Ultimate Guide to Hiking + Camping the West Highland Way (in 5 Days)

Camping on West Highland Way next to Loch Lomond

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In July 2019, I hiked the popular West Highland Way trail in 5 days whilst camping and carrying my own gear.

The hike was part of my 950-mile challenge across Britain, as the West Highland Way was towards the end of my trip I’d built up a pretty good fitness, hence walking it in 5 days!

Here I will include all the information you need to know to about hiking and camping on the West Highland Way in Scotland, including the 5-day route, map, GPX file, wild camping spots, top tips for camping on the hike and a packing list for your trip.

This guide is tailored for those wanting to hike the trail in 5 days, however, if you’re planning on doing over 6, 7, 8 or 9 days, you’ll be able to pick up good tips for your trip, especially if you’re planning on camping too.

Most photos are from my West Highland Way hike in July but there are a few camping pictures when I returned to Loch Lomond in October.

There is a FAQ section at the bottom of the post, hopefully answering all those additional queries you might have.

But let me know in the comments if you have any more questions.

PS – This is a monster guide so worth bookmarking to re-read sections at a later date as you plan your trip. 

West Highland Way Information

Hiking path next to Loch Lomond
The path next to Loch Lomond

*Becky the Traveller participates in the Amazon Services Associates Programme, as well as other affiliate programmes. If you make a purchase through these, I earn from the qualifying links. This is at no extra cost to you. Read more here.

West Highland Way Route 

The West Highland Way starts in Milngavie, (pronounced Millguy) and heads north on the trail. A wonderful (and challenging) 96 miles later you reach Fort William, the end of this long-distance national trail.

The map and GPX file for this route are below, including Conic Hill, which you can opt to take a lower route. Here’s the full route for the West Highland Way via Ordnance Survey 

GPX file

How long is the West Highland Way?

West Highland Way map
West Highland Way route

The total length of the West Highland Way is 96 miles/155 km.

But expect to do extra miles on your trip, diverting to accommodations, food re-supplies and exploring pretty spots! There are plenty of places directly on the route but it’s worth checking before your trip to make sure you’re not detouring too much.

Roughly, over 5 days hiking you’ll be averaging about 20 miles each day, but as you’ll see from my experience, there were some longer and some shorter days.

What is the total ascent?

Views from Conic Hill over Loch Lomond
Views from Conic Hill over Loch Lomond

Over the trail, you’ll ascent approximately 4,565 metres/14,977 feet, that’s about three and a half times the height of Ben Nevis (which you can add on at the end of the walk). 

This may vary depending on the exact route you take, for example, you can do a low-level route walking past Conic Hill (it has gorgeous views so you’re missing out if you don’t do).

But generally, the majority of the ascent is during the second half of the hike, once you have traversed alongside Loch Lomond it’s then a walk of ups and downs!

There’s also the option to add on a hike up Ben Nevis at the end of the walk from Fort William, another 1,345 metres if your legs have enough energy left!

When is the best time to hike the trail?

Loch Lomond in Scotland
Loch Lomond on a sunny day in Scotland

The best time to hike the West Highland Way depends on what you want to get out of your hiking and camping trip.

A few questions to consider:

  • Do you want to meet lots of other hikers or would you rather hike alone?
  • Are you a fair-weather walker or are you happy to get out in all weathers?
  • Are you camping or staying in accommodation?
  • Do you want to see spring flowers or autumnal leaves?
  • Do you like walking on sunny days or you prefer cooler weather?
  • And finally, do midges bother you!

Think about what you love about hiking and use that as a guide to plan the best time for you.

The most popular time for people to do the trail is between May to September, which ironically coincides with midge season (more about those later)! The weather is slightly milder and the days are longer allowing plenty of time for hiking.

Hiking through Rannoch Moor
A busier section hiking through Rannoch Moor

I hiked the West Highland Way in July, at times the trail was busy. However, because I hiked it in 5 days I noticed once I’d passed walkers in the morning the afternoons tended to be quieter as there were few people hiking longer distances each day.

For example, hiking up Devils Kitchen, we saw only 3 other people on that section because most other hikers were stopping at Kingshouse Hotel and doing this section the following morning.

I’ve spent some time near Loch Lomond in September and October walking sections of the West Highland Way and found the weather is cooler but there are fewer people around. This makes it easier for booking accommodation but also you’ll get more of the trails to yourself.

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 Person hiking West Highland Way  

West Highland Way in 5 days 

Here’s my itinerary of where I walked and how far each day (from Strava stats). As you’ll notice, they don’t add up to 96 miles, I put this down to a few extra detours I did exploring and technology not being accurate haha!

Flowers and path on West Highland Way
Day 1 on the hike (in the sunshine!)

Day 1 – Milngavie to Sallochy Campsite, Loch Lomond* (26 miles/42 km + 650 metres ascent)

Day 2 – Sallochy Campsite to Doune Bothy, near Inverarnan* – (16 miles/26 km + 487 metres ascent)

Day 3 – Doune Bothy to Bridge of Orchy (24 miles/39 km + 648 metres ascent)

Day 4 – Bridge of Orchy to Nr Kinlochleven (20 miles/33 km + 808 metres ascent)

Day 5 – Nr Kinlochleven to Fort William (17 miles/27 km + 604 metres ascent)

*My route was very similar to the route recommended by some guidebooks for walking in 5 days. To compare the differences, day 1 suggests walking to Balmaha instead of continuing to Sallochy and day 2 to Inverarnan and the rest is pretty much the same.

The reason we walked a longer day on day 1 is that I really wanted to camp at Sallochy campsite, instead of a traditional campsite. I had camped there two years before and remembered how lovely it was!

Following the exact guide would mean less wild camping, as you’ll be starting/ending each day at a town, instead of somewhere remote.

See the section on ‘camping’ to see where I camped each night on the trail.

Camping on the West Highland Way

Wild camping on West Highland Way
Wild camping on West Highland Way

Can you wild camp?

In Scotland, you are able to legally wild camp anywhere. Of course, there are still guidelines and factors to consider when wild camping in Scotland but it does make it easier. 

On the West Highland Way, there are some great wild camping spots along the way. But there are also some places that you shouldn’t wild camp.

For example, in green spaces within the villages along the way. Make sure you respect the locals on this popular hiking trail. Also, along the sides of Loch Lomond, where you need a permit to wild camp (details below).

Wild camping restrictions in Loch Lomond + the Trossachs

Wild camping permit spot on West Highland Way
Wild camping permit spot next to Loch Lomond

Due to the popularity of wild camping in this beautiful area of the national park to reduce waste and help manage the number of people camping there are some restrictions on the West Highland Way section.

Between May to October, for wild camping spots along Loch Lomond, you need a camping permit. Full details here, be sure to get in advance as these can be popular and spaces are limited, also the wardens can ask you to move on if you don’t have.

New to wild camping?

Read my full beginners guide on wild camping here and also my guide for going to the toilet when wild camping – a must-read!

Options to wild camp on West Highland Way

On my 5-day hike of the West Highland Way, I stayed in a mix of campsites, a bothy and wild camped. Then a treat of a hostel at the end in Fort William!

I did not plan where I was going to stay in advance, instead, I looked at options on a day-by-day basis. It depended on how far I wanted to walk each day, weather conditions and food supplies.

Camping block at Sallochy Campsite
A small toilet block at Sallochy Campsite
  • Day 1 – Sallochy Foresty campsite, basic facilities (the closest place to wild camping)
  • Day 2 – Doune Bothy
  • Day 3 – Wild camping spot near Bridge of Orchy
  • Day 4 – Wild camping spot near Kinlochleven
  • Day 5 – Hostel in Fort William (the end)

Another popular wild camping spots that I noticed on the route, (that split up the hike between Bridge of Orchy and Kinlochleven) was near Kings House Hotel. There’s a large flat space right next to the path where lots of people were camping.

Although there are many places you can wild camp, also bear in mind there are sections where wild camping isn’t really an option, either because it’s impractical or it’s too close to villages on the walk.

For example, the section after Sallochy Campsite alongside Loch Lomond is impossible to pitch a tent due to the rocky terrain and narrow path.

How many campsites are there?

Bridge of Orchy over river
Wild camping spot over the Bridge of Orchy

On the West Highland Way route, there are many campsites. Here is a list of the main campsites on the West Highland Way, organised by location, there might be a couple more that I’ve missed. 

Let me know in the comments if there are any other campsites you’d recommend.

1. (Near Dryman)

  • Easter Drumquhassle Farm, Gartness Road, Drymen, G63 0DN

2. (Loch Lomond) 

  • Milarrochy Bay Camping/Caravanning site, Balmaha, G63 0AL
  • Cashel Campsite, Rowardennan, G63 0AW
  • Sallochy Bay, Rowardennan, G63 0AW

3. (Inverarnan)

  • Beinglas Farm Campsite, Loch Lomond, Inverarnan, Arrochar G83 7DX

4. (Crianlarich/Tyndrum)

  • By The Way Hostel & Campsite, Lower Station Rd, Tyndrum, Crianlarich FK20 8RY
  • Pine Trees Campsite, Tyndrum, Crianlarich FK20 8RY

5. (Bridge of Orchy/Inveroran)

  • No campsite, but wild camping option near Inveroran Hotel

6. ( Glencoe/Kings House Hotel)

  • No campsite, but wild camping option near Kings House Hotel

7. (Kinlochleven)

  • Blackwater Hostel, Glamping + Campsite, Lab Road, Kinlochleven PH50 4SG
  • MacDonald Hotel & Cabins, Fort William Rd, Kinlochleven PH50 4QL

8. (Fort William)

Do you need to book campsites?

I opted not to book any of the campsites on the walk, this allowed me the freedom to decide where and how far I wanted to walk each day. 

Most campsites seemed to have spaces for day campers and I met other people who stayed at campsites that hadn’t booked in advance.

If you read my post from other hikers who did the trail, the majority of them did not book campsites in advance, you can read it here.

Where to eat and re-stock food on West Highland Way?

Let’s start in Milngavie, there’s a huge supermarket a few hundred metres from the start on the walk. This is a great place to pick up supplies for your hike or buy things you have forgotten!

Shed with refreshments
A refreshment stop for cake + drinks near Drymen

Cooking/carrying your own food

If you’re on a budget and planning on cooking your own food, you’ll need to get enough to last until Tyndrum which has a couple of places for food restocks, there’s a Mini Market as well as The Green Welly Shop, so you’ll be able to find a few treats to keep you going.

Your next re-fuel stop is Kinlochleven, where there is a Co-op supermarket. Be sure to turn left, across the bridge as the West Highland Way doesn’t take you directly past it.

Then it’s on to Fort William where you’ll have so many food choices you won’t know where to go first 🙂

Alternatively, you can do a mix of carrying your own food and pop into the many cafes/pubs on the walk to top up energy levels!

Cafes, restaurants + pubs

You might have big plans to cook your own food on the hike, but the temptation is there in the place of cafes, campsites with shops and even a few pubs on the way.

There’s a real mix of options on the walk and you’ll come across somewhere fairly regularly, with the exception of the remoter sections of the walk, in between the towns on the walk. There seems to be a pub in most places so you’ll always be able to find some hot food (and maybe a beer or glass of wine!)

Other options

If you’ve done a long-distance hike before then you might have come across honesty boxes. Local farms and residents in the villages will leave some treats in a box, you simply choose what you want and leave some money. I spotted three on this trail but they will vary depending on who looks after them

Top tip – Take some extra money for a few treat stops on the walk (and don’t bury it at the bottom of your backpack!)

West Highland Way Packing List (+ Camping Kit)

Basic kit list at the bottom of this section – click the drop-down options.

To see my detailed kit recommendations check my long-distance packing list.

Camping Equipment

MSR Hubba tent next to Loch Lomond
Pitched up next to Loch Lomond (in October)

If you’re camping the West Highland Way, then as regards to your camping equipment, where possible go as light as you can for your gear.

Of course, it depends on which season you’re walking the trail but the lighter your pack, the more you’ll enjoy the trail.

If you’re travelling with someone else, consider maybe sharing items on the hike, even a tent. Although, I will let you decide that one!

Hiking equipment

Person hiking on rocky terrain
Carrying all my kit in my Osprey Ariel backpack

This will be similar to what you take on a normal day hike in the UK.

Your size of the backpack will vary depending on whether you are carrying full camping gear or staying at a hostel, B&B or hotel accommodation on the route.  

I carried all my camping gear (as part of my bigger challenge) and everything fitted in my 65-litre Osprey Ariel backpack. 

I also use a Water-to-Go filter water bottle on all my hikes – this saves me carrying extra weight and I can easily top up water at streams on the way. Get 20% discount off when you sign up to my newsletter below.

 

Hiking clothes

Person with backpack looking at hills
Shorts weather even on rainy days as it’s still warm

Your hiking clothes need to be as light as possible and quick-dry, so no cotton t-shirts or denim as once they are wet on a camping trip they won’t dry, plus wet clothes are very heavy too!

Depending on what time of year you’re doing the hike will make a difference what layers you choose, but generally here’s a rough guide on what kit to pack.

The question over hiking boots or hiking/trail shoes is a personal preference. I wore trail shoes (Salomon XA Pro 3D) and found them find for this trail. The majority of the trails are good condition, with a few rocky trails so trail shoes were the right choice for me. (Ask me more questions in the comments).

Personal/other items

Camping kit in bothy
My camping gear at the Doune Bothy

Here’s a suggested list of those other items you might need for the trip, again you want to go minimal but without missing anything urgent off the list. I had a tick on the trail (last day of the hike) so having tick tweezers to remove it was an essential item.

Also if you’re not sure on the rules for wild weeing + pooing then read my guide here that’s answers all those awkward questions and get yourself a little shovel!

Food

Let’s not forget the most important item food, so this will depend on your budget and how much you want to carry.

I always have a supply of freeze-dried meals on long-distance hikes. They are lightweight and easy to cook after a long day’s hike, just add water! I use Summit to Eat meals – you can read my thoughts on them here, but spoiler I do like them!

It’s also handy to have a good supply of snacks so you can keep your energy levels up during the day, I tend to find once my energy has crashed it’s harder to get back up so grazing snacks throughout the day helps.

WHW Camping + Gear List

Camping gear
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag 
  • Sleeping mat
  • Pillow (optional)
  • Cooking equipment – stove and canister
  • Cooking pot, mug, spork + penknife
  • Head torch
Hiking gear
  • Backpack (50-65 litre for camping)
  • Hiking poles
  • Dry sacks
  • Head torch
  • Water bottle/hydration pack – I use a Water-to-Go filter bottle
Hiking clothes
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes
  • Waterproof jacket 
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Hiking trousers/shorts x 2
  • Base layer top (short or long-sleeved) x 2
  • Fleece/mid-layer jacket (Down jacket for cooler months)
  • Hiking socks x 3
  • Underwear x 3
  • Sports bra
  • Hat + gloves (thin or thick depending on the season)
Personal/other items
  • Basic toiletries – toothpaste, toothbrush, soap
  • Toilet kit – tissues, shovel + waste bag
  • Midge net + Smidge (or equivalent midge repellant)
  • Tick tweezers (essential item)
  • First aid kit – basic items, including painkillers, blisters (lots)
  • Sun cream
  • Sunglasses
  • Phone, cable, charger + power bank
  • Camera (optional)
  • Book, packs of cards, notebook/pen (optional)
Food
  • Snacks – breakfast bars, protein bars, nuts etc
  • Tea/coffee (optional)
  • Hydration tablets (perfect for hydration packs)
  • Lunch options – wraps + spread
  • Dinner options – eg pasta, noodles, Summit to Eat meals etc

FAQ West Highland Way 

Stob Dearg Munro in Scotland
Stob Dearg Munro in Scotland

Hopefully, I’ve helped you plan your WHW trip but in case you have any more questions about the walk I’ve tried to include those common queries and questions that you might have. 

Feel free to ask any more questions in the comments.

How difficult is the West Highland Way?

Person hiking uphill with hills behind
Hiking up Devil’s Staircase

The beginning of the walk is relatively easy, as regards to the terrain and fresh legs as you’re at the start of your walk!

During the first few days, depending on how you’ve split the walk up, the highest you’ll ascend to is Conic Hill on day 1 or 2. Then from here, it’s pretty much flat until you reach Inverarnan.

The hike then noticeably changes as regards to the ascent on the walk and you’ll notice the terrain is tougher in places too. The climb up Devil’s Staircase is known to be the toughest, it’s a long slow climb but not technical, it’s just a bit of a slog, especially if you do this at the start of your day.

How long to walk the West Highland Way?

Path heading in Fort William
Day 5 of the hike, from Kinlochleven to Fort William

As mentioned this guide is focused on hiking the West Highland Way in 5 days, but the length of the hike can be whatever you want. 

Consider how far you want to walk each day and roughly plan your hike around your maximum mileage. If you’re camping then you have complete flexibility to stop and rest where you want (factoring in points already mentioned).

Here’s a rough guide on the number of days versus average mileage each day that might help you. I recommend to go on training hikes with your full pack and see what’s comfortable for you.

  • 5 days = 19 miles per day
  • 6 days = 16 miles per day
  • 7 days = 14 miles per day
  • 8 day = 12 miles per day
  • 9 days = 11 miles per day

Is it safe for solo female hikers?

As a solo hiker, I didn’t do this walk solo, although there were several sections I walked alone as my travel partner and I walked at different paces (already agreed from the start).

The West Highland Way in Scotland although a challenging hike is also very popular and full of other wonderful hikers so you’re never far from someone who can help you.

I’d highly recommend this trail as a first for solo female hikers.

How do you look after your feet on the walk?

Person paddling in Loch Lomond
Paddling in Loch Lomond

This all starts with your footwear for the walk. I opted for hiking trail shoes, Salomon XA Pro 3D. The terrain on the West Highland Way is pretty varied, but most of it is good paths that you walk on. 

There are also some paved/road sections, for me, these are the sections that are more likely to cause blisters. Easier terrain means you can walk slightly faster, causing your feet to sweat more and ultimately, can cause blisters. 

I’d also recommend going for a paddle in Loch Lomond, great for cooling your feet!

What about the midges in Scotland?

I hiked the West Highland Way at the beginning of July 2019, the weather was pretty warm, with a few off showers. Yes, perfect midge conditions!

This was my least favourite thing about the hike, especially when camping next to gorgeous views and having to hide in my tent!

Midge season in Scotland starts around May and can continue until September, but it really depends on the UK weather, you can read more here about midge season to help you be prepared.

Top tip – Buy some Smidge and a midge face net.

Should I be worried about ticks?

Tick in hand
My first tick (in between my knuckles!)

After hiking for many years, I had my first tick on the West Highland Way. I’m not 100% sure at what point but it was on my last day between Kinlochleven and Fort William.

My friend has a tick removal card but my tick had randomly found comfort in between my knuckles so instead of a card I’d recommend some tick tweezers to get them out of any unusual places.

Ticks can cause Lyme Disease so it’s really important to make sure you check and remove any ticks as soon as you find them.

Are there bag delivery services?

There are a few companies that offer bag deliver services. This means you can still enjoy the walk with camping without having to carry a heavy backpack with you.

Prices start from £30* per bag (discounts available for multiple bags)

Here are a couple of companies that offer the service:

Is Ben Nevis part of the West Highland Way?

No, but on a clear day, you can see the top of Ben Nevis at 1,345 metres from the last day on the hike.

Many people opt to have a day’s rest in Fort William before then taking on Ben Nevis as a day hike. The great thing about this is if you were carrying all your camping gear you can leave it behind for this walk because it’s an out and back route!

Read my solo hike of Ben Nevis here, including top tips for the hike.

West Highland Way Top Tips

WHW Hiking tips

  • Take your time to do the hike, I hiked it too quickly and I wish I’d stopped more.
  • Keep your energy levels up with regular snacking and a good dinner each evening.
  • Drink plenty of water – don’t get dehydrated.

WHW Gear tips

Person filling up water from waterfall
Summer hiking outfit – (just filling up my Water-to-Go bottle)
  • Choose the right footwear for you (and the weather). I wore trail shoes Salomon XA Pro 3D, they were perfect for me, but test your footwear before the hike.
  • Get yourself a filter water bottle to save you carrying so much water – I love my Water-to-Go bottle (read my review here if you’ve not used before)
  • Use dry bags to protect your gear from getting wet in case you have more rain than you want – I use Osprey lightweight dry sacks (great for organising your bag too).

WHW Camping tips

  • Don’t book your campsites in advance, it gives you more flexibility to change your plans each day.
  • Try wild camping if you’ve not done before, there are plenty of spots and it’s beautiful to wake up in your own magical spot.
  • Opt for a lightweight tent, remember you’ll be carrying it a long way! My MSR Hubba is only 1.3 kg,  it has a lovely porch area, plus you can sit up in it – extra bonus! Read my full review of the MSR Hubba here.

More tips

I have also spoken to fellow West Highland Way hikers to share their highlights, least favourite moments and top tips for this must-do long-distance hike.

You can read their top tips for the hike here.

I hope you found my ultimate guide of hiking and camping the West Highland Way useful. Feel free to get in touch via Instagram @beckythetraveller if you’re doing the hike, I’d love to follow your walk.

Let me know if you have any other questions about hiking or camping on the West Highland Way in the comments below.

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Sunset over Loch Lomond

Flowers next to Loch Lomond

*Prices correct at time of writing

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