Glorious Glencoe: Scotland's Wild West

Photo by Paul Tomkins/VISITSCOTLAND

Glorious Glencoe: Scotland's Wild West

January 17, 2023 –––––– Sally Kral, , , ,

Whether you’re an outdoors enthusiast or simply love incredible scenery, Glencoe, Scotland is a worthwhile side trip in an otherwise whisky-immersed visit. It’s a picturesque village about 15 miles south of Fort William in the Western Highlands, situated where the River Coe meets Loch Leven at the foot of the breathtaking Glen Coe valley.

Glencoe is famous for its remarkable and awe-inspiring landscape, which features waterfalls and towering peaks formed by volcanic eruptions and sculpted by icy glaciers centuries ago. An excellent starting point for exploring this area is the visitor center at the Glencoe National Nature Reserve. Learn about Glencoe’s history while you enjoy panoramic views of its many mountain ranges, and maybe grab a bite to eat at the Highland Coo Café.

Photo by Paul Tomkins/VISITSCOTLAND

To get the complete scope of the scenery of this area, visit the Lochaber Geopark, which boasts some of the best geology on Earth. Here you can take a Geotour, where a trained local geologist will take you throughout the park and explain how the rocks and landscape were shaped by continental collisions, volcanic activity, and glaciers.

Once you’ve appropriately immersed yourself in the history and geology of the region, you’ll have an even greater appreciation for all the outdoor adventures it offers year-round, from hikes and water sports in the spring and summer to snow sports in the fall and winter. But do note that the weather in Glencoe, like much of Scotland, can be changeable throughout the year, and especially at higher altitudes, so be sure to pack plenty of layers and waterproof gear.

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For walkers and hikers, Glen Coe is a dream come true—there are more than a dozen trails for all activity levels. For those looking for an easier go of it, there’s the An Torr trail, which is mostly flat and around one and a half miles, or Glencoe Lochan Trail, a three-mile trail through the quiet woodlands behind Glencoe Village that leads to a small tranquil lake. One of the most popular long-distance walking routes is the Devil’s Staircase, a 6-mile zig-zag climb to the highest point of the West Highland Way, where you’ll be rewarded with views of Buachaille Etive Mòr mountain and the Mamores mountain range.

If you’re a more experienced hiker, “munro bagging” may be for you. Munros are mountains found across Scotland and munro bagging is a popular pastime for walking enthusiasts who challenge themselves to climb as many of Scotland’s 282 peaks as possible. Buachaille Etive Mòr and Bidean nam Bian—also known as the Three Sisters for its trio of ridges—offer many miles of steep and rocky terrain to their peaks, the views atop which are Instagram- worthy to say the least. These difficult trails are prime for trekking from late spring to early fall, as they can become quite snow-covered in winter—when they’re best left to only the most experienced mountaineers.

Glencoe offers a host of outdoor activities suitable for everyone from sightseers to adventure seekers. Biking, rock climbing, skiing, and more can be done in this Highlands retreat. GETTY IMAGES / WESTEND61
Getty Images/Westend61

Glencoe Mountain Resort is a haven for snow sport enthusiasts, as it’s Scotland’s oldest ski resort. It’s set among nearly 500 acres of breathtaking scenery in the Meall a’ Bhùiridh Massif, a large basin with outstanding snow-holding abilities, which means skiing in late April and May is often possible. In addition to microlodges and camping accommodations, there are eight lifts, 20 runs, an avalanche transceiver training park, a free sledding area with sleds provided, a rental department, snow-sports school, a base area, and a mid-mountain café offering food and drinks.

For those who prefer warmer weather, Glencoe Mountain Resort is open year-round. In summertime, visitors can enjoy sightseeing trips on the chairlift, tubing on the base area plastic slope, and downhill and cross-country mountain biking. For more respite from the heat, Loch Leven, River Coe, and the surrounding lochs are great for canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming. There are also various spots for water sport activities throughout the greater Lochaber area, which is known as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK.” Its landscape—surrounded by steep mountains with rivers and streams—lends itself to canyoning and gorge walking, as well as diving and whitewater rafting. Lochaber is also home to Wild West Safari tours, which take visitors on comfortable minibuses to some of the most remote spots in the area to view wildlife, including red deer, golden eagles, red squirrels, and osprey.

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