Mountain biking in Scotland: doing the West Highland Way by mountain bike

One of the best ways to explore the outdoors in a high-paced adrenaline-fueled way is by going mountain biking. Europe’s got many great mountain bike tracks that allow you to cover more miles than hiking in the same amount of time. As mountain biking is gaining in popularity many new single tracks are being explored that were previously only accessible to hikers. The same is happening to mountain biking in Scotland. In the last decade, people started experimenting with mountain biking on the West Highland Way. Most people that attempt it are very experienced bikers. I am not, but attempted it anyway. Admittedly, it is tough but if I knew upfront what I know now I could have made it a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable. So if the West Highland Way is on your list and the idea of doing it in only 4 days while crossing up and down the paths sound appealing, read on. This guide will explain exactly how to go at it. Which route to take, where to stop, sleep and eat and what to take on your mountain biking adventure in Scotland.

– Preparation – 

Before you start booking tickets and buying expensive mountain biking gear I must warn you. Doing the West Highland Way on a mountain bike is tough. There are lot’s of hike-a-bike parts, long rocky climbs where you have little grip and just generally difficult terrain. You don’t need to be an experienced mountain biker but a good general condition and some cycling experience will make it a lot more enjoyable. And a lot safer. Read how I experienced cycling the West Highland Way following the link below. Don’t despair too much though. If you follow the tips in this article, you will most likely have a way easier ride than I did. 


Choosing your direction

The first decision you have to make is whether you’re doing the route South to North or North to South. What is better? North to South. Why? Less climbing and more descending. More importantly all hikers that the route the other way so you will be facing them head-on. This is so much safer and more enjoyable for both parties that I would really not recommend doing the route the other way. Doing it this way you tackle the rough highlands first and then slowly ease into rolling landscapes with meadows, fields and sheep. This gives you a nice ‘coming home’ feeling. 

Hiring the right mountain bikes

Full suspension bikes are no unnecessary luxury for this route as the terrain is quite rough. However, it is also possible to do in on hard-tails (front suspension). We did. An added bonus of a hardtail is the lesser weight which comes in handy in hike-a-bike parts. If you go for a hardtail make sure it is a premium brand and a premium type. We hired Whyte 901s which were perfect for the job with their light frames and wide steers. 

You can rent mountain bikes in Fort William and try to arrange for a courier to get the bikes back up. Offroad Bikes in Fort William has its own courier service for about £60.00 per bike. Book well ahead (3 months was not enough in our case) as the courier will be busy carrying hikers’ bags during peak season. Cheaper and less hassle is renting your mountain bikes in Glasgow and taking them up to Fort William. We rented from Billy Billsland’s Cycles, which I can wholeheartedly recommend. Nice staff and great bikes. 

Getting to Fort William 

The easiest way to get to Fort William is by train. It takes a little more than 3.5 hours from Glasgow and costs £30.80 for a single ticket. You can take your bike on the train for free and there are compartments at the front that carry special hooks to safely store your bike while in transit. The route is beautiful and hugs the West Highland Way at times so you can already the trails you’ll be taking on the next day or so. 

Tickets and timetables can be found here.


– The route –

Day 1: Fort William to Kinlochleven

Distance 25.6 kilometres + 5-10 kilometres to the start of the West Highland Way from your Fort William accommodation
Time 8 AM – 2 PM with plenty of breaks and stops

Climbing through pine forest

First views starting to unfold after about 30 minutes of climbing

The moment your front tire hits the dirt of the West Highland Way the path starts to ascent. Easy at first but gradually growing steeper. You’ll feel your tongue dropping to your knees within the first 10 minutes on the trail. Immediately the question pops up. Why the hell did I think this was a good idea? A climb through pine forest continues for about 30 minutes until you hit the top. Catch your breath about 20 minutes into the climb at Dun Deardail, a fort from the Iron Age. 

The path widens and the forest opens up. Yes! The top. Don’t make the mistake we made by cruising down the slope at top speed. You only need to descend a small bit before the trail leads left, off the wide path into the grassy hills.

True Scottish Highlands single track

Amazing Views, great single track true Highlands

Now the fun starts. What follows is a winding very narrow path through grassy hills intermitted by dramatic rock formations. These are the Scottish Highlands you’ve been waiting for. The mountain biking is technical and true single track. Totally awesome. You zigzag between rocks, ferns and other scrubs going up and down like a rollercoaster. The views are just insane. I couldn’t get a stupid grin off my face of pure childish joy. 

After a while, the path widens again and the surroundings become dryer and more rocky. Occasional flocks of sheep and goats pass along. The path becomes rockier as well and a slight incline makes it increasingly tough. Loose rocks make it harder to cycle. Lower your gears and plough on, the views make it worthwhile. What goes up must go down and a few hours into the day you’ll find yourself at the top of a long winding path going down. A descent of a few kilometres follows. Technical because of loose rocks, but fun.

Dropping into Kinlochleven

The Tailrace Inn, one of the better pubs in Kinlochleven

The descent is followed by another climb and another descent. When the path crosses the main road you can also choose to drop down into Kinlochleven on the paved road. A 2-kilometre descent on smooth asphalt going at 40-50 km/u is an awesome way to end the day. Watch out for cars cutting off corners though!

Where to eat & sleep in Kinlochleven

So if you read my report you know I did not spend the night in Kinlochleven. We made the mistake of doing the ride in 3 days going all the way to Tyndrum on day 1. The town itself is tiny though and only has 3 or 4 pubs, all within walking distance from each other. My advice is to just wander around and see which one looks the most lively. This probably varies from night to night.

On our rest stop in Kinlochleven, we did find the most quirky sleeping barrels. That’s right, tiny huts built in barrels. This is definitely the most unique place to stay in town. The Glamping Pods, as they are called, are also the cheapest place to stay in Kinlochleven.

How cool are these ‘pods’?!

Day 2: Kinlochleven – Tyndrum

Distance 43.2 kilometre
Time 8 AM – 3 PM

The first terrible climb

You better start your day early because today is going to be tough. As soon as you swap the paved roads of Kinlochleven for the old military road the path goes straight to the moon. The path is wide and grip is good but its steep. And it keeps on going. Prepare for sweat, cramped muscles and a lot of hikers coming down that can’t hide how sorry they feel for you – making you feel only worse. You’ll give up and start to walk with your bike on your hand. And then you’ll be mad at yourself and attempt to cycle up again. Five minutes later and your back to walking. But don’t despair. This is the time of champions. Dig in and commit yourself to the top. It will take you a little more than an hour to reach it. 

Up and down

Climbing higher and higher into the hills

At the top, the trees fall back and the views open up. The path is narrow and its best to stick to it – the drop is hundreds of meters down into a small loch that is shimmering down below in the sun. Or drooling in the rain if you are unlucky. Although the path is slightly inclining the cycling isn’t too bad. It goes up and down without long climbs or downhill parts. The only annoying things are the rainwater gaps that cut away the path every 200 metres or so. 

The second terrible climb

The last part up the backside of the Devil’s Staircase. Hike-a-bike it is!

If you thought that you completed the climb at this point (we did): you are wrong. It has only just started. Without you realizing it the path stops going up and down and just goes up and up. And up. The path is steep and big rocks make it almost impossible to cycle. Add to that the fact that you probably haven’t recovered from the first terrible climb and you’re most probably walking up the hill. And it is a long one. Some parts so steep you have to lift your bike, put it on a rock, then climb the rock itself and so on. Even hiking with a big backpack can be challenging at points. let alone carrying a mountain bike. 

The only good thing is that midway through the climb you’ll see the top. It’s f*cking far away, but its there. You can bite into that and force yourself to get going. Also good to know: after this climb you’ve conquered the hardest part of the whole West Highland Way. 

The Devil’s Staircase

After you’ve reached the top, you’ll be down in 5 minutes. The Devil’s Staircase North to South is technical but you can cycle it. Even if you don’t go mountain biking all that often. Lower your saddle to lower your centre of gravity and step off at the most difficult bits and you’ll be fine. This downhill part is thrilling and a welcome reward after all the climbing today.

Cruising into Tyndrum

The last lap of today is good fun. The road is quite rocky but gets easier and smoother as you continue. There are some climbs and some downhill sections but nothing too serious. The views just keep on giving and you cross big valleys with that look like they popped straight off a Windows XP screensaver. The part after the Devil’s Staircase is about 25 kilometres. If you find yourself stressed for time, follow the main road. Its the same amount of kilometres but because the road is paved it will only take you about an hour and a half, maybe a bit more. 

Where to eat & sleep in Tyndrum

As is true for all villages in Scotland, Tyndrum is tiny.  Try the Tyndrum Inn for dinner. Get the haggis as a starter, its great. Stocking up is best done at the Green Willy Shop, which is more a gas station shop than a supermarket. 

We slept the night at the Muthu Ben Doran Hotel. Its a bit dated but the beds are good, the staff is nice and it’s not overly expensive. The main reason you should stay here is the breakfast though, this is an experience on its own. Breakfast is served in a huge room with fluffy red carpets, high ceilings and wooden beams above your head. Its like one of those fancy but dated alpine hotels. Only they play the best 60’s and 70’s hits which totally doesn’t match the setting. There’s also a weird symmetry going on in the hall and the room is filled with Asians reading newspapers. It was so weird I felt I was in a Wes Anderson movie. The food itself is also good, but the whole atmosphere, priceless. 

Day 3: Tyndrum – Balmaha

Tyndrum – Inverarnan 19.2 kilometres
Inverarnan – Inveruglas 10 kilometres (om the main road)
Inveruglas – Inversnaid 20 minutes by ferry
Inversnaid  – Balmaha 23.8 kilometres
9 AM – 5 PM

The road from Tyndrum to Balmaha deviates a bit from the walking route of the West Highland Way. This is because the top bit of lake, Loch Lomond, is simply not cyclable. The path is very narrow and the drop is deep. You’re not just pushing your bike, you are carrying it. This is not fun and not safe. Simply don’t do it but follow these directions (I got them from a local that has been mountain biking in Scotland for the last 20 years or so).

Waterfalls and downhill sections

Ok. The waterfalls aren’t that impressive

Start with following the West Highland Way all the way to Inverarnan. Although there are quite a few fences you need to go through on this lap it is great fun. Easy mountain biking, good paths and nice downhill sections. Technical but not too much. You’ll pass by waterfalls and through farmlands. Although the views aren’t as dramatic as on day 2 the fun cycling makes up for it. And you’re still in Scotland. Of course, the views are still stupendously gorgeous. You’re just really spoilt at this moment by having spent a few days in the Highlands already.  

Inverarnan to Inveruglas

The ferry crossing Loch Lomond is part of a lake tour, so you’ll get some free tour guide information about the lake

Leave the West Highland Way at Inverarnan and follow the main road to Inveruglas. Here you can take the ferry to Inversnaid. The ferry has a very irregular schedule leaving at 1:30 PM and then again at 3:30 PM. If you arrive too late for the first one, you have to wait for 2 hours to get the second. If you miss that one your out of luck and will be forced to cycle around the lake on the normal road. Don’t miss the last one. The ferry takes you to Inversnaid on the other side of the lake in as little as 20 minutes.

Inversnaid to Balmaha 

You’re dropped off at the Inversnaid Hotel from where you follow the West Highland Way again (to your right going South East). The first bit is tricky cycling so be careful. It’s technical but not impossible. Hopefully, by now you already improved your skills enough to tackle this part without stepping off. If not, there’s no shame in walking bits. Some parts are actually hike-a-bike. 

At one moment the path will be joined by a wider path, an old fire-road. Here the West Highland way drops down to the shores of Loch Lomond and the wider gravel road goes straight on, slightly inclining. This is where you have to follow the wider old fire-road. The next section of the West Highland Way is too steep and narrow to cycle, but the fire-road allows you to make good mileage. After a few kilometres of going up and down the road joins the West Highland Way again. From here you can follow it all the way to Balmaha. You made it! Awesome staying at the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond tonight. 

Where to eat & sleep in Balmaha

Where to eat is clear: the Oak Tree Inn is the best spot in town and maybe on the whole West Highland Way. Great food, good beers and plenty of local whiskeys to sample as well. The Oak Tree Inn has also got beds available and considering the prices in this part of Scotland are a bit higher than the rest, they are good value for money. Book well ahead as the place is pretty popular. The alternatives are either super crappy or super expensive which is both not what you are looking for after a tiring day of biking. 

Day 4: Balmaha – Milgavnie 

Distance 30.4 kilometres
Time 8:30 AM – 2 PM

Today is a good day, not only because today you will be finishing the West Highland Way but also because this is the easiest in the bunch. You’ll be riding through farmlands, along creeks and among sheep and other cattle. But before we get to that there is first Conic Hill to tackle.

Conic Hill

How about this view from the mid way viewpoint on Conic Hill?
The stairs going up Conic Hill. Yeah. You are not gonna cycle that.

Conic Hill towers over Loch Lomond. From the top, you can see all stretches of the lake but first, you have to conquer it. The climb up the hill is incredibly steep and the first few hundred meters are mainly stairs. You have to put your bike on your shoulder and carry it all the way up. After a good 20 minutes of stairs, you arrive at an amazing viewpoint overlooking the lake. The rest of the climb is more gradual but still way too steep to cycle. While this is probably the steepest climb of the route it only takes you about 35-40 minutes. And the way down is just perfect. A small gravel path meanders down the slope of the hill intermitted by rocks and the occasional steps. There are some tricky bits but overall this is just the right mix of technicality and flow to make it really really fun. And it is a long one too.

Farmlands rolling into Milgavnie

5 miles out of Milgavnie, flat farmlands and idyllic castles

Once you hit the bottom it is all smooth sailing from there. The West Highland Way takes you through hills and farmlands. Idyllic and picturesque scenes of cows grazing with pine forest in the background. The last 10 miles are almost completely flat. The only thing breaking your flow is the cattle fences that you need to pass through every so many hundred meters but other than that its an easy comfortable ride into Milgavnie (pronounce ‘Milguy’). 

And that’s it! In Milgavnie you’ve reached the end of the West Highland Way! The route ends in the middle of the village at a big stone sign. From there its about 5 minutes to the railway station where you can take a direct train to Glasgow for under £4.00. Some people cycle the last bit to Glasgow as well but apparently, it is terrible. Steep, hilly and uncomfortable. We even hear stories of people attempting the West Highland Way South to North throwing in the tower before the had even reached Milgavnie. My advice? Don’t even consider it. You finished the route, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore. There’s no glamour in a tough ride along the motorway. 

Where to eat & sleep in Glasgow

There are many good spots in Glasgow for a bite. Pubs with good beer and great bar food are plenty. Just wander around the area between Queens Station and Central Station and you’re all set. Okay, I get it.  You want a specific recommendation. Try Drum & Monkey for pub food and beer, Where the Monkey Sleeps to get the best sandwiches you’ve ever tasted. Get the Firewalker Sandwich, it is brutally good. Yes the double monkey thing is a coincidence. 

Grab one of their epic sandwiches for take away

A good hostel is Glasgow Metro. Their main hostel is a little out of town but the building is beautiful and Glasgow isn’t that big anyways. They open up a second place during summer which functions as student housing during the rest of the year. Simple rooms but the cheapest privates you can get that are clean and comfortable. 


– Practical information –


Scotland is one of the rainiest places in Europe and in addition to that the winters get quite cold. Forget about doing the West Highland Way in winter or mountain biking in Scotland in general for that matter. Best months are May-August.

For hikers May and early June are best because after that pesky midges take over the highlands which makes trekking extremely uncomfortable. Think being bitten a hundred times a minute. Fortunately, they are no real problem for mountain bikers! Because you are moving at a reasonably high pace the midges simply can’t keep up or find the time to bite. We crossed midge-infested fields on a day that had ‘high midge expectations’ and were not bitten once during riding. Taking a break is less enjoyable so pick your moments. Midges hate sunny dry spots, have your breaks here. 


We found Scotland to be cheaper than expected. Supermarkets are a cheap way to stock up on supplies for on the road but if you are looking for typical trekking foods (nuts, energy bars etc.) you pay the price if you buy them along the West Highland Way. You’re better off going to a big supermarket in Fort William or Glasgow.

Bike Rental £ 100 – 150 
Restaurant meal £ 10 – 15 
A pint of craft beer in a pub £ 3 – 4 
Dorm £ 20 
Double in a 3-star hotel £ 60

In & Out


The purple buses are the Airport Express lines

It is easiest flying into Glasgow as this is only 30 kilometres from the start of the West Highland Way. The easiest way to get into town is by taking the Airport Express Shuttle, £8.00 for a single ticket (£12 for a return) which takes about 15 minutes and leaves every 10 minutes 24/7. 

Railway station

Glasgow has 2 major railway stations in the centre which you can just walk (or cycle) to. Queens Street and Central Station. The train to Fort William leaves from Queens Street Station. 

The railway station of Fort William is a few minutes ride out of town and about a 20 minutes ride to the Chase the Wild Goose hostel. Good thing you brought your bike. 

Pro tip: the big supermarkets of Fort William are located directly next to the railway station. It is best to stock up immediately before checking out your accommodation to save yourself having to retrace your tracks. 

– Things to bring to cycle the West Highland Way –

The main thing to do is to pack light. Mountain biking is really only comfortable if you can do it with a small daypack tightly strapped to your back and nothing else. Get over yourself and accept that this is not the trip to look sexy and fresh. You only need 1 extra set of clothes. The set you want to be wearing when after you step off the bike. Okay, maybe you first want to shower first too. What you must not forget is a first-aid kit. Chances are high that at least one in your party will have a minor accident and gets cut, or a small scab.

Instead of smearing blood all over your rental gear and equipment you can just put a Band-Aid on. And disinfectant is nice to avoid infections. The following items are items I use and I think are helpful on a trip like this one. 


Cycling Gloves

I view cycling gloves as one of the essential items to go mountain biking not only because it is more comfortable but because it’s also safer. Cycling gloves give you added padding, grip and resolve the issue of slippery sweaty hand palms. When you’re doing downhill sections on rough terrain you really don’t want to take your chances. Don’t be a cheap ass on this one. I use the Shimano gloves because they’re just damn good quality. Perfect grip, breathable and light. 

Neck Scarf

The technical name of this neck scarf is a neck gaiter. It functions as a neck warmer, to protect against wind or burning sun. You can put it simply around your neck or over your nose as well. Especially in Scotland, considering the midges, it’s a great item to have because it protects against midges and other insects. This edition from Mission can be soaked in water to function as a neck-cooler, releasing the water ultra-slowly keeping you cool for a long time. A great extra, especially when riding in the burning sun.

Waterproof Bag

A waterproof bag because sadly in Scotland, it almost always rains. If nothing else it gives you piece of mind when traveling with camera gear or other stuff that just can’t get wet. Get a 5L or 10L version so you can pack it within your daypack. I recommend this one from Mountain Splash because in addition to it being durable and tough, its transparent and its got an easy handgrip.

Hand Sanitizer

Yes I view anti-bacterial hand sanitizer as essential. Not because I am germophobic but because this will save you from diarrhoea and food poisoning. During the mountain biking, you will be munching away sandwiches non-stop. You’re really not going to be able to wash your hands all the time so this is the best solution to avoid picking up parasites, worms and what not. Use hand sanitizer, stay a happy traveller. This set got handy Carabiners to latch it on you any pack.