From The Scottish Highlands and Snowdonia in Wales, to England’s Lake District, we challenge you to climb one of the highest mountains in the UK!
When does a hill become a mountain? Well, there is no worldwide agreement, but the consensus in the UK is that a mountain must have a summit height of over 610 metres (2,000 ft). It must also be clearly defined from the rest of the surrounding mountain range.
But did you know, with those criteria there are 120 mountains in the British Isles?! That’s 84 in Scotland, 7 in Wales, 4 in England, 1 in Northern Island, 1 in the Isle of Mann and 24 in the Republic of Ireland. Scotland’s Grampians and Cairngorms are the highest mountains ranges in the UK. However, don’t despair if that is too far to travel for your weekend break, you’ll find stunning mountain walks throughout the UK.
The good news is that the tallest mountains in the UK are not necessarily the hardest to climb! If you have a good level of fitness, you can make it to the top and back in a day trip. Before you rush off, be sure to head out on a few smaller walks so you can get to grips with the important navigation and safety procedures. Once you’re feeling confident, you can start tackling some of these challenging higher peaks
The Highest Mountains in Scotland
Although only 84 are official mountains (or ‘beinn’ in Scottish Gaelic), Scotland is home to an incredible 282 peaks over 3,000 feet. They are collectively known as the Munros. Over 7,000 people have now ‘bagged’ all 282, a task which was first accomplished in 1891. If you’re just starting off on your mountain adventures, you can find the best routes here.
Ben Nevis – 1,345m
Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands is the highest mountain in the UK, and also the most famous. The nearby town of Fort William attracts an incredible 100,000 visitors a year. Thousands take the bus to the foot of the mountain to attempt the 9-mile hike.
If you have good fitness, a walk to the highest peak takes around 4 hours. After that, the descent will take another 2 to 3 hours. The view from the top is usually limited by cloud cover, but that won’t diminish your sense of achievement at conquering the UK’s tallest mountain!
If you want to find out more about the tallest mountain in the UK, have a read of our 21 Fascinating Facts About Ben Nevis!
Ben Macdui – 1,309m
At 600m, the car park of the Cairngorm Ski Centre is the starting point for a range of walks across the highest mountain range in the UK. This includes the second highest mountain, Ben Macdui.
The 11-mile / 7-hour route passes two pretty lochs. However, it involves crossing an exposed plateau, so this hike should only be attempted in fine weather. It’s also possible to add Cairn Gorm to your route if you’d like to tick off an extra peak!
Braeriach – 1,296m
The name of the third highest mountain in the UK comes from the Scottish Gaelic Am Bràigh Riabhach meaning “The Grey Uplands”. It’s a fitting name for this mountain which has a north facing corrie (dip). It’s a chilly spot and has only been snow free just seven times in the past 100 years!
From the ‘Sugar Bowl’ car park it’s a 5.6 mile / 8 hour walk. Due to the exposed plateau, you definitely shouldn’t attempt this peak unless the weather is good.
Cairn Toul – 1,291m
Ready for a bigger challenge? From Cairn Toul you can follow the edge of the plateau around a huge corrie and traverse boulder fields to reach Braeriach. The 22-mile trek is seriously tough and takes 13 hours. However, it can be broken up with an overnight stay at Corrour bothy (a basic cabin).
Cliffs and limited visibility mean you’ll need great navigation skills. Otherwise I’d recommend sticking with the shorter day route accessed via the Sugar Bowl car park.
Sgòr An Lochain Uaine – 1,258m
If you prefer quieter hikes, give Sgor An Lochain Uaine (Angels Peak) a go. You can adjust your route to add in nearby Braeriach or Cairn Toul. That means you could tick off two or even three of the highest mountains in the UK in one day. Just imagine the sense of achievement then?!
Cairn Gorm – 1,245m
Although it’s the sixth highest mountain in the UK, Cairn Gorm is probably the most famous after Ben Nevis as it gives its name to the stunning Cairngorms National Park. The climb takes 3 to 4 hours – quicker than many! It’s a popular one to tackle first, or could even be considered if you’re walking with motivated kids.
Aonach Beag (1,234m) and Aonach Mor (1,221m)
Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor are ideal for families as they can be tackled from the ‘Mountain Gondola’ cable car. This will give you a 650m head start! It’s likely to be busy, but the views from the summit are spectacular as they look out onto Ben Nevis and down to the lochs around Fort William.
The highest mountains in Wales
Outside of Scotland, the highest mountains in the UK are located in Snowdonia National Park in Wales. There’s a mountain railway line here, which means the views can be enjoyed without all of the leg work! This is an appealing option to many! In fact, around half a million visitors visit the Snowdon Summit Visitor Centre. A trip here needs to be planned around the crowds, and unless you book car parking in advance, you’ll need to use the park and ride service.
Mount Snowdon – 1,085m
There are six different walking paths to the summit of Snowdon, or ‘Yr Wyddfa’ in Welsh. The easiest route is the Llanberis Path, a 9 mile / 7 hour circuit. Look out for the Pen-Y-Gwryd Hotel, where Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay based themselves to train for the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.
If you’re looking for places to stay during your trip to the region, check out our guide to the best hotels in Snowdonia.
Garnedd Ugain – 1,065m
Also referred to as “Crib-y-Ddysgl” the second tallest mountain in Wales should only be tackled by experienced hill walkers. This is because it involves a trek across an exposed ridge.
Carnedd Llywelyn – 1,0964m
This mountain features in Welsh literature as far back as 1400! It’s usually climbed in combination with the peak to its south, Carnedd Dafydd, which takes around 6 hours. There are boggy sections and some steep scrambling here. But don’t worry, your hard work is rewarded with spectacular views. You could even take a dip in a lake!
Glyder Fawr (1,001m) and Glyder Fach (994m)
With the spiky rock formations of Castell y Gwynt en route to Glyder Fawr, and the iconic Cantilever stone at Glyder Fach, these are the mountains to choose if you’re looking for adventurous Instagram photos!
Starting from the visitor centre at Ogwen, the route to Glyder Fawr takes around 8 miles /6 hours. Some steep sections and areas of loose stone make these challenging climbs.
The Highest Mountains in England
There are mountain ranges across Northumberland, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales, but if you want the tallest mountains in the country, you’ll need to head to the Lake District National Park in Cumbria.
Scafell Pike – 978m
England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike is part of an inactive volcano. The three routes to the top are managed by the National Trust. The shortest route is from Wasdale Head, and 100,000 walkers a year start this 5.5 mile / 4 hour hike.
Once you’ve conquered the Pike, call in at The Wasdale Head Inn for a well-earned pint. You’ll also find lots of information on rock climbing and kayaking in the area. Are you ready to tackle another of the highest mountains in the UK? Neighbouring Scafell is England’s second highest peak at 964m.
The Three Peaks Challenge
If you’ve discovered a love of mountain walking, it won’t be long before you’re tempted by the Three Peaks Challenge. This involves reaching the summit of the tallest mountain in Scotland (Ben Nevis), Wales (Snowdon) and England (Scafell Pike) in just 24 hours.
After you’ve removed the time to get between sites, the maximum climbing time is just 18 hours! This means you’ll need to climb Scafell Pike in darkness!
Looking for other high mountain challenges? How about The Lake District’s 24 peaks, the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the 282 peaks of the Scottish Munros or Ireland’s MacGillcuddy’s mountain range where three peaks top 1,000m. Come on, we all love a challenge!
How many of the highest mountains in the UK have you visited so far? Hopefully we’ve inspired you to add a few more to your bucket list!
If you’re craving ticking off some of the most beautiful spots in the British Isles, we’d also recommend you read our guide to the largest lakes in the UK. There are so many pretty places to see, plus lots of fun water activities you can try while you’re there!
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