Hiking the Quiraing is the Isle of Skye in a nutshell – rugged cliffs, green valleys, shimmering lakes and ancient stone walls…it’s got the lot. But don’t do the regular in-and-out Quiraing hike that most tourists do. Use our hiking notes below to do the Quiraing loop instead – you won’t regret it!
Before arriving in Scotland it’s safe to say our ‘must do’ list was epic in scope. Yet of all those dozens of ‘things to do’, at the top of that list lay one single entry…hiking the Quiraing.
What is the Quiraing?
In our good old Aussie twang (rhyming like old mate Lurch) we were calling it the Kwi-rang. We’re glad we let our Airbnb host from Staffin be the first to speak before we completely embarrassed ourselves!
Joanna, owner of the well-recommended Bealach Uige Bothy (no, we’re not even going to attempt that!) had grown up on the Isle of Skye, so we trusted her pronunciation when she trilled like rippling bells – the Ki-rrrrung.
We can thank the Ragnar Lothbrok and his merry band of viking raiders for the poetry in its name.
Wiki tells us that it comes from the old Norse word ‘Kvi Rand’, meaning ‘Round fold‘. To us it didn’t look anything like it, but hey…would you argue with a dude who prefers his sushi with the scales still on?!
In simplistic terms you could call the Quiraing a rockfall, but that would be to understate the magnitude of this natural wonder. It IS a rockfall, and it’s still moving(!), but on such a scale that all other rockfalls could be mistaken for a scattering of pebbles.
We knew it was going to be a memorable experience, but it ended up being so much more…
How to get to the Quiraing hike?
Big picture, we’re talking about Scotland here; the Isle of Skye to be more precise. Whether it’s Glasgow or Edinburgh you’re coming from, either way you’re going to be up for around 6 hours of driving. The roads are decent, but you’re more likely to spot Nessie than an overtaking lane, so be generous in your allowance.
There’s only one bridge to the Isle of Skye, and from there you’ll be taking the A87 all the way through Portree to the lovely village of Staffin. As you leave Staffin and start to gain altitude the broad panorama of the Quiraing opens up before you; looming unnaturally, a discordant jumble of green, black and yellow. The excitement is starting to kick in!
In winter you won’t have any difficulties parking at the well-signposted trailhead, however we’ve heard stories of summer congestion so bad that you actually need to allow an extra 20-30 minutes to park further afield and return. If this is your predicament, keep in mind that the roads are narrow and the verges soft, so take care and park safely.
Hiking the Quiraing
The typical route for the Quiraing hike is to follow the very well-worn dirt track into the depths of the Quiraing, and return the same way. After researching the hike on the excellent Walk Highlands site, we realised that there was an opportunity to turn this into a loop walk, something we always prefer whenever possible!
But, in doing this it did take it from being what we would consider to be a fairly easy walk into one of moderate difficulty (or ‘extreme’ if you haven’t got a head for heights!).
The walk starts out quite easily. The trail is broad, and apart from the odd boggy patch is easy to follow and fairly flat. Perhaps 5 minutes in and if you look to your left you’ll see a faint trail skewing off on a tangent up the side of the very steep hill. Yep, that’s us!
The next 30-40 minutes consists of:
- looking for solid foot holds in the boggy grass;
- burning thighs; and
- not looking down!!
It’s more a series of staggered sheep drailles than a hiking trail, but so long as you’re heading up and to your right you’re heading in the right direction.
To your left is tussock, wind and moor, to your right – if you’re brave enough to look – is the view down into the valley. To Staffin, Rona and Raasay islands, and on the far horizon the blue-grey silhouette of the famous Applecross Pass, whose mists we had driven through only days earlier as part of our NC500 roadtrip!
It was mid-January and despite it being late morning the sun still hung low in the sky, glinting off lochs and piercing the depths between peaks. When nature decides to put on a show it doesn’t hold back!
Depending on how many photos you take and the conditions in which you’re walking, the clifftop section may take you half an hour, or it may take you an hour and a half. We really hope you have a sunny day because the changing light, the crazy angles of the surrounding escarpments and the vibrant colours of the Scottish highlands will lay down memories for a life time.
The walk down to the lower section is gradual, and provides some very nice views to the north and east, where stone walls can be seen, harking back to Viking times when the valley was allegedly used as a place of safekeeping for the many herds of sheep in the region.
A stile over the fence clearly marks the point at which you need to turn back and down to the valley floor.
It was interesting walking along the valley, skirting the very same boulders we had seen from above. A different perspective that, quite literally, filled in many of the gaps and questions that had arisen while looking down.
It’s an eerie landscape, with an air of Mephistophelian wrack and ruin. Dry scree slopes, fist-sized rocks dislodged by unknown forces, tumbling in arcs and arrows. And then an alien slope of tussock grass, combed by the wind into a living, roiling sea of green.
So utterly strange. So gloriously unique.
The Quiraing had left an indelible mark on us both.
Where to stay near the Quiraing hike?
While exploring the Isle of Skye we stayed at Bealach Uige Bothy in Staffin. Modern interior, self-catering, super-cosy and best of all, located really close to some of the best hikes in Scotland! Click here to view rates and availability. For those who aren’t looking to self-cater, it’s worth noting that they also run a B&B at their beautiful location.
But if you’re looking for other options, these Bed & Breakfasts and hotels get fantastic reviews, and they’re just a short drive away from the Quiraing…
Accommodation in Staffin
- Cheap and cheerful – Benview B&B is a gorgeous family-run bed and breakfast only 5km from the Quiraing, on the southern side of Staffin. Free WiFi is included in your rate and everyone raves about their delicious hot Scottish breakfasts!
- Family value – Beinn Edra House is located close to the EPIC clifftops for which the Isle of Skye is famous – 9km from the Quiraing hike. The views from the rooms are amazing and you’ll love their cooked breakfasts. They also have the perfect touch when it comes to making your children feel welcome – and we all know how important that is 🙂
- Self-catering luxury – Lochside is an ideal option for couples or small families wanting to relax in comfort, with the option to cook up your own meals whenever you like at a fraction of the cost of eating out. Sitting on the shore of Loch Mealt, this beautifully restored property is fully equipped, wonderfully appointed (wait ’til you see the bath!), and is only a 5 minute walk to the massive Mealt Falls viewpoint.
Accommodation in Portree – 32km south of The Quiraing (40min drive)
- Self-catering value – Home Farm Apartments is located on the northern outskirts of Portree, just a short walk from the restaurants and other attractions in town. The little welcome pack on arrival is a nice touch and should tide you over until you can do a proper shop in town. You’ll find the kitchen to be well equipped for all your cooking adventures, and their heating is rock solid in winter.
- Surprising luxury – Your jaw will drop when you see The Apartment in Portree. They’ve thought of everything here to make your stay as comfortable and memorable as possible. The old stone cottage shows its heritage from the outside – but on the inside it’s a different story altogether, with a brand new kitchen and bathroom, fuel stove, free WiFi, and fantastic views across town.
- Budget comfort – The Portree Youth Hostel is the perfect option for backpackers and small families looking to stretch their Scottish pounds as far as possible. Linen is provided – unlike many other hostels – and their rooms are comfortable, with both shared and private options available. The communal kitchen is large, and breakfast can be purchased for a little extra if needed. Best of all, they are located extremely close to public transport and central Portree.
Our final thoughts on hiking the Quiraing?
If you have even a passing interest in the Scottish landscape, and you know you’ll have some time on the Isle of Skye, this is one hike that you must put before all others.
Our original plan was to hike it three days earlier. It was the best decision of our whole holiday to wait for a better day. In hindsight it would have been near suicide to try it in the mists (although the lower section probably would have been fine).
As with any hike in the Highlands, when exploring the Quiraing you’ve got to be prepared for anything. This literally isn’t a walk in the park and you’ve got to put safety first. Layers of warm clothing, waterproof jacket, sturdy boots, map, food, water…we’ve learnt our lessons in the mountains of Tasmania, which do bear a striking similarity in many ways to the Scottish Highlands.
In total we took a little over three hours to complete the circuit. The first 45 minutes is by far the toughest, but it’s good to get it out of the way early while you’re still fresh, rather than doing the loop in reverse and trying to descend the precarious slope on weary legs.
As you can probably tell, we left absolutely exhilarated by what we had experienced, and we thoroughly recommend adding it to your Isle of Skye itinerary!
Leech count: 0
Snake count: 0
Looking for more Scottish inspiration?
If you love hiking as much as us and you’re looking for other options on the Isle of Skye, you have got to consider hiking to Brothers Point. Click here for our hiking notes and a VERY unique corner of the island that not too many others have explored:
Are you thinking of tacking on a few days on the Isle of Skye to your North Coast 500 road trip? This guide to driving the NC500 in winter is exactly what you need to plan the perfect Scotland road trip.
Thanks for reading, and as always, if you’ve got any questions or comments just let us know, either in the comments box below, or on our Facebook page 😊. We’d love to hear from you!