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Best Hiking in Scotland | Walking the 57-Mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

Some of the best hiking in Scotland can be found along the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way. The nickname for the walk is “Scotland in 57 miles,” mainly because of the immense amount of scenic, cultural, and historical diversity passed along the way. The stunning journey not only involves the most breathtaking scenery but also exposes walkers to some of the very best in Scottish hospitality.

Day four of the walk includes views from Struth Ban Falls with Loch Goil in the distance. | Best Hiking in Scotland | Walking the 57-Mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

The Loch Lomond and Cowal Way (LL&CW) is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. Only recently, in 2016, was it awarded the designation of “Scotland’s Great Trail” status by the Scottish Natural Heritage. While many avid hikers will make the West Highland Way their first choice, if you want to really get off the beaten path, you may want to consider the LL&CW when hiking in Scotland.

Why Take a Long-Distance Hike

We’ve done a few long-distance hikes, including the West Highland Way. We love to get on the trails and experience the peace that only the wilderness can deliver.

Walking next to the Kyles of Bute on day two! | Best Hiking in Scotland | Walking the 57-Mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

For us, there’s nothing better than taking a multi-day hike.  Slowing down and traveling by foot over vast distances is a great way to clear up problems and train your mind to listen. There are very few times in life where you’re granted the opportunity to simply be.

“Gonna put the world away for a minute.
Pretend I don’t live in it.
Sunshine gonna wash my blues away.”

While walking, it’s easier to ignore all of the ugly distractions that the world puts forth. You’re granted the opportunity to be within your own mind, with limited interruptions, at least for a few days.

Walking down towards Kames on the first day of the walk. | Best Hiking in Scotland | Walking the 57-Mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

Essentially, you’re gifting yourself a little break from the chaos of the world. Anyone looking for enhanced mindfulness and inner peace will appreciate hiking in Scotland.

Why Walk the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

The LL&CW (the Way) is the perfect distance for a one-week vacation. Additionally, if you’re looking to add on a hike to a tour of Scotland, it’s a great option. At 57 miles, it will typically take between four to six nights to complete.

An old stone bridge in Ballochandrain over the River Ruel.

While walking the Way may feel remote (we didn’t spot another walker the entire time) you’re never so isolated that you can’t easily find a cozy place to stay at the end of the day.

A standing stone sits in front of a small loch with Portavadie and Loch Fyne in the background.

The Way crosses the entire Cowal Peninsula and either begins or ends on Loch Lomond, depending on where you begin. However, most walkers begin in Portavadie along Loch Fyne and head inland, putting the prevailing southwesterly winds behind them

“Argyll’s Secret Coast” the Cowal Peninsula

While most tourists have not heard of “Argyll’s Secret Coast,” or as we like to call it, Scotland’s best-kept secret, among Scots, the Cowal Peninsula has slowly transformed itself into the country’s outdoor adventure playground.

Enjoying the views of the Kyles of Bute! | Best Hiking in Scotland

Local walkers, sailors, cyclists, and wildlife lovers searching for Scotland’s Big Five (red squirrel, red deer, common seal, European otter, and the golden eagle) escape to this little section of Scotland to enjoy the outdoors and nature.

Eilean Dubh, also known as Glen Caladh Island is situated just off the Cowal peninsula in the Kyles of Bute and features a small lighthouse.

Along the Way, as you’re heading southwest to northeast be prepared for the landscape of the Cowal Peninsula to change dramatically, from flat coastlines and forestry walks to exciting hill climbs and stunning waterfalls.

Harry’s walking up to the Asgog Castle ruins that sit on Asgog Loch. | Best Hiking in Scotland

You’ll pass through five charming villages on your way to Loch Lomond, made up of Tighnabruaich, Glendaruel, Strachur, Lochgoilhead, and Arrochar.

Drone view of the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way on the first day of the hike! | Best Hiking in Scotland

The variety and brilliance in the scenery include the Kyles (or straits) of Bute, the dreamy valley of Glendaruel, remote forests, and the soaring Arrochar Alps.

The Tighnabruaich Pier Ferry Terminal sits in the background while the metal barrier pronounces “Made in England.”

Also, thanks to its consistently mild climate, and unlike many of Scotland’s other great trails, the extremes in temperature are fairly uncommon, making for some of the best hiking in Scotland.

Loch Lomond & Cowal Way | Everything You Need to Know

The official Loch Lomond & Cowal Way website provides you with pretty much everything you need to know about the walk. However, during our research, we were still a bit puzzled as to what the terrain along the Way would look like.

Walking down a long road in Glendaruel. | Best Hiking in Scotland

We’ll break it down for you in pictures and videos throughout the post so that you get a sense of what to expect. Also, we were a bit confused about what to do when we finished the walk, which we’ll explain in the “Logistical Challenges of the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way” section below.

We’re in our room at Portavadie showing off our two books, one day before departing for the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way.

Lomond & Cowal Way Rucksack Reader

However, before we do that, let’s take a minute to discuss the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way Rucksack Reader by James McLuckie. We purchased the book and thought it was a nice short read at about 70 pages. While the guide was informative and made for a nice souvenir, it proved to be a bit misguided as it led us to worry about things that we didn’t need to. For example, numerous sections of the book discuss tide awareness—informing us that we would need to time our walk for low tide. Recent updates to the trail have made this irrelevant. However, we’re still glad we brought it along for the journey!

There’s no need to worry about tides, as there are tidal signs that will inform you where to go during high tide. | Best Hiking in Scotland

Also, the book made us a little nervous about getting lost while hiking in Scotland. It mentioned numerous times about bringing a compass because the trail may be hard to follow, especially in extreme conditions. However, through our experience the trail was clearly marked, and extremely easy to follow. Keep in mind, in dense fog you may need a GPS or compass. Also, the free app Maps.me easily kept us on the trail.

Walking down from Curra Lochain and heading towards Struth Ban Falls!

We were so nervous about getting lost that we printed each day’s route description off (from the official Loch Lomond & Cowal Way website) and ended up carrying both the book and the printed pages.

This may have been the only confusing section along the way. You’ll want to use the blue rope to assist in crossing the creek. See Curra Lochain in the background?

We found it much easier to pull that day’s pages out from one of our pockets rather than removing the book from the backpack. With that in mind, during the walk, the book was rarely used. At the end of each day, we would dispose of that day’s route description which lightened our load just a bit.

Our Route | Hiking in Scotland

We started our walk in Portavadie and stayed overnight at the Portavadie Hotel.

It was a cold and chilly October day but inside the heated infinity pool at Portavadie, it was simply paradise!

This is a great hotel to kick off your walk. It features fabulous accommodations, scrumptious restaurants, and the most amazing infinity pool and spa.

We’re eating at the Lodge Kitchen & Bar at Portavadie, enjoying battered fish and chips, mushy peas, tartar sauce, and a McCaskie’s hand pressed burger, with cheese, tomato chutney, chips.

Also, because they have a huge parking lot, this is where we left our car rental for the four nights during our walk. Check out our experience of Portavadie, including what we ate! Click here to book a room at Portavadie.

Day 1 | Portavadie to Tighnabruaich

At 6.6 miles, the first day is relatively easy terrain. However, depending on how muddy the trail is it may take you longer than you expect. We took our time and stopped for a bit at the ruins of Asgog Castle.

Taking a minute to enjoy the views of Portavadie, Loch Fyne, and Kintyre Peninsula.

Also, we quickly looked at the remains of the gunpowder mill, and a World War II tank landing slip.

The Way crosses the Kyles of Bute Golf Course, which was kind of fun!

Finally, we took about a half-hour lunch break. Overall, the first day took about six hours to complete.

Where to Stay

Tregortha Bed & Breakfast: Karmen and Gabor own and operate this charming B&B. The rooms are cozy and exceptionally clean.

We’ve arrived at the Tregortha Bed and Breakfast after our first day of walking!

High-powered space heaters easily dry damp clothes and shoes.

At Tregortha Bed and Breakfast we enjoyed a proper Scottish breakfast along with these lovely parfaits!

Hosts are a delight and make a wonderful breakfast with scenic views over the Kyles of Bute. The nearby convenience store makes it a great location to stock up on supplies. Click here to book a room at Tregortha Bed and Breakfast.

Where to Eat

The Royal an Lochan: Only about a five-minute walk from Tregortha B&B is The Royal an Lochan, where we celebrated our first day of hiking.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

It was a special treat to enjoy a welcome drink by the fire—it’s been years since Harry enjoyed a proper draft of Guinness!

At the Royal an Lochan we dined on pan-seared Loch Fyne scallops!

For dinner, we enjoyed Scottish Smoked Salmon, Oriental Duck, Loch Fyne Scallops, and Grilled Gammon Steak (hind leg of pork). And for dessert?

Some wonderful stick pudding for dessert at the Royal an Lochan!

Of course, some Sticky Toffee.

Day 2 | Tighnabruaich to Glendaruel

Since we were departing relatively early we thought the second day was going to be a bit easier, even though it was 11 miles.

Departing Tighnabruaich and heading towards Glendaruel with the Kyles of Bute off to the right.

However, there is a stretch between Glen Caladh Farm and Ormidale Lodge that took much longer than normal.

The second day of the walk has some rough areas that took much longer to traverse than we were expecting.

It rained for about one week straight before we started the walk and this section was terribly muddy and slippery.

A small waterfall just outside Tighnabruaich. | Best Hiking in Scotland

Also, we stopped at the Kilmodon Church and Carved Stones for about half an hour. Overall, the second day took about six hours, without stopping for lunch.

Where to Stay

The Bothy at the Glendaruel Caravan Park or a room at The Water Mill. The camping bothies at Glendaruel Caravan Park make it easy for walkers to enjoy an overnight pit stop along the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way.

Our bothy at the Glendaruel caravan and camping park. In Scotland, a bothy is a small hut or cottage. | Glamping in Scotland

We experienced a true off-the-grid glamping experience.

Amazing views from our bothy with the Scottish morning mist!

Without being connected, we spent the evening discussing our journey over some tomato soup, scones, hot dogs, and baked beans. Wi-Fi is available at the check-in booth if you need to check email or post a quick photo. Click here to book a room in Glendaruel.

Where to Eat

There are limited options in this neck of the woods. If you’re staying at The Water Mill, they may be able to arrange a dinner for you but you should verify that with them beforehand. If you’re staying in a Bothy then you will need to bring food with you.

An apple tree sits in front of the ruins of Asgog Castle | Best Hiking in Scotland

In Tighnabruaich, there’s a grocery store next to the post office that has plenty of options, including premade sandwiches and microwavable dinners.

We would recommend that you throw these items in your bag and have it transferred to the Caravan Park. It will be waiting for you upon your arrival!

Day 3 | Glendaruel to Strachur

We woke to a beautiful day and enjoyed a lovely walk through the Glendaruel valley while enjoying the Scottish morning mist.

The Scottish morning mist in Glendaruel. | Best Hiking in Scotland

At 15.7 miles, day three is one of the more challenging. While not terribly physically challenging, it is a long day of walking, so be prepared.

Three sheep block the path. | Best Hiking in Scotland

The ground was still wet and there was nowhere to rest (unless we wanted to sit on wet ground).

It wasn’t until we reached the Forestry Commission’s District Office at Glenbranter, which had a couple of picnic tables that we had an opportunity to sit down and have lunch. This was at about mile 13.

Where to Stay

Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B: It’s an absolute pleasure to stay in an amazing B&B like Balliemeanoch Breaks after a long day of hiking. Our host, Angela, has a keen eye for detail.

A spacious room and cozy bed at Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B.

Every little aspect of our stay was perfect. We had a spacious well-decorated room, a modern bathroom, fresh flowers, the most luxurious towels and toiletries, and a scrumptious breakfast!

Fresh flowers and a scenic view of the Scottish countryside at Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B.

It’s a must-stop on any journey along the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way. Click here to book a room at Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B.

Where to Eat

Angela (from Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B) can recommend a restaurant or there’s a nearby gas station (Strachur Filling Station) with plenty of budget-friendly options—including wine!

Grabbing a bite to eat along the way.

If you want to stay in, you may want to stop at the filling station before proceeding to the B&B. It’s about a five-minute diversion from the trail each way.

Day 4 | Strachur to Lochgoilhead

Day four was one of the best hiking days we’ve ever had in our lives.

Struth Ban Falls!

Walking down Struth Ban Falls from the top of Curra Lochain was absolutely thrilling.

Fall mornings in Scotland are a special time of year. | Best Hiking in Scotland

This section is extremely boggy and slow-moving on the way down but well worth the trip!

Where to Stay

The Shore House or The Goil Inn. Click here to book a room in Lochgoilhead.

Where to Eat

The Goil Inn Restaurant or the Costcutter, a small convenience store, are two options for post-hike pints and dining.

Day 5 | Lochgoilhead to Inveruglas

At 14.6 miles, and with a strenuous ascent, the final section is one of the most demanding.

Stopping for a drone pic near Coilessan! | Best Hikes in Scotland

We hear that the views are supposed to be amazing but the weather took a turn for the worst. For us, the first four days offered beautiful though.

Regardless, the walk along with Loch Long and finally making it to the finish line made it all worth it!

Where to Eat

In Arrochar, if you’re passing through and planning on finishing in Inverglus, the Kitchen Garden serves a quick burger.

Baggage Transfer Service

Balliemeanoch Baggage transfer service will move all of your luggage, so you don’t have to. With door-to-door service and low prices, there’s no need to carry extra items.

Preparing to depart from Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B on the morning of day four!

Angela Brown, the owner of Balliemeanoch Baggage can also move people and bikes, making her a good option to transfer you from Inverglus back to Arrochar or possibly even Portavadie at the end of your hike.

As part of the baggage booking process, we always check the end of walk plan and make arrangements with the walkers accordingly.  – Angela Brown, Balliemeanoch Baggage

Angela handles all of the transfers from Portavadie to Inverglus and resides in Strachur (at Balliemeanoch Farmhouse B&B). Pickups and deliveries need to be well-planned out to keep Angela’s pickups and deliveries on schedule.

Lochgoilhead is a charming and beautiful Scottish village.

Contact Angela directly to work out the details of your itinerary. The volume of walkers is still fairly low, so Angela is pretty flexible and can generally organize something that suits everyone.

Logistical Challenges of the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

Over 30,000 people walk the West Highland Way each year. Only a small fraction of that number walk the LL&CW. Millions of dollars have been invested in the WHW to support the infrastructure of the route.

Surrounded by beautiful hills on day four of the walk!

For example, the WHW ends in the middle of Fort William where there are plenty of options for lodging, restaurants, and transportation. The LL&CW, on the other hand, ends at the Inverglus Visitor Center.

A Loch Lomond & Cowal Way marker sits in front of Struth Ban Falls. | Best Hiking in Scotland

The LL&CW is only in its infancy stage—think of it as taking the path less traveled. Essentially, this means that you’re going to cross paths with fewer walkers and your experience will feel collectively more intimate when compared to more popular walks.

Little streams crossing over the LL&CW on day four.

From a logistical perspective, the experience as a whole will take a bit more effort. Mainly, when it comes to planning for food, along with transportation options when you complete the walk.

Options For Completing the Walk

We completed the walk in five nights based on the standard route. When we finished in the late afternoon, we had Angela (from Balliemeanoch Baggage) transfer us from the Inverglus Visitor Center to Portavadie so that we could pick up our rental car.

The Inverglus Visitor Center is the finish line for the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way. Sadly, upon our arrival the entire area was closed and under construction, making for a good reason to return!

We hiked in October during the low season so Angela was able to arrange this for us. Here are some other options for completing the LL&CW:

  • If you find yourself in the situation where Angela is unable to transfer you back to your car rental in Portavadie you will be able to arrange a transfer with the taxi service based out of Strachur.
  • During the high season, most walkers will stay overnight in Arrochar—this is because Arrochar has many good accommodations, food options, and a train station. The next morning, they’ll take the short walk to Inveruglas and meet up in the early afternoon with Angela (at the Inverglus Visitor Center). She’ll be there with their luggage and will be able to provide a lift based upon their negotiated arrangement.
We enjoyed beautiful blue skies on the first day of the walk. We started on the other side of the hill that sits in the background.

More Good Alternatives

  • Not everyone continues to Inverglus to cross the finish line, and that’s okay. Many choose to finish in Arrochar because of the convenience of public transportation. Also,  Arrochar is the starting point for climbing Ben Arthur, also known as The Cobbler. It’s not categorized as a Munro (a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 feet) but is awfully close at 2,900 ft. The Cobbler is a popular way to finish the walk, and is considered one of the best hiking opportunities in Scotland!
  • Some walkers will finish at Inveruglas and decide to take a bus from the nearby Sloy Power Station stop and either head south to Glasgow or north to Fort William. Once again, they’ll arrange a time with Angela for the final baggage transfer.
  • If you’d like to continue onto the WHW or the Scottish coast-to-coast walk, you’ll need to take a ferry across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid. Ferries operate from both Inverglus and the nearby town of Tarbert.
  • The closest accommodations to Inverglus are in Ardlui and Tarbet, a short bus ride away.

Best Time of Year to Walk the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way

With relatively warm winters and cool summers, the LL&CW makes for some of the best hiking in Scotland. The best time of year to walk the LL&CW is during the spring and fall months. Preferably, mid-June and mid-September as they make for the ideal periods.

Vines engulf a sign with the Isle of Bute in the background. | Best Hiking in Scotland

We hiked in October, which was pleasant during the first four days. However, on our last day, a terrible storm moved in. This is fairly typical as low-pressure systems begin rolling in off the Atlantic as early as September. Try to avoid the month of August entirely. This is when the Cowal Highland Gathering takes place and when midges are the most aggressive.

Other Things to Know

  • The Inverglus Visitor Center has a cafe and toilets. Walkers are generally comfortable hanging out for a bit if while waiting for their baggage transfer.
  • In 2018, the name of the Cowal Way was formally changed to the Loch Lomond & Cowal Way. This was done because about 50 percent of it runs within the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.
  • The Loch Lomond & Cowal Way links to the Kintyre Way, the Three Lochs Way, and the West Highland Way. If you’re looking to extend your walk, we would suggest starting in Machrihanish and taking the ferry from Tarbert to Portavadie to begin the LL&CW.
  • There are many options for getting to Portavadie. However, the fastest will be a rental car, taxi, or Uber.
  • To plan your full travel route via public transport from anywhere in the U.K. use http://www.traveline.info/.

If we could do the walk all over again, the only thing we would change is the last section. From Lochgoilhead, we would stay overnight in Arrochar. The next morning we would complete a roundtrip hike to The Cobbler. The public transportation options in Arrochar make this a convenient endpoint.

Have you completed the LL&CW or any other great trails in Scotland? Please share your experience or questions in the comments section. Additionally, if you have any questions about walking the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way, please feel free to reach out in the comments section below. We would be happy to try to help.

7 thoughts on “Best Hiking in Scotland | Walking the 57-Mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way
  1. Hi Harry, thank you. That sounds like a good plan. I also though about skipping one section but wasn’t sure about the first one. And this way we don’t have the pressure to do 28 km in unknown terrain on the first day.

  2. Hi Harry, I’m looking for a nice hike in scotland and came across your fantastic report. Due to flights and babysitter, we have only time for 4 days of hiking. Do you think it is a good idea to combine the first two sections or do you have other ideas. Distance and ascent sound doable, but you also wrote that it took you roughly 12 hours walking. We don’t want to bring a tent, so from the accomodation standpoint, it’s probably not possible to slit the sections in a different way. We plan to do the trip in the beginning of May.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Henning,
      I think you should do days 2, 3, 4, and 5, starting in Tighnabruaich and ending in Arrochar. This will allow you to see the best parts of the hike and there are options for accommodations along the way. Depending on how fast you walk, and if you only take short breaks, it should be about 6-8 hours of walking per day. We’re slow walkers and constantly stopping for pictures and videos so we’re definitely on the longer side. Please let us know if you have any more questions.
      Thanks!

  3. Feel free to delete this comment, but I found a mistake. The Cobbler is actually not a Munro – it’s a COrbett, which is over 2500 ft, but under 3000. You can still hike Munros from Arrochar, as both Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnairn (next to/behind the Cobbler) are over 3000 ft! 🙂 Just thought I’d point that out

    1. Thanks for catching that. We see that it’s so close at 2,900 ft, but not yet a Munro, so we updated the post. Also, adding the nearby Munros is really good information for future walkers.

      We can’t recommend the day 4 walk (from Strachur to Lochgoilehad) enough. Coming down from Curra Lochain with Struth Ban Falls was absolutely amazing! Highly recommend the LL&CW! Thanks again!!

  4. I love that you hiked off the beaten path! The Loch Lomond & Cowal Way has been on my list for years, but I wasn’t sure whether the scenery would be varied enough – well, you just confirmed that! Thank you!

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