The Legendary West Highland Way – In Reverse

16 March 2022

Reaching 96 miles from the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond to some of the most iconic Scottish mountains, the West Highland Way is a longstanding staple on bucket lists. Here we give you a comprehensive introduction to Scotland’s most famous long-distance walk.

For many, walking the West Highland Way is the quintessential Scottish experience. It promises unforgettable mountain panoramas, Highland pubs full of character (and whisky), and gloomy lochs surrounded by fairy-tale forests. Passing some of the most iconic landscape of the country over seven days, the trail is widely known and loved.

Comprehensive guides are plenty, so we are taking a different angle: Walking the West Highland Way backwards, starting in Fort William and finishing in Milngavie (pronounced mul-GHY), a suburb of Glasgow.

Pros and Cons of walking in reverse

The overwhelming majority of people start the West Highland Way in Milngavie and walk towards the Highlands. The most compelling argument to walk in this direction is the feeling of progression you get from starting in bustling Glasgow, then passing the serene banks of Loch Lomond and finally reaching the glorious Highlands.

However, walking in reverse comes with its own set of perks. Most people start the walk on Saturdays and Sundays, meaning that both trail and accommodation get busiest on these days. Going against the grain here promises a much quieter walk experience.

Similarly, if you’re not going with the masses, there is more availability in the limited accommodation often booked out months in advance, especially along the more remote sections. And lastly, if you’re unsure you can finish the physically challenging seven days, you won’t miss the Highlands if you start there.

When to walk the West Highland Way

Like the rest of Scotland, the West Highland Way changes drastically over the seasons. Few people go during winter, as a lot of the facilities are closed, and the weather is even more inconsistent than usual.

Come spring, the trail returns to life. It will be midge-free, and the days will be long and full of fresh spring air. May sees the blooming of wildflowers, but also the trail at its busiest.

The summer brings the warmest (but rarely sweltering) temperatures, as well as the mighty midge. This is the time to bring a head net to keep the bloodsucker at bay.

By September, the trail gets quieter (both in terms of midges and walkers) and the temperatures go down. By late October, most seasonal facilities go into hibernation over the rough Scottish winter.

Preparations to consider

To make your West Highland Way experience as pleasant as possible, being well prepared and equipped is essential. Ask yourself whether you can walk on average 13.7 miles (often more) for seven days. If you don’t think you can, schedule rest days or reduce daily distances and make it an eight, nine, or ten-day hike.

If you don’t want to carry your gear, there’s baggage transfer available as well. If you’re new to walking, we strongly recommend going on a few test hikes. That way you can also break in your boots and prevent blisters from ruining your trip.

Another important decision is what kind of accommodation fits your budget and wishes. Options include staying in inns and hostels, or you could camp – wild-camping is legal in Scotland, alternatively there are campsites widely available. Camping ups your gear weight and price but gives you unrivalled flexibility and you won’t depend on reservations as much.

Apart from essentials you’d want for every long-distance hike, a few special items will give you a leg up on the West Highland Way. Rain-proofs are essential. Even during the driest of seasons, it is likely you’ll get at least one day of heavy rain.

Temperatures can vary a lot through the days, so bringing layers to quickly adjust to a change of weather is recommended.

Blister plasters and walking sticks are a good addition if you’re wary of the strain the walking will have on your body.

The West Highland Way is very well signposted in both directions but having a GPS system (on your phone) and/or maps for the area will protect you from getting lost.

Getting to the starting point

To start the journey on the West Highland Way in reverse, you’ll have to make your way to Fort William. The town is connected to Glasgow through regular train and Citylink bus services. Both take roughly three hours, so depending on from where you’re journeying to Glasgow, you might be able to fit the trip to Fort William into one day.

Fort William is a transportation hub and offers connections to Inverness, Skye, and many other places in Northern and Western Scotland. The town offers plenty accommodation for all budgets, from hostels to inns and pricier hotels.

From Fort William to Kinlochleven

Here is where the adventure begins. From Fort William, it doesn’t take long to reach superb Highland territory. Walking on pavement along the road briefly, you’ll make your way into Glen Nevis, with Ben Nevis, the highest peak of the UK, towering on the left. You will head to the right, pass a cemetery and follow the trails gradual ascent. As you zigzag your way up the gentle slopes, more and more of Ben Nevis will become visible behind you.

At the highest point, you have the option for a short detour (around 20 minutes) to summit Dùn Deardail for an even better view towards Ben Nevis as well as an iron age fort.

Soon after, you’ll take a left onto a smaller path that is surrounded by flowery grasslands. Bypassing a few gates and a small loch on the right, you’ll reach the Allt Nathrach glen.

Mountains soaring on both sides, this a spectacularly remote part of the West Highland Way. You’ll pass some ruins, among those the iconic Tigh-Na-Sleubhaich cottage which ranks among the most photographed motives of the West Highland Way.

Soon, you’ll get the first glimpses of today’s destination, the small Highland village of Kinlochleven, located at the head of fjord-like Loch Leven. Descend through a forested area and you’ve completed the first leg of the West Highland Way.

Distance covered: 15.25 miles

Accommodation in Kinlochleven: Various, for all budgets. The Ice Factor Climbing Centre sells hiking gear.

From Kinlochleven to Kingshouse

A dirt road leads you out of Kinlochleven and ascends through forest. After a right turn onto a smaller path, you’ll reach the highest point of the West Highland Way with stunning views towards the Glen Coe mountains ahead and the Mamores behind you.

This section ranks among the finest of the entire walk but, because of the altitude, is equally susceptible to bad weather. Once past the cairn marking the highest point, you’ll descend on the devil’s staircase – which is less devilish than its name suggests.  

Ahead of you is Buachaille Etive Mor, one of Scotland’s most famous mountains and subject of countless postcards. Following the descent, you’ll walk along the A82 road for a brief section until the trail strays further into the heathlands and eventually reaches the Kingshouse that faces the Buachaille. This is the shortest leg of the West Highland Way, but you can use your time to read up on a key event in Highland history: The massacre of Glen Coe. It was near where you just walked where the MacDonald clan was murdered as an exemplary on the behalf of King William III in an especially brutal bloodbath in 1692.

Distance covered: 8.75 miles

Accommodation: The isolated Kingshouse Hotel and the adjoined Bunkhouse offer rooms for both low and high budget walkers. Glencoe Mountain Resort two kilometres further along has a campsite, as well as affordable bungalows.

From Kingshouse to Tyndrum

The first section follows a clear path through Rannoch Moor, a vast expanse of emptiness surrounded by mountains, only traversed by rail tracks, the A82 road and the West Highland Way path.

The trail is easy going and has a unique beauty in good weather, but there are no hide-outs if conditions deteriorate. The first sign of civilization is Inveroran Hotel which has a Walker’s Bar and a Tea Room. A short ascent leads to a viewpoint that reveals impressive Beinn Dorain and offers a spectacular 360-degree panorama.

The following descent leads into Bridge of Orchy which is an ideal spot for lunch to break up the long day. From here, you’ll walk along the lower slopes of Beinn Dorain with the train tracks leading into the Highlands acting as another scenic image. The remaining section is straightforward and leads into bigger and busier Tyndrum that offers plenty facilities.

Distance covered: 18.5 miles

Accommodation: Various, for all budgets.


From Tyndrum to Inverarnan

Heading south out of Tyndrum, the first section consists of moors and farmland. Cross the A82 towards Auchtertyre Farm which has a small shop selling hiking gear and local products. Soon after, you’ll ascend through the dense conifers of Ewich Forest which gives you a taste of the forests to come in the following days. Throughout, you’ll catch glimpses of the impressive cone of Ben More, before heading right into a more open area. In the distance you might see more of the mountains surrounding Crianlarich. Then, you’ll descend to walk by a river before you arrive in today’s destination, the hamlet Inverarnan.

Distance covered: 11.75 miles

Accommodation: The Drover’s Inn and the Beinglas Farm Campsite are the only options in Inverarnan.

From Inverarnan to Rowardennan

After heading out of Inverarnan, it doesn’t take long for Loch Lomond to appear. Here begins another highlight section of the West Highland Way, as you’ll make your way along the underdeveloped eastern shore of Scotland’s biggest lake.

The incredibly green, yet rocky forest on the banks is unique and completely different to the landscape before. While the villages on the western side of the loch are regularly overrun with tourists, a lack of infrastructure promises a much more serene environment here, away from the crowds.

The path is hard to miss, but equally hard going. Manageable until Inversnaid, it turns it to an unexpectedly rocky up-and-down with the loch banks always to your right. Regarding technique, this is the hardest part of the entire trail. However, as the loch widens, the going gets much easier from Rowardennan on.

Distance covered: 14 miles

Accommodation: Limited to a hotel and a hostel in Rowardennan, with Inversnaid Hotel and Bunkhouse as alternatives. Wildcamping near Rowardennan is restricted to managed areas. There are two bothies along the way that are free to use.


From Rowardenann to Drymen

The path leading south towards Balmaha is nothing like yesterday’s struggles. Still hugging the Loch Lomond coastline, you’ll be able to truly take in the loch’s intense beauty on a path without frequent ankle-breaking rocks.

In busier Balmaha, you can sense that you’re getting closer to the metropolitan area of Glasgow, and it makes for a good lunch spot. The following climb up Conic Hill is a dramatic good-bye to Loch Lomond and the panorama from the summit is unforgettable. Save this memory in your head (and your phone) and make your way to Drymen across some moor and woodlands.

Distance covered: 14.25 miles

Accommodation: Various, for all budgets.

From Drymen to Milngavie

With all the Highlands behind you, the last stage of the walk is noticeably less spectacular than the previous days. Across the Lowlands surrounding Glasgow, you’ll walk through pastures and woodlands with the landscape becoming more and more urban the closer you get to Milngavie.

While the stage is by no means a knockout, the last stretch to Milngavie still feels epic. From there, you’re in Glasgow in a heartbeat, where you’ll find all the amenities you could wish for to treat your aching and tired body and reminisce about the incredible week you just spent in some of the most beautiful landscape on earth.

Distance covered: 11.75 miles

Accommodation: Various, for all budgets.