Julie Scotland 8 Comments

Our hiking shoes got a lot of use in Scotland. But the most memorable hike, the one that had our legs trembling with fatigue and our eyes wide open with amazement, was the Kintail Saddle.

Before flying to Scotland, I did a lot of research looking for that perfect Scottish hike. For us, the perfect hike involves summiting a mountain and being rewarded by spectacular views. We love lots of changes in scenery, some rock scrambling, and sections just challenging enough to keep things interesting. The Kintail Saddle ticked all of the boxes on our list.

Of course, this is Scotland. Rain is almost ever-present, especially during the summer months. It’s one thing planning to do the hike. It’s another to get lucky enough to have clear weather. For us, the three days prior to the Kintail Saddle hike was spent in the rain on the Isle of Skye. One of our big hikes (Bla Bheinn) was already disrupted due to the rain.

Fortunately, mother nature cooperated today. The sky was overcast with a threat of rain, but conditions actually improved during our hike. We had a fabulous day, we were able to see those epic high altitude Scottish views, and we completed another very memorable hike. This was a tough one but one we will not soon forget.

Hiking the Kintail Saddle

The Saddle is described as one of the most magnificent mountains in the Highlands of Scotland. It is located near Shiel Bridge and Invershiel and is just a short drive from the Isle of Skye.

This is a challenging hike. Over 8 miles in length with 1300 meters of climbing, this hike involves summiting two Munros.

What is a Munro? A Munro is any mountain in Scotland over 3,000 ft. There are 282 Munros in Scotland. So far, over 5,000 people have bagged all of the Munros.

Most people hike up the Kintail Saddle (Munro #1 for the day) then cross over to Sgurr na Sgine (Munro #2 for the day) before descending back down to Glen Shiel. Prior to the hike, numerous people warned us not to take Tyler and Kara on the Forcan Ridge, a knifelike ridge leading up to the summit. It was beginning to sound like this would be one of the most challenging hikes we have ever attempted!

Start of the Hike

The hike starts just south of Shiel Bridge. Park at the lay-by (narrow car park) on the side of A87 (GPS coordinates: 57.175749, -5.363888). When driving southeast from Glen Shiel, the lay-by is about a ¼ mile past the Achnagart Farm.

Kintail Saddle Hike Parking

From the lay-by, continue to walk southeast down A87 (away from Shiel Bridge). Cross the road and enter the trailhead. There is a wide, gravel path leading through a gate and up the hillside in front of you.

In this photo, the darker green ridge in the background is Faochag, the final ridge you will walk before descending back down to A87:

Kintail Saddle Trailhead

First Ascent

A steady climb winds its way up the hillside, taking you to the col (a ridge or saddle between two peaks, acting as a bridge between the peaks) between Biod an Fhithich and Meallan Odhar. The path is very easy to follow and it does not take long until you are high above the valley.

Saddle Hike with Kids

Tyler hiking Scotland

Hiking Scotland with kids


Once at the col, turn left and begin the climb up Meallan Odhar. It’s a gradual climb and not very strenuous. We took a break here to enjoy the views, have a snack, and fly our drone. Meanwhile, we were pestered by those very annoying midges!!

Hiking in Scotland

Kara Rivenbark

Midges in Scotland

Scotland landscape

Bagging Munros Scotland

Meanwhile, we kept looking over at the next stage of the hike, the Forcan Ridge. Even though we were warned to keep Tyler and Kara off of this section of the hike, still, we were tempted to do it. However, the cloud cover obscuring the knifelike ridge was changing our minds. We wanted adventure but we did not want to endanger our kids.

The Forcan Ridge

The Forcan Ridge is a knifelike ridge leading up to the summit of The Saddle. This is the most common path to The Saddle. During bad weather, for those with limited hiking experience, or for those hiking with kids, there is an alternate, safer path. Very soon we had a decision to make.

The path leading up to the Forcan Ridge:

Forcan Ridge in the clouds


Thinking we were unstoppable, we decided to give the Forcan Ridge a try. It gets steep rather quickly, so it would not take us long to find out if we could handle it.

Climbing Forcan Ridge

The ascent up Forcan Ridge is challenging! Too challenging for Kara and Tyler. A few years from now…sure, they’d be able to handle it. But today, it was not worth risking their safety to bag a Munro. We turned around, deciding to continue on with the safer option.

Finding Our Way

Just before the Forcan Ridge the path splits. The trail to the right leads up the Ridge and the trail to the left follows the contour of the slope. We walked across a rocky hillside, ending at another col. And this is where staying on the trail got a little tricky.

Looking back at the Forcan Ridge and the alternate path lower down on the mountain

Forcan Ridge Alternative Route

We were using printed directions from the Walk Highlands website. Their instructions were good, but the landmarks they listed used Gaelic names for the mountains. This was our first time here and we had no idea what we were looking at. I had also made the assumption that we would be able to use Google Maps to help identify landmarks. Wrong. We had zero cell service here. Tim and I were left deciphering written words from a Scottish website that assumed you already knew the names of the mountain peaks towering around you.

We were in no danger. During the entire hike we could see A87 and in the worst case scenario we would just retrace our steps to our car. But we wanted to get as high as possible, bag at least one Munro, and be rewarded with awesome views over Scotland.

Bealach Coire Mhalagain

Bealach Coire Mhalagain is another col. This one connects The Saddle with Sgurr na Sgine. The path down from the summit of The Saddle and the alternate, safer path both connect here.

Lost in Scotland


There are rusted metal poles sticking up from the ground here. They are placed in the ground every 15 to 20 feet. If you follow them, they climb up the next slope.

Hiking Kintail Saddle

Sgurr na Sgine and Faochag

Climb the hillside on the faint, hard to follow path. Basically, just head straight up the hill the safest way possible. Another awesome view awaits.

Sketchy Path

At the top of this hill, you can see down Faochag, the ridge heading towards A87. The peak looming over you to your right is Sgurr na Sgine.


Faochag Ridge

Again, we had a difficult time following the Walk Highlands instructions. What we thought was Sgurr na Sgine was really Faochag. So nope, we never climbed the official peak of Sgurr na Sgine, which means we never officially bagged a Munro today. Sure, I am a wee bit disappointed, but we were about to be rewarded with some phenomenal views. And to be honest, at this point, Kara was running out of steam. The thought of climbing even higher sounded like torture to her.

So, to climb Sgurr na Sgine, turn right on the ridge (walking away from A87) and head up the summit. Enjoy the view, retrace your steps, and then begin the walk out onto Faochag.

Another view of the Forcan Ridge (and the alternate path)

Forcan Ridge





Tim and Tyler flying the drone as Kara and I walk along the ridge

Flying Drone Scotland


View from Faochag. 

Hike Kintail Saddle


Earth Trekkers Scotland

Scotland Travel Guide

The Descent

Continue along Faochag. The path rapidly descends, and yes, at times, it looks as though you will slide right off the side of the mountain.

Hiking down the hill

Faochag Descent


Way down there is A87. 

Kintail descent


Don’t forget to enjoy the view

Kintail Saddle Hike

Scotland hike with kids


The descent is difficult. Maybe the most difficult part of the day (unless you did the Forcan Ridge). It’s a slippery, rocky, muddy drop back down to the valley.

Hiking Scotland Kintail


Once at the bottom, the last step is to cross the stream (Allt Mhalagain). Usually this is easy as there is a path of stones crossing the stream. However, if it has recently rained, which it had in our case, the stream becomes a river. The water is much too high for the bridge of stones to be sufficient. It took us 10 minutes of hiking upstream to find a narrower, safer place to cross. With two tired kids, the last thing we wanted to do at this point was to walk farther than necessary.

Crossing the river

Since we crossed the stream at a different point, we lost the trail. The four of us trudged through boggy, wet ground to A87. A climb over the fence and a short walk to our car and our journey was over.

Climb the fence

About the Kintail Saddle Hike

Length: 8.25 miles, 1350 meters of climbing

Allow 6 to 8 hours for the hike.

There are no signs or markers on the trail. In most places, the trail itself is easy to follow. Print out a copy of the map on the Walk Highlands website for reference.

Do not expect your cell phone to work!

Wear waterproof hiking shoes. This hike takes you through very wet, boggy marshes and your feet will get soaked.

Do not attempt the Forcan Ridge in the rain, snow, or even when it is very cloudy. Do not underestimate the danger of this ridge.

For more details on the hike, visit the Walk Highlands website. Print out this post as a PDF so you can reference it while hiking.

Even during the peak summer month of August, we had this trail almost to ourselves. We saw just two other hikers during the entire hike.

Hiking with Kids: Tyler was 13 and Kara was 11 when we did this hike. Even with Kara’s rock climbing experience we did not think it was safe for her to attempt the Forcan Ridge. If your child is 14 years or older with lots of hiking experience, the Forcan Ridge might be possible. If you are in doubt, climb a short distance up and if it seems too challenging, turn around and take the alternate path along the hillside.

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Grianan Guest House, located in Inverinate of Kintail, just a 10 minute drive from The Saddle hike (it looks as if it is no longer open). This small B&B has only four rooms and has a beautiful setting overlooking Loch Duich. We loved it here!! Plus, it is just 15 minutes away from Eilean Donan Castle.

Where to Eat: The Glenelg Inn. It’s a half an hour away from Kintail but the food is awesome here. This pub serves excellent Scottish food and ale. Just make sure you make a reservation in advance.

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

If you have any questions about hiking the Kintail Saddle, or if you would like to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Scotland

PLACES TO GO IN SCOTLAND: Edinburgh and Glasgow are two wonderful cities to add to your Scotland itinerary. Spend a few days on the Isle of Skye, visit Glencoe, and visit Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

ISLE OF SKYE: We cover how to visit the Isle of Skye in our Isle of Skye Travel Guide. We also have articles about the best things to do on the Isle of Skye and travel itineraries for 1, 2, and 3 days on the Isle of Skye.

SCOTLAND ITINERARY: With 10 days in Scotland, visit the highlights, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Isle of Skye, and Glencoe.

MORE GREAT HIKES IN EUROPE: From thrilling trails in the Alps to easy walks along the coast, read our article 20 Best Hikes in Europe for some beautiful hiking trails to put on your travel wish list.


Planning a trip to Scotland? Read all of our articles in our Scotland Travel Guide.

Hiking in the Highlands of Scotland: Kintail Saddle


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Comments 8

  1. Avatar for Alex

    Awesome post! Next time you guys are in Scotland, I’d really recommend exploring Galloway Forest Park. There are some fantastic places to hike there – it’s so beautiful and peaceful, and relatively undiscovered. Definitely one of my favourite corners of the country. Also, the weather is (marginally) better there than in the Highlands!
    Really love your site btw 🙂

    1. Avatar for Julie
  2. Avatar for Geronimo

    Did you do this hike while based on Portree? Or did you break down your northern route return journey to bag this munro?

    1. Avatar for Julie

      We stayed in Dornie, which is near Eilean Donan Castle. On our last morning on the Isle of Skye, we drove out to and hiked the Kintail Saddle, spent the night in Dornie, and the next day drove through Glencoe to Glasgow.

  3. Avatar for Stacia

    Thank you so much for the great information. After reading your experience, we are planning on doing this hike in early September. Do you have any recommendations on hiking gear/clothing or any brands you found worked better for the potential rainy weather? Thanks for the help!

    1. Avatar for Julie

      We wear Merrell hiking shoes and love them. Hiking boots may be better because they might keep your feet drier if you end up walking through the boggy ground like we did. Any quality rain jacket will work well, we wear North Face. And Tim and I love our Prana hiking pants. I wear the Halle pant and Tim wears the Stretch Zion pants. They do offer a little water resistance, although, our older pairs have lost this “super power” through age and multiple washes. Even so, we love them and I am now on my fourth pair. Have fun in Scotland! Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Dianne Pereira
    Dianne Pereira

    Hey! I was thinking of doing this on my own in May 2018,. Since you said you had difficulty following the instructions for directions, would you recommend I do this with company or is song this alone okay? I noticed you said there aren’t markers or anything as well which worries me a bit.

    1. Avatar for Julie

      If you have prior hiking experience, you can do it on your own. Even though we had a hard time following the trail, we always knew that we could back track and follow the trail to our car. I recommend taking the easier trail rather than hiking along the Forcan Ridge (like we did) since it can be dangerous. On the Walk Highlands website there are various maps you can print or use for the hike. Cheers, Julie

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