The hugely impressive bulk of Suilven is one of the most iconic mountains in Scotland. Lying like a sleeping lion within the ruggedly handsome landscape of Assynt, Mount Suilven has, understandably, been enticing hikers for years. Located just outside of Lochinver, within the Sutherland region, the long walk to conquer Suilven is easily one of the greatest hikes in the UK.
To see footage of the hike to Suilven, please watch our NC500 Hikes YouTube production.
For more incredible hikes along the NC500, be sure to check out our Beinn Alligin, Quinag and Beinn Eighe NNR hiking guides. Otherwise, read our Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 post, where we talk about 18 excellent NC500 hikes.
Table of Contents
How to Hike Suilven, Assynt
In this guide, we’ll discuss where Suilven is and then provide a map and quick trail description. Following on, we’ll look at how to get there, where to stay and answer a few commonly asked questions about the hike to Mount Suilven in Scotland. Lastly, we’ll suggest some hiking essentials and throw in a few bonus tips.
Where is Suilven Mountain?
Suilven sits close to the town of Lochinver within Assynt in northwestern Scotland. This part of the Highlands is beautifully rugged and sparsely populated. The land is full of rocky knolls and lochs (cnoc-and-lochs), littering the landscape with pretty pockets of water as it reaches as far as the ocean.
Despite the wealth of mountains that cover this area, Suilven seems to sit alone. Rising ominously from the flat landscape, it’s little wonder Suilven Mountain is so recognisable on the horizon. Often, it’s described as the ‘lonely mountain’. Though, with the number of hikers who tread the trail to summit its steep walls for some of the best views in the Highlands, I don’t imagine Mount Suilven feels all that lonely.
As with many Gaelic-named mountains in Scotland, they can be a little tricky to pronounce. Dan and I inevitably get it wrong. Luckily, Suilven isn’t all that tricky. Pronounced sool-ven, it’s much easier to pronounce than other mountains in Scotland, such as Sgurr a Chaorachain.
Suilven Route Map & Preview
- Trail Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 20km
- Time: 6.5–9 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 900m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Canisp Road (head towards Glencanisp Lodge)
- Map: Wikiloc
The Suilven Walk
The hike begins from a small parking area on Canisp Road. From here, the flattish surroundings make views of Suilven immediate from the off. Although, for Dan and I, a complete whiteout in the morning meant we could only imagine what the impressive form of Mount Suilven looked like.
Walk along the tarmac road towards Glencanisp Lodge, which you will pass through, before joining a smaller dirt track. The route continues along this rocky but easy-to-walk path for some time. Indeed, the trail is not challenging and any elevation gain is minimal as you hike along the ever-undulating trail. The incredible shape of Suilven looms ever larger on your right with every step you take.
As mentioned, this part of Assynt is filled with lochans. Certainly, you’ll enjoy many as you hike to Suilven from Lochinver. The first you’ll pass by is Loch na h-Airigh Fraoich to your right. The mirror reflections are outstanding.
Suileag Bothy (Suilven Bothy)
After around 5km you’ll reach a turn-off for Suileag Bothy (Suilven Bothy). The trail to Suileag Bothy follows the track to the left. Here, you should keep to the right, almost straight on, to continue to Suilven Mountain. To the right-hand side is the beautiful Loch an Alltain Duibh.
If you intend to stay at the Suileag Bothy for the hike to Suilven, rather than stay in Lochinver, then please see the information regarding its use, here.
Mount Suilven Scotland
At around the 7km mark, the trail veers, sharply, to the right. At this point, you’ll now be face-on to the whole stretch of the Mount Suilven form and its three notable peaks. It’s completely breathtaking. To the right is the huge dome shape of Caisteal Liath, meaning ‘Grey Castle’, followed by Meall Meadhonach, which sits centrally and means ‘Middle Round Hill’. Lastly, is Meall Beag, meaning ‘Little Round Hill‘ at the opposite end. Unbelievably, the whole length of these three peaks is 2km long!
From here you’ll notice the trail begins to ascend more sharply. The approach to the pass between Loch Na Barrack and Loch a Choire Dubh is quite steep but thankfully short. The trail levels off again as you pass by the shores of the lochans, no doubt in complete awe of the huge hulk of Suilven Mountain filling your view ahead.
At the 9km mark, the climb up Suilven Mountain begins. It’s an extremely steep climb of around 430m. This is over just 1.5km to reach the summit of Caisteal Liath. Hiking poles are extremely useful for this section. The tough but hugely exhilarating trail zig-zags up Mount Suilven, revealing the ever-expansive surrounding landscape as you climb. There are a few rocky outcrops along the ascent that offer some pretty stellar photo opportunities.
Sadly for Dan and I, the misty weather still hadn’t cleared, and the higher we climbed the poorer visibility got. The trail can be muddy and slippery in sections too, so take care.
Mount Suilven Ridge
Reaching the ridge, between Caisteal Liath and the other two Suilven peaks of Meall Meadhonach and Meall Beag feels incredible. You might even find the climb wasn’t quite as menacing as it looked from the bottom. At the ridge, the main trail leads right to summit the dome of Caisteal Liath. The trail gradually climbs, hugging the edge of the ridge in parts, and needing mild scrambling over some taller rock sections in others.
Caisteal Liath Summit
Soon enough though, you’ll be king or queen of the (grey) castle. Standing atop the huge sloped summit of Caisteal Liath is an immense feeling. You’ll see a cairn marking the spot, at 731m, making it one of the finest Grahams in Scotland. Views from here stretch in all directions, none more superior to the last, and all simply breathtaking. Especially incredible is the view looking back down the ridge of Suilven Mountain, towards the peaks of Meall Meadhonach and Meall Beag
South of the summit you’ll find views out to Stac Pollaidh. This is also a must-do hike along the NC500. Looking east is the peak of Canisp and west leads the eye all the way out to sea.
After enjoying the outstanding views from Caisteal Liath, you’ll need to retrace your steps to the ridge point from which you climbed up. It’s possible from here to add a short out and back on to Meall Meadhonach. As the weather was so poor for Dan and I, we didn’t personally bother.
Climbing Down Suilven
Climbing back down Mount Suilven is straightforward if just a little time-consuming. The trail is steep and can be muddy and slippery. In addition, it can also be busy, so you might find you’re pulling in and letting walkers pass on their way to summit Suilven for themselves.
True to form, the weather began to clear as Dan and I were finding our way back down the switchbacks. At least for a short time, we were able to enjoy a fraction of the views that Suilven is so well known and loved for.
After climbing back off the main hulk of Mount Suilven, it’s then just a case of retracing your steps on the dirt track back to the car park. What a hike!
Our Experience Hiking Suilven Mountain in Scotland
The Suilven hike is one of the greatest hikes Dan and I completed whilst travelling along the NC500 in Scotland. Yes, the weather could have been more favourable for us. But, that’s just the experience we had, and we made the best of it. In all honesty, watching the cloud blow in and out over the ridge of Suilven was quite mesmerising. To have scaled this truly iconic Scottish mountain, in whatever condition, is a real achievement and a moment we won’t be forgetting any time soon.
How to Get to Suilven in Scotland
To get to Suilven, you’ll likely be approaching from Lochinver, Scotland. From Lochinver, take the Canisp Road towards Glencanisp Lodge. Nearing the lodge, keep an eye out for the small parking area, as shown on the map here.
Given how long the hike to Suilven is, once the car park is full, it’s full all day. If you don’t arrive early enough, you’ll miss out on a spot and will have to walk from Lochinver. The walk from Lochinver is 1.2 miles (2km) and will take around 30 minutes.
If hiking Suilven from Ullapool, you’ll need an early start. The drive is 37 miles (60km) and takes about 1 hour. From Ullapool, follow the A835, past Ardmair and Knockan, towards Ledmore. Then, turn left onto the A837 and head north past Loch Assynt, entering Lochinver via the north of the town. From here you’ll join the Canisp Road and follow as described above.
Choosing public transport to access the Suilven trailhead is perhaps the least ideal option. However, from Ullapool, it can be done. That being said, it would make for a big day out, but each to their own.
From Ullapool, you will need to take bus 809 from the ferry terminal, and head towards Drumbeg. You’ll alight at Assynt & Stoer Parish Church, as you enter Lochinver from the north, and walk to the trailhead from there. Again, the walk will likely take about 30 minutes, with the bus journey taking around 1 hour and 15 minutes. You can check bus times here.
If you’re covering the NC500, like Dan I, then I can only recommend completing the famous loop with your own vehicle. Trying to cover the NC500 with public transport is problematic, at best, with sometimes public transportation being non-existent.
Of course, if you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, then we recommend hiring something. When hiring a car, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.
Like many mountains in the Scottish Highlands, the best time to climb Suilven is during the summer months. These include April, May, June, July, August and September. Outside of these months, snow can be common, as can more extreme weather. Given that the initial long trail to the base of Suilven is straightforward, it would be fine to manage this portion of the hike in snow and poor visibility. But, the same cannot be assured for the climb to ascend Suilven. And let’s face it, that’s a long walk to take if you can’t even climb the mountain itself.
For that reason, climbing Suilven in the winter months should be reserved for those with experience in hiking and climbing in the snow. It should also only be done by those with experience using specialist snow equipment, should it be necessary to use.
As the closest town to Suilven Mountain, checking the forecast from Lochinver is perhaps the nearest accurate forecast you’ll get for your day hiking. You can check Lochinver weather for hiking Suilven, here. In addition, there is also a mountain forecast for Suilven that you can check here.
But remember, mountain weather can always be a little unpredictable.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding hiking Suilven Mountain in Scotland. Of course, if you have any additional questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
How Difficult is Suilven?
The climb to Suilven is not technically difficult, although it is extremely steep when you come to ascend the body of the mountain. Trekking poles greatly reduce the strain and effort of climbing, so I definitely advise taking a pair. Although a generally good level of fitness is recommended for the hike to Mount Suilven, as long as you have enough daylight hours, it is manageable for most, especially those with an adventurous spirit. Though whether you’ll enjoy such a long hike if you’re not used to mountain hiking, is another matter.
How Long Does it Take to Walk Suilven?
The complete out and back to Suilven’s summit of Caisteal Liath can take 6–9 hours. That’s why it’s classed as a full-day hike, that’s important to start early in the morning. It’s recommended to have a full day to hike Suilven. Hiking in the height of summer also means more hours of daylight. So, you’ll find you have a little longer on the trail should you need it. If you plan to be out for a total of 10 hours, you should be able to easily complete the hike within this time.
Can You Climb Suilven in a Day?
Absolutely. Suilven is one of the most popular day hikes in Scotland. Of course, should you choose to elongate your adventure, wild camping is permitted and there is the Suileag Bothy too.
Is Suilven a Munro?
No, Suilven is not a Munro. For Munro status, a mountain needs to be higher than 3,000ft, or 914 metres. At 731m or 2,398ft, Suilven is a Graham. However, despite its lack of Munro status, hiking Suilven is one of the greatest day hikes in Scotland. Dan and I both agreed that if someone was hellbent on just ‘bagging’ Munros, they’d be missing out on some real gems in the Scottish Highlands.
How Was Suilven Formed?
Suilven is a billion years old. Yes, mind blown. The surrounding sandstone that made up the area has, over time, been eroded. This has left behind the ridge shape of Suilven that we see today. Made up of the typical Torridonian rock of these parts, it was likely carved out by glacial ice.
But hey, I’m no geologist! If you want some real factual information, and to find out more about how these incredible mountains were formed, I suggest looking here.
What Does Suilven Mean?
The most common theory behind the meaning of Suilven is from the Norse word ‘sula‘ meaning pillar and the Gaelic word ‘beinn‘ meaning mountain.
Where Is the Starting Point for the Suilven Hike?
The hike to Suilven begins either in the town of Lochinver, or from a small parking area located on Canisp Road. See How to Get To Suilven for details.
How Far Is the Suilven hike?
The Suilven Mountain trail is a 21km, out and back hike.
Lochinver Accommodation for the Suilven Hike
For hiking Suilven, staying in or around Lochinver will provide your closest accommodation options. We’ll take a look at both camping and hotel options below.
- Ardmair Point Holiday Park: Dan and I made a base for a few days whilst exploring this part of the NC500. Ardmair Point had fantastic facilities and we loved driving to and from trailheads, spotting the deer out for breakfast, at the crack of dawn.
- Achmelvich Beach: you’ll find the majority of other campsite options at Achmelvich Beach. Just a quick 15-minute drive from Lochinver, you can happily pitch up on the beach. Top options include Shore Caravan Site and North Coast 500 Pods.
As with most of Scotland, wild camping at Suilven is permitted. However, campers need to follow a standard set of guidelines. These rules revolve around respecting the countryside and staying safe.
Here, we’ll take a look at the best budget, mid-range and luxury options for accommodation in Lochinver and the surrounding area.
A great budget option in a stellar location! The bed and breakfast option at Bonnie Haven is a real hit and of course, the perfect way to kick off your hike to Suilven straight from Lochinver.
Suilven View Pod
The pod at Suilven View offers guests some truly stunning views across Loch Inver. Certainly, the bijoux accommodation includes everything you need for a simple getaway, and there’s even a hot tub to rest tired legs after summiting Mount Suilven.
This luxury hotel offers guests a chance to eat at an award-winning restaurant and indeed relax in its traditionally dressed rooms. Inver Lodge Hotel offers guests incredible views and a wonderful base in which to explore wider Assynt.
Five Hiking Essentials
These are our five hiking gear essentials for the Suilven Mountain trail! Certainly, for a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Scotland and the North Coast 500, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
You should also pack at least 2–3L of water, snacks, lunch and sunscreen. Remember, the hike is a full-day affair, make sure you have enough supplies.
- Tourism responsibility: please, as always, remember to leave no trace. Whatever goes up the mountain with you, must come back down with you. With this in mind, let’s keep our trails and countryside as pristine as possible.
- Suilven Film: if you want to catch Suilven on the big screen (besides our little production!), then you should watch the British film, Edie, starring Sheila Hancock.
- Poetry in motion: it seems Suilven leaves all who visit utterly enthralled. For example, poet Norman MacCaig. Check out his poem, Climbing Suilven.
- John Muir Trust and the Assynt Foundation: they’re responsible for the maintenance and careful laying of the track up to Suilven. Thanks to them, not only can we tread a better path to the summit, but also fragile habitats can thrive where boot erosion once caused damage. For more information about this project, click here.