An outdoorsy guide to the Scottish Islands

An outdoorsy guide to the Scottish Islands

With two national parks, 30 great trails and 282 mountains over 3000ft, including the mighty Ben Nevis, Scotland is a paradise for outdoorsy folks. It’s tempting to head to the hills of the Cairngorms or Loch Lomond, the lochs of Perthshire or up north for the sheer spectacle of the west coast and Assynt when choosing where to visit in Scotland – however, why not head to the Scottish islands for your next adventure & outdoor break? With nearly 800 islands in Scotland to discover, here is how to make a start!

the best Scottish islands for outdoorsy folks

The Isle of Skye – go beyond the tourist hoards

The Isle of Skye is top of most people’s lists of Scottish islands to visit – and it is no wonder. With the Fairy Pools, the Quiraing and Old Man of Storr, Neist Point Lighthouse and Kilt Rock, the Isle of Skye’s outdoor attractions are legendary. However, in summer they are also overrun! Instead, there is a whole outdoor wonderland to explore if you get (a wee bit) off the beaten track…

  • Walk around the Elgol Peninsula – The Isle of Skye’s dramatic Cuillin mountain range can be viewed in all its magnificence from a walk to Camasunary Beach on the Elgol (or to give it its proper name) Strathaird Peninsula. Follow the road from Torrin alongside Loch Slapin and then walk to the top of the spectacular Am Mam pass. The view from the top of the pass of the Cuillin is one of Scotland’s best views.
  • Munro bag in the Black Cuillin – climbing the twelve 3000 ft+ peaks of the Black Cuillin ridge is on most Munro Baggers bucket list and summiting the Inaccessible Pinnacle is probably the most daunting climb in Scotland. Whilst there is no easy Munro in the Cuillin, Bruach na Frithe and Bla Bheinn are two of the easiest summits to reach.
  • Take a boat trip to Loch Coruisk – if you don’t fancy climbing the Cuillin then you can take a boat trip from Elgol right into the heart of the mountains. Take a walk around Loch Coriusk for the most incredible views of the mountains, before catching the afternoon ride back – magical.

If you really want to visit the big attractions of Skye, think about visiting in autumn or winter when the crowds are much smaller. Please don’t build rock towers or park in passing places. Don’t attempt the Cuilin in winter without winter climbing experience. 

The Isle of Mull – wild camping & bagging Ben More 

Reached from Ardnamurchan or Oban, the Isle of Mull is one of the most popular Scottish islands, famed for its beaches, wild walks and wild nights in Tobermory. Here is how to work off that hangover!

  • Climb Ben More, Mull’s Munro – rising  966m above Loch Na Keal – the ‘loch of the cliffs’ and with views across to the Isle of Ulva and Ben Cruachan, Ben More is the only other Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft) on an island after from the Cuillin on Skye. An extinct volcano, with fascinating & slippery geology, it will take you around 5 hours to reach the top – or just walk halfway for an amazing view!
  • Head to Calgary Bay for wild camping Up on the north coast of the island, and around 35 minutes drive from Tobermory down a single track road is the beautiful Calgary Bay. The beach is stunning – framed by dramatic land formations ‘the meadow beside the bay’ is surrounded by a huge sweep of machair which takes you down to perfect white sand. There is a wee camping area right on the edge of the sand – wild & remote perfection.
  • Sail to Inch Kenneth – whilst the most popular boat trips off the Isle of Mull might be to cross to the beautiful Isle of Iona or to Ulva, instead sail to Inch Kenneth – once home to another monastery, and the burial place of many of the early Scottish Kings, and the island was also once home to the (in)famous Mitford Family. 

Read more: 24 hours on the Isle of Mull

The Isle of Islay – go beyond the distilleries 

Islay might be more famous for its eight whisky distilleries than its wildlife, but this Scottish island is a binocular wielders paradise. The best way to discover Islay is to head out to its remote peninsulas and brave the often wild weather – don’t worry, you will always have a whisky distillery nearby to warm you up!

  • Walk the cliffs of the OA – drive out on to the remote Mull of OA from Port Ellen where you can walk to the American Monument along the OA cliffs. Look for sea eagles soaring overhead and wild goats ambling across the path. Back at Port Ellen, walk to the lighthouse and Singing Sands, keeping an eye out for dolphins in the bay!
  • Spot seals on the Rhinns of Islay -stretching the length of Loch Indaal to the famously pretty villages of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss, take the coastal path with views of the Rinns of Islay lighthouse on the island of Orsay and watch out for nosy grey seals popping out of the water in the bay.
  • Otter spot at Bunnahabhain – Port Askaig on Islay’s stunning east coast serves the ferry to the mainland and has two distilleries – Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila sitting on the Sound of Islay From Bunnahabhain walk out towards Rhuvval lighthouse which sits on the Island’s most northern point and watch the storms roll in across the sea from the Isle of Mull. Keep an eye open for the Bunnahabhain Otters, made famous by BBC’s WinterWatch.   

Read more: why you will fall in love with the Isle of Islay

The Isle of Arran – getoutside in Scotland in miniature

With rugged highland mountains in the north, windswept beaches and ruined castles, and, of course, its own Arran whisky, the Isle of Arran truly is ‘Scotland in Miniature’. Despite the whole island being only 55 miles around, there is a lot to see…

  • Sail across to the holy isle – Located in Lamlash Bay is Holy Isle, once the home of a 6th-century monk called St Molaise and now owned by the Samyé Ling Buddhist Community who run a centre for world peace and health on the island. Day visitors are welcome to visit the island between April and October. A small ferry runs from Lamlash 3 times a day.
  • Climb up to the Giant’s Graves – Above Whiting Bay lay the remains of two Neolithic tombs oddly called the Giant’s graves. I guess you should resist doing an Outlander here, you need to visit the Machrie Moor stone circles for this! Climb the steep winding path for fantastic views of Arran and the Holy Isle and then descend via the forest to see the spectacular Glenashdale Falls.
  • Explore the King’s Caves – Whether or not they once sheltered Robert the Bruce, the King’s Cave on Arran’s west coast still make for an impressive site. There are impressive views of the Kintyre Peninsula and Drumadoon Point. The walk takes between 1-2 hours and starts at a signposted car park near Machrie.

Read more: a weekend on the Isle of Arran

The Outer Hebrides – go on a remote adventure

The Outer Hebrides are one of the best places in Scotland for an outdoor adventure – and with 15 islands making up the chain you could visit time and time again and still find more something to do. Base yourself in Harris, North Uist and Barra – or hire a campervan and have an outdoor adventure you will never forget!

  • Climb in the Harris Hills – the Outer Hebs are a paradise for walkers, and the biggest of the Harris Hills is the mighty Clisham, a Corbett at 799 m (2,621 ft). Prefer things a little more sedate? Walk the Coffin Road from Bays to the incredible Seilebost beach, and then beach hop your way along Harris’s west coast.
  • Get adventurous – mountain bike the 12-mile Urgha and Maraig circuit (the Postman’s Trail) which includes 840m of descent, or jump off the cliffs of Hushinish Beach. On Barra you can kayak around Kisimul Castle, snorkel with seals or horse ride on a white sand beach – incredible
  • Wildlife watchwith sea eagles, dolphins, seals and big and bossy bonxies to spot, take a boat trip out with Fish ‘n’ Trips from Keose harbour on Lewis. With a maximum of five people per boat, this is a great way to get up close and personal with Lewis and Harris’s wildlife.
  • Take the Hebridean Way– up for a huge challenge? Then walk or cycle the 155m route Hebridean Way travelling through 10 of the Outer Hebrides islands – Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Lewis. Phew.
  • Go for a swim off a white sand beach – The beaches off the Outer Hebrides are perfect for swimming, with soft sands, and shallow depths – and thankfully the temperature in summer is just a wee bit chilly – perfect. My favourite beaches for a fantasy swim are the huge sweep of sand of Luskentyre, Seilebost, Horgabost, Borve and Scarista Beach – all the beaches have beautiful white sands and turquoise seas.

Read more: How to have an adventure in the Outer Hebrides and watch our wee Outer Hebrides film!

Do you dare to jump in to a Scottish island outfoor adventure? Let me know your favourite Scottish islands!

Love, from Scotland x

More Scottish island Guides

Love the outdoors? With nearly 800 Scottish islands to discover, why not head to the Hebrides for your next outdoor break?

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