(Great Glen Way) Loch Ness
Great Glen Way    6 stages . 7 nights . Scottish Highlands   Sounds perfect? View our trip!

The Great Glen Way: A guide to the trek

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Bare facts

The Great Glen Way is a trek of 112.5km (70.5 miles) in the Scottish Highlands. It joins Fort William with Inverness: a centre of the West Highlands with the capital of the Highlands.

The route runs in, or just above, the Great Glen which is the Highland fault line. This provides three lochs seen well by the Great Glen Way: Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness. Connecting these lochs and providing a complete link from Fort William to Inverness is the Caledinian Canal.

Long miles into Inverness
Long miles into Inverness

Best bits

The character of the Great Glen Way (GGW) changes slightly as we head North. In the last two stages before Inverness we gain more height above Loch Ness and see the distant mountains of the Northwest Highlands.

There is a delightful stretch of shoreline path on Loch Lochy, just past Gairlochy, with a long view North down the water.

Photos from trips: Great Glen Way

The Great Glen Way relative to other walks

The Great Glen Way is a little shorter than the West Highland Way, by one day on many people's schedules. It fits comfortably into a week. Our normal schedule is 6 stages.

The terrain on the GGW is generally simple. Compared to other trails in the UK, what is notable is the long miles on wide and smooth forestry tracks. The other main type of terrain is the towpath of the Caledonian Canal, again wide and smooth. Especially in the later stages North of Invermoriston, the terrain takes to more narrow paths, in woods and on open moor. So, in general we can say that the GGW is the easiest underfoot of any UK trail in our programme.

Is it for me?

Long distance paths
We love the feeling of completing another stage on the trail, walking into the night's village. It's a buzz, adding to the natural high of a day's trekking the ongoing sense of mission. In this case, Inverness will be one step nearer. Daily life settles into a pattern; kit settles into what's needed and daily practices become pared down thanks to the relaxing focus on the walk ahead.

Can I manage it?
The GGW will suit most walkers used to multi-day treks, walking perhaps 5-7 hours a day over the course of 6 days. The emphasis is on steady completion of miles, not so much on difficult terrain.

Spring snow patches beyond Loch Lochy
Spring snow patches beyond Loch Lochy

Hillwalking excursions
The GGW is not as amenable to hillwalking off to the side as, say, the West Highland Way (WHW). The WHW passes higher mountains such as Beinn Dorain and the peaks of Glen Coe. The GGW stays near the valley, and this valley is surrounded by hill and moorland in the 600m range and above. The summits are not always obvious or appealing.

Fort William is of course the base for Ben Nevis and this makes a fine plan for a day at the start. Please ask us if you'd like an extra night in Fort William before your trek.

Along the GGW itself, beside Loch Lochy is Meall na Tanga (918m), a Munro, which can be combined with neighbouring Sron a Choire Ghairbh (937m). The traverse of these two Munros would take the whole day and this would replace the stage to South Laggan which otherwise goes through the lochside forest.

It is a failing, or rather a natural restriction, of the GGW that it shows walkers a lot of the Great Glen at the expense of the wilder and grander terrain elsewhere in the Highlands. Some walkers will prefer a trip in the wilds, in which case the Great Glen Way would not be ideal. It's quality is as a fine linear route able to be trekked in one manageable go - a GGW thru-hike - with glimpses to distant terrain.

Loch Ness from high up
Loch Ness from high up

What's it like underfoot?
Most of your miles will be on smooth, pebbly or stony forest tracks, or smooth towpaths on the Caledonian Canal. The GGW takes to moorland paths in a few instances, and there are other miles on tarmac country lanes, to link the forests.

The forest tracks are in fact logging routes, and one feature of the GGW is that forestry works can occur any time of the year. If so then diversions will send the walker around the logging site. Typically these diversions are short, and go up into the woods to avoid the main track. In this case the terrain might be more testing, more rooty or ocky or muddy, as the temporary path will not have had the foot traffic or work to make it solid. Thus the GGW trekker must have some energy and nimbleness in reserve. We keep alert to diversions in place as our season progresses, but they might still come as surprises.

Is the route obvious?
Route-finding on the GGW is among the most straightforward of any of our routes. The pale heather-blue signposts with the thistle logo, occur at key junctions and allied to the maps and Alpine Exploratory's routecards make navigation quite simple.

Is it technically difficult?
The GGW is not technically difficult, with no climbing, via ferrata, ladders or any other hazards other than walking. The walking, as above, can be muddy, rocky or rooty especially through any temporary diversions, but it is always purely walking.

(Great Glen Way) The Caledonian Canal to Gairlochy

When to go?
Alpine Exploratory's Great Glen Way season runs from the start of April to the end of September.

We set this period to avoid the worst of the winter weather. Of course, it's possible to enjoy brilliant days along the Way in the heart of winter, whatever the weather is doing! The difficulty of predicting the winter season in advance means that we have to err on the side of caution.

From Easter to the Autumn you have a very good chance of decent walking weather. Rain is likely to happen at some point during your trip! For the warmest temperatures choose the high summer months of June, July and August, but be prepared for heavy rain at times too. Earlier in the year, in the Spring, there can be spells of wonderfully warm and dry weather (no guarantees!)

(Great Glen Way) Ben Nevis from Corpach

Where to stay

The GGW is nowhere too far from the main road route, Fort William to Inverness. The villages on the route are fairly well-supplied with places to stay and nearby pubs and restaurants. The biggest place on the route is Fort Augustus, the most like a small town.

We choose friendly owner-run establishments like B&Bs and gueshouses, balanced with some pleasant small hotels (really inns) along the route. Highland hospitality is a fine tradition and we seek to promote the enjoyable modern-day examples of it.

(Great Glen Way) The GGW's ring of branches

Trek the Great Glen Way with Alpine Exploratory

Self-guided holidays
Alpine Exploratory offers a self-guided walking holiday along the full Great Glen Way. Our self-guided holidays set you up for a successful trek under your own steam. We book and pay for your accommodation along the whole route; and we send you our well-received info packs including routecards for all the walking, the maps, emergency cards with essential info for accidents, and detailed notes about the local transport. We specialise in tailor-made arrangements, so if you fancy doing the Way in a super-fast time or over a leisurely 8 days, please let us know and we'll fit your trip to suit you. If you'd like to explore more widely in the Highlands either side of your trek, please ask us for guidance - thanks.

Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range

Research 2019

Ollie Boyd at Alpine ExploratoryAlpine Exploratory's 2019 research on the Great Glen Way will be led by:
Ollie Boyd in April

Recces 2019

Trips 2019

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Great Glen Way research:

Great Glen Way (Self-guided)

Map showing the route of UK Exploratory's Great Glen Way Self-Guided walking holiday

Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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