The Best Activities in the Scottish Highlands for Outdoor Enthusiasts

The Scottish Highlands are often referred to as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK” and for good reason too. With its diverse landscapes, ancient castles, and towering lochs, it’s considered a top destination for outdoor adventure seekers from all over the world. This vast, sparsely populated region spans over 30,000 square kilometers in northwest Scotland and offers a variety of activities, no matter your skill level.

This blog covers various outdoor activities available in the Highlands, from land and water sports to wildlife watching. We’ll provide you with recommendations for where to go along with what to wear since the weather can drastically change from place to place. We have also highlighted a selection of popular courses, lessons, and guided tours from a single day outing to multi-day excursions. Whether you’re a novice or seasoned adventurer, here’s your guide to exploring the Scottish Highlands and finding the perfect activity for you.

Getting to the Highlands

Making your way to the Highlands can be an adventure in itself with all the sights you’ll get to see. If you prefer being in the skies and flying to your destination, you can fly into international airports in Inverness, Dundee, and Aberdeen. Once you land, you’ll just be a short drive or train ride away from the heart of the region.

For those that prefer a more scenic route, there are trains from cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, or London that will take you through past the misty glens and lochs. You can watch the changes in scenery from countryside to mountains as you sit back, relax, and let the journey itself be part of the experience.

Another option for those who want to take traveling into their own hands is to drive there. If you want a true road trip experience, you can rent a car (or take your own) and drive up via the A9 from Perth. Make sure to stop along the way for breaks and to take in the mountain scenery and views of the nearby villages. Now, let’s explore some of the best activities and prime locations to experience the great outdoors of the Scottish Highlands.

Conquer the Mountains

Welcome to the territory of Munros – mountains in Scotland that are over 3,000 feet. There are 282 Munros spread all across the Highlands. Conquering these summits will need proper preparation with technical gear, navigational skills, warm layers, sturdy boots, ample food/water, and an adventurous spirit.

  • Hike/Climb Ben Nevis – The gem of the Highlands is Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK that stands tall at an impressive height of 1,345 meters (4,413 feet) above sea level. If you’re looking for a challenge, we recommend adding this famous Munro to your bucket list. To get there, you can depart from the Highland town of Fort William. Then, embark on the trek up Ben Nevis where you can scale its rocky summit and navigate through pine forests, heather valleys, and an alpine zone.
  • Scramble/Mountaineer in Cuillin Ridge – The Isle of Skye is another Munro mecca and is home to the legendary Cuillin Ridge. Mountaineers from all around the world will come here to traverse 12 Munros in an all-day or multi-day adventure. With 12 Munros along the hazardous ridge, it is definitely a test of skills. This means only experienced climbers should attempt this journey with the appropriate ropes and gear. 
  • Trek through Trossachs– Those looking for less extreme adventures can always indulge in a tamer and no less scenic hike in the Highlands. Come visit some of the Highlands’ finest hiking within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, just an hour from Glasgow. This is Scotland’s first national park which boasts incredible hiking like the straightforward 7-mile out-and-back trail up Ben Lomond (974m). Hike this trail to see the Trossachs’ lush glens, lochs, and the Arrochar Alps. 
  • Mountaineer in Glen Coe– If you like scaling snow-capped peaks and want to be surrounded by snow, we recommend mountaineering in Glen Coe during the winter months from January until April. During winter’s freeze, Glen Coe becomes a wonderland for dedicated ice climbers and the views are a sight you won’t want to miss.

Weather & What To Wear

No matter the route you take to get to your desired destination, you should note that the weather can shift rapidly, so proper preparation is key. The temperatures in summer can spike into the 70s before plummeting with heavy rain and winds. Avid hikers and climbers will want to target the relatively more stable weather in summer, ideally late May through early September. However, late spring and early fall can also be sublime.

We recommend that you get yourself prepared with breathable base layers, an insulating mid-layer, waterproof jacket and pants, hat, and gloves. You’ll also need trekking poles, and sturdy hiking boots with good traction to handle the muddy and rocky terrain. For food and water, make sure to pack a lot of high-energy snacks and at least 2 liters of water per person to stay energized and hydrated for your trek.

Ride the Wild Waters

With its legendary lochs, rivers, and rugged coastlines, the Highlands is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. Paddle your way through the Scottish Highlands with kayaking and canoeing expeditions that are both exciting and tranquil. Along the way, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of local wildlife, from eagles soaring overhead to otters along the banks. Here are a few of our favorite locations.

  • Kayak or Canoe in Loch Ness – You can head to the iconic Loch Ness, the place famous for its legendary monster and its serene waters. It is an ideal location whether you want a leisurely paddle or a thrilling whitewater adventure. Numerous outfitters based in Inverness and along the loch offer guided kayak or canoe tours where you can explore the loch’s inlets, bays, and beaches. When the waters are calm, Loch Ness is also a wonderful spot for stand-up paddleboarding.
  • Kitesurf in Moray Firth – The Moray Firth is an inlet of the North Sea situated in the Highlands and stretches roughly from Inverness to the Caithness coast. It provides ideal conditions for kitesurfing with its consistent winds and sandy beaches. Westerly winds here will provide you with smooth conditions and good wind lines for kitesurfing.
  • Raft, Kayak, and Tube at River Spey – The River Spey flows nearly 100 miles through the Highlands from its source in the Cairngorms and offers some of the best whitewater adventures in all of Scotland. The area around the town of Aviemore is particularly known for whitewater rafting, kayaking, and river tubing thanks to the Spey’s rapids and falls that tumble through the glens. You can also bikepack and camp out at the Grantown-on-Spey.
  • Paddle through Loch Awe – If you’re not up for a challenge just yet, spend a few days in Loch Awe, a tranquil haven for canoeing and wild camping. You can paddle along the shores at your own pace and be surrounded by ancient woodlands, hills, and historic castles. With its calm waters, Loch Awe is the perfect setting for a leisurely paddle or a peaceful exploration of its hidden coves and secluded islands.

Weather & What To Wear

No matter which loch or river you choose to explore in the Highlands, being prepared with the proper gear for the region’s famously fickle weather is key. In the peak summer months of July and August, daytime highs average 12-18° (55-65°F) but can drop under 10° (50°F) with heavy rain and winds. Spring and autumn mean even chillier air and water temperatures.

Whenever you visit, layering is essential – start with a moisture-wicking synthetic or wool base layer topped by an insulating mid-layer like fleece. A waterproof and breathable outer shell jacket and pants will keep you dry, and you’ll most likely want to bring along a warm hat and gloves too.

For any water sport, a drysuit or semi-dry suit with thermal underlayers is an absolute must, as even summer water temperatures in lochs and coastal areas rarely exceed 10°C (50°F). Don’t forget your water shoes, life jacket, helmets for whitewater, and sun protection like sunglasses and sunscreen since the sun can be deceivingly strong.

Pedal Through Paradise

Whether you’re a beginner seeking a chill, leisurely ride or a seasoned rider that has been on countless rides, the Highlands offers scenic mountain biking trails for every skill level.

  • Ride through Cairngorms National Park – Located just outside the mountain resort town of Aviemore, you’ll find the famous Wolftrax trail system here with routes that are suitable for beginners up to experts. The trails are professionally designed, built, and maintained, with clear signage and grading so you know what you’re getting into. This trail network has gained legendary status among UK mountain bikers, so it’s worth putting on your list of things to do.
  • Pedal in Glentress Forest – Situated in the Tweed Valley near the town of Peebles, Glentress Forest is one of the iconic 7Stanes mountain bike trail centers in the Scottish Borders region. This massive forest has been developed into a mountain biker’s paradise, with trails for every skill level. The trails wind through pine forests, across open hills, and provide incredible views of the Southern Uplands.
  • Bike in Torridon – For the more experienced, the legendary Torridon area in the remote Northwest Highlands is the way to go. The holy grail for expert mountain bikers is the Torridon Monster – a 35-mile loop that will test your endurance, technical skills, and mental fortitude to the limit. This area has some of the most untamed landscapes in all of Scotland – from jagged peaks to rocky ridgelines, the riding here is about as gnarly as it gets.

Weather & What To Wear

Summer temperatures range from 50-70°F in the Highlands, but can change in an instant with heavy rain and winds. Dress in breathable, moisture-wicking layers and top it off with a waterproof jacket. Always pack extra insulation like a down jacket, no matter the forecast. Cushioned trail shorts or pants with chamois lining can help absorb bumps, while lightweight knee pads can help prevent scrapes from slides on rocky descents. Opt for flat pedal shoes with sticky rubber soles or cycling shoes compatible with your pedals. Don’t forget to pack plenty of snacks, water, tools, and spare tubes before heading out.

Wildlife Watching

The Highlands are a pristine habitat for an incredible array of wildlife. In Cairngorms National Park, you can spot red deer, mountain hares, ptarmigan, and the elusive Scottish wildcat with some luck and patience. The Caledonian pine forests here are also one of the last remaining strongholds of the UK’s endangered capercaillie grouse.

On the islands and northern coastlines, you’ll find the best places for viewing colonies of puffins, razorbills, guillemots and other seabirds. Take a boat tour from ports like John O’Groats or Gairloch for chances to spot dolphins, whales, seals, and otters. In the inland areas, the Highlands are home to magnificent birds of prey like golden eagles and ospreys.

Before you go wildlife watching, be prepared with warm, quiet layers to blend into the landscape. Breathable base layers, a cozy fleece or down jacket, a waterproof outer shell, hat and gloves are must-haves. Make sure to wear sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support, as they are ideal for traversing the rugged terrain. Lastly, make sure to pack snacks, plenty of water, waterproof binoculars, and a camera with a good zoom lens.

Ready to Go?

Whether you’re conquering the mountains or riding the wild waters, the Scottish Highlands has something for everyone. With legendary hiking trails, world-class mountaineering, cycling routes carved into the landscapes, hotspots for diving and wildlife watching, and much more, this outdoor playground guarantees an experience you will not forget. For the latest adventures in the Highlands, check out our full listings on adventuro.

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