Majestic green mountains. Sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Adorably weathered sheep, dotting the rolling hillsides. Scotland’s Isle of Skye is known for stunning hikes, but the Quiraing Walk still manages to pack a LOT of punch into just one trail, with some of the most unique vistas in all of the Scottish Highlands. If you want to enjoy this incredible trek for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about the Quiraing Walk, the Isle of Skye’s most jaw-dropping trail.
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About the Quiraing Walk
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that, for my American brethren, hiking trails are usually called “walks” in Britain. When my husband, Justin, and I visited, we’d cheerily tell other walkers on the trail to “have a good hike!” and got LOTS of bewildered looks in return.
Length: 4.3 miles (6.8 km)
Elevation gain: 1,318 feet (401 meters)
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Dog-friendly: Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on a leash. Additionally, there are certain parts that require scrambling and have steep drop-offs, so unless you know your pup is up for the adventure, I may advise to leave them at home.
Pass or permit? No permit or pass is required, but there is a nominal fee to park in the lot (£3 for up to 3 hours or £5 for up to 6 hours).
Time to hike the Quiraing Walk: I’d budget between two and a half to three and a half hours to hike the trail—largely because you’ll be stopping to take so many photos!
Psst… there’s all kinds of social trails that branch off from the main one, so it can be a bit confusing, at times, where you’re actually supposed to be walking. I’d strongly suggest having the AllTrails trail map on your phone so you don’t get lost along the way!
Why does the Quiraing Walk look the way it does?
Scotland is a land that’s full of walks through landscapes that look straight out of a fairytale, like the Devil’s Pulpit or the Old Man of Storr hike. The Quiraing Walk and its Game of Thrones scenery is no exception, with its asymmetrical slopes and rugged rock formations, jutting into the sky. And in fact, local legend holds that the Quiraing was a meeting place for fairies and where dragons hid to protect this area from Viking invaders. So is the Isle of Skye secretly Middle Earth or why exactly does it look so otherworldly?
In reality, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll see any fairies or dragons while you’re here. Instead, the mystical-looking landscape is caused by a massive landslide (the largest in the United Kingdom’s history) and the resulting volcanic activity, over millions and millions of years.
As a result, the Quiraing is the site of a massive grassy crater, with post-apocalyptic basalt rock formations jutting out of it, rugged cliff sides, and rolling green hills. Some of these formations have names, like the Table (a basalt mesa, with a flat, grassy top that is rumored to have once been used to hide cattle from the Vikings), the Needle (an aptly-named pointy rock formation), and the Prison (a rocky outcropping that almost looks like it has the turrets of a medieval keep).
This area is still quite geologically active—in fact, the roads here have to be maintained on an annual basis, given that significant cracks form every year as the land slides a few centimeters closer and closer to the sea.
How to Get to the Quiraing Walk
The trailhead for the Quiraing Walk is located here on the Trotternish Peninsula, about 35 minutes north of Portree along A87 or 40 minutes along A855. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option to get here on public transit, so you’ll likely need a rental car to get to the trailhead or go on a group tour (but more on that below!).
When Justin and I visited the Quiraing Walk, we drove there along A855 from the town of Portree and back along A87 to our accommodations during our stay on the Isle of Skye, a glamping pod in Dunvegan.
Both roads, while dirt in some parts, were well-maintained for the entire drive. However, you should expect some VERY narrow one-way roads (if you’re renting a campervan or larger car while you’re in Scotland, buckle up for some real tight squeezes), steep drop-offs, and lots of sheep friends along the way.
There’s a large parking area for hikers—as mentioned above, there’s a £3 fee for up to 3 hours or £5 fee for up to 6 hours, which you can pay at a machine in the lot (credit cards accepted). Remember to leave the receipt on your dashboard! Additionally, even though the parking area is quite large, it can get full during the busy summer season, especially on weekends, so it’s always a good idea to get here on the earlier side.
If you’re not keen on doing the full hike and instead, just want to take in the beautiful views here, there’s also several group tours that you can take from nearby cities that make a brief stop at the Quiraing overlook. For example, this small group day trip from Inverness stops at the Quiraing, as well as some of the Isle of Skye’s most iconic sites or this three-day tour from Edinburgh allows you to delve a little bit deeper into the Quiraing and the Isle’s other mystical landscapes.
What to Expect on the Quiraing Walk
From the parking lot, you’ll walk north just a few hundred meters and pretty much immediately reach the Quiraing Lookout, a wide, dirt patch along the edge of a cliff. This is awesome because, even if you’re not up to a strenuous hike, you can access some of the most breathtaking views on the Isle of Skye from this viewpoint, with rolling hills; dramatic green slopes, where the Earth appears to be pushing up through the ground; and rugged ocean coastline as far as the eye can see.
Continue along the path, paying mind to the adorable sheep dotting the hillside to your right. About 0.3 miles in, you’ll notice a trail climbing steeply up the hill to the left hand side—if you choose to hike the full circuit, this is the path you’ll take to return back to the trailhead. Most hikers, including Justin and me, do this walk counter-clockwise, so for now, you’ll continue down the path to the right.
Over the first mile or so, the path is mostly flat, with a gentle incline uphill. There’s one slightly tricky section, where you’ll need to cross over a small gorge that can, at times, have water flowing through it, but any hiker in decent shape shouldn’t have any issue making this crossing.
And, with each step, the views of the Prison and the Needle getting better and better with each step.
About one mile in, you’ll need to scramble up a short, but steep slope, strewn with crumbly scree, to continue on the trail. Given that some of the walk’s most iconic views are along its first mile, many hikers choose to turn around here, so you’ll notice the crowds may thin pretty significantly from here on out.
The trail will curve left along the ridgeline and pass over a stile, several of which are sprinkled throughout the trail to keep the sheep in certain areas. Be sure to be SUPER careful on these—I wound up ripping my favorite yoga pants on barbed wire on one of these stiles.
Afterward, you’ll walk under a rocky overhang—while there’s plenty of social trails that descend down the hillside to your right, ignore those and continue left along the ridgeline.
About 2 miles into the trail, it will slowly descend into a shallow valley and shortly thereafter you’ll pass a crumbling ancient rock wall. The path will start climbing uphill yet again and you’ll have to pass another wire fence and stile. Be sure to pause here for a couple of moments—the views of the ocean to your right and the rock formations surrounding you are quite stunning.
This is the half-way point—you can either decide to take a sharp left hand turn and continue along the loop or, alternatively, choose this as a turnaround point and make your way back to the trailhead.
When Justin and I visited, we read dozens of recent reports on AllTrails that complained that the latter half of the walk was a muddy and treacherously steep slog up and, eventually down the mountain, with views that were not considerably different than the first part of the trail. Accordingly, we treated this trail as an out-and-back hike and turned around at the halfway point and simply retraced our steps back to the trailhead.
However, if you do want to complete the full loop, continue up this steep path, which climbs almost 700 feet over the next 0.7 miles (or 213 meters over the next 1.1 km).
The path is often incredibly muddy and has some serious drop-offs, so wear proper waterproof for better traction here. Justin and I each wore our Topo waterproof hiking boots all over Scotland and they served us very well—you can check out the women’s and men’s pairs.
While this portion of the trail is a bit on the sketchy side, the views over the Isle of Skye will just keep getting better and better. About 3 miles into the trail, you’ll finally reach the summit and be rewarded with spectacular views of the Table and, to the east, the Islands of Rassay and Rona and even the Torridon mountains back on the mainland.
The main path will then descend away from the ridgeline, steeply down a grassy slope until it meets back up with the path that will take you back to the carpark.
Best Time to Do the Quiraing Walk
Listen, the main reason that people come to the Quiraing is to take in its otherworldly views—so it’s kind of important that you’re able to actually see them! So the best time of the year to visit the Quiraing Walk is between May and October, when you have the best chance of lucking out with a clear and dry day.
You can certainly still enjoy the Quiraing Walk on a rainy day, but just know that the views will generally not be quite as stellar as they usually are and, more importantly, that the trail can become muddy, slippery, and borderline dangerous in areas with steep inclines or drop-offs. So be super careful while you’re hiking here, especially if the trail is wet!
In terms of time to day, the Quiraing Walk is one of the most popular hikes on the Isle of Skye, so if you want to enjoy its beauty without the crowds if you’re visiting during the busy summertime, your best bet will be in the morning (before 9:30 AM) or in the afternoon (after 3:30 PM). That being said, Justin and I visited in July, in the middle of the day, and didn’t find the path too crazy crowded.
Tips for Visiting the Quiraing Walk
- Know the drone restrictions before flying. Given its incredible landscape, we were SO excited to fly our drone here. However, we found out that the Isle of Skye has designated the Quiraing as a special conservation area and thus, you need specific authorization to fly here. Between that and the INCREDIBLY gusty winds here, we were bummed that we couldn’t fly here.
- Use the bathroom before coming here: There’s no bathrooms in the parking lot and exceedingly limited trees or rocks to hide behind if nature calls while you’re on the trail. So I’d strongly recommend stopping to use the restroom before starting your walk.
- Bring warm layers: We were lucky enough to visit on a BEAUTIFUL day, but the trail was still quite chilly, given the high winds this area receives. Bring some warm layers, like a cozy hat and a raincoat (like this one for men and this one for women)- it is Scotland, after all!
Where to Stay When Visiting the Quiraing Walk
While some people just visit the Isle of Skye as a daytrip, I’d highly recommend staying a day or two so that you can see some of its best sites, like the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools, and the Fairy Glen (so many fairies!).
Consider staying in the adorable town of Portree, like at:
- Cuillins Hills Hotel: This property has sprawling grounds, with breathtaking views of Potree Bay and the surrounding mountains. Between Malt Embassy, the onsite bar with a jaw-dropping variety of whiskeys; the stylish and comfortable rooms; and the friendly staff, this is handily one of the best places to stay in Portree.
- Viewfield House: Housed in a 200 year old stone manor, Viewfield House looks exactly like what you’d expect from a Victorian country house in the Scottish Highlands. While the House’s historical charm has been expertly preserved, you certainly won’t be without updated perks, like delicious made-to-order breakfasts (with vegetarian and vegan options!), comfy beds, and steamy hot showers.
- Marmalade Hotel: The Marmalade perfectly melds modern amenities, like a rain shower, high speed wifi, and in-room coffee makers, with its historic building from 1817. Plus there’s no better way to fuel up than stopping at the onsite restaurant, which cooks up a full Scottish breakfast spread every morning!
I hope you love the Quiraing Walk as much as we did—it’s easily one of the most stunning trails in all of Scotland! Do you have any questions about the trail? Let us know in the comments below!