8 Of The UK's Best Backpacking Trails
Are you an avid hiker looking for an exciting adventure in the UK? Backpacking is a popular outdoor activity that allows you to experience the stunning landscapes of the UK while exploring new trails. With hundreds of backpacking trails to choose from, it can be challenging to find the perfect one. Here, we’ll highlight eight of the best backpacking trails in the United Kingdom, including information on trail difficulty, scenery, and other important factors for backpackers.
1. West Highland Way
If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding hiking adventure in Scotland, you might want to consider the West Highland Way. This is a 96-mile trail that runs from Milngavie, a town near Glasgow, to Fort William, the outdoor capital of the UK. The trail takes you through some of the most scenic and diverse landscapes in Scotland, including Loch Lomond, the largest and most beautiful lake in the country, Rannoch Moor, a vast and wild peatland that is home to many rare plants and animals, and Glencoe, a dramatic valley that witnessed a bloody massacre in 1692.
The trail is considered moderate to difficult, depending on your fitness level and experience. You will encounter steep and rocky sections that require some scrambling, especially in the second half of the trail. You will also have to deal with unpredictable weather conditions that can change quickly and drastically. However, the trail is well-marked and maintained, and there are plenty of campsites along the way where you can pitch your tent and enjoy the views.
Some of the most popular campsites are Beinglas Farm Campsite near Inverarnan, which has a shop, a bar, and a restaurant on site, and Glencoe Camping and Caravanning Club Site near Glencoe Village, which has showers, toilets, laundry facilities, and electric connections. The West Highland Way is a great way to experience the history, culture, and nature of Scotland. You will pass by ancient castles, historic battlefields, charming villages, and friendly pubs. You will also meet fellow hikers from all over the world who share your passion for adventure. The West Highland Way is a trail that you will never forget.
2. Hadrian’s Wall Path
For a memorable adventure in northern England, you might want to consider walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path. This is a stunning trail that traces the remains of the Roman wall that once marked the northern frontier of the empire. Along the way, you will enjoy scenic views, rich history, and cultural diversity. The Hadrian’s Wall Path is an 84-mile trail that runs from Wallsend in Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria. The trail follows the ancient Roman wall and takes you through beautiful countryside, historic landmarks, and charming villages.
The trail is considered moderate, with some steep sections and uneven terrain. There are several campsites along the trail, including Herding Hill Farm and Greenhead Camping and Caravanning Club Site. The trail can be walked in either direction, but most people prefer to start from the east and follow the direction of the wall’s construction. The trail is well marked and divided into six sections, each with its own character and attractions. You can walk the whole trail in about a week, or choose to do shorter sections as day walks.
Some of the highlights of the trail include:
Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum This is where the trail begins (or ends), at the site of a large Roman fort that guarded the eastern end of the wall. You can explore the reconstructed bath house, see a model of how the fort looked in its heyday, and learn more about life on the frontier at the museum.
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art As you walk along the River Tyne, you will pass by this impressive building that houses a gallery of modern art. You can admire the exhibitions, enjoy the views from the observation deck, or have a bite at the café.
Chesters Roman Fort This is one of the best preserved Roman forts along the wall, with a commanding position overlooking a bridge across the River North Tyne. You can see the remains of the barracks, headquarters, granaries, and baths, as well as a collection of Roman sculptures and inscriptions.
Housesteads Roman Fort This is another well preserved fort, located on a high ridge with panoramic views. You can walk around the fort’s walls and see the remains of various buildings, including a hospital, a bakery, and a latrine.
Vindolanda This is not part of the wall, but a separate Roman settlement that was occupied for over 300 years. You can see the excavated ruins of houses, temples, shops, and baths, as well as some of the famous Vindolanda tablets – wooden writing tablets that reveal details of everyday life on the frontier.
Bowness-on-Solway This is where the trail ends (or begins), at a small village on the coast of Cumbria. You can see a sculpture that marks the end of the wall, visit a nature reserve that hosts a variety of birds and wildlife, or relax at a pub or café.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path is a unique way to experience a part of England’s history and heritage. Whether you walk it all or just a part of it, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable journey.
3. South West Coast Path
A spectacular and rewarding hiking adventure awaits you on the South West Coast Path. This is a 630-mile trail that runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset, following the stunning coastline of the southwest of England. The trail is considered moderate to difficult, with steep climbs and descents and rugged terrain, but it also offers breathtaking views of picturesque villages, sandy beaches, and towering cliffs. The trail is a National Trail and a world-class destination for walkers of all abilities and interests.
The South West Coast Path has a rich history and culture, as it originated as a route for the Coastguard to patrol for smugglers in the 19th century. Along the way, you can discover hidden coves, lighthouses, castles, and ancient monuments that tell the stories of the people who lived and worked on the coast. You can also explore two World Heritage Sites: the Jurassic Coast, which showcases 185 million years of geological history, and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, which reflects the industrial heritage of the region.
The trail can be walked in either direction, but most people prefer to walk it anti-clockwise from Minehead to Poole. The trail is well signposted and divided into 52 sections, each with its own map and guidebook. You can walk the whole trail in one go, which takes about eight weeks on average, or you can choose to walk shorter sections that suit your time and preferences. There are plenty of campsites along the trail, including Treen Farm Campsite and Trewethett Farm Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, where you can pitch your tent or park your vehicle and enjoy the facilities and scenery. Alternatively, you can stay in one of the many hotels, B&Bs, hostels, or cottages that are available near the trail.
The South West Coast Path is a unique and unforgettable experience that will challenge you physically and mentally, but also reward you with stunning views and memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you are an experienced trekker looking for a huge challenge, a relaxed rambler wanting scenic strolls, a young backpacker embarking on an adventure or a family keen to explore the great outdoors, you will find something to suit your taste and budget on this amazing trail.
4. Pennine Way
One of the most challenging and rewarding long-distance walks in the UK is the Pennine Way, a 268-mile trail that runs from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. The trail takes you through some of the most remote and wild landscapes in England, including the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park. The trail is considered difficult, with steep climbs and descents, boggy terrain, and challenging weather conditions. However, if you are prepared and have a sense of adventure, you will be rewarded with stunning views, diverse wildlife, and a sense of achievement.
The Pennine Way was officially opened in 1965, after decades of campaigning by walkers and conservationists. It was the first National Trail in England and Wales, and it follows the spine of the Pennines, a range of hills and mountains that divide England from Scotland. The trail passes through three national parks: the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, and Northumberland. It also crosses the Cheviot Hills, which form part of the border between England and Scotland.
The trail is divided into 20 stages, each varying in length and difficulty. The average walker can complete the trail in about 16 to 19 days, depending on their pace and fitness level. Some walkers choose to do shorter sections of the trail, or to walk it in reverse. The trail is well-marked with acorn signs and fingerposts, but it is advisable to carry a map and a compass as well. The trail can be walked at any time of the year, but spring and autumn are generally considered the best seasons to avoid the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
The trail offers a variety of accommodation options along the way, including campsites, hostels, B&Bs, hotels, and pubs. There are several campsites along the trail, including Crowden Camping and Caravanning Club Site and Low House Farm. These campsites offer basic facilities such as toilets, showers, drinking water, and waste disposal. Some campsites may require booking in advance or charge a fee. Alternatively, you can wild camp along the trail, as long as you follow the Countryside Code and leave no trace.
The Pennine Way is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who love walking and nature. It is a challenging but rewarding experience that will test your endurance, stamina, and skills. It will also expose you to some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in England. If you are looking for a walk that will challenge you physically and mentally, while also giving you a sense of history and culture, then the Pennine Way is for you.
5. The West Highland Way (Extended)
One of the most rewarding and challenging long-distance walks in Scotland is the West Highland Way (Extended), a 154-mile trail that covers some of the most stunning and remote landscapes in the country. This trail includes the entire West Highland Way, a 96-mile route that connects Milngavie, a town near Glasgow, with Fort William, a town at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK . The West Highland Way is Scotland's first and most popular long-distance walking route, offering a variety of scenery, from rolling hills and tranquil lochs to rugged mountains and forests .
The extended version of the trail adds another 58 miles through the wild and beautiful Knoydart Peninsula, one of the last true wilderness areas in Scotland. The Knoydart Peninsula is only accessible by boat or on foot, and has no roads or shops. It is home to abundant wildlife, such as deer, eagles, otters, and dolphins, and has a rich history of clan feuds and Jacobite rebellions. The trail follows ancient drove roads, military roads, and coastal paths, passing by Loch Arkaig, Loch Hourn, and Loch Quoich, three of the largest and deepest lochs in Scotland. The trail also visits Inverie, the main village on the peninsula, where walkers can enjoy a pint at the Old Forge, the most remote pub in mainland Britain.
The West Highland Way (Extended) is not for the faint-hearted. It is considered a difficult trail, with challenging climbs, river crossings, and exposed ridges. The trail has a total ascent of over 13,000 feet and a total descent of over 13,000 feet. Some sections of the trail are very remote and have no facilities or services. Walkers need to be well-prepared and self-sufficient, especially on the Knoydart Peninsula. There are several wild camping opportunities along the trail, such as Glen Kingie and Barrisdale Bay, where walkers can pitch their tents for free. However, wild camping requires following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and leaving no trace. Alternatively, there are also official campsites, glamping options, and B&Bs/hotels along the trail for those who prefer more comfort.
The West Highland Way (Extended) is a trail that offers an unforgettable adventure for experienced walkers who want to explore some of the most spectacular and secluded parts of Scotland. It is a trail that showcases the diversity and beauty of the Scottish Highlands, as well as its culture and history. It is a trail that will challenge and inspire anyone who dares to take it on.
6. The Skye Trail
If you are an experienced hillwalker looking for a challenge and a chance to explore some of the finest scenery in the UK, then you might want to consider hiking the Skye Trail. This unofficial long distance route covers 128km of tough terrain, from rugged coasts to mountain ridges, passing through storied glens and deserted villages with tragic histories.
The Skye Trail is unmarked, so you will need to be competent with map and compass, and prepared for all kinds of weather conditions. The route follows much of the celebrated Trotternish Ridge, a spectacular escarpment that features some of the island's most iconic landmarks, such as the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and the Needle.
The trail also passes under the very shadow of the jagged Cuillin, the finest mountains in Britain, where you can admire their rocky pinnacles and deep corries from below or attempt to climb them if you have the skills and equipment. Other highlights include the haunting ruins of villages destroyed in the Highland Clearances, such as Boreraig and Suisnish, where you can learn about the island's turbulent past; the airy coastal path that leads to Elgol, where you can enjoy stunning views of Loch Coruisk and the Cuillin; and the charming villages of Portree and Broadford, where you can find shops, cafes, pubs, and accommodation options.
The Skye Trail offers a diverse and rewarding experience for adventurous walkers who want to discover the beauty and history of this ancient island.
7. The Coast to Coast
Are you ready for an adventure that will take you across a whole country in less than two weeks? Do you want to experience the diverse landscapes, cultures, and history of Northern England? If so, then you might want to consider the Coast to Coast Walk, a 192-mile trail that runs from St Bees on the Cumbrian coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea coast.
The Coast to Coast Walk is not an official national trail, but it is one of the most popular and famous long-distance walks in Britain. It was devised by Alfred Wainwright, a renowned fell walker and author, in 1973. He described it as "a walk of contrasts" that passes through three of England's most beautiful national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.
The trail is considered moderate to difficult, with some steep climbs and descents, rocky terrain, and unpredictable weather conditions. You will need to be fit, well-equipped, and prepared for any challenges that may arise. However, you will also be rewarded with stunning views, charming villages, historical sites, and friendly locals along the way.
There are several campsites along the trail, including Langdale Campsite and Blakey Ridge Camping and Caravanning Club Site. However, many walkers prefer to stay in bed and breakfasts or guesthouses, which offer more comfort and convenience. You can also find pubs, cafes, shops, and other amenities in most of the towns and villages that you pass through.
The Coast to Coast Walk can be done in either direction, but most people follow Wainwright's original route from west to east. This way, you start with the more challenging sections in the Lake District and end with the easier ones in the North York Moors. You also get to enjoy the sunrise over the sea at Robin Hood's Bay.
The trail can be completed in 12 days if you follow Wainwright's original itinerary, but many walkers choose to take longer and break up some of the longer sections. A typical duration is 14 or 15 days, which allows for more rest days and sightseeing opportunities. You can also customize your own itinerary based on your preferences and abilities.
The Coast to Coast Walk is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you with unforgettable memories and a sense of achievement. If you are looking for a challenge that will test your physical and mental endurance while also exposing you to the beauty and diversity of England, then this is the walk for you.
8. The West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way
A 135-mile trail that combines the popular West Highland Way with the Great Glen Way, which runs from Fort William to Inverness, is a great option for adventurous hikers who want to explore some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes. The trail takes you through stunning scenery, including Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis, and Loch Ness, where you can enjoy the views, wildlife, and history of this beautiful country.
The trail is considered moderate to difficult, with steep climbs and descents, rocky terrain, and exposed ridges. You will need to be fit and well-prepared for this challenge, as the weather can be unpredictable and the trail can be remote. There are several campsites along the trail, including Loch Oich Caravan and Camping Park and Abriachan Eco Campsite, where you can rest and recharge after a long day of walking.
Alternatively, you can stay in one of the many B&Bs, hostels, or hotels that are available in the towns and villages along the route. The trail can be completed in 10 to 14 days, depending on your pace and preferences. You can start from either end of the trail, but most people prefer to start from Fort William and finish in Inverness. This way, you will have the advantage of walking towards the sun and having the wind at your back.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but you should always carry a map and a compass for safety. The West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way is a rewarding and memorable experience that will leave you with a sense of achievement and awe.
For something a little bit further afield, be sure to check out our list of the best cities for backpackers, including an interactive app to help you refine your options.