The 10 Most Otherworldly Hikes on Scotland’s Isle of Skye
Even if you’ve never been there, you’ve probably seen the Isle of Skye. The stunning and otherworldly scenery of this Scottish island has been the film set for many movies and series. But the jagged mountains, craggy coastline, and eerie rock formations are not only visually arresting but also paradise for outdoor lovers, providing scrambling and climbing opportunities. In fact, the best way to experience the island’s spellbinding beauty is on foot, and Skye has spectacular hiking to suit anyone — ranging from stunning coastal ambles to rocky mountain scrambles. Here are the 10 best day hikes on Skye.
1. Neist Point — two miles round-trip, one-1.5 hours, easy
This hike to the iconic lighthouse at Neist Point is located on the most westerly headland on Skye. The trail descends gently across open, grassy terrain but evolves into quite a steep, stair-assisted plummet in the middle. On the return, that plummet makes for a steep ascent of over 400 feet.
The most appealing aspect of this hike is the omnipresent sweeping coastal vista. The impressive view stretches across the ocean to the islands of the Outer Hebrides, and you might even spot whales and dolphins in summer if you’re lucky. Round-trip walking time is around 45 minutes, but it’s worth allowing extra time to explore the lighthouse, picnic, and watch for sea life.
2. Old Man of Storr — 2.75 miles round-trip, 1.5-two hours, moderate
If you had to pick just one landmark to represent the mystical beauty of Skye, the iconic Old Man of Storr would be it. This spectacular 165-foot-high free-standing rock is one of many massive rock features populating the green slopes of the Trotternish peninsula. The Storr summit, and its sheer rocky cliffs, form the no-less-impressive backdrop to the vista.
This hike is relentlessly uphill from the start, and you’ll ascend around 950 feet to reach the towering Old Man itself. From this vantage point, you’ll have vast, 180-degree views across the ocean, over the Isles of Rona and Raasay, and on to the Applecross peninsula on the mainland. Happily, you can keep gazing at the view as you descend by the same path. This is probably the most popular walk on Skye, so if you are visiting in summer, it’s best to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
3. Quiraing loop — four miles round-trip, three-four hours, moderate
Ancient landslides are responsible for the otherworldly appearance of the Quiraing, an undulating landscape that’s peppered with towering rock pinnacles, oddly shaped grassy domes, wild cliffs, and hidden plateaus. Add the ubiquitous Skye ocean views to the mix, and the Quiraing is a hike that has it all.
Starting at the top of the winding single-track road on the ridge of Skye’s north-pointing Trotternish Peninsula, this circular hike leads you on a tough uphill slog to a grassy plateau. From high above, there are sensational 360-degree views of the island and its peculiar terrain. Head down the other side of the hill and onto the main trail. This winds along beneath the summit, revealing new, cockeyed rock towers with names like the Needle and the Prison.
To avoid the 1,200-foot ascent, you could just walk as far as you like along the winding, flat main trail. This option is popular with keen photographers wanting to capture the vista south along the ridge from the Quiraing, the subject of one of Scotland’s most iconic photographs.
4. Fairy Glen — one mile round-trip, 45 minutes-hour, easy
The Fairy Glen is a less popular, small-scale version of the dramatic Trotternish Peninsula landscape. Numerous trails weave around little grassy mounds, cone-shaped hills, and the odd lochan (pond). The hiking here is more free-flowing and explorative and less about following a particular path. That said, all adventures must culminate in a small scramble up a rock formation called Castle Ewan — which really does look like the ruins of an old tower. You might indeed expect a fairy to be weaving magic in this bizarre but charming landscape.
From the Castle Ewan vantage point, you might notice some curious man-made rock spirals. They may add to the mystical vibes of the Fairy Glen, but locals ask that you don’t add to it due to the environmental damage caused. There is no formal visitors’ parking lot, so it’s a good idea to take the shuttle bus from Portree, the main town on the island.
5. Fairy Pools — 1.5 miles round-trip, 40 minutes, easy
The popularity of this hike exploded a couple of years ago after a photo of the beautiful River Brittle and one if its waterfalls went viral. It takes just one glimpse of the bewitching turquoise water to understand why.
The hiking trail starts on the opposite side of the road of the forestry parking lot. Simply amble along the river, over undulating moorland, and past pools and waterfalls. In summer you’ll find people lazing beside the stream, “wild swimming” in the pools, or picnicking on the grass. Most people aim to reach the main waterfall, which takes around 40 minutes for the round trip and is magical even on a misty day. Given the popularity of the Fairy Pools, it’s best to visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the pools will be quieter.
6. Rubha Hunish — five miles round-trip, three-four hours, moderate
This beautiful, peaceful trail leads you out to Skye’s most northerly tip. A relatively flat path traverses moorlands until reaching a steep and rocky descent. The walking becomes easy again as you make a circuit of the Rubha Hunish headland. You’ll be walking along some sheer sea cliffs at times, so stay well away from the edge, no matter how tempting the view.
There’s a sense of spaciousness and tranquility out at the tip of the headland, staring out at the ocean and nothingness. This might have something to do with the remote location, which also makes Rubha Hunish one of the quieter walks on Skye. You’re likely to have only wildlife for company; seals, otters, whales, and dolphins are often sighted. The return path is back up the rocky ascent and then either back over the moorlands, or along the Duntulm Bay coastal path. Afterward, grab a slice of congratulatory cake at nearby Single Track Espresso.
7. Coire Lagan — 5.5 miles round-trip, three-four hours, moderate to strenuous
Coire Lagan is a small glacial pool tucked away in an elevated valley, surrounded by the awe-inspiring Cuillin mountains. A string of jagged angry-looking peaks, the Cuillins are one of Skye’s most famous landmarks, attracting avid mountain climbers and hikers skilled with map and compass. This trail is a wonderful way to get up close to the imposing mountains without tackling a technical mountain ascent. Although strenuous at times, the hike will not require any belaying gear.
Beginning at a pretty beach in Glen Brittle, a well-defined path gradually ascends into the mountains. The trickiest part of the hike ensues: a rocky scramble up a steep gully below the entrance to Coire Lagan. Once over the rim, the tiny clear blue pool is right at your feet. Being nestled up high in the ring of towering peaks gives the effect of being in a huge amphitheater on the roof of the world.
8. Loch Coruisk — 4.5 miles round-trip, three-3.5 hours, easy
This hike is spectacular, but the drive to its start point alone is pretty epic. Channel James Bond in Skyfall as you drive down a dramatic single-track road, weaving around imposing mountains and sweeping around sea lochs. Parking is in the picture-perfect fishing village of Elgol, which has tremendous views across the ocean to the craggy Cuillin mountains.
From here, catch the ferry across to the base of the mountains where the Loch Coruisk trail starts. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see seals on the way over. It’s best to pre-book spots on one of the ferries, either the Bella Jane or Misty Isle, to avoid missing out.
There’s no road access to Loch Coruisk, so once off the ferry, you’ll have the distinct feeling of being away from it all. This leaves plenty of space for introspection on the relatively flat loop around the mountain-ringed loch. The views are terrific, but the terrain can be boggy and the rocks slippery, so you’ll need sturdy shoes. Just be sure to make it back in time to get the return ferry home.
9. Sgurr na Stri — 15 miles round-trip, seven-eight hours, strenuous
Sgurr na Stri is a relatively small mountain, fewer than 1,600 feet high, hidden at the end of a beautiful narrow valley. The trail starts at Sligachan, where there’s a lone hotel with a famous whisky bar — a good incentive on the return leg of this strenuous hike. Striking out into the deep glen, the path is mostly flat and easygoing, albeit long. Many mountains unfold and evolve on either side of the trail as it progresses through the valley, until it reaches the base of Sgurr na Stri. The ascent, while not strenuous, is rocky, and the path is not always clearly marked. It’s a hike suited to those with experience navigating.
The summit affords one of the most epic views in the United Kingdom. A sweeping vista of mountains, lochs, ocean, and sky rises into view as you finally reach the top. The most spectacular frame is the one looking out over Loch Coruisk to the jagged black Cuillins beyond. The long and tiring walk back to the car is more than worth enduring for this view alone.
10. Blaven — five miles round-trip, four hours, strenuous
Serious hikers travel from far and wide for a chance to tackle the Cuillins, a mountain range notorious and bucket-list worthy for its challenging and technical ascents. As far as the Cuillins go, hiking up Blaven (Bla Bheinn, in Gaelic) is relatively easy but still suitable for more experienced hikers. The weather can change at a moment’s notice, so come prepared for all seasons. As always, make sure you tell someone where you’re going.
With about 3,000 feet to ascend, the hike is relentlessly uphill from start to summit. The path from the parking lot near Loch Slapin is initially well-formed, but more careful navigation is required when you reach the scree, or loose stone, slopes. A little rock climbing after the scree and voila: breathtaking (literally) expansive views in all directions that’ll have you in a continuous 360-degree twirl. Blaven is the only isolated black Cuillin mountain. The upshot of its lonely position is that its summit provides unrivaled views of the main Cuillin group.