Exploring Loch Ness: A Hiker's Guide to Its Beauty, History and Legend

Exploring the Legendary Landscapes of Loch Ness

The Loch Ness is one of Scotland's most iconic and mysterious places. Located in the Scottish Highlands, this freshwater loch is 23 miles long and over 700 feet deep, making it the largest loch by volume in the United Kingdom. The Loch Ness is undoubtedly best known for its alleged inhabitant, the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately called Nessie by locals and enthusiasts. Tales of this elusive creature date back 1,500 years with continued reported sightings today. But beyond its monstrous mystique, the Loch Ness is a breathtaking destination for outdoor adventures from hiking to marathons that draws over 1 million visitors annually.  For hiking enthusiasts, the Loch Ness and its surrounding landscapes offer diverse trails boasting spectacular Highland scenery. The diverse terrain brings everything from accessible forest walks to remote mountain treks with commanding views of the famous loch. From family-friendly hikes around Drumnadrochit to more challenging routes up Munros like Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, there are trails for all abilities scattered around the loch. With this handy hiking guide, you can explore the best routes and experiences the Loch Ness area has to offer.

The Mysterious Monster of Loch Ness

Of course, no discussion of Loch Ness would be complete without mentioning its most famous resident - the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie. This elusive creature is said to inhabit the deep, murky waters of the loch, with legends and sightings of the beast dating back 1,500 years. From Saint Columba's alleged encounter in the 6th century to the infamous "surgeon's photograph" in 1934 that brought Nessie into the global spotlight, tales of the monster capture the imagination of cryptozoology enthusiasts worldwide. There have been over 1,000 reported sightings of the creature, from brief glimpses of a serpentine head bobbing out of the water to more dubious sonar and satellite images. Explanations for Nessie range from surviving prehistoric plesiosaurs to giant eels, seals, logs or simply overactive imaginations. While hard scientific evidence proving the monster's physical existence remains elusive, the Nessie legend has taken on a life of its own. The Loch Ness Monster has cemented itself in popular culture as a modern day dinosaur to be sought after. Tourists flock to dark Urquhart Castle eager for beastly encounters, and submersibles scour the loch's depths for any trace. Whether myth, prehistoric survivor or misidentification, the enduring mystery surrounding Nessie only adds to Loch Ness' intriguing allure for adventure seekers from across the globe. For hikers along its breathtaking shores, keep your eyes peeled - you never know when you might have your own close encounter with the world's most captivating lake monster legend!

Hiking the Epic Loch Ness 360° Trail

One of the most popular and scenic hiking trails around the Loch Ness is the Loch Ness 360° Trail. This 65km route offers a complete circuit of the loch, taking in magnificent Highland landscapes and significant historical sites along the way.  Starting in the village of Drumnadrochit, the anticlockwise trail first heads uphill through wooded slopes, opening up to panoramic views over Urquhart Bay and the ruins of Urquhart Castle. As you continue along the Great Glen Way, the route passes the River Enrick and rugged moorlands before arriving at the small village of Invermoriston.  Leaving the shores of the loch, the path climbs into the hills to the mountain pass of Suidhe Chuimein for sublime vistas over the water. After crossing a remote stretch of open moorland, the trail descends back to lochside at Grotaig. Passing picturesque bays and forests, a final stretch back to Drumnadrochit completes the circuit. With its manageable distance and excellent facilities along the route, the Loch Ness 360° Trail is ideal for moderate hikers looking to fully experience the landscapes surrounding this iconic loch. Combining lochside trails and forest tracks with some moderate hill climbs, completing this trail is a rewarding way to admire the varying vistas of Loch Ness.

Forest Legends and Riverside Rambles on the Trail of the Seven Witches

If you are looking for a family-friendly hike near the famous Loch Ness, the Trail of the Seven Witches in Drumnadrochit is an excellent option. Allowing you to explore the legends of the loch while enjoying scenic woodlands, this 1.8km loop trail makes for an easy-going outdoor adventure suitable for kids and novice hikers.


Starting from Drumnadrochit's village car park, the well-defined trail first takes you through the Abriachan Forest alongside the River Enrick. Informational signs dotted along the path share tales of mystical creatures and folklore from Scotland’s past. Highlights include the Cave of the Cave Woman and the Wishing Tree, where you can make an offering to the witches who once roamed this forest. As the route winds further into the woods, keep eyes peeled for red squirrels, crossbills and crested tits amongst the Scots pine, oak and birch trees. After crossing a quaint wooden bridge over the river, you’ll arrive at a splendid viewpoint overlooking Drumnadrochit and Urquhart Bay.  On the return loop back to the village, kids will enjoy scouting out the woodland ‘doors’ representing each of the seven witches. With its manageable distance, fun trail themes and picturesque setting, the Trail of the Seven Witches makes for an engaging hike for families.

Conquering Munros: The Challenge of Climbing Meall Fuar-Mhonaidh

For experienced hikers seeking a challenge, summiting Meall Fuar-mhonaidh makes for a rewarding trek near Loch Ness. Situated to the north of the loch, this Munro peak stands at 799m, rewarding those who make the tough ascent with supreme panoramas.


Most hikers approach from the remote Glen Affric, allowing you to also take in scenic Loch Affric and the mountains of Glen Affirc. From the hamlet of Athnamulloch, the 15km return hike climbs steeply up the southern flanks of Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, gaining over 600m in elevation. Once above the tree line, the terrain opens up to sweeping views over endless Highland scenery. The summit itself crowns the west ridge of the mountain, marked by a tall cairn from where the vistas extend to the Isle of Skye and the peaks of Torridon.


Given its remote location, climbing Meall Fuar-mhonaidh is best saved for experienced peak baggers. Proper navigational skills and mountain experience are a must, alongside quality kit to handle rough terrain and sudden weather changes. But for those seeking a serious hiking challenge, it's an epic route with breathtaking panoramas over Scotland's iconic landscape.

Waterfall Wonders on the Four Falls Trail

For hikers who want scenic lochside walking without too much effort, the Four Falls Trail near Foyers is ideal. This peaceful 4.5km loop follows the River Foyers through forested gorges, visiting a series of mesmerising waterfalls along the way. Starting in the village of Foyers, the trail follows quiet country lanes before ducking into the woods to begin the gorge walk. Footpaths wind alongside the rushing River Foyers, where you’ll first arrive at the Lower Falls. Dropping nearly 10 metres into a punchbowl-shaped pool, it makes for an impressive cascade. Continuing upriver, the trail clambers over rocky steps and wooden ladders to reach the narrow but powerful Middle Falls. The route then brings you to the picturesque Upper Falls, crossing the river by a footbridge here to access the viewing platform. The last waterfall is the secluded Juniper Bank Falls, which tumbles 20 metres into a deep green pool fringed by juniper trees. Beyond here, the forest trail loops back to Foyers, completing a scenic walk with waterfalls aplenty. With its easily manageable distance and steps in places, the Four Falls Trail is tailor-made for families and casual hikers who want to soak up gorge scenery.

Various views of Loch Ness from the shores of Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands.  Loch Ness is a large freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands extending for approximately 37 kilometres (23 miles) southwest of Inverness to Fort Augustus in the south.

Trekking the Length of the Loch on the Great Glen Canoe Trail

For an adventurous hike that takes in the length of Loch Ness, experienced trekkers should consider the Great Glen Canoe Trail. Stretching 73 miles from Fort William to Inverness, this route follows the Caledonian Canal and loch, allowing you to hike or kayak through spectacular glens and mountains. Most hikers take 4-5 days to complete the route, staying at designated campsites or accommodation along the way. Starting in bustling Fort William, the path follows the tumbling River Nevis before reaching lochside at Clansman Harbour. As you trek or paddle along the loch's length, highlights include views of Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit and Meall Fuar-mhonaidh. At Fort Augustus, you can visit the Benedictine abbey and the famous flight of canal locks. Beyond Loch Ness, the route continues along the peaceful River Oich and narrow Loch Oich. The final stretch leads past Gaelic history at Laggan Locks to arrive in Inverness. For hiking enthusiasts seeking a multi-day adventure, the Great Glen Canoe Trail is an unforgettable way to experience the length of the mythical Loch Ness and its breathtaking surroundings.

Running Through History at the Loch Ness Marathon

Every October, the Loch Ness Marathon takes place along the scenic shores of the loch. Attracting thousands of runners annually, this event features a full 26.2 mile marathon alongside shorter races making use of the idyllic trails and roads surrounding Loch Ness.


Starting in the village of Whitebridge, the marathon route follows the peaceful northern shores of Loch Ness before looping back clockwise. Passing historic landmarks like Urquhart Castle and quaint towns like Drumnadrochit, runners can take in captivating Highland vistas as they go. 

For those looking for less distance, the event also incorporates a 10K race between Dores and Dores Beach and a 5K between Bught Park and Dores Beach. Both routes allow participants to experience Loch Ness’ beauty with less mileage. In addition to the running routes, the Loch Ness Marathon event offers a warm welcoming atmosphere with live music and entertainment. Local crowds champion runners through the closing stages in Inverness, creating an electric finish. Taking place against Scotland’s autumnal landscapes, the Loch Ness Marathon offers an unforgettable goal for running enthusiasts. With its iconic setting and encouraging atmosphere, ticking this scenic race off your bucket list is a must.


Bases for Adventure: Top Accommodation for Loch Ness Hikers

With its captivating scenery and outdoor adventures, the Loch Ness region offers a variety of accommodations for hiking enthusiasts. From hotels steeped in history to cosy bed and breakfasts, these are some of the best places to stay when exploring the area by foot. Set on the banks of Loch Ness, the Loch Ness Lodge oozes Highland character with tartan furnishings and wood-beamed ceilings. Many rooms boast views over the loch, and the restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients. The town of Drumnadrochit is right on the doorstep, making it a perfect base for hikes. For those looking for a peaceful retreat, Moness Country House Hotel enjoys an idyllic location set within 20 acres of gardens. This grand baronial house has plush ensuite rooms, an excellent restaurant and a country club on site. It's just a short drive from Lochside trails. In Foyers, The Foyers Lodge provides a contemporary twist on a traditional lodge, with loch-view hot tubs on the decking and bicycle rental available. The tranquil village setting by the River Foyers is surrounded by waterfalls and woodland walks. Invermoriston provides easy access to trails through Glen Moriston and surrounding mountains. Here, the lively bistro and rooms at The Glenmoriston Town House provide a comfortable, contemporary stay with delicious food.

Top Camping Sites Around Loch Ness

For hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, camping is often the best way to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Loch Ness and the surrounding landscapes. Some of the top camping sites to pitch your tent at include Lochend Campsite, which is situated right on the shores of Loch Ness near the village of Invermoriston and offers spectacular views across the water along with clean facilities and picnic tables at each pitch. Glen Nevis Camping & Caravan Park is another excellent option located at the foot of Ben Nevis near Fort William - this large site has great amenities and makes a good starting point for the Great Glen Canoe Trail.

Those seeking more seclusion in the wilderness should consider Tomdoun Campsite, set within a forest location on the less crowded eastern shores of Loch Ness that is ideal for campers looking for tranquillity and scenery. Foyers Bay Campsite is another lochside campground, this one near the Falls of Foyers, that provides a perfect base for exploring the surrounding trails and waterfalls. For those heading between Fort Augustus and Inverness, Bunree Campsite offers a remote Highland setting overlooking Lock Oich that campers will find very appealing. And experienced backpackers can consider wild camping along Loch Ness' quieter shorelines and highland glens, which delivers maximum solitude and adventure.

With beautiful settings and convenience to popular trails, these campsites let you sleep under the stars while fully immersing yourself in the landscapes of legendary Loch Ness. Whether you’re looking for a local atmosphere, a peaceful escape or an active adventure, the Loch Ness area offers a broad range of accommodations to cater to hiking enthusiasts eager to explore this scenic landscape.

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