Last Updated on March 5, 2020 by Maggie McKneely
Visiting Scotland’s Fort William? Then be sure to take a hike to the beautiful Steall Waterfall!
Steall Waterfall Hike
There’s just nothing like short, low-commitment hikes with big payoffs. Don’t get me wrong, long strenuous treks are incredibly rewarding. But you just can’t do them all the time! Short hikes are perfect for travelers with limited time, or those who can’t physically do a demanding climb up a mountain. Ironically, just a few miles from the bustling city of Fort William, in the shadow of some of Scotland’s largest “munros” is just such a hike: the Steall Waterfall Hike.
Steall Falls (An Steall Ban in Gaelic) is Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall, with a single drop of 390 ft (120 meters). This stunning cascade is the grand finale at the end of beautiful Glen Nevis, which is nestled at the foot of Great Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. It’s no wonder that this magnificent location has made an appearance in several films and TV shows. (Next time you watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, pay attention during the dragon challenge: Steall Falls makes a cameo in the background!)
Fortunately, you can explore this gorgeous area with minimal effort. Glen Nevis and the surrounding area is managed by the John Muir Trust, so there are a number of well-maintained trails of varying degrees of difficulty to explore. But if you only have a short amount of time or don’t have the endurance for something more difficult, your best option is a trip to Steall Falls.
Things to Know about the Steall Falls Hike:
- Length: 2.25 miles / 3.5 km roundtrip
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
- Hiking Time: 2 hours
- Elevation Gain: 720 ft / 220m
What to Pack:
- Sturdy shoes: the hike is short but the trail is very rocky and often wet. You need shoes with good traction
- Camera (because why visit Steall Waterfall without photographic evidence?!)
- Rain jacket, because this is Scotland and you never know when you’ll need one!
How to get to Steall Falls Trailhead:
The trailhead is located at the last parking area at the end of Glen Nevis Road, 7 miles southeast of Fort William. If you don’t have your own car, most taxis will take you as far as the Lower Falls. From there it’s just a short walk to the trailhead. There is no other currently operating public transport that will get you close to the trail.
The Steall Waterfall Hike:
When looking for things to do in the Fort William area, I read that the Steall Falls hike was one of the best short hikes in Scotland. Because we’d be short on time and I didn’t want to kill my parents with some massive trek up and over a mountain (like nearby Ben Nevis), it sounded perfect! A short hike through and to a beautiful destination that was just difficult enough to remind us that this was a hike and not a walk through the woods was just the sort of thing we were looking for.
Spoiler alert: unlike the hike to the Old Man of Storr, the reviews all turned out to be correct. An excellent, if mildly tricky, short hike indeed!
From the start, the trail heads immediately into the deciduous woodland that fills the lower part of Glen Nevis. If you listen carefully, you can hear the stream far below the path as it tumbles over rocks and around boulders. And if you look up, you can see the precipitous mountainsides looming above the trees. Take all this in before the trail changes, because it isn’t long before the trail becomes extremely rocky and will require all of your attention. About 5 minutes into the hike you meet what will be the first of several slick stream crossings. After this, the trail turns right and begins its journey through Nevis Gorge.
While there is a total of 720 ft in elevation gain, the hike isn’t a continuous slog uphill. It’s more like a roller coaster – a little bit up here, then a little down, before going up a little more, over and over until you reach the end of the gorge. And all the while, you have to carefully pick your way over slick rocks. If you don’t pay attention, you can easily fall off the path – that’s not something we wanted to do, because it’s a long way down to the bottom of the gorge.
The farther you go, the narrower the gorge gets, until the opposite cliff wall is almost next to the trail. And no longer is the water far below you; now the boulders and the stream snaking between them are right beside the path.
Then finally, at the mouth of the gorge, the trail exits the forest and starts to meander through a wide, picturesque Highland meadow, with glistening Steall Falls beckoning from the other side. After picking our way over rocks through the dark forest, it was like passing through a portal into a new, light-filled world.
From here, the rest of the hike is a literal walk through the meadow. The rocky trail gives way to dirt and sand and is almost completely flat. At the end of the valley, Steall Falls tumbles down the mountainside.
The trail doesn’t actually end at the waterfall, but maybe a quarter-mile away from it. I did see some people climbing near the falls, but there was no trail. And at that point, it had just started drizzling and we had no interest hiking back over that rocky trail in a downpour. So if you visit Steall Falls and find that you CAN get closer, let me know! 🙂
So if you’re in the vicinity of Fort William and Glen Nevis and want to explore its natural beauty without doing something too taxing, the hike to Steall Falls is 100% worth doing!
In Fort William but don’t want to hike? How about a Scottish Whisky Tour at Ben Nevis Distillery?
Where to Stay Near Steall Waterfall:
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