Climbing Ben Nevis, an epic hike to the highest summit in the United Kingdom

Climbing Ben Nevis is an amazing experience. This peak is the king of the North West highlands. Ben Nevis is the highest summit in the United Kingdom at 1,345 metres tall. It is on the bucket list of many adventurers and hikers. The ascension to this majestic summit offers amazing views on the surroundings countryside and on the stunning highlands in Scotland. So this challenging summit attracts both avid mountain hikers and trekking newbies.

If you are travelling in Scotland for a few days and like hiking, we highly recommend you to add climbing Ben Nevis in your itinerary. Don’t underestimate the hike, it is a full day commitment. We suggest to have a little training before and maybe to do a couple of long walks or easier hikes before the ascension to ensure your entire body is ready to climb up to the summit. Be prepared to some potential weather changes during the hike too.

We highly recommend this hike – it was a truly epic ascension with breathtaking views along the route up to the summit. In this post you will find everything you need to know to prepare your ascension up to the legendary Ben Nevis. It is a comprehensive guide with many information to enjoy as much as possible this epic hike.

Key information to know

  • Ascent – 1,345 m (4,441ft) – the highest mountain in the UK.
  • Elevation gain – about 1,320 m. Glen Nevis Visitor Centre is only 20m above sea level.
  • Distance – the mountain path is about 10.6 miles (17 kilometres) for a round trip from the starting point of the hike.
  • Average time – between 7 to 9 hours. On average, you need between 4 to 5 hours to climb and between 3 to 4 hours on your way back
  • Route Type – Out & Back
  • Starting Point – Glen Nevis Visitor Centre . It is very likely that you will sleep in Fort William – there are a lot of accommodations. And it is the closest city from the departure of the hike.
  • Difficulty – it is hard to say. It really depend on your fitness level and what kind of exercise you are used to. If you are a regular hiker, it is a moderate hike.
  • Best season to climb – It depends if you want to climb with or without snow! The best time of the year is from May to August to get the best weather conditions. We hiked the Ben Nevis in April and we still got some snow on the summit.
View from the Ben Nevis at the top of the summit.

What is Ben Nevis?

Ben Nevis is the UK’s highest Mountain. Its nickname is “The Ben”. Ben Nevis is located in the North West Highlands in Scotland. It is a very popular hike, the peak attracts about 125,000 hikers per year. If you enjoy outdoor and beautiful landscapes, you need to add the Ben Nevis to your Scottish bucket list :).

Climbing the Ben Nevis is the highest peak of the 3 Peaks Challenge. The second one is Scafell Pike in England. The third one is Snowdon in Wales. We climbed Snowdon last year. So we just need to climb up to the Scafell Pike to complete fully this challenge! Alexis are you ready for next year ;)?

Beautiful views on the way up to Ben Nevis - Scotland
Beautiful views on the way up to Ben Nevis

How to get to Ben Nevis?

Fort William is the main town where hiker usually stay the night before climbing the Ben Nevis. This city is located at the foot of the Ben Nevis. The Glen Nevis Visitor Centre is the starting point of the hike. It is located less than 2 miles from Fort William.

Sheeps crossed at the beginning of the hike

Firstly you can fly up to Edinburgh, Glasgow or even Inverness. If you are coming outside of the UK. We highly recommended you to rent a car to explore Scotland though. It is the best way to explore the highlands and a perfect road trip. The roads are lovely and there are not so much traffic. Of course, don’t forget than in the UK, people drive on the left side!

Fort William is about 100 miles from Glasgow (i.e 2.5 hours), 135 miles from Edinburgh (i.e 3 hours) and 65 miles from Inverness (i.e 1.5 hours). If you are coming from London, the easiest way is to take the train. If you have time and you would like an iconic train ride, you can book a ticket for the Caledonian Sleeper Train. It’s a night train which leaves from London around 9.00 pm and gets up to Fort William around 10.00 am.

Tip – Be organised if you are coming by car to Ben Nevis. There is a parking available at the beginning of the track at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. There are spaces for only 80 cars so try to arrive early. We arrived at 9.30am and we got one of the last car park available.

How to climb up to the summit?

There are two main routes to the top of Ben Nevis. Of course the main difference between the 2 routes is essentially their level of difficulty.

The Mountain Path called The Pony Track or the Tourist track is the route taken by the majority of hikers. This road heads toward the summit with a serie of zig-zags on a pretty wide and easy path.

The Pony Track on our way up to the peak - Ben Nevis
The Pony Track on our way up to the peak!
The Pony Track on our way back!
The Pony Track on our way back!

There is also an alternative route the Carn Mor Dearg Arete route. However this route is much more challenging with a 1506 meter of ascent. The total walking distance is pretty much the same (17.5km) but the ascent is tougher and more strenuous than with the Mountain Path. Climbing this spectacular route can take between 10-11 hours with scrambles across boulders. So don’t take this route unless you are an experienced hikers with good hiking skills for the trickier sections.

Our experience – an amazing ascension up to the Ben Nevis

We took the Mountain Path so the standard way up to the peak.

The path to the summit starts uphill only a few metres from the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. This section is the most crowded of the full trek. Some people give up at half way point (marked by a show-soaking waterfall crossing).

The upper section is the longest section with many zig-zags, rocks and maybe snow. We climbed the summit in April but whatever the season, the top is very often covered with snow.

The last kilometre of the trail was covered with snow!

Reaching the summit is always a special moment. You are waiting for it the full ascension. When we reached the top, I felt proud and amazed with the majestic views from the summit.

View from the Ben Nevis
Panoramic view on the mountains from the Ben Nevis
Panoramic view on the mountains from the Ben Nevis

We enjoyed the breath-taking 360 panoramic view. We took many photos and ate our picnic lunch. It is a perfect spot for a break. From the top you can see other peaks and as far as Northern Ireland.

The way back was quite long but we stopped a couple of times along the track to take some more photos.

We were quite exhausted when we reached the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. In total, it took us almost 6h30 (without counting the lunch break at the top). What an epic climb!

We drove back to Fort William to relax for a much deserved hot chocolate and a slice of carrot cake!

What do you need to pack for this hike?

Whether you are a first time hiker or a regular outdoor adventurer, it is always very useful to get a reminder of what is useful to bring with you for a one day hike. It can be quite useful to run through the list one week before climbing just to avoid forgetting any essential. Of course the most important thing with hiking is to ensure that you come back safe.

We gathered this 15 essentials checklist for hiking to the Ben Nevis.

  • Backpack – choose one that is easy to carry and not too heavy. You will wear it for at least 7 hours. We recommend a backpack around 20L capacity.
  • Rain Jacket – especially in Scotland, you can’t never be 100% sure of the weather. Don’t forget to also bring a waterproof backpack cover.
  • Hiking boots – this is almost the most important piece for a successful hike. You need to wear proper and comfortable hiking boots. Make sure they are not brand new, you need to wear them a few times before this long hike to avoid blisters.
  • Hiking socks – ideally wearing a good pair of hiking socks will help prevent the blisters.
  • Trekking poles – as the hike is long it will protect your knees and will be a great accessory to climb up to the top!
  • Water – you need to carry at least 2L even if it is not really hot outside. Ideally for a full day hike, we recommend to bring an hydration water bladder (e.g. Camelbak). It is much more convenient than water bottles.
  • Snacks – some of the most common snacks to pack are fruits, nuts and energy bars. It is essential as it will give you enough energy to climb up to the summit. Forget the chocolate if it’s too hot outside ;).
  • First aid kit – it is very likely you won’t need it, but it is better to be too well prepared. In the worse scenario, a small kit will provide essential items to treat a cut or other minor injuries.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses – it is always a good idea to protect you for the sun.
  • Hand sanitiser – a small tube don’t take space and can be very useful.
  • Gloves – especially if you are not hiking during summer, it is recommended to bring a pair of gloves. Even in April, I used them for the last part of the ascension
  • Warm winter hat – even if you are planning your hike in summer, you will need one. It can be cold and very windy at the top of the Ben Nevis, especially when you stop after a long climb.
  • USB Power Bank / Phone charger – it is very important as your battery life will be used quicker than in your regular days. For example, because you will take so many photos or if you use an app to record your hike with a GPS.
  • Selfie stick – if you want to take some nice photo of yourself from the top. Also useful to take aerial pictures from a metre higher.
  • Headlamp – only if you are beginning your hike very early or are not sure you will be back before end of the afternoon.

If you notice you have forgotten an essential item or cloth on the day before the hike, don’t worry! There are a couple of mountain shops in Fort William. We had to shop a pair of trekking poles for Alexis.

Tip – there is no where along the trail to buy any supply or snack. So make sure you have enough food and water before beginning the hike.

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