Last Updated on June 6, 2022 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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Oh man! I was in Fort William 2 years ago and I would have loved to have done this hike! It’s right up my alley – short hikes with big payoffs! Lovely post!
Love this! I’m so inspired to visit! I’ve pinned this later!
If you cross the cable bridge and don’t mind sinking up to your ankles into boggy mush at points along the way, you can rock hop right up to the Falls. With a 390 ft+ drop to them, the mist starts hitting you pretty far out. The closer you get, the more gnome-like you feel :). Highly recommend if you are able!
Love this!! Scotland is so beautiful I need to go back and do this hike!
I walked the 96 mile West Highland Way 2 years ago which ends in Fort William. My feet were toast! But I’d love to do this short hike on my next trip to Scotland. That area is gorgeous! Well, all of Scotland is! Thanks for the info!
Dang, wish I’d known about this when I was in Fort William! Apparently there’s all kinds of stuff to continue on to do after finishing the West Highland Way, like taking the Harry Potter train, the ferry to Isle of Skye, hiking additional days to Inverness, and climbing Ben Nevis. Those all sounded like too much effort to me when I was so tired after WHW, but a short day hike like this with a beautiful payoff would have been great. I wish I spent more time around Fort William in general. Next time!
I like the idea of a easy hike with a big pay out at the end!
What a great post – i’m only over the water in Ireland but never knew this place existed, looks gorgeous!
How kind of you to pick a hike where you would not kill your parents … at least in terms of duration. Did they realize you would be taking them over slick stream crossings, slick boulders, and rocky sections where there was a danger of falling to their death? 😉 No matter. Sounds like a grand adventure and making a note we need to do this hike should we find ourselves in Fort Willam in the near future.
How kind of you to pick a hike where the only risks to your parents were slick stream crossings, slick boulders and the possiblity of falling to their death should they not pay attention. 😉 No matter … sounds like a grand adventure and hike. Making a note to do this hike should we find ourselves near Fort William in the future.
Hahahaha good point 😛 All I knew going into it was that it was short – had I known about everything else, I might not have chosen it, but it ended up being fine and worth doing!
Hi. we are a party of 6 going up Nevis next Thursday. Staying at the bunk house so we are going to do the falls on Friday before we head home to Wales on Saturday. Thank for the heads up looks like a nice cool down walk after big ben. Thanks Paul
Good luck hiking Ben Nevis!! Glad you found the article helpful!
We did this hike quite recently and you have captured it perfectly. When we went there had been heavy rain for several days and those streams one has to cross were really quite dangerous. I also saw people who were tackling this hike in canvas shoes. Really dangerous! As you point out this trail is really quite challenging – but definitely worth it. You were not tempted by the wire bridge then?! I thought this looked extremely dangerous, especially as there was at the time a raging torrent beneath. We were surprised it was open.
Ha definitely not tempted! Plus it was starting to drizzle by the time we got there and we didn’t want to get caught in the rain. The stream was a torrent when we went though, I can’t imagine what it must have been like right after a storm!
If it’s about 2.5 miles round trip, that means you gain 750′ in 1.25. That’s a decent little hike. It’s important to remember that climbing up is easier than climbing down, so I could see people getting into trouble climbing the falls, especially if that Scottish rain kicks up.
I’ve never been to Scotland but I’ve always wanted to go! This hike looks amazing! So much natural beauty in the country. Such a wonderful way to see it.
It’s nice to find an easy hike when you travel. I sometimes find that I pack so much in when I travel that I’m not always ready for a long walk. 2 hours to see this waterfall is good, the scenery is really pleasant, thank you for sharing!
Steall Waterfall looks like a great place to hike! Wish I knew about it when we visitied Scotland!
That waterfall certainly looks and sounds worth the effort. I guess 2 hours is not too bad when you get these sort of results!
I always try to work in a hike when I travel and short hikes are great. I haven’t been to Scottland yet, and I’m pinning this for when we make it there!
Now this is my type of hike. I live in England and I have been up Ben Nevis a few times. I have been wanting to go back to Scotland and do other hikes. Steall waterfall hike is definitely one I am adding to my list, just beautiful.
Did you comment on twitter that Scotland is your favourite place for views? I am starting to see why you think that! This looks so fun! <3
I just did the West Highland Way a few months ago! I had already fallen in love with Scotland during my first trip there, but walking in the Highlands brought it to a whole new level.
We were there on the 18th and made the mistake of hiking all the way from Glen Nevis caravan park. Was well worth it though.
We were able to cross the river bed about 100 meters to the left of the falls on your last photo as it was only trickling. And there is a rope bridge to the right of the falls but I didn’t fancy that as my legs were jellied.