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CLIMBING BEN NEVIS: THE COMPLETE GUIDE

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The image shows a highland cow at the top of Ben Nevis.
The image shows the views after climbing Ben Nevis.
The image shows the summit of Ben Nevis.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know before embarking on a hike up Ben Nevis, including where to stay and what else there is to do in the area. We’ll let you know what to expect on the day and give you a long list of tips. Our first is: “don’t underestimate this mountain!“.

*Guest post by Millie’s Dad*

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE CLIMBING BEN NEVIS

The image shows the views along the Ben Nevis climb.

ABOUT BEN NEVIS

Ben Nevis is the United Kingdoms’ largest mountain. It was once a massive active volcano which exploded and collapsed inwards on itself millions of years ago. In Scottish Gaelic, ‘Ben’ translates as ‘mountain’, while ‘Nevis’ means ‘venomous’ or ‘malicious’. Locals often refer to the peak as ‘The Ben’.

LOCATION

Ben Nevis is part of the Grampian Mountain range and is located near Fort William in Scotland which is approximately three hours northwest of Glasgow.

HOW TO GET THERE

The image shows a signpost for Ben Nevis.

The town of Fort William is situated at the foot of Ben Nevis. By car, it takes approximately 2 -3 hours from Glasgow and 3 – 4 hours from Edinburgh (depending on traffic). You can also catch a direct train to Fort William from Glasgow or the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston.

WHERE TO PARK

A few miles from Fort William is the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre. Parking costs £6 per day and cash and cards are accepted. The postcode is PH33 6ST, which will get you in close proximity to the car park.

BEST TIME OF YEAR TO CLIMB BEN NEVIS

The image shows Ben Nevis among the clouds.

The best time to climb Ben Nevis is June-August. These are the summer months in the UK, which is always the best time of year to tackle Ben Nevis. If you hike during this time, then you’re likely to enjoy the sunshine and clear views on the way to the top. However, you are likely to see snow at the summit throughout all times of the year. We don’t recommend climbing Ben Nevis in the winter unless you’re an experienced mountaineer.

ROUTES UP BEN NEVIS

There are two main walking routes up Ben Nevis: The Mountain Track (sometimes called the Tourist Track or the Pony Track) and the Carn Mor Dearg Arête. The former is the route that most hikers take and it was built in the 19th century for the ponies to carry supplies up to the now disused meteorological observatory on the summit of Ben Nevis. The latter is for the experienced hiker who is looking for a more challenging climb.

The Mountain Track is the route we took and is likely to be the route that most readers will also take. As such, the information in this guide is primarily based on this, however, a lot of the information is also relevant to the Carn Mor Dearg Arête route.

BEN NEVIS HIKE DETAILS (THE MOUNTAIN TRACK)

The image shows a bench along the Ben Nevis trail.

DISTANCE

The Mountain Track is 10.5 miles (17km) in total (up and down).

DURATION

The Mountain Track typically takes 6-8 hours, but It really depends on your level of fitness, the weather conditions and how many breaks you take to admire the views. The ascent takes slightly longer than the descent, which is still challenging.

ELEVATION

The Mountain track up to Ben Nevis is 1,352 metres of ascent.

The image shows the Ben Nevis walk.

DIFFICULTY

Given that Ben Nevis is the United Kingdoms’ highest mountain, hiking up it should be well planned. The vast majority of Ben Nevis climbers take the Mountain Path, and while it is a slog, it’s relatively easy to follow and doesn’t require any serious scrambling.

Climbing Ben Nevis is the equivalent of climbing about 6,725 steps or nearly 700 flights of stairs, so you need to be relatively fit and have the appropriate clothing. It is also worth noting that some people believe coming down is just as hard as going up.

The biggest factor that affects the difficulty is the weather. The weather and time of year you climb play a major factor in determining the difficulty of Ben Nevis, which is known for having the most ferocious weather in the whole of the UK. Each year experiences snowfall from September all the way until May.

WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE DAY OF CLIMBING BEN NEVIS (THE MOUNTAIN TRACK)

The image shows Ben Nevis.
The image shows Ben Nevis.

The route starts at The Ben Nevis visitor centre. You’ll cross the footbridge over the river and follow a well-marked-out path to join The Mountain Track. From here the path climbs steeply up some steps, before gradually evening out to a more moderate climb.

The path continues to wind its way up the mountain, with many fantastic views along the way. You will eventually reach the halfway Lake at 570-meters. This is a great spot to have a break and keep hydrated.

The image shows the Ben Nevis climbing route.

Continuing on, the terrain will change from lush green landscapes to grey rocky surroundings. Continue along the trail, the path zig-zags its way up the mountain. In bad weather conditions, visibility can become poor, so we’d recommend keeping to the path.

The image shows views from the Ben Nevis trail.

Eventually, after hiking up some scree, you will reach the summit of the UK’s highest peak! At the summit, you will find several memorials, a trig point and many cairns. On a clear day, you will be able to see for miles and miles – the surrounding mountains, lochs and cliffs are an incredible sight!

The image shows Ben Nevis covered in snow.
The image shows a memorial plaque.
The image shows Ben Nevis trigpoint.

After taking in the amazing views, you’ll descend back down the mountain via the same route with a great sense of achievement at conquering The Ben!

BEN NEVIS CLIMB ROUTE MAP

Whilst this walk is well signposted and you should be able to follow the stream of hikers towards the summit, we’d always recommend having a route map to hand. You can collect a paper copy from the visitors centre or you can download a map on your phone. Our go-to platform for this is AllTrails. We’d recommend downloading this map ahead of time for offline use on the day.

AllTrails | The Mountain Track Route Map

TIPS FOR HIKING BEN NEVIS

The image shows the views whilst climbing Ben Nevis.

CLOTHING

Warm and waterproof clothing is essential, and it’s wise to avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture. Make sure you take layers and wet weather gear as the weather can change quickly. A pair of good walking boots are also an absolute must as the hiking can be hard going in places, with rocks and shale most of the way. We’d also recommend packing a few useful hiking essentials, such as walking poles, a map, and food and water.

DOGS

The image shows a dog.

If your dog enjoys long walks, then climbing Ben Nevis together is fine. It’s best to keep dogs on a lead though, especially when the paths are busy with walkers. Some parts of the route will comprise uneven terrain, scree and loose stones which can be tricky for some dogs.

FACILITIES

Whilst there are no facilities on the mountain, there is a visitors centre at the beginning of the walk. This is open between 8 am and 4 pm Monday to Sunday.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

The image shows snow at the top of Ben Nevis.

The weather on Ben Nevis is extremely changeable, with glorious sunshine one moment then fog and gale force winds the next. Even if you set out on the sunniest of days, the temperatures at the summit can be sub-zero, so it’s important to take appropriate all-weather gear. Always check the mountain weather page before you go, and if you’re in any doubt, always turn back.

The Ben Nevis Webcam is located on the banks of Loch Linnhe in Fort William. The webcam updates every minute and captures fantastic views of Ben Nevis, Fort William, Loch Linnhe and Aonach Mor.

Alternatively, The Mountain Track begins at the visitor centre in Glen Nevis. There is lots of useful information in the centre, so it’s worth a visit before you start climbing and to talk with the staff there to find out about the conditions on the mountain.

CAFES/RESTAURANTS

There are no restaurants on the mountain, however, the visitor centre has a cafe. If you’re looking for a good place to eat post-hike, then we’d recommend heading to the Ben Nevis Inn.

WHERE TO STAY NEAR BEN NEVIS

FORT WILLIAM

The image shows  Fort William.
The image shows a boat in Fort William.
The image shows a man standing in the mountains.

CAMPING

Fort William is known as the outdoor capital of the UK. For those who want to take advantage of this, then nows your chance to do some wild camping in the area, and sleep in the shadow of Ben Nevis. You can pitch up a tent on the grassy plains of the Steall Meadows in Upper Glen Nevis. You’ll find a sheltered glen which separates Ben Nevis from the towering ridges of the Mamores range – it’s an idyllic spot to set up camp. We’d also recommend visiting the dramatic Steall Falls near here, and crossing the famous wire bridge nearby.

Alternatively, if you prefer to have some facilities, then The Glen Nevis Campsite is handily located near the foot of the mountain. It’s just a short walk from the campsite to the start of the Mountain Track for climbing Ben Nevis.

Check prices: Glen Nevis Campsite

HOSTEL

For incredible views of the mountain, then we’d recommend spending the night at the friendly Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. It’s ideally situated at the foot of Ben Nevis and has drying facilities and spacious places to relax. This hostel is a great place to unwind after a long day of walking.

Check prices: Hostelworld

HOTEL

If you’re looking for a hotel, then we’d recommend Cruachan Hotel – a stunning manor house. It’s situated in the very centre of Fort William and provides waterfront views of Loch Linnhe on one side, and mountain views on the other.

Check prices: Booking.com | Agoda | Expedia

GLENCOE

The image shows mountains in Glencoe.
The image shows mountains in Glencoe.
The image shows mountains in Glencoe.

Located within the awe-inspiring Lochaber Geopark in the Highlands, the deep valley and towering mountains of Glen Coe were carved out centuries ago by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions. Glencoe village is picturesquely located between the banks of Loch Leven and the mouth of the famous glen, making it the perfect base for exploring the area of Lochaber.

CAMPING

For those looking for a camping or caravan pitch, then Invercoe campsite is the perfect spot. You’ll find Loch Leven in front of the campsite, with a plethora of mountains in every direction. The facilities here are good and you’ll have easy access to many of the popular things to do in the area.

Check prices: Invercoe Campsite

HOSTEL

Glencoe Youth Hostel provides cabin-style accommodation amongst nature. It’s the perfect place to stop for those on a budget that enjoy going back to basics. The rustic cabin has everything you’d expect from a hostel in the highlands: a comfy bed, excellent cooking facilities and a cosy lounge area.

Check prices: Hostelworld

HOTEL

If you’re looking for somewhere luxurious to stay then Ardrhu House has it all – fantastic views over loch Linnhe, fine dining by chief Brian Henry, friendly staff, a hot tub and seven great rooms. Ardrhu house is like your own mini castle and staying with them will leave special memories that will last a lifetime.

Check prices: Booking.com | Expedia

THINGS TO DO NEAR BEN NEVIS

MOUNTAIN GONDOLA

You can take in the sights aboard the Nevis Range mountain gondola ride. Drift effortlessly along the north face of the Aonach Mor, and enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Great Glen and Ben Nevis, and sometimes even the Inner Hebrides on clear days. The journey takes approximately 12 -15 minutes, and each gondola car can take up to six people.

Where to book: Nevis Range

JACOBITE STEAM TRAIN

The image shows the Jacobite train.
The image shows the Jacobite train.

Made famous by the Harry Potter films, the Jacobite steam train is a fantastic journey from Fort William to Mallaig that takes you over the beautiful Glenfinnan viaduct. We’d recommend booking the steam train early as it fills up very quickly. Alternatively, you can take the normal train for a fraction of the price and enjoy the same views.

Where to book: GetYourGuide | Westcoast Railways

BEN NEVIS DISTILLERY

The Ben Nevis Distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries established in 1825. Here you can pick up the perfect souvenir for completing the climb. You can also take a tour of the distillery the following day to ease your weary muscles with a dram of single malt. The distillery is at Lochy Bridge in Fort William which is around a 7-minute drive away from Ben Nevis.

Where to book: Ben Nevis Distillery

WALKS NEAR BEN NEVIS

The image shows Steall Falls.

There are plenty of beautiful scenic walks in the Fort William area. You can take a short stroll through the Nevis Gorge to admire the cascading Steall Falls, or wander along to the Iron Age Dun Deardail fort which boasts a stunning hilltop location and can be reached by following the waymarked path from Glen Nevis.

LOCH LINNHE CRUISE

Cruise loch Linnhe is a small company with a team of friendly staff that really bring this two-hour tour to life with their local knowledge and experience. You will see seals and if you are lucky, red deer and white-tailed eagles.

Where to book: GetYourGuide | Viator

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BEN NEVIS CLIMB

The image shows a person climbing Ben Nevis.

Climbing Ben Nevis is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Scotland. Hopefully, after reading this guide, you feel inspired and confident knowing that you have all the information you need to conquer this hike.

Read more:

Dave

Disclosure: just a heads up that some of the links within this blog are affiliated which means that we may receive a small commission. We only recommend things that we truly believe in. If you use any of these links, it really helps support our blog, so thank you!

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