Just when is the best time to hike in Scotland? It is a question many travellers are eager to know when deciding to travel to Scotland for a perfect holiday. The truth is that there are many different reasons to visit Scotland all year round! There is no absolute perfect time to travel to our beautiful country as it really depends on what you, as an individual, want out of your holiday. We compiled some handy resources of information about hiking in Scotland covering the different seasons of the year, so you can find out what travelling in Scotland is like during different months. Learn about the actual weather of Scotland, discover stunning wildlife that lives in the hills and blue seas, appreciate the changing colours of the seasons, feel the beauty of our beaches and enjoy incredible landscapes all in this handy hiking guide where you can learn just when is the best time to hike in Scotland, for yourself.
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As spring approaches it’s time to celebrate the warmer weather as the sun becomes stronger and we bid a fond farewell to the magnificent snow that covers our Highland mountains and the streets below in the winter months. During spring it’s still cool, but the shivering coldness of winter fades into distant memory and we can explore the outside world without the need for coordinating a woolly hat, balaclava and glove set – although, its best to carry some warm clothing as you never know when the odd cold spell could strike! It’s a great time to witness incredibly diverse wildlife that gives such bold life to the jaw-dropping landscapes of the Highlands as many creatures make their presence known and others migrate back to Scotland as the climate warms up after winter. Expect to encounter stunning wildlife such as the great Cuckoo, Red Squirrels and the elusive Cairngorm Pine Marten. It’s also a time when an array of beautiful spring flowers begin to bloom.
When March approaches the temperature in Scotland begins to rise and the cold winter chill fades away. According to the Met Office, the average highest temperature for the month of March in Scotland can be around 7°C/45ºF. In March expect 93 hours of sunshine for the whole month, allowing a good amount of daylight to explore the beauty of the Scottish outdoors each and every day.
April tends to be a warmer month than March as the average temperature rises to approximately 10°C/50ºF. Similar to March, the month of April offers welcome dry spells as the climate becomes increasingly warmer across the country from the North to the South of Scotland. Visiting Scotland in April you will be welcomed with lovely colours of green leaves as the trees are now in bud.
In the Cairngorm mountains, you can expect to see some remnants of snow still remaining from the winter months even during May. It is true when people say that there can be many seasons in one Scottish day – but that should not be taken as a negative as there are moments where you could confuse a Scottish spring day as the middle of summer with the sun shining all across the land. As May is at the tail end of spring, expect to see a glimpse of summer with warmer temperatures averaging 12°C/55ºF. During some years when we are really lucky, we experience summer super early and can experience an incredible 21°C/70ºF. Whether you intend to travel to Scotland during either spring or summer do not underestimate the potential of the sun in Scotland and remember to bring adequate sun cream to prevent the not so elusive Scottish suntan!
The Cuckoo migrates to Scotland in April and this signals the beginning of the Spring season. Cuckoos also journey to the rest of the UK when spring arrives, but the majority seem to take residence in Scotland with the Highlands being their favourite part of the country to settle. They are similar in size to a dove, but they are coloured blue-grey in appearance and have dark stripes drawn across their tummy. The Cuckoo is appropriately named as it makes a ‘cuck-oo’ sound when calling out over the skies. It is typically the male that creates the ‘cuckoo’ sound while a female Cuckoo calls out with more of a gurgling sound – almost like water flowing down a sinkhole after removing a plug from your sink!
There are a number of superstitions and symbolism linked to the Cuckoo through British history. One superstition is to make sure that you have money in your pocket in case you hear a Cuckoo because you will be financially secure for the rest of the year. So, if you decided to book a trip with us remember to keep some coins in your pocket as you could be much richer after your holiday!
Another tale involves the ancient standing stone monument at Callanish located on the Isle of Lewis know as the Standing Stones of Callanish. There is a legend of ‘the shining one,’ an entity that walks among the stones during an early mid-summer morning, whose arrival is signalled by the call of a Cuckoo. If you ever find yourself exploring the incredible Callanish stones during a visit to the Outer Hebrides listen closely for the sound of a Cuckoo as you just may catch a rare glimpse of the legendary shining one – you never know!
Adult Cuckoo birds tend to leave Scotland between June or July and travel an incredible distance of more than 7,000 miles to live in Africa until the springtime. Young Cuckoo birds stay in Scotland until Autumn before following their elders to the African continent and settle for Winter before returning to Scotland in springtime. If you want to test out the Cuckoo superstitions in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland then you’ll have until Autumn at the latest to test your theories!
Spring is an excellent time to spot Red Squirrels in Scotland. Around 75% of the UK’s Red Squirrels can be found in Scotland. our woodlands are a sanctuary for these cute little critters and a place when they can thrive in the wild as nature intended. Keep an eye out for them scrambling up trees or catch a glimpse of red fur high in the branches above you as they elegantly dance through the air.
The Pine Marten is an elusive creature but can be found scurrying around the north of Scotland in rich woodland areas. Pine Martins, historically were spread throughout the UK, but unfortunately due to deforestation in the 19th and 20th centuries, they faced near extinction. Since the 1980s they have been protected by UK law and ever since they have been gradually rising in numbers. Pine Martens are experts at scaling trees and they tend to shelter in tree holes, so stay on the lookout for any visual clues. In the springtime they tend to have 3 – 5 litters of young and come summer they are completely independent.
Atlantic Puffins, the smallest of the Puffin family, can be seen around the coasts of Scotland inhabiting high clifftop colonies. The Atlantic Puffin is similar to its north Pacific relative, The Horned Puffin, but can be easily distinguished by a steel-blue triangle located on the base of its beak. Undoubtedly, the best way to see these wee creatures is to travel to the famous island of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides which is home to Scotland’s largest single colony of seabirds and an incredible estimated 270,000 birds are scattered across the island! No wonder St Kilda is also affectionately known as Puffin Island!
Exploring the Shiant Isles is another great way to see a colony of Puffins in their natural habitat within Scotland. Located east of Harris in the Outer Hebrides the Shaint Isles over time has been given various nicknames such as ‘mini St Kilda’ or ‘little St Kilda,’ so you know by that naming convention to expect to see a flurry of seabirds populate the area. The Isles truly are an incredible sight to behold and there is nothing quite like witnessing the bird colony in person.
Puffins make great swimmers so expect a multitude of them and other seabirds gracefully riding the waves beside your boat. This area is also a spectacular place to spot dolphins – if you are lucky enough the speedboat will stop and let you see these lovely creatures up close.
“Puffins are sometimes described as ‘The clowns of the sea,’ because they look like they have a whale of a time ‘clowning’ around in the water – it really has to be seen to be believed!”
Common seals can be spotted throughout the year, but they tend to be busy pupping during the summertime so the Spring months of April, March and May are probably your best bet to spot these adorable sea creatures. They can be found chilling out around sheltered shores relaxing in a curved position or in water they can be located near the mouth of a large river where the tide meets the stream (estuaries). Commons Seals are a rather diverse bunch and vary in colour from blond to black, but in general, they are normally grey coloured with dark spots. A large number of them can be seen around the coast of Scotland, but the best areas to find them are places such as the Hebridean Islands, West Coast Scotland, Shetland and the Orkney Isles.
Grey seals can be identified by their larger size than common seals and are normally grey coloured with darker spots. Compared to common seals they can appear to be much more sociable among their kind as out of the water they all lay close to one another – no doubt discussing the events of the day such as their successes in catching fish! Similar to common seals they dwell in the Hebridean Islands, the West Coast, Shetland and the Orkney Isles.
When summer comes around its time to celebrate the longer days and the sunnier months by replacing your spring clothing with thinner layers to deal with the hotter weather – although if you plan to hike the hills of Scotland always pack for different seasons and keep warmer clothes in your backpack as there is always the possibility of a change in weather especially if you find yourself climbing high peaks. Summer is also a great time to spot wildlife as different animals appear more frequent in number during the months of summer. During the warmer months, a variety of different sea life can appear – be on the lookout for Dolphins, Killer whales, Minke whales and maybe even catch a rare glimpse of Humpback whales! Summer is also a period where our multitude of brightly coloured flowers flourish in the warmth. And, of course, we have some of the world’s most incredible beaches in the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides – which look very tropical in the summer with beautiful green and blue-tinted waters filling the scenery.
I’m sure you want to know just when the warmest month in Scotland actually is – you may discover that a number of Scottish locals joke that our sunny summer weather lasts only around a few days, or maybe as long as a week! Do not take this to be fact! The truth is we can have a feast of sunshine during our Summer months of June, July and August. The warmest months of Summer in Scotland are likely to be July and August where we enjoy an average temperature of 19º C/66ºF each year.
Summer Solstice takes place in June and marks the longest day of the year and many people in England celebrate at the famous Stonehenge monument, but in Scotland, we have a few standing stone monuments where you can celebrate the longest day in the amazing Scottish wilderness without the crowds at places such as the Standing Stones of Callanish in the Outer Hebrides, the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney or the three standing stones in Kilmartin Glen.
July continues with long days of Scottish daylight – in the Highlands, we are blessed with an incredible 16 to 17 hours of light in the summer months where it may be as late as 11 pm before the light starts to dim. If you fancy exploring the Scottish Highlands and want to make the most of the long stretches of daylight then visiting here in the summer months is definitely an amazing time to embark on an unforgettable adventure holiday. The average temperature for this month tends to be a baking 17ºC/64ºF – remember to bring a good amount of water during the summer to avoid dehydration while hiking the hills!
Not sure how to prepare for the Scottish weather whilst hiking in summer? Check out this video below:
July and August tend to be the sunniest months in Scotland, but really even as early as spring, we can enjoy beautiful sunny weather, although it can be somewhat cooler in spring compared to summer. During August and the last (official) month of summer the hours in the day lessen, but we still bask in 15 – 16 hours of daylight, so there is still plenty of light to savour whilst hiking the stunning landscapes of Scotland. Even though August is the last month of summer the average temperature stays the same as June and July – so in August you can still look forward to many hours of daylight and a fantastically warm sun shining over the hills and the Glens.
Learn about what a Scottish summer is like.
Salmon start to migrate to the Moray coast in spring and this continues into the summer, which attracts the Dolphins looking to feed. Really, spring and summer are a good to time to go dolphin spotting in the Moray Firth. However, summer is a fantastic time to go Dolphin watching along the Moray Firth as you’ll benefit from the lovely sunny days with hours of daylight stretching throughout the hours.
There was once a time that it was actually quite rare to see Dolphins swimming in the Hebridean Islands of Scotland, but now they seem to now be much easier to spot in the area. It is thought that the warming of the water around the Hebrides is what is now attracting dolphins to the area. Similar to the North of Scotland mainland, Dolphins in the Outer Hebrides are best seen during Spring and Summer months – but chances are that Summer is the greatest time to see Dolphins because the water should be at its warmest.
Humpback whales tend to be grey or black in appearance with white markings on their underbelly and can be distinguished from other species of whales by their rather large flippers. Humpback whales are not a species commonly seen in Scotland, but it is possible you may spot some swimming the seas around the north of Scotland and Shetland in the heart of the summer season. This could possibly be because they migrate from Iceland and Norway in the summer and set sail to the coasts of North-West Africa in the winter and would have to pass Scotland to reach their destination.
Killer whales are part of the Dolphin family and are usually seen in the Summer months mainly during June and July although there is a strong possibility to sight these massive mammals during the month of August. There is also a high chance that they will make an appearance during May at the end of Spring, but Summer is really the best time to sight them.
Sometimes Killer whales are mentioned by their original name – Orcas, which comes from the Latin phrase ‘Orcinus orca.’ The Latin phrase translated means ‘the whale of the kingdom of the dead.’ The name ‘Killer Whale’ comes from the fact that they also hunt other types of whales as well as prey on fish and seals. The best places to spot these impressive mammals in Scotland is around the Inner Hebrides and Skye. You can also spot them in the ‘Minch’ (a narrow passage of water separating the North West Highlands and the North Inner Hebrides from Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides) when travelling by Ferry from Inverness to Stornoway during a Wilderness Scotland adventure journeying to the Outer Hebrides.
Killer whales (or Orcas) have a very distinctive black and white appearance and are very large creatures – in fact, they are the largest member of the Dolphin family. Their impressive size enables them to swim through the sea in a similar way to a submarine – in essence, they are an organic submarine, although they are not fitted with the traditional submarine periscopes we’ve all seen in classic movies of yesteryear!
Typically, Minke whales have a blue or greyish-black appearance with a white underside and in contrast to Killer whales, they are smaller in size measuring around 5.5 meters in length whereas Killer whales are around 6 – 8 meters in length. Minke Whales can be seen around the coast of Scotland, but they mostly congregate around the small Isles (Rum, Eigg and Muck) and on the west coast between the Isles of Skye and Mull.
Similar to Killer whales Summer is an amazing time to look for Minke Whales, although, Spring is can also be a good time to see them but chances of a sighting lessen slightly. If you prefer to spot Minke Whales during the warmest time of the year then it is recommended to travel to Scotland during the Summer, but if you enjoy the cooler weather then spring is a great season for a Scottish holiday adventure.
Spring weather is mild, but the days are lengthening and consistently drier. The landscape is buzzing with life and colour, with flowers blooming and bustling wildlife.Find out more
Summer promises long days, pleasant temperatures, and festivals galore. The countryside transitions from vibrant green to breath-taking purple as the heather blooms.Find out more
Autumn is a time of colourful landscapes and glowing skies. Witness some of Scotland’s most exciting wildlife spectacles and taste flavours unique to our autumn months.Find out more
If the conditions are right, Scottish winters are the epitome of ‘winter wonderland’. Crunchy snow underneath your boots, sparkly fields, and the most beautiful night skies.Find out more
During Autumn the Scottish climate begins to cool, the days shorten, and the leaves turn into a lovely golden brown colour. Before hiking Scotland in autumn you should prepare for summer weather as well as autumn weather – remember to pack layers of clothing in your rucksack as it could be warm like a summers day, but later on in the day could become colder and you’ll need to be ready to add layers should the weather decide to change.
Autumn is also a great opportunity to witness a variety of wildlife that you can see in the summer, but also there is a higher chance of encountering majestic Red Deer in the hills and if you are really lucky maybe you will spot the rare wildcat running around the Cairngorms National Park in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.
The end of September is when autumn starts in Scotland, but really thanks to the glorious weather it stills feel like summer, although this month is when it starts to cool in temperature with an average temperature of 14ºC/58ºF. September is an ideal month to venture on a hiking journey in Scotland if you want to absorb the lovely sunlight of the summer, but would rather avoid the heat that comes with the season. In September the air is still warm enough to feel like summer, but cool enough not to be too chillingly cold. Unofficially, the majority of the month is really a cooler summer than full autumn – it is a transition period of the weather changing from summer to autumn.
The end of September and the beginning of October is when the stunning golden and brown landscapes of autumn really start to make their presence known. October really is the greatest month to visit Scotland if you want to hike the landscapes during Scotland’s full autumn glory. By now the leaves on the trees have turned into a lovely golden brown and Pine forests look spectacular in the distance providing an incredibly unique view. If you are looking for a hiking adventure with a difference then visiting Scotland in autumn is truly otherworldly.
October, as well as September, is a time when fewer people travel to Scotland, as spring and summer are seen as the time to travel by many, but autumn should never be underestimated – you will see some amazing sights that only autumn can provide! Fewer travellers mean fewer people on the trails and in the hills, providing an even more remote experience of the glorious scenic landscapes.
Red Deer are Scotland’s largest land mammal and are also the biggest of the deer family – they are a huge icon of Scotland and the Stag has become a symbol of the Highland’s famous Speyside Glenfiddich Whisky. If you spot a few deer when exploring on an outdoor hiking adventure then take note of how they compare in size to one another. If you see any that appear larger than the norm they are likely to be older as they increase in size as the years pass. Despite the name, Red deer are actually coloured dark brown with a tint of reddish-orange painted onto their fur – so nearly red, but not quite 100%.
While summer is a great time to witness hinds (female deer) and calves run through the hills autumn provides an incredible opportunity to see Red Deer in their natural habitat and this is especially true for the male Stag Red Deer. Autumn is the deer breeding season (or rut) and it is during this time that there is a higher chance to see a male Stag wandering around the mountainsides roaring at the top of his lungs. Be sure to listen out for the roar of the deer as it sounds remarkably otherworldly – should you be in its vicinity you’ll hear an incredible bellowing sound dominating the hills. The appearance of branching antlers sprouting from their heads is a staggering (sorry, about the pun) sight to behold!
The majority of Red Deer can be found roaming around the mountainsides, hills and glens in the Highlands of Scotland and scattered throughout places such as the jaw-dropping landscapes of Assynt, but a fair number of these majestic creatures can also be found populating the tranquil Hebridean Islands of Arran, Jura and Rum.
Wildcats are a very rare creature and difficult to spot, born in early spring they usually can be best spotted in the Cairngorms during winter when they work their hardest hunting to survive, but it is possible to see them in earlier months with autumn being your best bet. Wildcats resemble the domesticated household cat in appearance but tend to be fearful of humans and they will keep their distance.
‘Interesting fact: until the 1950s people believed that they were actually man-eaters – they somewhat gained mythical legendary status similar to Bigfoot or the Sasquatch of North America.’
Wildcats are the most difficult type of animal to encounter in Scotland, but if you ever happen to be hiking the bonny hills of Highland Scotland during the lovely golden season of Autumn be sure to keep a keen eye in the distance and you just may glimpse this rare animal out hunting in the wild.
There is nothing more satisfying than the crunching of snow under your boots when out for a wintery walk. Head out and immerse yourself in Scotland’s landscape when it is blanketed in snow and sparkly. No snow? No problem. Winter is still a good time for some low level walking in the Highlands. The highland hills and moors are especially atmospheric in winter, and the low sun makes for spectacular light across the day. Winter is also a great time for nighttime walking. Enjoy thousands upon thousands of stars in our dark skies, and spy our nocturnal winter beasties like hedgehogs, bats, and badgers.
Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm and have the appropriate gear for walking in wintery weather – low down and higher up.
Scotland has a very temperate climate. The weather is changeable this time of year, but rarely extreme. You can expect a mix of clear blue skies and cloudy grey days during winter in Scotland, with occasional rain, snow and ice.
December is usually the mildest month, with average temperatures of around 4ºC/39ºF. The shortest day of the year in Scotland is usually the 21st of December, with as little as 6-7 daylight hours depending on where you are. Things get chillier as winter progresses and the best months for snow are January and February – which is great with the lengthening days to maximise your opportunity to enjoy the wintery countryside.
On average there are 38 days of snow in Scotland, with 26 days of settled snow on the ground. Most of the snow falls in northern mountainous areas like the Cairngorms, Glencoe and Torridon.