour and we’re dedicated to helping keep these rural communities alive.

The Benefits of Hiking

In recent years, walking and hiking outdoors has been widely reported to have numerous physical and mental health benefits. The following are examples of some of these benefits:

Improve strength and fitness

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle gain
  • Improve metabolism
  • Improve digestion
  • Better quality sleep
  • Increase in Vitamin D
  • Improve discipline
  • Sense of achievement
  • Living in the present moment

Hiking Equipment List

For a more in-depth list of recommended hiking equipment list, click here.