Mini Guide: Glen Coe

© Kieran Duncan

With internationally famous views and a host of big-name summits, Glen Coe is arguably the finest mountain valley in Scotland. A deep trench gouged between soaring peaks, it is home to some of the greatest walks, scrambles and climbs in the country. The glen also boasts two welcoming historic inns, one at each end, in which to toast your victories come the day's end. Dan Aspel celebrates this iconic area in our latest mini guide.

We have so much natural wonder to celebrate in Britain that it's hard to make definitive statements about each region's relative merits. But it's more fact than opinion to say that Glen Coe boasts some of the finest mountain features in Scotland, and thus the UK.

Buachaille Etive Mor from Beinn a'Chrulaiste  © uistgr
Buachaille Etive Mor from Beinn a'Chrulaiste
Garry Robertson, Jun 2018
© uistgr

Most people approach the glen from the east, which means driving across the stark, flat plain of Rannoch Moor. Consequently, when the sublime pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor rises from the plains to the north-west it's as surprising a sight as it is a thrilling one. And things simply continue to become more dramatic from that point onwards. Sinking downwards into the Glen itself, the great buttresses of the Three Sisters loom outwards to your left, the big peaks behind them often shrouded with mist and snow. Over on the right, meanwhile, you can't miss the jagged ridgeline of Aonach Eagach - perhaps the finest ridge scramble on the mainland. Deep in the confines of the glen, a sense quickly pervades of just how much rock, earth and summit lies all about.

Party time on Curved Ridge  © Garry Robertson
Party time on Curved Ridge
© Garry Robertson, Sep 2015

For a mountain lover, it's easy to feel as though you've reached a place of rare power and meaning. There are life-defining summits (such as Bidean nam Bian), sweaty-palmed scrambles of high regard (such as Curved Ridge), small and characterful peaks (such as the Pap of Glencoe) and strange, hidden landscapes (such as the Lost Valley) to discover here. And, once done, you can retire to the Clachaig or the Kingshouse Inn to toast your success (or failure), knowing that you could not have spent a day in the hills any more wisely than you have today.

Chris approaching the pinnacles of the Aonach Eagach ridge, in spectacular winter condition.  © Andrew Marshall
Chris approaching the pinnacles of the Aonach Eagach ridge, in spectacular winter condition.
planetmarshall, Jan 2014
© Andrew Marshall

The name of this most famous of glens conjures up images of gloom and foreboding in many minds due to the infamous massacre. However for mountain lovers it is a place to celebrate the splendours of the hills, as the glen is one of the most impressive landscapes in Scotland. The rugged, rocky mountains walling the glen offer superb hillwalking, scrambling, rock climbing and snow and ice climbing. Three of Scotland's greatest mountains lie here - Buachaille Etive Mor, Bidean nam Bian and Aonach Eagach.

Chris Townsend, Scotland

Sunrise from Am Bodach, Glen Coe  © Garry Robertson
Sunrise from Am Bodach, Glen Coe
© Garry Robertson, Jul 2018

Glen Coe in a nutshell

1 Explore arguably the most scenic and dramatically-sided glen in Scotland

2 Climb such iconic mountains as Bidean nam Bian and Buachaille Etive Mor

3 Traverse the superb and extremely challenging ridge of the Aonach Eagach

4 Spend long days on the rock among an unrivalled selection of classic scrambles and climbs

5 Wield your camera at famous viewpoints like Beinn a' Chrulaiste and the Three Sisters

6 Enjoy two of Britain's best-loved mountain inns

Years of visiting and passing through has spawned such a kaleidoscope of memories that, for me at least, this valley has become a microcosm for the entire Western Highlands, representing their every facet. Some of my earliest memories are of grey, rain-drenched screes, towers and mist-filled gullies; these are places I forever carry in my subconscious, recalling them almost with a sense of premonition at every similar landscape.

Mike Cawthorne, Hell of a Journey

Buachaille Etive Mor  © Brian
Buachaille Etive Mor
© Brian, Jul 2011

Principal summits

Bidean nam Bian 1141m

Stob Coire Sgreamhach 1072m

No match for crag id:" Buachaille Etive Mor 1022m

No match for crag id:"Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Aonach Eagach)" 967m

No match for crag id:"Stob Dubh (Buachaille Etive Beag)" 958m

No match for crag id:"Stob na Broige (Buachaille Etive Mor)" 956m

No match for crag id:"Meall Dearg (Aonach Eagach)" 953m

No match for crag id:"Stob Coire Raineach (Buachaille Etive Beag)" 925m

No match for crag id:"Beinn a'Chrulaiste" 857m

Sgorr na Ciche (Pap of Glencoe) 742m

You don't have to be a Munro-bagger to appreciate that Glen Coe is something special. The drive north over the empty vastness of Rannoch Moor cannot fail to impress, and no matter how many times you have seen it before, the magnificent rocky pyramid of Buachaille Etive Mor - the sentinel of a landscape of unsurpassed rocky grandeur - dangerously tempts the gaze of speeding motorists.

Paul & Helen Webster, The Munros

Fancy a challenge?

Since its inception in 2015, the Glencoe Skyline has become a fixture on the hill running calendar. Taking in every mountain around the rim of Glen Coe, including the steep scramble/rock climb Curved Ridge and the traverse of Aonach Eagach, the race brought Skyrunning to the UK for the first time. At about 50km and with over 4500m ascent, this event is only for seasoned mountain runners, and the field generally includes world class athletes. But there's more to it than mere distance: fusing mountain running with hands-on scrambling, it carries a real element of risk besides physical challenge.


Not the usual terrain for a race...  © Dan Bailey
Not the usual terrain for a race...
© Dan Bailey

Must-do routes

The "full" Aonach Eagach ridge

"Following the spectacular serrated north wall of Glen Coe, this classic Lochaber scramble has a reputation as the gnarliest ridge traverse on the Mainland" says UKH's Dan Bailey of his bonus-sized take on this iconic Grade 2 scramble.

Aonach Eagach - a thrilling day out in any season  © Dan Bailey
Aonach Eagach - a thrilling day out in any season
© Dan Bailey

"While there are harder ridge scrambles elsewhere it's true that few are as long, as thrillingly exposed, or as tricky to escape as Aonach Eagach. Unusual among Mainland ridges some of the more difficult grade 2 sections cannot readily be skirted around, and they definitely need a steady head. The customary way to do it is westwards from Am Bodach, but while this has the advantage of a high start the various descent options from the western end of the ridge are either unpleasant, unsafe or slightly unintuitive on first acquaintance. Besides this the standard route is a fairly short day that visits less than half of the range that forms the north side of the glen. If you've time a full traverse from the Pap of Glencoe to the Devil's Staircase on the West Highland Way is a more satisfying and substantial day out; for the sake of being different the route is described here in the easterly direction. This linear walk needs pre-arranged transport back to the start; or chance your arm hitching."

Bidean nam Bian's three summits

An absolutely stunning autumn sunset walk up Bidean nam Bian  © Kieran Duncan
An absolutely stunning autumn sunset walk up Bidean nam Bian
© Kieran Duncan, Sep 2015

UKH's Dan Bailey again: "Glen Coe's highest peak, Bidean nam Bian forms the apex of a complex and majestic massif of several sharp summits, with chiselled crests and deep-gouged corries walled by an impressive array of crags. Taken together this is one of the great mountains of Scotland. The range throws three parallel ridges towards the glen, cut short by an ice age glacier to form the famous spurs of the Three Sisters. The higher peaks and corries rise half-hidden and mysterious behind this public face. The radiating ridge/corrie layout permits many combinations of route; the one described here is among the more comprehensive tours of the massif, taking in its three most distinctive summits (two of them Munros), Stob Coire nan Lochan, Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach."

Buachaille Etive Mor

Approaching Stob Coire Altruim on the Buachaille ridge  © Dave Saunders
Approaching Stob Coire Altruim on the Buachaille ridge
© Dave Saunders

Look upon The Buachaille on the approach from Rannoch Moor and it's impossible to, a) not want to climb it, and b) figure out how you can do so safely. Fortunately, getting on top of this stunning looking pyramid of towering rock is a far simpler affair than most could have dared hope. Using the handy car park at Lagangarbh, head south up Coire na Tulaich on a well-made path which cuts up between the mountain's crags. It's quite steep and rough going towards the end, and needs great care in winter, but privides a hands-free way onto the 1022m summit of Stob Dearg, the northern of the massif's two Munros. From here a full traverse of the main ridge to the southern Munro, Stob na Broige, is a big day well spent. Return via the Lairig Gartain.

  • See the UKH route here

Buachaille Etive Beag

Wintery Buachaille Etive Beag  © G. Robertson
Wintery Buachaille Etive Beag
Garry Robertson, Jan 2017
© G. Robertson

Seen from Glen Coe, the 'Wee Buachaille' is scarcely less impressive than its big brother. The traverse of its two Munros may be an easier day out, but remains a classic ridge walk in stunning surroundings, and a good choice if you're new to winter ridges.

The Two Lairigs

Winter morning in the Lairig Eilde  © Dan Bailey
Winter morning in the Lairig Eilde
© Dan Bailey

An extended lap of Buachaille Etive Beag via the Lairig Eilde and the Lairig Gartain, this long circuit offers a day far from the madding crowd. A low level walk for when it's poor weather on the tops (or your legs are tired of hills), this valley route is not short on scenic grandeur, and treads some remote and wild ground. Gaiters advised!

The Lost Valley

Lost Valley Tree  © Garry Robertson
Lost Valley Tree
© Garry Robertson, Jan 2016

It may have become a fixture on the tourist circuit, and suffers crowds and even litter as a result, but for first time visitors to the glen a couple of hours poking around in this archetypal mountain sanctuary is de rigeur. It's popular for a reason!

The best of walking is ridge walking. Swoop downwards from the peak, level off along a rocky crest, then rise again to another summit; and then do the same thing again, four or five or even eight times over. Let the ridge sides drop steeply 900m to a green valley where a river gleams among the alder trees; and beyond the valley another steep ridge, and another, and the sea reaching silver-grey into the furthest west. For added interest let the ridge top be composed of three different sorts of stone. And you've started to understand why the area from Ben Nevis southwards to Glen Coe is some of the finest mountain walking there is in the UK.

Ronald Turnbull, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe

Stob Coire nan Lochan - Bidean nam Bian, Glen Coe, Scotland  © Colin Henderson
Stob Coire nan Lochan - Bidean nam Bian, Glen Coe, Scotland
© Colin Henderson, Oct 2016


OS Landranger (1:50,000) 41

OS Explorer (1:25,000) 384

Harvey British Mountain Maps (1:40,000) Ben Nevis & Glen Coe


Scotland's Mountain Ridges by Dan Bailey (Cicerone)

Great Mountain Days in Scotland by Dan Bailey (Cicerone)

Ben Nevis and Glen Coe by Ronald Turnbull (Cicerone)

Highland Scrambles South by Iain Thow (SMC) - see the UKH review

The Munros by Donald Bennet & Rab Anderson (SMC)

Scotland by Chris Townsend (Cicerone)

Weather forecasts

West Highlands forecast from MWIS

Mountain Weather forecast West Highlands from the Met Office

Bidean nam Bian-specific forecast from YR.NO

Early Morning a the Pap of Glencoe  © Mjenn2
Early Morning a the Pap of Glencoe
© Mjenn2, Apr 2010

Best bases

Basing yourself at either end of Glen Coe is entirely possible due to the presence of two inns and, a hostel and a campsite (see below). The position of Glencoe village at the valley's western end is conveninent too, for those with a car. With wheels it's entirely possible to stay in the more urban settings of Tyndrum or Fort William, assuming you don't mind the 35-minute drive.


As mentioned above, there are plenty of options in the settlements to the north and south of Glen Coe, but in terms of the valley proper there are four main options:

Glencoe Youth Hostel - halfway between the Clachaig Inn and Glencoe village, this hostel is convenient for the Pap of Glencoe and the western end of Aonach Eagach, but a bit of a schlep from The Buachaille.

The Clachaig Inn is a Highland institution, a lively and welcoming pub with a large array of catered and self-catering accommodation, three separate bars, live music events, mountain talks and more. It's scenically positioned at the western end of the valley.

The Kingshouse Hotel sits on the West Highland Way at the eastern end of the glen. Unfortunately - and after 400 years of operation - it's currently closed for renovations, and will be until some time in 2019. The new build is an oversized eyesore, according to many, but does at leats promise a walker's bunkhouse. You can't fault the location.

Red Squirrel Campsite is a pleasant 22-acre site set amongst woodland by the side of the River Coe at the glen's western end. As with every highland location you'll need to pack your midge repellent and headnet in the summer, since the campsite is renowned for a particularly firece population.

The Clachaig and Sgurr nam Fiannaidh at night  © JamesRoddie
The Clachaig and Sgurr nam Fiannaidh at night
© JamesRoddie, Dec 2010


The nearest train stations skirt Glen Coe in a distant orbit, so the nearest you're going to get is Fort William, Rannoch, Corrour or Bridge of Orchy. Luckily you can then catch a bus from Fort William (35mins) or Bridge of Orchy (45mins) to Glencoe village. Life is easy for those with a car, as there are plenty of car parks scattered along the valley, and parking at the inns at either end for customers.

Pubs and food

The Clachaig and the Kingshouse (see above) are the only choices for evening meals in the glen itself - but fortunately both are perfectly pleasing. Both serve until 9pm and have a impressive/terrifying arrays of whiskeys available behind their bars.

Cafe and toilets at the NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre

There are more cafes and a further pub in nearby Glencoe village, along with a small village shop, and you'll find a smattering of other options in Ballachulish and Kinlochleven too. If you're looking for a sizeable supermarket then you'll need to head to Fort William.

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