Isle of Skye Hiking | The Best Places to Walk and Explore
Mountain guide and outdoors writer, Alex Kendall, on the finest parts of Skye – high and low – to explore on a first-time visit.
Isle of Skye hiking trip can lead to some extraordinary days out, where even the gentlest amble up a nearby hill leads to views over leagues of ancient sea. You’ll encounter wildlife, including eagles and seals, discover the remnants of human history on the land, and see why Skye has drawn not only walkers, but Vikings, artists, mythical heroes and poets to this northern realm.
Skye is a place where a mile can take you from the dark towers of rock that form Britain’s longest and most intricate mountain ridge, to sandy bays where you can dip your feet while seals bask offshore. Stark contrasts are all part of this land.
Isle of Skye: The Breakdown
Recommended For Coastal Walking
- Boreraig and Suisnish Trail
- Orbost to Macleod's Maidens and Idrigill Point
- Elgol to Camasunary Bay or south to Kylerhea
- Waternish Point and Rubha Huinish
Hillking with Great Views
- Try Glamaig in the Red Hills
For Britain at its Most Rugged
- Visit the Cuillin Hills
For Epic Landscapes and Geology
- Head to the hills of Trotternish for the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing
For Moderate Hillwalking
- Ben Tianavaig
- Sithean a'Bhealaich Chumhaing
Isle of Skye Hiking: Exploring the Coastline
The Isle of Skye is a series of peninsulas diving off at irregular angles from the core, and with each hosting its unique retinue of sea lochs. With over 400 miles of coastline, much of it pathless, surrounded by cliffs or bog, you’ll want a good idea of where to start.
Scottish maps do very well at highlighting paths, especially on the OS 1:50,000 ones where the dashes of good trails stand out well. A fine coastal route is the Suisnish and Boreraig trail which lies just south of Broadford, this takes you along the windswept coast of Loch Eishort, with Rum visible in the distance.
Similar gems include the route to MacLeod’s Maidens and Idrigill Point from Orbost in the north west of the island, the fantastic journey to Camasunary Bay from Elgol, or the trail leading south from Kylerhea.
Coastlines are notoriously difficult to turn into circular walks, especially if you want to avoid lots of walking inland. Not so on Skye, where the peninsulas make perfect triangular-shaped circular walks, giving you the satisfaction of reaching the tip (just as good as reaching a summit), and keeping inland walking to a minimum. Waternish Point and Rubha Huinish, at the northern end of Trotternish are both good places to start; make sure you look out for whales offshore.
Some excellent beaches to seek out include Brittle Bay, or Talisker Bay, they're excellent places to watch the sunset with the hills as a perfect backdrop.
Walking the Red Hills
Dominating the central belt of Skye are two sets of hills, and the first you’ll see if you drive in from the mainland are the rounded humps of the Red Hills. Approaching Broadford, the welcoming bulk of Beinn na Caillich is an unmistakeable peak, the pink granites that make it up shining in the sun, or wrapped in mists.
The Red Hills make excellent objectives for hillwalkers as they are all reasonably high (with summits from 570m to 775m), but lack the plunging drops and navigational difficulties of their larger cousins, the Cuillin. They form a rough line from Broadford to Sligachan and the stately peak of Glamaig and are largely accessible from the main road.
Sea views of Scalpay and Raasay to the north-east compete with glimpses of the Cuillin for your attention, and the valleys in-between will hold you spellbound with their remoteness – you’ll find few people taking these trails.
Climbing in the Cuillin
These are the mountains of your dreams, or possibly your nightmares. Iconic and relentlessly jumbled spires and ridges of dark rock that run in a long arc around Loch Coruisk in the central region of Skye.
Although most of these peaks involve at least graded scrambling, if not full-on climbing, there are several that are definitely within the reach of walkers. And even where summits are inaccessible to those of us who want to keep our hands on our sandwiches and cameras and well away from gripping onto rock, the routes into the various corries of the towering Cuillin are well worth the journey.
For your first Cuillin summit, both Bruach na Frithe and Sgurr na Banachdaich are Munros with walkable tops, they're reachable from Sligachan and Glen Brittle respectively. Alongside these, there's the highest point on Skye, Sgurr Alasdair, though you'll have to ascend the infamous scree slope of the Great Stone Shoot to reach its peak. Possibly the most striking mountain on Skye, the castle-like Blabheinn, which sits apart from the main ridge, also has a walking route starting from near Torrin.
Simply to marvel at these peaks is enough for many walkers, especially if the weather is looking a bit suspect. One of the most famous walks on Skye, a circuit of Loch Coruisk, becomes a proper adventure when you get there via the boat from Elgol.
A visit to the Fairy Pools off Glen Bittle can be turned into a fantastic circular walk exploring the innards of Coire na Creiche, while other corries make brilliant half-day walks, and often have good paths leading into them.
Trotternish and the Outliers
Alongside the famous central mountains and the miles of coastline, there are plenty of other hills scattered around the island. In the north, the Trotternish ridge is the site of a vast landslip that occurred millions of years ago, resulting in the bizarre rock formations of the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. The hills of Trotternish form a long ridge, accessible in several places and offering sweeping views over Skye's northern peninsulas.
Highlights Elsewhere on the Island
Interesting individual hills dot the rest of the island. Away to the west you'll find the alluring flat-topped peaks of Macleod's Tables, and if staying in Portree, two nearby and easy peaks are Ben Tianavaig and Sithean a' Bhealaich Chumhaing, on opposite sides of the picturesque bay. To the east, just south of the bridge and near where the ferry docks at Kylerhea stand several hills dominated by Sgùrr na Caillich. These are excellent peaks for the view back over to the mountains of the mainland, and you can easily combine a walk with a visit to the Kylerhea otter hide.