Hiking in Glen Nevis: Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge, Lochaber, Scotland

The area of Lochaber and northern Argyll is overflowing with beautiful highland hikes. Places like An Torr and the Signal Rock in Glencoe and the Fairy Bridge of Glen Creran will remain clear in your memory long after you’ve returned home from Scotland.

Today I’m detailing one of the most popular hikes in the west highlands, and, according to some, one of the best short hikes in all of Scotland: Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge. Fort William is the primary town in this region, and, while it isn’t very compelling, magnificent Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain, looms over town. The small C1162 leaves the A82 and delves southeast into Glen Nevis, passing campsites and hostels, following the River Nevis into increasingly wild highland terrain. You will reach your destination at a parking lot at the end of the line where the road can get no narrower.

Ben Nevis towers above this part of Glen Nevis but it is mostly invisible from the parking lot. I arrived in mid-May to find the lot packed and a steady stream of hikers heading deep into the gorge. A hard-to-miss (and hard-to-forget) sign marks the beginning of the path: Danger of Death. Parts of the hike are along steep embankments where people have fallen to their death, but if you take care the chance of falling is very slim.

A crushed rock path leads from the parking lot east where it gradually turns into slabs of rock running beneath ash, hazel, and rowan trees clinging to the side of the hill. The path is well maintained, and according to the information placard at the start of the hike these trees form part of an ancient woodland. Snow-capped mountains are visible to the south, and it’s apparent why this hike is as busy as it is.

Gushing streams of cold water run down from the upper hills, crossing the path at various points. The rocks can be slick, and this is where you’ll encounter the greatest danger on the hike. Take care! As the path wends deeper into the gorge it becomes very rough and rocky with a couple of steep drops to the floor of the glen. This is dramatic, beautiful highland hiking with epic views.

Eventually the path leads to the narrowest section where the Water of Nevis is funneled into a rocky gorge that seethes with the power of the water. Great boulders litter the sides of the river’s course and the sides of the gorge have been scooped out by the endless rushing waters.

Crossing beyond the rapids leads to an austere upland meadow surrounded by open hillside. Dead ahead, stark white against the green hills, is the torrent of the Steall Falls, Scotland’s second highest waterfall with a drop of 120 meters. The path winds over grass and bracken to where the Water of Nevis wanders over a rocky bed. On a clear day, unlike the one I had during this hike, this sight would be exponentially more astounding as there are taller mountains thrusting up into the heavens behind the falls (hidden here by cloud cover).

Beneath the falls I find a wire bridge that many hikers were attempting. To cross, you must hold the two upper wire rails and balance your feet on a single wire. Take care when crossing and realize that if you make it across you must return! There were too many people in line on my hike so I didn’t attempt it.

The hike through the Nevis Gorge up to Steall Falls is gorgeous with just enough complexity to make it interesting. The upland meadow beneath the falls feels like it once was a hidden place — and what a place that would have been, to secret yourself away up here. These days, the hike is famous and you won’t have the chance to escape a horde of fellow hikers barring, perhaps, a winter sojourn. It’s unfortunate that I made this hike after the Fairy Bridge hike because the contrast between the two was glaring. The Fairy Bridge truly did feel secret.

But I’m aware of the hypocrisy — I am in these places, too, and writing about them. So, all that said, I still think the hike up to Steall Falls is a worthy activity here in the west highlands. Even with all the people. 😉

NinaNo Gravatar November 4, 2015 at 12:01 PM

I was there in 2014, loved the walk! Your pictures are great as always 🙂

Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 4, 2015 at 1:41 PM

Thanks, Nina. Happy to hear you enjoyed it, too.

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