The best adventure experiences in Lochaber, the outdoor capital of the UK

Whether you want to climb a mountain, conquer bike trails, explore open water or wander the West Highland Way, Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands is a true adventure wonderland.

From mountain biking to water safaris, Lochaber offers a vast range of outdoor activities amidst some of the UK's most awe-inspiring scenery. 

Photograph by Outdoor Capital of the UK
By Robin McKelvie
Published 13 Jun 2022, 06:04 BST

If you’re looking for adventure in a land of vast, open waters, sweeping skies and colossal mountains, then Lochaber should be on your radar. With an impressive range of outdoor activities — be they high-octane pursuits, slow reconnections with nature or fun experiences for the whole family — this clean, green Scottish region nestled in the West of the Scottish Highlands is worthy of its moniker as the Outdoor Capital of the UK.

The historic waterfront town of Fort William is the beating heart of Lochaber, acting as the central compass point for some of the area's most enticing destinations, from the 80-mile-long Great Glen and towering Ben Nevis to the raw, rugged peninsulas of Morvern and Ardnamurchan. Amidst such dramatic scenery, Lochaber's countless outdoor activities offer the perfect way to explore a region with adventure at its core.  

1. Climb 'The Ben'

Scotland is the most mountainous country in the UK, and its towering peak of Ben Nevis is the highest in Britain, at 4,413ft. Although more technical ascents and descents of the mountain are possible, the classic ‘Pony Track’ route, which zigzags up the main bulk to the summit and its unbeatable views, is the most popular with hikers here. Always treat Ben Nevis seriously and prepare well, as hiking here is no simple weekend wander. Those in doubt should hire a guide — local outfit Abacus Mountain Guides have years of experience helping people achieve their dream of hiking into the heavens.

2. Dominate the downhills

Lochaber offers some fantastic terrain for mountain bikers, with natural trails crisscrossing the countryside. Nevis Range has hosted the downhill round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup since 2002 and it’s clear to see why. Carved into the mountainside, technical red routes tear down into the forest, while the lower blue and green trails ensure everyone can get into the action, no matter their age or skill level. The terrain here can be accessed by the mountain gondola — the only one of its kind in Britain.

Nevis Range offers some of the UK's best mountain biking terrain, with lessons and gear hire also available. 

Photograph by Brodie Hood Photography

3. Enjoy Great Scottish walks

Lochaber boasts not one, but two of Scotland’s most remarkable long-distance walking routes. Most accessible is the Great Glen Way, which peels off northeast of Fort William along a vast geological faultline. This 78-mile route to Inverness reveals the surrounding landscape in stages, allowing you to enjoy Lochaber’s most scenic stretches. The 96 miles of the West Highland Way, meanwhile, are traditionally tackled northwards from the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William, and again the Lochaber sections excel. The beauty of both walks is that you can pick a bite-sized section to enjoy in a day if you don’t fancy taking on the entire route.

4. Take to the water

With its white sandy beaches, soaring sea cliffs, sheltered sea lochs and deserted isles, Lochaber is a superb place for sea kayaking and paddleboarding. The heavily indented coastline and its shimmering islets offer everything from a few hours paddling on Loch Eil or in the Sound of Arisaig, through to epic multi-day adventures around the wildly beautiful peninsula of Knoydart, or open-sea thrills across to the Small Isles. For the best experiences, the likes of Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre and River to Sea Scotland have everything you’ll need to get out on the water.

Pick up a paddleboard in Glencoe to enjoy a unique perspective on the areas' shimmering lochs and lush green landscapes. 

Photograph by Brodie Hood Photography

5. Savour fabulous family fun

Whether it’s sailing off to real-life treasure islands or exploring imaginary worlds in the wilderness, little ones love Lochaber. In particular, at the Woodlands Glencoe Activity Experience Centre, children can explore the trails on an e-bike, Segway or guided tour, as well as try their hand at activities such as archery or laser-tag shooting.

6. Go wild on safari

You can witness all of Scotland’s Big Five (red deer, golden eagles, red squirrels, otters and harbour seals) in the wild in Lochaber and a guided experience is the best way to boost your chances of spotting them. Expert guide Ian MacLeod of Wild West Safari shares his passion for Lochaber’s unique wildlife on guided tours, while the boats of Cruise Loch Linnhe ease out from Fort William’s pier for water safaris alive with seals, dolphins and ospreys.

Grab your binoculars and head out on a water safari to spot some of Scotland's most captivating wildlife. 

Photograph by Brodie Hood Photography

7. Explore the Isles

Channel your inner Outlander and drink in the dramatic West Coast views on the legendary Road to the Isles. Explore the fascinating Small Isles, where the delightful island of Eigg will be celebrating 25 years since its wildly successful community buyout in 2022. Eigg was one of the world’s first islands to become 100% green electricity self-sufficient, so hiring a bike is the perfect way to explore this isle of innovation.

This sustainable spirit is reflected throughout Lochaber, most notably at the School of Adventure Studies at UHI West Highland. With a focus on responsible travel, adventure and coaching, many alumni still study, live and work in Lochaber, continuing to champion these values and ensure these destinations continue to thrive.

Plan your trip

Drive to Fort William from Edinburgh Airport in about three hours, or Glasgow Airport in roughly two. Or, in keeping with Lochaber’s sustainable spirit, arrive on the Caledonian Sleeper (sleeper.scot), where you can fall asleep at London Euston and wake under bright Highland skies, primed for adventure. Scotrail (scotrail.co.uk) also runs day services from Glasgow, taking around four hours.

For more information, visit outdoorcapital.co.uk 

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