Think of Glencoe and you think of its grand mountains: the rocky buttresses guarding the entrance to the glen, the towering peaks, the dramatic ridges and the sprawling mass of the Three Sisters. Even the names are enough to strike excitement into the hearts of keen walkers up and down the country: Buachaille Etive Mor; Bidean nam Bian; Aonach Eagach.
But there is more to this area than its famous summits. If you are not an experienced hiker or have limited time in the area, there are plenty of short, relatively low-level walks which still provide the kind of incredible views that Glencoe is famed for...
The Lochan was originally part of the grounds of Glencoe House, built by Lord Strathcona in 1896 when he returned to Scotland from Canada with his Canadian wife, Isabella. Strathcona landscaped the grounds of their new home to look like the Canadian Rockies in order to ease his wife’s homesickness.
With three trails of varying gradient to choose from, this Forestry Commission spot has something for everyone. The lochan trail is flat and gentle, with a buggy and wheel-chair accessible path and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. The lochan's sheltered location amongst the trees means that it is often still, its mirror-like surface reflecting the grand Glencoe mountains and North-American pines.
The woodland trail has a few steep inclines and bumpy paths, but it makes for a lovely wander through the trees – particularly in Spring, when the forest floor is carpeted in bluebells. Keep an eye out for deer and red squirrels, and listen for woodpeckers!
The ‘mountain path’ is a short, steep walk up to the top of a small rise, where a picnic bench is perfectly located to allow you to catch your breath. The overgrown trees unfortunately mean that the views across to Loch Leven aren’t impressive as they might be, but it’s fun to look down on the Lochan from above. *Insider tip*: opposite the bench, follow the small trail through the woods to emerge onto a forestry road. Turn right and follow the road for 5 minutes or so to enjoy beautiful views towards Aonach Dubh (one of the Three Sisters) and back over Glencoe Village, Beinn a' Bheithir and out across Loch Leven to Ardgour. Just make sure you took note of where you emerged onto the road, as there are a few mountain bike trails crisscrossing through the woods here! Each trail is around 1K long, and can be easily linked together for a longer walk.
Glencoe Orbital Trail
Starting in Glencoe Village, this trail is a gentle walk which follows the route of the old main road past the Clachaig Inn. Though it is meant to be a circular route, there is unfortunately one unfinished section (between An Torr and NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre) which means retracing your steps back to the village rather than continuing along the main road. The walk I recommend is below, though it is also worth walking the final section from Glencoe Village to NTS Glencoe in order to visit Inverrigan -one of the sites of the Massacre of Glencoe - and the Visitor Centre itself.
Park in Glencoe Village and head along the main village road. The rounded hill in front of you is Sgorr na Ciche, the Pap of Glencoe. Stop off at Glencoe Café to grab a coffee or some home-baking, and of course we recommend that you visit the museum in passing! In fact, this section passes quite a few sites of note. At the end of the road, just before crossing the bridge, you can take a short detour up the road to the right to visit the Glencoe Massacre Monument, a memorial to the MacDonalds and other clansmen murdered in the massacre of 1692.
Further on, you will pass the beautiful Torren Lochan. This is a great place to stop for a picnic or a short break, and it often offers reflections to rival those at Glencoe Lochan.
As the path begins to climb slightly, you will see a track heading up the hillside to your left. This leads to the filming location of Hagrid’s Hut, first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Unfortunately the hut is no longer there, but Harry Potter fans will have no trouble recognising the spot with its views down to Torren Lochan.
Your next iconic stop on the Glencoe Tour is the famous Clachaig Inn. Thought to have been around for over 300 years, the Clachaig is a classic walker’s pub offering a warm welcome, traditional food, good beers, a cosy atmosphere and even live music. Head into the Boots Bar for some haggis and a pint, or save it for the walk back!
Once you’ve satisfied your thirst, continue walking along the road towards the A82, ignoring the tracks into An Torr woodland for now. When you reach the main road, quickly cross over to the carpark on the other side, where you will find one of the most famous views in Glencoe:
This cute little cottage is Achnambeithach Farmhouse, probably one of the most photographed houses in the country. The towering mountains and cascading waterfall make an incredible backdrop – but remember that it is somebody’s home and grazing land so please keep your distance and respect their privacy. Once you’ve had your fill of photos, cross back over the A82 and join the path that runs west alongside the road. This will lead you along the river to An Torr carpark, from where you can explore the woodland or take the walk up to Signal Rock - supposedly where the MacDonalds would light fires to warn of danger. There are often deer and squirrels in these woods, and I once glimpsed a pine marten in a tree, so keep your eyes peeled for wildlife!
Exit An Torr woodland at the Clachaig Inn and retrace your steps back towards the village.
(This route could also be extended by continuing up into the Glen after visiting Achnambeithach. The path runs alongside Loch Achtriochtan and rejoins the old military road, taking you as far as the Three Sisters carpark.)
The ‘Brecklet Trail’ - taking its name from the forest it passes through - begins at the entrance to Ballachulish Quarry, meanders through the woodland on the hillside above and finishes in the heart of the village.
The initial climb out of the quarry is steep and relentless, but the increasingly beautiful views make it worthwhile. When you reach the slate picnic bench at the top of the final climb through the woods, you can rest east knowing that it’s all downhill from there! In fact, pack a picnic and sit here a while, taking in the incredible vista across Loch Leven towards the Ballachulish Bridge and the Ardgour hills beyond.
When you finally drag yourself away, the remainder of the walk is a gentle stroll downhill through coniferous woodland, past the hidden ruins of an old settlement. If you’re lucky, you might even see some fairies!
Turn right at the junction at the end of the trail and you will find yourself back in the village. A right turn here takes you back to the quarry, which is also worth exploring to learn about the history of slate mining.
Following the shoreline next to the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, this short stroll offers a range of colourful plants (including gorse, bluebells, thrift and blossom), the possibility of glimpsing deer, heron or seals, beautiful views across Loch Leven on all sides, and even information boards. The peninsula also gives the best view of Eilean Munde, the Burial Island, where local clans used to bury their dead. If you look closely, it is possible to see some of the gravestones.
A lovely short walk along the north shore of Loch Leven, from North Ballachulish to a little hidden bay. Drive north across the Ballachulish Bridge and take the first road on the right, signposted Loch Leven Hotel/Holroyd Gallery. There is a large layby just opposite the Art Gallery - it is well worth spending some time browsing the beautiful paintings in the gallery as well! Head downhill towards the loch, then take a small trail on the left when you reach the stone pier. Follow this trail along the water, with woodland on one side and the loch on the other. There are traces everywhere along here of the people who live nearby and visit regularly, from the bike trails made by local children, to the chairs positioned perfectly for taking in the view through a gap in the trees, a tyre tree swing and boats pulled up along the shore. The views to the Pap of Glencoe from the Bay are beautiful. When the water is low enough, it is possible to climb up on to a little rocky point at the end of the trail, where you can find early Bronze Age cup and ring marks. In fact, this is a great spot for archaeologists: the 'Ballachulish Moss', as this area along the north of the Loch is known, is a Scheduled Monument and contains burial cists and a possible occupation site, as well as being where the Ballachulish Goddess was discovered in 1800. Head back the same way you walked in - why not stop off at Loch Leven Hotel for lunch or a gin from their distillery (Pixel Spirits)?
Lettermore (site of the Appin Murder)
Not the most exciting walk on the list, but one for history enthusiasts! In 1752, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure - the "Red Fox" - was shot in woods at Lettermore (from the Gaelic Leitir Mhòr, meaning big hillside). Following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746, Campbell had taken control of Ardsheal estate, which housed the local Stewarts of Appin, and it is thought that, on the day he died, he was on his way to evict Stewart families from homes they had lived in for generations. The identity of the killer has become one of the best-kept secrets in Scottish history. James Stewart of the Glen (Seamus a’ Ghlinne) was arrested and hanged for the murder, but he undoubtedly went to the gallows an innocent man. There are still those who claim to be one of the few who know what really happened that day.
There is a cairn marking the spot where the murder took place, and the surrounding woods are a lovely spot to explore. Drive south on the A828. Just over a mile from South Ballachulish, just after Craiglinnhe Guest House, turn left by a small green signpost for Leitir Mhòr. There is very little parking, but you can tuck a few cars in along the fence - just make sure you don't block the road, as there are resident's driveways further up! Walk through the gate and take the first left uphill following signs for the "Murder Cairn". once you have seen the memorial you can wander the woodlands, or alternatively return to where you parked, cross the main road and follow the cycle path along the side of the loch. Just a mile south is the Hollytree Hotel, which is a perfect stop for lunch.
Inchree Waterfall Trail
This one is a little bit outside Glencoe, but is a great stopping off point on the way to Fort William! Travelling from the south, just after take the road on the right signposted 'Inchree'. Follow this road until you reach a large Forestry Commission carpark. There are boards here showing the different walks available, the distance, time and effort, and also a little red squirrel hide. To view Inchree Waterfall, take the track on the other side of the road from the squirrel hide. This stays relatively low level at first then climbs gently then more steeply up alongside the river. There are two viewing platforms where you can take a seat and look down over the impressive falls. If you're up for something a bit more adventurous, outdoor company Vertical Descents offer canyoning and cliff jumping around the waterfall here.
Carry on up the path, enjoying the views behind you across the gorse and heather to Loch Linnhe, until you reach a forestry road. Turn left and descend gently back to the carpark.
This is actually part of a much longer walk - the Two Lairigs, which you can find here on Walk Highlands - but for the sake of sticking to short(ish) walks I'm just sharing my favourite section here. Park in the large layby on the corner west of Altnafeadh. It is currently on Google Maps as "Glencoe Viewpoint", and the views here towards Buachaille Etive Beag and the Three Sisters are impressive. Look for the Right of Way sign marked "Glen Etive by the Lairig Gartain" and then follow this lovely, winding trail between the two Buachailles and up to the pass - just over 2 and a half miles. Keep an eye out for the herds of deer on the hillside! From here, you can see Ben Starav and down into Glen Etive. The longer walk descends into Glen Etive and returns around the other side of Buachaille Etive Beag, but an out-and-back walk to the Lairig gives a great sense of being out amongst the mountains. Take a towel and enjoy some of the swim spots along the river on your way back - just make sure that your body is acclimatised to the cold water and don't swim alone unless you have experience of wild swimming!
The Devil’s Staircase
Ok, so it’s maybe not quite as “low-level” as the others on this list, but the Devil’s Staircase is certainly not as scary as it sounds, and its well-constructed path makes it non-hiker friendly as well. Originally a drove road, then later converted to a military road as part of General Wade’s road-building scheme, it is now one of the highlights of the West Highland Way. Park in the lay-by at Altnafeadh and follow the well-defined stone track up the hillside, signposted 'Kinlochleven'. The climb starts relatively gently, and the views are already fantastic. Behind you across the A82 is another of Glencoe’s iconic scenes: Lagangarbh Hut nestled in the shadow of Buachaille Etive Mor.
The Devil’s Staircase was first given its nickname by soldiers involved in the construction of General Wade’s road, as they carried heavy building materials up the steep slopes. Thanks to them, the path now makes for relatively easy walking, zig-zagging up the steepest section. When you reach the top of the pass, you are rewarded with incredible views all around: ahead of you, the towering peaks of Ben Nevis and the Mamores, the Buachaille behind you, and the flat, desolate expanse of Rannoch Moor to the east.
Enjoy the downhill section now as you head back to the car!
Another option from this parking spot is to follow the West Highland Way in the opposite direction, east towards the Kingshouse Hotel. From the layby, follow the path that runs alongside the road, crossing a small bridge and a driveway before becoming a bigger, more obvious track. This leads through a couple of gates before beginning to climb away from the road and uphill slightly. The path can be a little uneven but shouldn't offer any real difficulties, and you can feel smug watching the cars whizzing past on the A82 below knowing that you are getting to enjoy and absorb the views that they are only glimpsing as they pass by. It is around 5K to the Kingshouse Hotel, where you can enjoy refreshments before tackling the walk back. Alternatively, continue along the WHW, carefully crossing the A82 and walking up towards Glencoe Mountain Ski Centre. On this stretch of the route, you will pass the famous Black Rock Cottage, and there is also a café up at the centre with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
Am Meall from National Trust for Scotland Glencoe Visitor Centre
There are a few trails meandering around the grounds of NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre, with picnic benches and mountains all around, but if you have 2-3 hours to spare then it is well worth taking the walk up to the mast at the summit of Am Meall. Again, not quite as low-level as the other walks, but fairly straightforward and with a good track to follow the whole way. Note: as of April 2023, there are forestry works, road closures and an unstable bridge on this route. Check at the Visitor Centre for up-to-date access advice!
From the NTS Visitor Centre carpark (£4 charge, free for members), either take one of the coloured trails uphill to join the forestry road or pick up the start of the road just next to the entrance to the caravan site. Grab a coffee and a picnic lunch from the Visitor Centre café to take with you! The road skirts around the campsite (ignore the path off to the right signposted "To Village") and then begins climbing steadily up hill. Once you're on the forestry road, it is just a case of following it as it winds its way up and around the hillside for around 5K. The first mile or so is relatively uninteresting, but the views get better and better as height is gained. Just before the highest point of the road, a steep, muddy track veers off to the right, taking you directly up towards the summit. Walk under the mast and cross the stile, then enjoy the extensive views in all directions: Beinn a' Bheithir, Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe, Ardgour, the Mamores, the Pap of Glencoe and Sgurr nam Fiannaidh, and down Glencoe towards Bidean nam Bian. This is a particularly good spot for sunset - just make sure you pack a torch for the descent!
What's your favourite short walk in Glencoe?