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When is the Best Time to Hike in Scotland?

Posted on Aug 27, 2018 by Neil Irvine

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 resource of information about hiking in Scotland covering the differing 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.

 

Interested in visiting Scotland during a specific season?

Click on one of the links below to find out more:

Hiking in Spring

Hiking in Summer

Hiking in Autumn

Hiking in Spring

hiking in knoydart during spring

Hiking the remote location of Knoydart during the month of Spring

 

As spring approaches its 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 its 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.

Weather

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 45º Fahrenheit. 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 from 45º Fahrenheit to approximately 50º Fahrenheit. 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 – in fact, in the last few years the driest part of the country has been the west coast of Scotland during the spring months. Visiting Scotland in April you will be welcomed with lovely colours of green leaves as the trees are now in bud.

Orkney hiking holiday in spring

The beautiful yellows of spring flowers on an Orkney hiking holiday

 

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 55º F. During some years when we are really lucky we experience summer super early and can experience an incredible 70º F. 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!

 

Wildlife

Cuckoo

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 a couple some coins in your pocket as you could be much richer after your holiday!

Cuckoo sitting on a tree branch

The great cuckoo surveying the land

 

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!

Red Squirrels

A red squirrel in the Cairngorms National Park

An adorable Red squirrel enjoying a nice rest in the Cairngorms National Park

 

Spring is an excellent time to spot Red Squirrels in Scotland, but according to The Scottish Wildlife Trust, there are estimated to be only 160,000 of them left in the whole of the United Kingdom. Around 75% of the UK’s Red Squirrels can be found in Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands is a sanctuary for these cute little critters and a place when they can thrive in the wild as nature intended. Should you find yourself on a hiking journey in the Cairngorms region be sure to carefully examine your surroundings as the chances are you’ll likely see these wonderful creatures scrambling up the bark of trees or catch a glimpse of red fur high in the branches above you as they elegantly dance through the air.

Pine Marten

A Pine Marten climbing a tree in the Cairngorms National Park

A Pine Marten scurries along a tree in the Cairngorms – they are incredible climbers!

 

The Pine Marten is an elusive creature but can be found scurrying around the north of Scotland in rich woodland areas. Similar in size to the American Mink, Pine Martins, historically were spread throughout the United Kingdom, 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 to once again inhabit the forests of North Scotland. Pine Martens are experts at scaling trees (climbing enthusiasts take note) and they tend to shelter in tree holes, so stay on the lookout for any visual clues indicating that this incredible animal may be frolicking around nearby. In the springtime they tend to have 3 – 5 litters of young and come summer they are completely independent.

Atlantic Puffins

A Puffin on a cliffside in the Shetland Isles

A Puffin watching the horizon on a high cliff top in the beautiful Shetland Isles

 

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. Unlike St Kilda you cannot land on the Shaints, but on a Wilderness Scotland tour a speedboat will take you there and circle around the island giving you plenty opportunity to absorb the nature and take great photos.

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.

  • Interesting fact: 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!

‘During our wildlife holiday of the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda in the case of unfortunate weather, it is possible that the journey to St Kilda could be cancelled. If this happens we will do our utmost to ensure that a suitable replacement boat journey is arranged – visiting the incredible Shaint Isles could replace the St Kilda trip.’

Common Seals

Common Seals on the beach in Scotland

A mixture of black and yellow common seals enjoying a sunny day on the beach!

 

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

Grey seals anchoring in the water - Orkney Isles

Some Grey Seals having a splash in the cool water of  North Ronaldsay in Orkney.

 

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 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.

Check Out More Articles about Spring Below:

 

Hiking in Summer

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.

Summer hiking in Assynt Highlands of Scotland

Travellers enjoying a lovely summers day hiking in the mountainous Assynt

 

Weather

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 66º Fahrenheit/19º Celsius 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 64º Fahrenheit/17º Celsius – 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.

Wildlife

Dolphins

Dolphins in the Scotland waters

A pair of Dolphins stopping by the boat to say hello to Wilderness Scotland travellers

 

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.

Killer Whales

Killer Whales or Orcas swimming in the Scottish seas

A pod of Killer Whales (Orcas) submerge from the sea during one of our wilderness holidays

 

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!

Minke Whales

Minkie Whales swimming in the Scottish sea

A Minke Whale decides to swim alongside a group as if it thought the boat was part of its pod

 

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. Embark on our Sailing and walking holiday of Knoydart and the Small Isles and you may just be lucky enough to greet a Minke Whale by the edge of the boat as the young really like to come over and say ‘hello!’

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.

Humpback Whales

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.

 

Beaches

Pristine sands, tropical waters and glorious warm sunshine – exploring Scotland’s beaches in the summertime is an invigorating experience that has to be felt to truly be understood.

Walking along a beautiful beach on an Outer Hebrides hiking adventure in the middle of the summer sunshine

 

The Outer Hebrides, or the Western Isles, are home to some of the most stunning beaches you will ever see. The Outer Hebrides have a number of incredible beaches all around the Islands, but the beaches on the Isle of Harris within the Outer Hebrides are some of the best Scotland has to offer – Harris in the Hebrides is often described as beach heaven. In Summer the beaches in the Outer Hebrides look like you could be on a tropical Island, these beaches have an isolated beauty to them as there never seem to be many people wandering the area. It is a far cry from the crowded beaches you find in busier cities, just imagine enjoying white sandy beaches all to yourself! On Hebridean beaches you have the best of both worlds, sunny Caribbean-like visuals without hundreds of people overfilling the area – truly an awe-inspiring breathtaking experience.

Want to learn more about Scotland’s lovely beaches? Check Out These Articles:

Hiking in Autumn

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.

Weather

September is officially the beginning of autumn, but really thanks to the glorious weather it stills feels like summer, although this month is when it starts to cool in temperature with an average temperature of 58º Fahrenheit/ 14º Celsius. 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 starts to make its 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.

Hear the lovely crunch of leaves under your feet by exploring our Autumn Highlands hiking adventure

 

More Autumn content:

 

Wildlife

Red Deer

Red Deer on the Isle of Skye

Red Deer grazing at Loch Coruisk on the Isle Skye

 

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!

A Red Stag howling in Autumn on a mountain in the Highlands of Scotland

A Red Stag calling out a powerful howling sound during the breeding season

 

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

A young wildcat in the Highlands of Scotland

A young wildcat in the Highland Wildlife Park

 

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.

 

Want to Know More about Scottish Wildlife? Check out these articles below:

 

Still Like to Find More Information about Hiking in Scotland? Just Check Out Some of the Articles Below:

Top 10 Scottish Hiking Checklist

Best Footwear for Hiking in Scotland

Hiking in Scotland: An Americans Perspective

Hiking the Old Man of Storr and The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye

Assynt: Take a Walk on the Wildside 

Top 5 Most Dramatic Hikes in the Highlands

 

About the author

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Neil Irvine

Neil has enjoyed a stint in city life but that flirtation soon ended and he's returned to the Highlands of Scotland for the peace, tranquility and closeness to nature that he loves.

Read more articles by Neil


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