As November hits, it is easy to look back wistfully on spring and summer. Weren’t all those warm, bright skied hikes amazing? There’s good news, though, and it doesn’t involve waiting until next spring for your next hike.
Winter may be coming, but that is just the start of hiking adventures in Scotland. Some Scottish hikes are even better to experience in winter. From frozen waterfalls to views of snow-covered Edinburgh, these are the best winter hikes in Scotland. Don your best pair of thermals and some crampons.
1. Arthur’s Seat
Length: 3 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
I won’t go as far as to say that Arthur’s Seat is easy. Walking to Arthur’s Seat is a quick burst of cardio and suitable for all hikers with a bit of determination. It is a short, intense climb that opens onto a stunning plateau with unrivalled views over Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is actually an extinct volcano, and the landscape is famously dramatic, so bring a camera along.
In winter, the view becomes even more serene – especially if you hike at sunrise when all the tiny yellow lights are still lit across the city. Sure, it is a little more slippery and cold. But just allow double the time to complete the hike if there’s been snowfall or it is icy. With footwear with a good grip and (ideally) a thermal base layer, Arthur’s Seat is easily one of the best winter hikes in Scotland.
Don’t forget to go for a pub meal after. You’ll have earned it.
2. Calton Hill
Length: 0.8 miles
Time: 20 minutes
Like Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill is located in Edinburgh and is the perfect winter hike to balance out your winter getaway. You can access Calton Hill either by a short tarmacked hill or a steep (but again, short) flight of stone steps. The hike itself is less than ten minutes long, but the top of Calton Hill is incredible.
You’ll reach Edinburgh’s Acropolis, which was constructed after being inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. The columns are massive and make the perfect spot for a photo or even just to appreciate the view over Edinburgh. You’ll also find the Dugald Stewart Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the City Observatory and Observatory House. Calton Hill is a beautiful, picturesque hike in Scotland in winter – with minimal effort yet maximum reward. There’s plenty to see at the hill summit, too, combining sightseeing with one of the best winter hikes in Scotland.
3. The Cobbler
Length: 11.6 miles
Time: 6 hours
The Cobbler is the opposite end of the spectrum. The hike tackles Ben Arthur, one of Scotland’s best mountains, and famously involves passing through a needle (a small hole in a rock face) to reach the summit. In winter, the summit should only be attempted by experienced hikers who are confident tackling mountains in harsh winter conditions. Slippery scrambles with fierce blizzard winds are not for everyone, and that’s okay as long as you know beforehand. Plus, you can always pocket the hike for a summer trip to Scotland instead.
For those capable, though, the Cobbler is one of the most exciting winter hikes in Scotland. It has a mixture of terrain, from woodland to exposed summit scrambles and beautiful riverside scenes. The hike is also the ideal length for a full day of adventure.
4. Old Man of Storr
Length: 3 miles
Time: 2 hours
The Old Man of Storr needs zero introduction. You’ll have seen the dramatic rock spires all over social media, and the rocks seemingly burst out of the desolate, bright green highlands. It is probably already on your list if you are visiting the Isle of Skye. Did you know it is also one of the best winter hikes in Scotland, though?
First off, the busy hike is much quieter off-season. Instead of being stuck behind traffic jams of other hikers, there’s a high chance you could get the Old Man of Storr to yourself if you time your walk right. Secondly, if you coincide your hike with a period of snowfall, you’ll get a totally different experience (and view) of the famous natural landmark. The Old Man of Storr covered in snow is even more dramatic and desolate looking – who knew it was possible.
The path can get boggy and slippery, so wear waterproofs in case you take a tumble and ensure your boots are waterproof with a good grip. As always, take your time. Winter hikes should never be a rush and hiking the Old Man of Storr is a prime example of how the tortoise wins the race.
5. The Ring of Steall
Length: 9.5 miles
Time: 10 hours
Ready for a challenge? The Ring of Steall is definitely up there with the best winter hikes in Scotland. Still, this hike comes with an ‘experienced mountaineers only’ warning. The route tackles four Munros in a challenging, up-and-down loop with plenty of scrambles and elevation gain. There are some ridges to tackle, so hikers must be adept at mountaineering in snow and ice. Technical equipment and experience are necessary to complete the Ring of Steall; you’ll need crampons and gold-standard clothing at a minimum.
Still ready for the challenge? Good on you. You’ll be met by incredible snow-capped views and stunning scenery. Just Google some photo inspiration if you need any more persuading.
6. Frozen Steall Falls
Length: 2.3 miles
Time: 2 hours
What’s more exciting than a hike to a frozen waterfall in the dead of winter? Steall Falls is a fantastic waterfall to visit in Scotland all year round. Yet, in winter, it is most famous for its tendency to freeze over – creating a unique, gorgeous phenomenon. The waterfall is the second largest in Scotland and the UK and has a single drop of 120 metres. Of course, this becomes extra impressive when it turns to ice.
The hike itself is straightforward if a little rocky and slippery in sections. Pack sturdy hiking boots and take your time, and you’ll be absolutely fine. The route cuts through woodland in Nevis Gorge, and you eventually emerge into Steall Meadows. On the other side of the meadow, Steall Falls drops dramatically from An Gearanach.
It is worth noting that Steall Falls is just a stone’s throw from Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Experienced climbers may wish to combine Steall Falls with tackling the Ben Nevis summit. Others may want to detour just to see the mountain from the ground or Aonach Mor’s scenic gondola.
7. Glenfinnan Viaduct
Length: 2.1 miles
Time: 1 hour
When you think of Glenfinnan Viaduct, you probably think of Harry Potter, which makes this hike even more magical. The viaduct is the famous crossing point of the Hogwarts Express, and many fans flock to take the train journey for themselves. For all the hiking lovers amongst you, though, a winter hike around the Glenfinnan Viaduct loop is a more exciting outdoor alternative.
The loop is a circular trail with amazing views over the viaduct and neighbouring Loch Shiel. While there is a slight incline, this hike is much flatter than hikes like Arthur’s Seat and The Cobbler; often easier to tackle in winter weather. Similarly, its main criticism is several boggy sections, which you use a wooden walkway to cross and avoid. In frozen weather, though, bogginess shouldn’t be as bad – just remember waterproof boots (and trousers if you want) to keep your toes dry.
Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the best winter hikes in Scotland if you want to experience one of the country’s most beautiful, famous attractions in snow. Harry Potter, Instagram, or general architecture fans should prioritise this hike on a winter trip to Scotland.
Now that you’ve got these seven best winter hikes in Scotland on your list, you’ll have a winter full of outdoor adventure. Don’t be so quick to write off hiking holidays during winter. Hiking in cold weather can be really exciting. Wrap up warm and grab your hiking boots; I promise the best is yet to come.
Looking for more hiking inspiration? Check out our guides on the best hikes in the Yorkshire Dales and hiking Mount Snowdon. Alternatively, choose a few of these winter hikes and plan a Scottish road trip between them.