If you spend some time on our blog, it will come as no surprise when we say that we love to hike. We have hiked in some of the most beautiful places around the world, including Nepal, Canada, Italy, the Andes, Norway, etc., so it’s pretty high praise when we were hiking the Quiraing on Isle of Skye and Celine turns to me and says, “This may be the most beautiful hike we’ve ever done”. Wow!
The Quiraing is a very popular Isle of Skye hike and for good reason! It’s easily one of the best hikes on the Isle of Skye and should be on your list of things to do on the Isle of Skye (if you are able). Even if you aren’t able to, the views near the Quiraing carpark are well worth the drive up!
The Quiraing is located in the northern Trotternish Peninsula. The peninsula has a long, dramatic mountain ridge which was created by a massive landslip. The end result is some incredible, interesting scenery and interesting rock formations, which are a pleasure to hike around.
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The Quiraing walk is often done as a loop, with one leg taking place below the ridge cliffs and the return leg above them. The loop hike is called the Quiraing Circuit.
Given we had two kids (aged 3 & 6) with us, we elected to follow the path below the cliffs there-and-back, instead of hiking it as a loop. We usually trust our kids to take reasonable risks while hiking, but it was a very windy day and we didn’t want them close to the edge of a cliff face. Better to live and hike another day…
The drive to the Quiraing car park takes care of a lot of the elevation gain, allowing you to enjoy great vistas without requiring a strenuous uphill to get them.
The views on this hike are simply breathtaking; right off the bat you get views of the towering cliffs, the rock formations, many inland lochs and the Sound of Raasay (the ocean). There are no trees on this hike, ensuring that the scenery remains ever-present the entire way.
Don’t miss our post that includes everything you need to know about visiting the Isle of Skye with Kids!
Sheep graze along the slopes of this path, giving it a distinctive Scottish feel – just watch your step as where there are sheep, there is always sheep poop. You’ll pass several tall, skinny waterfalls and if you are hiking on the Isle of Skye in the summer, you’ll enjoy the sight of thousands of tiny little yellow and purple wildflowers.
About halfway through the first leg of the hike, you’ll pass through a stretch of incredible rock pinnacles; The Needle, The Table and the Prison. There are many spur trails around these formations to explore them from up-close or from different angles.
The hike then turns left 90 degrees and you get a whole new view to enjoy. It’s not quite as dramatic as the first half of the Quiraing hike, but the hills and rock formations are still very beautiful and the ocean views are just that much better.
The Quiraing Hike Stats
Distance: The official distance of the Quiraing Circuit loop is 4.2 miles / 6.8km. Doing a there-and-back of the lower leg of the hike, we ended up walking 5.1 miles / 8.2km. The extra distance is likely due to some extra exploring along some spur trails to enjoy the views.
Elevation Gain: If you hike the Quiraing Circuit, the elevation gain will be 1,375 feet / 420m. Our hiking app measured our hike as gaining 1,300 feet / 400m, but that number feels overstated. The hike is actually pretty flat; it is continually going up slightly or down slightly, but nothing too hard. There are only two hills which are a little strenuous, but they are pretty short.
Difficulty: We’d rate the Quiraing hike as ‘moderate’, due to the distance. Effort-wise, there are only two small, steep hills and the rest is pretty easy. There’s a little bit of rock scrambling involved, but it was so easy, our 3 year old did it himself. Our kids walked the entire length of this hike themselves without any issues.
Duration: It took us 4 hours to complete this hike, which is a typical pace for us walking with our kids. Without kids, we could have done this distance in about half the time.
This is one of the most picturesque hikes on the Isle of Skye, so your pace may vary depending on how many pictures you stop and take.
The Quiraing Circuit Location
How to Get There: The Quiraing Circuit car park is a 35 minute drive north of Portree. The final few miles of the drive to the trailhead is along a mountainside single lane road. There are plenty of little pullouts to allow cars to pass each other, but this is a very busy hike, so bring a lot of patience.
If you get there early, as we did, the one-way road didn’t have much opposing traffic. The trailhead is right across the highway from the car park.
Parking has historically been an issue at this hike, but it looked like a brand-new large carpark was nearly complete (July 2019), so it’ll likely be ready for you. Expect this to be a pay lot when completed.
An Alternate Access Point – Fingal’s Pinnacles
The Quiraing hike is easy as you drive up the side of the mountain and then basically walk sideways without any real elevation gain or loss. I enjoyed the novelty of having excellent views with zero effort, but it felt kinda wrong at the same time – shouldn’t we have to work for these views?
If you feel the same way (or simply can’t find a parking spot at the trailhead), here is another alternative.
Fingal’s Pinnacles is a hike which begins from the side of the A855 highway in the shadow of the Quiraing rock formation. Fingal’s Pinnacles is technically a loop trail which doesn’t officially meet up with Quiraing Trail, but you can bypass the loop and follow the main trail to the Quiraing Trail.
The hike was beautiful, passing two small lochs, winding up the rolling hills, passing many sheep grazing in the fields with amazing views of the Quiraing rock formations above and the ocean below.
The hike from the highway to the main Quiraing trail is approximately 1.6 miles / 2.5km long and rises approximately 650 feet / 200m. We made it almost all the way up in an hour, but we turned back due to some dark skies (there was a weather warning that day).
The Quiraing Hike Highlights
- The three main rock pinnacles are the main attraction on this hike. The Table, the Needle and the Prison are all really cool to look at and are worth the time to wander around and explore them a bit.
- As amazing as they are, the rock pinnacles are only a piece of the scenic puzzle on this hike. The little valley this hike goes through is magical. We must have said “wow!” at least a dozen times. All the elements of what makes the Isle of Skye a beautiful and special place come together perfectly on this hike.
Hiking The Quiraing with Kids
- Be sure everyone has an empty bladder before leaving home. There are no bathrooms in the parking lot and this is a very popular hike with no trees anywhere to hide behind. You can find the odd hill or rock to duck behind, but these are few and far between.
- There are no water stations either, so be sure to fill your hydration packs before leaving home.
- The trail surface on this hike is mostly gravel with small rocks sticking out. The trail has a few very small rock scrambles and can get muddy in spots, so we recommend wearing waterproof hiking shoes.
- As always, be prepared for all kinds of weather in Scotland; wear clothing in layers, bring lots of water, sunscreen, rain gear, and something to repel the midges. It was a calm morning at the start of our hike, and the midges were out in full force. Thankfully the wind picked up as the hike went on and the midges went away.
- This trail is not stroller accessible, but we saw some parents carrying babies or toddlers in backpack carriers.
- Dogs are allowed on this hike.
- If your kids like to climb rocks, there are plenty of good kid sized rocks for them to tackle along this hike, especially on the second half of the first leg.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
Nearly the entire hike has grassy slopes above and below the trail, so you can literally plop down anywhere and enjoy a sandwich and the views. We stopped for lunch at the end of the first leg as it was at the top of a hill and there were great ocean views to enjoy.
- We elected not to do the upper, cliff-top portion of the hike due to safety concerns. Our kids don’t always listen to directions and a windy, cliff-top hike made us a little too nervous.
- There are a few spots along the trail where the drop-off starts to get a bit uncomfortable. Hold a hand in these spots, especially if the wind is blowing. We don’t recommend doing this hike with kids on days with heavy rain when it can get extra muddy and slippery.
- The trail has loose gravel on it and during the steep sections, kids always tend to lose their footing and fall on their bums. We carried our 3 year old down a very small section with loose gravel to avoid this.
What to Bring for Isle of Skye Hiking
- Hydration packs
- Rain jackets for mom, dad and kids
- Sunscreen & Midge repellent or this 2 in 1
- Warm underlayer for boys or girls
Other Isle of Skye Hikes
- See more incredible views hiking the Old Man of Storr trail.
- Escape the crowds on the Isle of Skye hiking to Brother’s Point.
- A hike the entire family will love plus more stunning scenery while hiking to the Fairy Pools.