2 Safe & Easy trails recommended for beginners on the West Highland Way

These two West Highland Way trails are relatively easy and safe for beginners, including solo female hikers.

The West Highland Trail is a 154 km hiking trail that starts in Milngavie and finishes in Fort William. It is probably the most famous trail in Scotland. While some hikers decide to hike the whole of it, others complete segments of the trail. Whichever walks you decide on, the West Highland Way is perfect for both beginners and more experienced hikers.

In this blog post, we will explore 2 Easy West Highland Way trails for beginners. These trails are perfect for those without access to a car because you don’t need a vehicle to complete it. A complete step-by-step guide will be provided and will cover travelling to the starting point, suggestions for where to stay, and pictures of the trails.

Drymen to Balmaha

Drymen to Balmaha is a 12.4 kilometres trail and one of the most beautiful routes on the West Highland Trail. The highlight of the route is the Conic Hill which offers a breath-taking panoramic view over Loch Lomond.

The Conic Hill

How to get to Drymen:

It’s easy to travel to Drymen via public transport. We travelled from Glasgow, which meant we first took the train to Balloch. If you are already in Balloch, you will need to the 309 bus to Drymen. It’s only a 15 minutes bus journey. When you arrive in Drymen, you will need to cross the road and walk straight until you exit the village. The walk only takes a few minutes. The start of the trail will look like the picture below:

If you have trouble finding the start of the trail, I recommend using this website. We have used it for all the hikes in Scotland, and it did not disappoint. You can download the app and use it to guide you from beginning to end. The app uses a GPS signal, so you won’t need data or the internet.

What I always find confusing every time I go hiking is finding the starting point of the hike. Once I find the start of the trail, everything is easier to follow. This particular hike is marked pretty well. However, it’s always helpful if you have extra help, like an app to indicate your position.

The first portion of the trail is mostly flat and easy to hike. The landscape does not change dramatically. Almost every significant junction is marked so that you know which way to go next. Here, we aim for Conic Hill, so we must follow the right signs all the way until the end. For this, we must follow the signs which read Balmaha (via Conic Hill). 

Certainly, the most challenging part of this hike is the second half. While the first part is mostly flat, the second half becomes slightly demanding because you get closer to the Conic Hill. However, overall, in my opinion, this route is still relatively easy to hike.

Because you ascend, the second half is also the most beautiful. The scenery does not change dramatically. However, the route becomes rockier to climb.

We were lucky to hike on a fine day. The view was beautiful, and the ascent was worth it. The trail gets busy on fine days like this one. So, get ready for some crowds as you get closer to the hill.

The descent is probably more challenging than the ascent. It’s steeper and rockier. I saw many people using walking sticks. They are very helpful when you start climbing down.

As a beginner, I would say to allow yourself a good 4-5h to complete the hike. You do not want to rush, and most importantly, you want to enjoy the whole experience.

Make sure you bring all the snacks and drinks you need. You can purchase some in either Balloch or Drymen. If, like us, you travelled from Glasgow, buy most of your food from a bigger city. It will be much cheaper this way.

Your next food stop is only in Balmaha. There is a local restaurant in the village. We had dinner there, and it was lovely. However, there aren’t many shops in the village. 

Some places, on the West Highland Way, are pretty small, like Balmaha for example, where you won’t necessarily find a supermarket. Some others, like Fort William, are bigger and you can find supermarkets too. However, no matter how small a village is, I noticed that we always found restaurants or pubs where cooked meals are served.

Accommodation: In Balmaha, we opted for an Airbnb. The place was lovely. The landlady served a hearty Scottish breakfast, which was included in the room’s price. I would definitely recommend an AirBnB in Balmaha because we had a lovely experience there. Also, we did not see too many hotels around either. 

Balmaha to Inverarnan

The entire route is approximately 32 kilometres long. The hike starts in Balmaha, so there is no need for a bus or a train. However, if you cannot complete the entire route, the same way we didn’t, there is a shortcut.

The morning we were about to leave our Airbnb, we had a chat with the landlady, who advised us that the first half of the route was not very well maintained and could be tricky to hike. As we did not want to risk too much, we decided to book a taxi to Inversnaid Hotel. There is no reliable public transport in Balmaha, so the fastest and easier way to cut our hike short was to book a taxi. The ride is about 1h long.

If like us, you start the hike at Inversnaid Hotel, you will cut it in half. So the hike will only be around 15 kilometres long. The walk is not very difficult and pretty straightforward. Similar to Balmaha, there are no supermarkets on the route. The best way is to ask your host to prepare you some lunch. Our Airbnb host did that for us.

As you can see in the pictures above, the start of the trail is clearly marked. The taxi will drop you off at the hotel’s car park. From there, head towards the lake and follow the path.

The trail is straight, mostly flat at the beginning. There will be sections of the hike where the terrain becomes rocky, but nothing crazy or impossible to climb. Most of the time the trail follows the river. Make sure you walk with the river on your left-hand side. This is how you will know you are walking in the right direction.

Probably halfway through the hike, you will leave the lake behind. The trail will continue through the forest, climbing a hill before it descends once you approach the campsite. The climbing is the highlight of this trail. As with Conic Hill, you will enjoy a breath-taking panoramic view of the valley.

We arrived in Inverarnan in around 4-5h. We stayed at the campsite. The rooms there are lovely. They also have a restaurant where they serve all 3 meals. For a tighter budget, you can also camp instead. We visited Scotland in August, so the site was quite busy.

Inverarnan is served by buses which can take you further. You also have the option to continue hiking new routes.

Why are these West Highland trails good for beginners?

There are a few reasons why Drymen-Balmaha and Inversnaid Hotel-Inverarnan are easy West Highland trails for beginners:

  • both trails are well marked, so there isn’t a real danger of you getting lost. However, consider charging your phone, download offline maps and always have with you a charger in case you need it.
  • both trails are pretty easy to reach via public transport. If we didn’t choose to cut in half the second trail, we wouldn’t need a taxi. As there are transport options available, I considered the second route still ticked the box for the easy category.
  • both trails are pretty easy to hike. You might encounter steep or rocky sections, but nothing was too extreme. Make sure you have good hiking shoes, walking sticks (if you need them) and an acceptable sized backpack. I say acceptable because we carried way too much weight when we should have brought a lighter backpack. 
  • both trails are of acceptable size. In my opinion, any distance between 10-15 kilometres is acceptable and should be relatively easy to complete in 1 day.
  • both trails are completely safe, and there is no danger of wildlife encounters. Being so popular, the trails are quite busy in summer, which makes them perfectly safe for solo travellers, including women.

One final piece of advice: Before we started our journey, Scottish friends told us to buy a spray against midges. While there weren’t as many as we expected, I must say I did get some bites, so definitely consider a spray against midges if you hike the West Highland Way in summer. 

I hope I managed to convince you to give the West Highland Way a try. You do not have to walk the entire trail. Like me, you can hike sections of it. Which of the routes I mentioned above would you hike first?

Did you like this blog post? Why not pin it for later!

One thought on “2 Safe & Easy trails recommended for beginners on the West Highland Way

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *