A guide to cycling the Great Glen Way

woman cycling down a hill on the great glen way cycle route

If you’re looking for a short multi-day cycling adventure that takes you through one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks, the Great Glen Way could be it!

The 75-mile bike-packing route showcases Scotland’s central highlands including Scotland’s iconic Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal, as well as starting and ending in the Highland’s two most famous cities Inverness and Fort William.

So if you’re ready to start planning, read on to find out what makes the cycling the Great Glen Way such a fantastic bikepacking route.

What is the Great Glen Way?

The Great Glen Way is a 75-mile cycle route that follows Scotland’s Great Glen between Inverness and Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

Located in Scotland’s central highlands, the Great Glen is a fault line formed by ancient glaciers from over 10,000 years ago. It’s a significant geographical feature that separates the Scottish Highlands into two distinct regions.

The fault line is marked by a chain of lochs – Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich, Loch Lochy, and Loch Linnhe, all connected by the Caledonian Canal.

Following the fault line, the Great Glen Way cycle route offers a mix of terrain including gravel, woodland, and mountain bike trails as well as minor roads and canal towpaths.

The scenery is just as varied as the terrain with lush forests, rolling hills, picturesque lochs, charming villages, and historic landmarks such as Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.

The 75 miles and total elevation of around 6,000 feet can be completed in 2 or 3 days. Plus, if you complete the route North to South from Inverness to Fort William, as we did, you’ll get most of the elevation out of the way in the first 40 miles.

The cycle route at a glance

  • Length: Approx. 75 miles
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Trail type: Gravel, woodland, canal towpaths, minor roads
  • Total elevation: 6,000 feet
  • Time: 2-3 days
  • Best time to visit: May-October
  • Start location: Inverness / Fort William
  • Get there by public transport: Trains run to Inverness and Fort William from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and even London!

Map of the Great Glen Way cycle route

How to cycle the route

There are two ways to cycle the Great Glen Way route. Most people travel north from Fort William to Inverness, most likely due to Soctland’s south-westerly prevailing winds. We did the opposite and started in Inverness and finished in Fort William.

Both ways are achievable, but there were a few reasons why we chose to travel north to south:

  • As mentioned before, cycling the hilliest section first meant we got the hardest climbs out of the way on the first day. This meant we could enjoy the final day without too much effort.
  • After cycling the trail north to south, some of the tough downhill sections seemed like they would be impossible to cycle up if we were to go the opposite way (unless you are a very experienced mountain biker – which I am not!). So if you are like me, I think it was easier hiking my bike down these tough sections, than it would have been trying to hike it uphill.
  • Inverness is a great city, but Fort William is the perfect place to end a few days of riding and tag on a few extra days to your trip. Thought to be the ‘capital of the highlands’, Fort William has some fantastic gravel trails and endless hiking trails for you to explore.

Three stages to cycling the Great Glen Way

Stage 1: Inverness to Drumnadrochit

Heading off from Inverness city the route leads you along the River Ness before you start the first climb out of the city. After the climb levels off, there’s a great section of forest track, open moorland, and minor roads.

Along this section, you’ll see signs for the Abriachan Cafe. This eco-cafe / campsite is in the middle of the forest and is the only food place you’ll find in the area.

If you do stop here it’s worth noting that you can only pay with cash and you have to order food. We ended up having coffee and cake, but it was quite expensive, so it’s worth checking prices before ordering.

Further on, gravel and forest tracks lead you down towards Drumnadrochit which involves some steep technical downhill mountain biking tracks and switchbacks through the forest.

If you’re a less experienced mountain biker (like me), this is where you may need to hike your bike down the hill.

Drumnadrochit is a lovely, albeit quite touristy, town with everything you need for a night stop (if doing the route in 3 days) or to refuel (if doing 2 days). There’s a good choice of hotels, B&Bs, campsites, cafes, pubs, and grocery shops.

If you have time while you’re there it’s worth visiting the famous Urquhart castle, or head down to check out the beautiful views across Loch Ness down.

Stage 2: Drumnadrochit to Fort Augustus

The second biggest climb of the route takes you out of Drumnadrochit, up some narrow single track. But once you’ve done the worst of the climbing it’s rolling hills and lush forest on minor roads and beautiful gravel.

The views in this section are fantastic, with distant towering peaks on one side and expansive views over the loch on the other side.

If you’re completing the route in 2 days, you’ll probably be looking for somewhere to stop for the night before you reach the halfway point.

When we cycled it, plenty of hikers and cyclists were wild camping high up along the hillside that overlooked Loch Ness just before Invermoriston.

We decided to stay at the Invercoiller campsite, which is located about 3 miles past Invermoriston.

The campsite was perfect for a night stop with great facilities, but because it was low-lying and we were there in August, we got eaten alive by midges!

In hindsight, we should have camped a bit higher at that time of year where there was more of a breeze, but you live and learn!

If you’re doing the route in 3 days I’d recommend continuing the 7 miles from Invermoriston to Fort Augustus, to stop for the second night.

Here you’ll find great cafes, restaurants, and shops to stock up on snacks. This town is also a fun place to hang out around the canal and watch the boats maneuver up and down the locks!

Stage 3: Fort Augustus to Fort William

The last day of riding from Fort Augustus to Fort William is a 40-mile stretch of canal towpaths, well-maintained gravel tracks, and minor roads.

From Fort Augustus, the canal towpath takes you all the way down to Laggan Lock. This section should all be off-road, but, when we reached the trail between the Bridge of Oich and North Laggan the trail was closed due to Forestry work, which meant we had to pick up the A-road for 10 miles.

After Laggan Lock, there’s a gentle climb on the west side of Loch Lochy on what has to be one of the best gravel trails on the route.

The high track which replaces the lower older track offers amazing views over the loch and the distant hills towards Fort William.

The final 10 miles are along beautiful and quiet minor roads and canal towpaths. With the elevation out of the way and a smooth hardpack trail, it’s a great way to finish your 2 (or 3) day tour.

Plus there’s a fantastic ice cream shop just before Banavie which I’d highly recommend.

As mentioned before, Fort William has a great selection of accommodations and restaurants to spend the night.

So, is cycling the Great Glen Way worth it?

I would 100% recommend adding the Great Glen Way to your bikepacking bucket list. Thanks to the varied scenery and (mostly) easy-to-ride terrain, meant it was a fairly relaxed few days of cycling suitable for nearly all levels of cyclists.

The canal towpaths were definitely a saving grace on the second half of the route having got the hills out of the way on the first leg.

And it was fun to explore Loch Ness and Fort Augustus, which can sometimes be quite busy areas with tourists, but cycling off-the-beaten-track meant we could enjoy the beautiful area without the crowds.

Tips and recommendations

How hard is cycling the Great Glen Way?

The cycle route we followed for the Great Glen Way is considered expert-level, mainly due to the mountain biking terrain between Inverness and Fort Augustus.

I would not consider myself an expert mountain bike cyclist though (far from it). As someone who mostly does gravel cycling, there were only a few sections where I had to jump off the bike and hike.

These sections were mostly steep downhill forest trails just before Drumnadrochit. And some steep rocky single-track tracks between Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus.

But these technical sections were fairly short so if you’re happy to jump off the bike now and again then it’s definitely doable for most cyclists.

The second section between Fort Augustus and Fort William, I’d rate the route as easy, as it’s mostly flat along the canal towpaths.

If you do the route North to South (as we did), you get most of the hills out of the way on the first and/or second day, so the final day of riding should be a breeze!

Can you cycle the Great Glen Way on a gravel bike?

The Great Glen Way is great to do on a gravel bike.

The first half of the route from Inverness to Fort Augustus is mostly gravel, single-track, and woodland trails. Whereas, the second half from Fort Augustus to Fort William is mainly canal towpaths and minor roads.

Can you wild camp along the Great Glen Way?

Wild camping is a perfect way to do a self-supported bike ride on the Great Glen Way.

Is the Great Glen Way cycle route well signposted?

The Great Glen Way is well signposted, but mainly for the walking route (which is slightly different from the bike route).

If you’re cycling, I’d recommend sticking to your navigation map to avoid being led off up some tricky hiking trails that your gravel bike may not appreciate. Check out the route we followed on Komoot.

How long does it take to cycle the Great Glen Way?

You can cycle the Great Glen Way in 2 to 3 days. We did it in 2 days, but if we were to do it again we would give ourselves 3 days.

The first day from Inverness to Fort Augustus was challenging, with around 4,000 feet of elevation. Which meant we were much slower and didn’t have time to stop at places along the way.

This was okay because we’ve visited the area before, but for first-time visitors, I’d recommend allowing yourself an extra day to explore the places you pass through.

When to go – best seasons

The best time of year to cycle the Great Glen Way would be from April to October when the weather is milder and more predictable (although rain is still not uncommon during these months).

If you decide to cycle the route between May and July, then you’ll also have the bonus of the super long days Scotland enjoys of between 17-18 hours of daylight.

One thing to note is that during the summer months, you’ll likely encounter Scotland’s much-despised midges, especially if you camp on lower ground where there is no wind!

Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid midges in the Highlands during summer, but there are ways to reduce getting bitten, so best come prepared.

Where to stay along the Great Glen Way cycle route

There are plenty of locations along the Great Glen Way route to break up the ride into 2, 3, or even 4 days.

Here’s a list of towns and villages that offer a good selection of accommodation from campsites, hostels, B&B’s, and hotels. Plus, wild camping is also totally doable on this route.

  • Inverness
  • Abriachan
  • Drumnadrochit
  • Invermoriston
  • Fort Augustus
  • Invergarry
  • Gairlochy
  • Fort William

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