Share this Post
This article may contain affiliate links. For full information, please see our disclosure here.
Located in the Scottish Highlands, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles with an elevation of 1,345 metres above sea level.
More than 150,000 people ascend Ben Nevis each year.
As opposed to Snowdon or Scafell Pike, there is only one walking route up Ben Nevis, the Mountain Track, which can be safely undertaken with kids in tow. The other routes are either a ridge walk (CMD Arete) or rock-climbing routes. The Ben Nevis Mountain Track route is also referred to as the tourist track, although this can be misleading as it isn’t easy. There is no easy path up Ben Nevis.
This is also the typical route when undertaking the National Three Peaks Challenge which encompasses hiking the highest peak in Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours.
This article features hiking up Ben Nevis via the Mountain Track route and how to scale it safely with children in tow.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Mountain with its Head in the Cloud
About the Mountain Track Route
Where to Park for Ben Nevis
Facts about the Hike
Weather for Ben Nevis
Why we chose the Mountain Track up Ben Nevis
Is the Mountain Track Route Dangerous?
Getting to the Start of the Hike
Hiking Gear for Ben Nevis
Campsites near Ben Nevis
Frequently Asked Questions
THE MOUNTAIN WITH ITS HEAD IN THE CLOUD
One of the two translations from the ancient Gaelic language, means “mountain with its head in the clouds”, the other one is “venomous mountain”.
For us, it was “The mountain with its whole body in the clouds.”
Due to unfavourable weather – as I was aiming for a clear day – we post-poned hiking up Ben Nevis at the start of our 4-week road trip in Scotland in August 2022. At the end of the road trip, the weather conditions looked even worse but we only had two days to attempt the hike due to our schedule. We finally gave it a go on the final day possible and succeeded! We summited Ben Nevis amidst clouds and low visibility and some drizzle – but at least it wasn’t windy, which is the deal breaker in the mountains.
Note: In order to give you a true sense of the poor visibility due to fog, none of the images in this article have been edited. They’re all in their original form.
The night before our hike, I found out that there were in average only fourteen clear days per year on the summit of Ben Nevis. So our chances of picking a clear day were indeed quite slim. I reckon this gave me the last encouragement to attempt the hike the next morning!
ABOUT THE MOUNTAIN TRACK ROUTE
The Mountain Track route to Ben Nevis’ summit starts at the car park in Glen Nevis. It’s a 16 km (there and back) hike starting at almost sea level and following a well-defined path.
The average time to reach the summit is 3.5 – 4.5 hours and it takes about 7-9 hours to complete the hike.
The path starts with a steep climb to the cascading Red Burn, a stream. The Red Burn indicates the half-way point, both in distance and time. The second half of the ascent features snaking zig-zag paths up to the summit. At the summit, there is a cairn that marks the highest point.
WHERE TO PARK FOR BEN NEVIS
Most hikers park at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre in Achintee. There is enough parking for around 80 cars and some of the parking lots are also long enough to accommodate campervans and motorhomes. There is a pay and display machine with two options for parking: £1 for one hour or £4 for all-day parking.
Postcode: PH33 6PF (Keep an eye for signposts as you near your destination.)
Latitude: 56°48’38.90″N Longitude: 5°4’38.17″W
An alternative car park if the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre is full, is the Braveheart Car Park:
Postcode: PH33 6PF (Keep an eye for signposts as you near your destination.)
Latitude: 56°48’56.65″N Longitude: 5°4’46.64″W
FACTS ABOUT THE HIKE
Starting Point: Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6PF, Scotland
Distance: 16 km
Elevation Gain: 1,448 m
Elapsed Time: 8h 9min
Moving Time: 5h 54min
Ordnance Survey Map: OS Explorer OL392
Ben Nevis Map & GPX File: View Route Map & Download GPX File
Ben Nevis – Elevation Profile
OS Maps App: As a backup for a physical map and compass, I also utilise the Ordnance Survey Maps app, which I highly recommend. I find it very useful, especially when precise navigation isn’t always possible with kids in tow or due to low visibility. The app allows you to plan your routes, save them offline, and print them at scale, just to name a few features. You can sign up for the app by clicking the link below.
WEATHER FOR BEN NEVIS
As with any activity in the mountains, always check the weather forecast.
The Mountain Weather Forecast by the MetOffice website or app is very useful.
WHY WE CHOSE THE MOUNTAIN TRACK UP BEN NEVIS
We chose the Mountain Track because it’s the only walking route up Ben Nevis which doesn’t involve scrambling or rock-climbing. The other routes require more technical skills.
IS THE MOUNTAIN TRACK ROUTE DANGEROUS?
The biggest danger on Ben Nevis is poor visibility. Because Ben Nevis is more often than not shrouded in clouds, you’ll need to take great care and make a sensible decision as to when to attempt the hike. When you reach the summit plateau, watch out for gullies as these are notoriously invisible in poor weather or when there’s still some snow on the summit which can be the case any time of the year. There have been fatal accidents where people walked into a gully in these conditions and plummeted down the mountain side.
The path up Ben Nevis is well-defined and easy to follow. Most of it is laid with stone steps. This can get very tiring, so you and your kids will require a good level of fitness. Out of the three National Peaks – the others being Snowdon in Wales and Scafell Pike in England – climbing Ben Nevis is the hardest, as it is the longest with the highest elevation gain. You’ll be gaining about 1,350 metres over a distance of 8 km. It’s a full day hike which requires appropriate preparation and hiking gear.
As with any other hike, you’ll need to carry a map and a compass and know how to use them. Your navigational skills will come in handy especially if you reach the summit plateau in poor visibility.
Any mountain (or activity, for that matter) is potentially dangerous if you aren’t prepared or ill-equipped.
WOULD I RECOMMEND HIKING BEN NEVIS WITH KIDS IN TOW?
Yes, I would. Would I recommend it to anyone? No, I wouldn’t.
It all depends on your and your kids’ abilities as well as your confidence. Ben Nevis should certainly not be your family’s first hiking adventure! Start with a smaller hike or mountain and slowly build your way up, literally.
My biggest concern was whether I would be able to hike it safely on my own with two kids in tow. Attempting it yourself is one thing; but attempting it on your own with two kids in tow is a whole other challenge.
GETTING TO THE START OF THE HIKE
To get to the start of Ben Nevis’ Mountain Track hike, park at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6PF, Scotland. There’s a pay & display machine and a full-day parking costs £4. The visitor centre and the only public toilets on the route are open from 8am to 4pm.
Head to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre and turn left to cross the foot bridge.
After crossing the foot bridge, turn right and follow the path for 100 metres. At the T-junction, turn left and continue for 300m until you reach a sign-post directing you towards Ben Nevis. Follow the path until you reach a stile to cross.
From here on, the path climbs up the slopes of and around Meall an t-Suidhe, the hill that hides Ben Nevis from view.
You’ll be crossing a few streams along the way, which are always great fun for kids.
An hour after setting off, you’ll reach another foot bridge. At this point, the visibility was getting worse but I deemed it safe enough to continue.
For a short section, the path flattens out a bit to give your legs (and lungs!) a well-deserved break.
One positive aspect about hiking up Ben Nevis in fog, was the fact that we couldn’t see far ahead, and thus were unable to gauge how much farther we had to go. Maybe because of this, I found Ben Nevis easier than expected! It felt shorter and the summit appeared sooner than I thought it would. 🙂
The image below shows the final stretch before reaching the half-way point, the Red Burn.
After another hour, you’ll reach the Red Burn which signals the halfway-point for both, distance and time. It took us 1h 50min to reach here, which was a great time. Initially, I had calculated that it might take us up to 3 hours to get to this point and that 2 hours would be amazing. Having reached the half-way point in under 2 hours, gave us an immense motivation to push on.
Pro Tip: The Red Burn is a great location to take stock of your lapsed time since you set off at the visitor centre. If it has taken you two hours to reach the Red Burn, you should make it to the summit in another 2 hours (including short breaks).
Steep stone steps mark the path now that zig-zags its way up the slope of Ben Nevis. This section consists of boulders and scree and is strenuous as it climbs relentlessly and seems never-ending. It’s also mentally draining as you need to watch your every step.
After zig-zagging your way up for about an hour, the path straightens out and is dotted with cairns marking the way.
When you reach the summit plateau, watch out for gullies to your left. The path passes close to the top of Tower gully, and just before the summit, the vertigo-inducing Gardyloo Gully.
You made it! You reached the summit of Ben Nevis – the highest point in the British Isles! This is also a great place for a picnic lunch if it isn’t too windy; and there are also some spots you can shelter in.
Don’t forget to take an obligatory summit picture at the trig pillar. You may need to queue for a short while but it’ll be worth the wait. On a clear day, you’ll have stunning panoramic views which can stretch as far as Northern Ireland. Although we didn’t have the views, we were elated to have made it to the summit to conclude our personal National Three Peaks challenge within 12 months. What an achievement!
Be aware of the dangers of gullies, especially in poor visibility. Kids love to explore, but make sure they stay away from the edges. On a clear day, we would have gotten closer to the edge to peak down, but on that day, this is how close we got to it.
Take another look into the impressive Gardyloo Gully before making your way back down.
The Mountain Track route up Ben Nevis is a there & back route. So, to descend, you’ll need to retrace your steps. Again, ensure that you walk a safe distance away past the gullies. I noticed that the rocks laid on the path were a lighter shade of grey than the rocks around it. Hence, it was easy to make out the path; but of course, you can’t rely on this as even those lighter-coloured rocks can turn darker over time.
Ben Nevis is a busy mountain – about 150,000 people walk up Ben Nevis each year. During our hike, there were always other people in sight albeit the foggy weather. Obviously, don’t follow anyone blindly, but by seeking out other hikers in the distance, you can make out where the path leads.
Finally, the clouds slightly gave way and we got a glimpse onto Fort William and Loch Eil.
Head down the zig-zag path towards Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. As you approach the Lochan, you’ll spot the old path which is eroded and loose. Don’t use the old path – the new path winds down more easily.
And, don’t forget to look back to where you came from…
Once again you’ll cross the Red Burn which marks the half-way point. From here, it’s about 1.5 hours back to the visitor centre.
Almost there! The final stretch back to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre takes about 30 minutes from here. The path to the left leads to the youth hostel.
HIKING GEAR FOR BEN NEVIS
To have the best chance of a safe and successful hike, it’s vital that you’re well-prepared and well-equipped. This is true for both yourself and your kids. Do not cut corners when it comes to kitting out your kids with appropriate hiking gear, too.
Well-fitting, water-proof hiking boots with ankle support, as well as hiking socks for comfort, make up the basis for essential hiking gear. In addition to these items, it’s also important to pack the following items for a day hike:
ESSENTIAL HIKING GEAR LIST
- Dry bag
- Water bladder or water bottle
- Trekking or Nordic Walking poles
- Head torch
- Nutritious snacks
ESSENTIAL HIKING CLOTHING
- Hiking boots with ankle support
- Hiking Socks
- Hiking trousers
- Rain jacket & fleece layer
- Rain trousers
- Sun hat
By packing these essential items, you’ll be well-prepared for your hike and have the best chance of a safe and successful trip.
Campsites near Ben Nevis
The nearest campsite to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre is Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park which is only 750 metres away. If you aren’t into camping, they also have holiday cottages available.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How long does it take to climb Ben Nevis?
It really depends on a few factors such as your fitness level, the weather conditions and the number of breaks you take. The average time to reach the summit is 3.5 – 4.5 hours and it takes about 7-9 hours to complete the hike.
How high is Ben Nevis?
Ben Nevis stands tall at 1,345 metres above sea level.
When is the best time to climb Ben Nevis?
Summer is the best time of year to climb Ben Nevis. Please note that there can be snow at any time of the year but it’s less likely to be the case in the summer. Don’t attempt to climb it in the winter if you’re not an experienced mountaineer.
Do I need to train to climb Ben Nevis?
It depends on your fitness level. If you’re fit and do regular exercise or hillwalking, then you wouldn’t need to train specifically for Ben Nevis. If that’s not the case, I highly recommend training for it. I use the training formula in Kate Sielmann’s book A Step-By-Step Manual To Mountaineering & Trekking Around The World to create a training plan for my hiking adventures which I highly recommend
How many Ben Nevis routes are there?
The only walking route up Ben Nevis is the Mountain Track. The other routes are either a ridge walk (CMD Arete) or rock-climbing routes.
Ben Nevis was the final of the National Three Peaks that we set ourselves as a challenge to complete over the course of a year. And what a final it was! If you’re keen on hiking the National Three Peaks with or without kids in tow, I recommend doing it in the same order as we did; i.e. Snowdon, Scafell Pike and finally Ben Nevis. This way, you literally build your way up to the most strenuous one.
We saw lots of children on Ben Nevis; some as young as 5 years of age. I believe that children are capable of more than we give them credit for. Of course everyone is different; but with some enthusiasm, a sense of adventure, lots of snacks and the right gear; many kids would be able to walk up Ben Nevis. Mostly, it’s the parents who are uneasy about adventuring with their kids. Start ’em young and start with small adventures and build up to bigger adventures and mountains.
- Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail: Britain’s Only Way-Marked Hike
- The Cobbler Scotland with Kids: Your Complete Picture Guide + Map
- Best Hikes in Scotland: 12 Stunning Hikes in the Highlands
- Scafell Pike Corridor Route with Kids: The Ultimate Picture Guide
- Snowdon Watkin Path with Kids: The Ultimate Picture Guide
- 10 Best Castles to Visit in Scotland
- Climbing Cadair Idris via the Cyfrwy Arete: A Multi-Pitch Adventure
- Top 12 Family Outdoor Activities in Snowdonia
- Devil’s Kitchen Snowdonia with Kids: The Complete Picture Guide
- Top 20 Family Outdoor Activities in Wales
- The Ultimate Family Road Trip Packing List
- Camping Essentials: Complete Checklist for Camping with Kids
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
- 12 Epic Reasons to Solo Road Trip with Kids (and 5 Against)
- How to Plan a Europe Road Trip – The Essential Guide
- Top 11 Road Trip Activities for Kids
- How to Get Your Car Ready for a Road Trip
- Fascinating Non Fiction Books for Kids (Ages 6-12)
Share this Post