The West Highland Way is a famous linear trail in central Scotland. As Scotland's most popular long distance walking route, it sees significant foot traffic during spring and summer. The trail wanders through scenic mountains and historic towns alike, and is also the site of local marathons. The trail is rated at a moderate difficulty. It does pass through some rugged terrain and hills, but the overall difficulty is lower due to a combination of other factors, such as well-maintained tracks, plentiful accommodation and services, and easy navigation. Much of the difficulty comes from the endurance necessary to hike long consecutive days.
The landscape of the West Highland Way is most prominently characterized by mountains and moorlands. There is much hill-walking, as Scotland is famous for, with exposed hilltops, and rugged, rocky terrain. The trail reaches its highest point at the summit of the Devil's Staircase past Kingshouse, but otherwise typically avoids the higher mountain tops. Other parts of the trail go through moorlands, woodlands, forests, and field paths, along with historic routes and old military roads.
Drinking water is plentiful along the route, from both natural and manmade sources. Towns are an easy way to refill containers with clean water, and that will be the main source for most hikers. Alternatively, there are natural streams through the Scottish countryside, and that water can be filtered for use in drinking or cooking.
Hiking the entire West Highland Way is usually done in about a week, so major resupply is typically not required. Because of this short length, all outdoor gear should generally be carried from the beginning. There are many options for stocking up on food when passing through towns on the trail, so hikers can easily get by with carrying only a few days worth of food at a time.
As with most of Scotland, the temperature range while in season is very pleasant for hiking. The nights are colder, but typically a 3-season sleeping bag is still sufficient for those temperatures. The days are pleasant, and so hikers usually won't need to drink as much water while hiking. Scotland is still a very wet and windy country, and so unpredictable storms can make hiking much more difficult. Adequate waterproof gear is highly recommended, and some hikers wear gaiters to keep their feet as dry as possible.
The West Highland Way is very clearly signposted with the Scottish thistle that is common to long distance trails in Scotland. Even in poor visibility in the mountain tops, navigation is still straightforward with a well-maintained route. Due to the large volume of hikers, the path is generally quite clear. As always, it still recommended to bring some type of navigational backup in the form of maps or a guidebook.
There are not many significant hazards on this trail. Severe weather is a regular concern, and hikers should be prepared for wet conditions, and need to be careful in cases of lower visibility. With the popularity of the trail, there is additional safety in numbers, as fellow hikers can often help each other in times of emergency. Midges are a smaller concern, but are very common during the summer, and so repellant may be useful during those times.
This route is very famous and popular, so there are typically many hikers on the trail, especially during the summer months. Some of the benefits of having a well-traveled route include: clear paths, more options in case of emergency, towns accustomed to hikers, and ample opportunity for accommodation. Hikers looking for more remote long distance trails in Scotland may be better served by the Southern Upland Way.
The most common starting point (the southern end of the trail) of Milngavie is served by bus service from the central bus station in Glasgow. The northern end at Fort William has Citylink bus service, in addition to rail service. It is not recommended to drive and leave a car at either end of the trail. While hiking, many towns along the route have local bus or rail service, as the United Kingdom is very well-connected by public transportation.
Per the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, wild camping is allowed along the entire route, though there may be limited restrictions by area and season. The trail does pass through many small towns, which include accommodation in the form of bunkhouses, hostels, B&Bs, and hotels. Due to the popularity of the route, it is important to book accommodation ahead of time in order to guarantee a spot.