Hiking The Saddle via Forcan Ridge is one of the most enjoyable, adventurous and stunningly beautiful walks in the West Highlands of Scotland. The route enjoys a climb up through sublime Glen Shiel, summitting the two Munros of An Diollaid (AKA The Saddle) and Sgurr Na Sgine (meaning the peak of the knife). Each summit provides exceptional 360° views, including across to other wonderful Kintail mountains, down into Glen Shiel and towards Loch Duich and Shiel Bridge. This is one heck of a hike and one you’ll not forget in a hurry.
In this guide, we’ll tell you a little about The Saddle via Forcan Ridge, before providing a GPS map of the trail and giving a brief description of the hike. Afterwards, we’ll tell you how to get there and where to park. Then, we’ll cover accommodation options, other great hikes in the area and include what to pack.
To see footage of The saddle via Forcan Ridge hike in Scotland, please watch our 6 Mind-Blowing West Highland Walks in 6 Days YouTube production. For your convenience, when you press play below, the video will start exactly at the section showing The Saddle. Although, feel free to watch more for some West Highlands inspiration.
For more incredible hikes in Scotland, be sure to check out our guides on Ring of Steall, Beinn Alligin and Bidean Nam Bian. Otherwise, read our West Highland Hiking Itinerary, where we talk about six excellent West Highland day hikes.
About the Saddle via Forcan Ridge
The Saddle is a mountain in the West Highlands of Scotland. At 1,010 metres above sea level, it quite rightly enjoys Munro status. The mountain overlooks the picturesque Glen Shiel and commands a prime position in which to view many of the wonderful mountains in this part of Scotland, notably Kintail. The Saddle, Forcan Ridge and Sgurr Na Sgine all lie south of the small village of Shiel Bridge on the banks of Loch Duich. A true gem of the Scottish Highlands.
The Saddle gets its name due to its interesting shape when viewed from below in Glen Shiel. Along with the peaks on either side of it, the outlined shape resembles that of a saddle. And voila, a name is born. The mountain’s official name is An Diollaid in Gaelic. But, this is one of a handful of mountains in Scotland that now more commonly goes by its Anglicised version.
The hike to The Saddle traditionally involves traversing over Forcan Ridge – a tremendous bread knife ridge that involves a head for height and some scrambling experience. Truly, this is the best way to ascend to The Saddle. Should you not feel comfortable with the scramble, then there is an alternative route that bypasses Forcan Ridge and still makes summitting The Saddle possible. Additionally, the views of Forcan Ridge from The Saddle are outstanding, whether you hike the ridge or not. To help you decide whether the ridge is for you, the Forcan Ridge scramble is graded 2, with extra care needed for the ‘bad step’.
After summitting The Saddle mountain, the hike continues to a second Munro – Sgurr Na Sgine, where views are quite exquisite, before returning back down to Glen Shiel.
The Saddle Via Forcan Ridge Map
- Trail Type: Loop
- Distance: 15.2km
- Time: 7–9 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,425m
- Difficulty: Hard (Forcan Ridge is Very Hard)
- Trailhead: Layby (57.17620, -5.364590)
The Saddle Via Forcan Ridge Walk
From the layby parking area, cross to the other side of the road and join the trail leading up through Glen Shiel. You’ll notice from the off, that the views are devastatingly beautiful. They were easily some of our favourites in the entire West Highlands.
The trail winds gradually higher for about 3km. Here, you’ll reach the col between Meallan Odhar and Biod an Fhithich.
It’s possible to add an out and back to Biod an Fhithach. Although, this is not traditionally part of The Saddle via Forcan Ridge route. Often, the hike to Biod an Fhithach is done in its own right and is a great Kintail walk.
At the col, take the trail to the left and head up towards Meallan Odhar. The trail passes to the right of this peak, heading towards Forcan Ridge.
Eventually, at around the 4.5km mark, you’ll reach the start of the Forcan Ridge trail. Here, you can either take on one of Scotland’s best scrambles or you can take the trail that bypasses. Of course, many factors will come into play in making your decision. But, if you have hiking experience, have scrambled before and the weather is looking good, then I definitely urge you to hike the Forcan Ridge route to The Saddle.
If you choose not to ascend via Forcan Ridge, fear not, it’s still a truly excellent hike. Instead, you’ll take the trail left which hugs the flanks of the mountain and climbs towards Bealach Coire Mhalagain. Close to the bealach you can take the right side trail which climbs to The Saddle. The higher sections of this path are quite steep and over some loose scree, so hiking poles are quite useful.
The Forcan Ridge
The hike to Forcan Ridge ascends steeply but, at first, is nothing too technical. As you climb higher over the bread knife formation of Forcan Ridge you’ll enter sections of great exposure. The trail becomes more difficult and you should take your time as you traverse the ridgeback. You can opt to scramble over the rocky spine of Forcan Ridge or take the well-worn path that hugs close by to the side. Dan and I did a bit of both.
Eventually, you’ll reach Sgurr Na Forcan, from where you can enjoy astonishing views of the Forcan Ridge from Forcan Ridge! The incredible natural rock formation looks outstanding, and you can follow the remaining jagged edges as they lead up to The Saddle.
Continuing on from Sgurr Na Forcan involves a rather steep descent of around 10m. This is the ‘bad step’. Dan and I took the trail to the left to conquer this part. But, there’s one to the right too so you can weigh up which you prefer on the day. Take your time as you scramble this steep section.
From here, it’s an undulating section of the trail before the final short climb to reach The Saddle.
The Saddle Munro
The Saddle Munro is marked by a trig point (1,010m). You’ll find this a little further along the trail after summitting the top. We recommend stopping to admire the incredible views after first reaching the top of The Saddle. From here, the outlook down the jagged spine of Forcan Ridge looks truly exceptional. You’ll likely be left wondering how you ever made it up and over it. Glen Shiel looks splendid in the background and you should have great views of the Kintail mountains on the opposite side of the glen, looking east and back towards the trailhead.
Continue the short distance to the trig of The Saddle. Views to the west of The Saddle summit are equally as impressive as to the east. Loch a Coire Uaine pops to the north and beyond a whole host of mountain peaks litter the vast landscape. Views to the south reveal Munro number two of this phenomenal hike – Sgurr Na Sgine.
After enjoying bagging another Munro at The Saddle, the trail continues back down towards Bealach Coire Mhalagain.
Bealach Coire Mhalagain
From the trig point at The Saddle, continue a short distance beyond before taking a sharp turn left to face the trail down towards Bealach Coire Mhalagain. The trail is steep in this initial section, with the rocky trail loose underfoot in parts. This is the trail you would use to ascend The Saddle if you bypass Forcan Ridge.
Follow this trail all the way down to the bealach. It can be quite boggy in this connecting section. You’ve been warned. From Bealach Coire Mhalagain, you’ll begin the climb up through the boulder field. Dan and I found the trail more difficult to follow as you climb through the boulder field, but essentially, just head up. It can be tough going as find your way, but just take your time and enjoy the thrill of the adventure.
After ascending this short rocky section, you’ll reach a more defined path on an expansive grassy top. This signals the beginning of the out and back section to the second Munro of the route – Sgùrr Na Sgìne (946m).
The trail here starts flat, before a short climb to Sgurr Na Sgine. The Munro peak of Sgurr Na Sgine is reached by walking along the summit plateau.
Sgurr Na Sgine
The views from Sgurr Na Sgine are breathtaking. Stood almost 1,000m high and looking out across the West Highlands is like looking at a prized oil painting. Hiking to The Saddle via Forcan Ridge may be the adrenaline-inducing adventure side of the hike, but the 360° vista from Sgurr Na Sgine is why you hike this outrageously good loop in the first place.
The vast, unspoiled landscape is humbling to witness. Indeed, Dan and I agreed hiking in Scotland is just as good as hiking anywhere in Europe. Even during our travels in Peru we often thought about how good Scotland was!
Once you can tear yourself away from the views, return the way you came and back down to where you climbed the boulder field.
From here, rather than climb back down through the boulders, the path continues along the grassy ridge plateau towards Faochag. This is the final peak of the hike and is an easy flat trail to reach.
Indeed, the views from Faochag over Glen Shiel are quite beautiful. This time, Glen Shiel should be bathed in midday sunlight as opposed to the early morning glow you’ll have experienced on the initial hike up. Again, the Kintail mountains pop in the background, teasing more stellar hiking to be had, no doubt. To the north, you’ll be able to spot Loch Duich and Shiel Glen.
Return Through Glen Shiel
The descending trail from Faochag drops dramatically. It’s an incredibly steep trail that is not overly kind on the knees if you’re hiking a lot. Again, hiking poles will be a big help. Probably more so than ascending. The trail is tiring and unrelenting but does the job as you’ll be back down that mountainside before you know it. Just remember to enjoy the views as you navigate the steep stepped sections.
You’ll cross a rather precarious deer fence with the most rickety of wooden structures to climb over. Dan and I mused with a fellow hiker how long the thing would last, especially as if it collapsed there could be a rather nasty fall onto barbed wire below. Our luck was in and we made a quick yet wobbly hurdle over the top.
You’ll need to cross the Allt Mhalagain River at the base, before rejoining the road and walking back up to the layby parking area. If the river is too high, you will need to follow it upstream and look for a suitable crossing. Just one last piece of adventure I suppose. Then, it’s job done.
The Saddle Via Forcan Ridge Walk Recap
Hiking the Saddle via Forcan Ridge is one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable hikes in Kintail. The views are immense, the scrambling truly adventurous and to boot, we found this to be a very quiet trail on a beautiful day in the height of summer! Of course, the trail is no walk in the park. In fact, Dan and I would label The Saddle via Forcan Ridge as one of the more challenging hikes in Kintail and the West Highlands. I’d even say we struggled to speed hike this one, effectively anyway. But, the rewards of hiking such a trail are immense. It’s easily one of our favourite Highland hikes and we’ve no doubt it’ll be one of yours too.
What’s speed hiking? It’s hiking at a quicker pace than normal, meaning you get to see even more in the day. It’s also great for getting a workout. Find out more about speed hiking here.
Getting to The Saddle Via Forcan Ridge Trailhead
By far the easiest way to get to the trailhead for The Saddle via Forcan Ridge hike in Kintail is with your own set of wheels. Parking for the trailhead is found at a layby along the A87 road just outside of Shiel Bridge. The coordinates are 57.17620, -5.364590, but you can find it marked on Google Maps with no problem. There’s room for perhaps a dozen cars, so you’ll want to aim for an early start in order to bag a spot.
If travelling from Inverness, the journey time is around 1.5 hours. It’s a little under 2 hours to arrive from Glencoe and 1 hour and 15 minutes from Fort William. All are very straightforward drives.
Of course, if you don’t have access to your own vehicle, 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.
Public transport is doable, though far less convenient. From Inverness, you should take bus 919 to Fort William. From Fort William, take bus 915 towards Uig on the Isle of Skye and ask the driver to stop at the trailhead for The Saddle. To return though, you may need to head to Shiel Bridge from where you can more reliably pick up the bus to head back.
From Glencoe, you can take bus 915 toward Uig, passing through Fort William, and again, ask the driver to alight at The Saddle trailhead. You can check the timetables here.
When Is the Best Time to Hike The Saddle Via Forcan Ridge?
Undoubtedly, summer is the best time to hike The Saddle and take on the incredible Forcan Ridge scramble. Summer months typically run from May to September. During these months you’ll have longer hours of daylight plus a better chance of good weather.
Hiking in the summer does, however, coincide with peak tourism in Scotland. But, as previously mentioned, Dan and I saw perhaps a handful of other hikers on this trail, of which, we were nicely spread out. So, The Saddle via Forcan Ridge and the out and back to Sgurr Na Sgine certainly felt like we were hiking alone. It was wonderful.
Hiking The Saddle via Forcan Ridge should not be attempted in winter unless you have the required experience to do so. Although by all accounts, scrambling Forcan Ridge in the winter is an incredible experience, it’s always done by those with snow mountaineering experience and the knowledge to use specialist equipment like crampons and often, for Forcan Ridge, rope.
If you do not have the experience and are not hiking with someone who does, then please, do not attempt this hike in winter. Dan and I hiked in summer and had the most incredible time!
Glen Shiel & Kintail Weather
You should also consider the weather when hiking The Saddle via Forcan Ridge. If there is poor visibility and it’s very wet, then you should reconsider Forcan Ridge and hike the bypass trail instead. Scrambling Forcan Ridge requires a good grip and good vision.
Glen Shiel Accommodation
With Fort William and Glencoe being so close by, and beautiful spots like Shiel Bridge in Glen Shiel being a stone’s throw away, you have a wealth of accommodation options to choose from. Below, we’ll take a look at the best budget, mid-range and luxury options, before having a look at some camping choices.
- Budget – Ratagan Youth Hostel: this fantastic hostel is located on the banks of Loch Duich and just a short distance from Shiel Bridge. The Ratagan Youth Hostel offers private or dorm room accommodation, a communal kitchen and laundry facilities.
- Mid-range – The Cluanie Inn: set in the dramatic landscape of Glen Shiel, The Cluanie Inn is just a short drive along the A87 to The Saddle trailhead. The facilities are fantastic and the food is outstanding, with guests particularly enjoying the rustic mountain vibes of the inn.
- Luxury – Lochside House: you could live like a local and rent this beautiful holiday cottage on the eastern bank of Loch Duich. Situated in Letterfearn, the Lochside House has four bedrooms and a beautiful wrap-around terrace to help you enjoy views of the loch, Kintail mountains and Glen Shiel.
Glenshiel Camping is a fantastic campsite located in Shiel Bridge. The site is small but contains all the amenities you’ll need for a comfortable stay. Views at Shiel Bridge of the surrounding Kintail mountains ensure you’ll feel a million miles from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Dan and I hiked The Saddle via Forcan Ridge after a stay in Fort William. We camped at the Ben Nevis Holiday Park for a couple of nights whilst we hiked the Ring of Steall and Ben Nevis, before moving on to The Saddle. This campground has fantastic views of the surrounding Highlands, including Ben Nevis, of course. In fact, it’s a very convenient location to stay for walks in the area. The facilities and amenities are excellent.
As with most of Scotland, wild camping is permitted in unenclosed areas, and you’ll find some superb spots in the Kintail mountains. However, campers need to follow a standard set of guidelines. These include respecting the countryside and staying safe. Read here for more information on wild camping in Scotland.
Other Hikes in Kintail, Scotland
The Saddle via Forcan Ridge isn’t the only incredible hike to conquer in this area close to Shiel Bridge. Although, it’s surely one of the best. Here, we’ll take a look at some other Kintail trails to ensure you really make the most of the Glen Shiel landscape.
- Falls of Glomach: a spectacular hike to a dramatic waterfall, that has very few visitors. An incredible remote and stunning place.
- Five Sisters of Kintail: three Munros to bag and classic ridges to traverse in this full day and hugely enjoyable Kintail hike.
- South Glen Shiel Ridge: bagging seven Munros is hard to turn down. But, this is a long and arduous 23km hike, so be prepared.
- Affric–Kintail Way: a 44-mile long-distance route between Drumnadrochit and Morvich which is popular for cycling.
Five Hiking Essentials
These are our five hiking gear essentials for The Saddle via Forcan Ridge hike! 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 hiking trip to Scotland, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
Why do you need this?
See it in action
These hiking boots were superb for hikes in the Scottish Highlands.
This camera is the best compact digital camera on the market. Lightweight, compact and durable, the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII takes great photos and high-quality 4K videos
This is Scotland, pack a rain mac!
A great backpack for hiking in Scotland, which has plenty of space to store all of your gear without feeling bulky
The DJI Mavic Air 2 is an awesome drone that takes world-class aerial footage. We loved using ours in the Scottish Highlands, especially on Forcan Ridge
You should also pack lunch, water, snacks and sunscreen.
- Kintail National Scenic Area: Kintail is an area of mountains in the north of Glen Shiel. It’s a National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland which also include areas like Loch Lomond, Assynt and Wester Ross. All worth visiting!
- Visit Shiel Bridge: The tiny village of Shiel Bridge sits at the top of the A87 on the southern edge of Loch Duich. Aside from many incredible hikes being within walking distance of Shiel Bridge, the remote and quiet village is known for spotting some incredible wildlife like Golden Eagles, Red Deer and wild Goats.
- Full-day fun: for some guided tours of the incredible area surrounding Shiel Bridge, Glen Shiel and Kintail, check out some of these fantastic trips on Get Your Guide.
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