From Fort William to Mallaig, the Road to the Isles Scotland, numbered A830, is one of the most famous roads in the country. From the mountains around Ben Nevis to stunning loch Shiel and then to pristine beaches and views of islands, this drive will please everyone. Below is my guide to help you plan your stops along the way.
Navigate back to the complete Travel Scotland Guide
This article contains affiliate Links (info on the Disclosure page). If you purchase using my link, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.
The Road to the Isles Scotland (A830) in Video
A830 from Fort William to Mallaig is called the road to the isles, as it leads to Mallaig where ferries will take you to the islands of Rum, Eigg and Skye.
It is considered one of the most beautiful roads to drive in Scotland thanks to the change in scenery from mountains to lochs to beaches.
Let's start with a short video to give you the feel of what it is like to drive the road to the isles, including the alternative coastal route near Mallaig.
PLANNING TIPS - Fort William to Mallaig Drive
Getting to Mallaig - Road to the isles Map
- The road to the Isles is actually A830. It starts at Fort William and goes to Mallaig on the coast
- Fort William is 3h from Glasgow and 3h30 from Edinburgh
Driving the road to the isles - A830 Scotland
- Without stopping the drive takes 1h each way
- Major stops include Neptune's staircase, the Glenfinnan monument and Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt and the beaches with turquoise water - You will see them all in pictures below
- Toilets are available in Fort William, Mallaig and in the middle at the Glenfinnan monument visitor center (20p donation, closed at 4:45PM)
All stops presented in this article are included in my eBook (with practical maps and GPS coordinates):
Plan your perfect trip to Scotland!
- 15 maps to easily plan your itinerary
- 170+ selected locations so you don't miss the most beautiful places
- GPS + info to make the most of your time
- 170+ original photos to get inspired
Once in Mallaig
Once you arrive in Mallaig, you can
- Turn around and keep driving in the Highlands
- Spend the night in Mallaig to enjoy the beaches even more - check out the best rated accommodations in Mallaig
- Take the ferry to the Isle of Skye, to shorten your time on the road - Check out ferry times and prices
STOP 1 - Fort William & Ben Nevis
The road to the isles starts in Fort William. It is a good place for grocery shopping or if you need hiking clothes.
It is not a big town and you can find carparks near the main street.
It has a really good shop with all sorts of fudges, if you like this sweet.
If you want to stop there before driving to the isles or have a break as you return, check out the accommodations in Fort William.
STOP 2 - Neptune's Staircase
As you leave Fort William on A830, you can stop at the Neptune's staircase right at the beginning of the drive to the isles.
It is a series of 8 locks getting boats from the Caledonian Canal to the sea.
The structure is fascinating.
And maybe you will be lucky and see a boat going through and each locks being activated. I saw one, it is fun to watch but not for the 8 locks... it is quite long (90min).
A few facts about the engineering marvel:
- It raises the canal by 19 (62ft)
- It was built between 1803 and 1822 by the civil engineer Thomas Telford
- IT is the longest staircase lock in Scotland
Near the staircase you can find coffee shops to have a drink waiting for a boat to come through.
STOP 3 - Turn around for Ben Nevis
Drive a little and find a place to stop so that you can look behind you.
From the beginning of the road you can see the top of Ben Nevis in alignment with the road. It is the highest point in Scotland culminating at 1,346 metres (4,414 ft).
And the First half of the road along Loch Eil
The first half of the drive is actually really frustrating. Most of it is right next to Loch Eil but there are trees all the way between you and the view. Better to be on the train for that section as it is right next to the water...
As you get closer to Glenfinnan, the road becomes more interesting
STOP 4 - Glenfinnan Monument, Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel
The most famous stop on the Road to the isles is Glenfinnan. You cannot miss it. There are many signs and a parking (which gets full quickly and for which you have to pay).
- Fort William to Glenfinnan = 30min drive (without stopping)
- To get to the viewpoint, walk next to the visitor center / café and up an easy path for 5 minutes.
The majestic Loch Shiel starts appearing as you get higher...
... As well as the Glenfinnan monument erected to commemorate the Jacobite rising from the 18th century. Sadly as I was there, it was being repaired. It stands at the head of Loch Shiel, a 28km long freshwater loch surrounded by 700/800m high peaks.
From the same viewpoint you can turn around to watch the Glenfinnan viaduct. It was made famous by the movie Harry Potter and the train to Hogwarts.
The fans can check out the times for the old train to drive on it (once or twice a day depending on the season). The exact point of view from the movie requires a hike (plan 1h return - East of the Visitors Centre, head towards the Train Station and Museum, take the small trail that will take you towards the Viaduct)
There is also a 2min walk on a paved path all the way to the Glenfinnan monument and Loch Shiel.
STOP 5 - Loch Eilt and more scenic road
The road continues and it is now scenic at every turn!
One of my favorite spots on the Road to the isles was Loch Eilt (not to mix up with Loch Eil that was at the beginning of the drive). It is a small loch where we stopped for a picnic. The contrasting colors of the water and hills were enhanced with the shinning sun.
STOP 6 & 7 - Sea Loch Ailort and Loch nan Uamh
Then we reached the Sea with first the Loch of Ailort.
And as we drove along Loch nan Uamh , patches of turquoise water started sparking in front of me. Small islets spot the loch and a large parking allows you to enjoy the view.
STOP 8 - Arisaig & Coastal Route
Rather than driving straight away to Mallaig, I strongly recommend you take the alternative coast road on B8008. It is well indicated after the turn to Arisaig. It is a small road for some part so take your time.
It takes you to beautiful beaches with white sands and more turquoise water. (Parking can be difficult on a sunny day)
And you arrive by the beaches...
A few more beaches are further away from the road and can be reached on foot.
View of the Isles of Rum and Eigg
And on a clear day, from the coastal road you can see the silhouettes of the Isles or Rum (and its mountains from the Cuillin range) and Eigg (famous for the Nose of its summit An Sgurr).
Photos from the return drive - Mallaig to Fort William
I opted to drive back to enjoy more scenic road rather than take the ferry to the isle of Skye.
The views are also magnificent from Mallaig to Fort William:
All the way towards Ben Nevis.
Alternative - Fort William to the Isle of Skye - The Road to Skye
There is another great road starting in Fort William. It will take you to the magnificent Isle of Skye.
It also offers amazing Scottish Highlands scenery with lochs and castle. You can find some find the best stops in my article here.
Planning a road trip in Scotland?
Want to see more of SCOTLAND?
Discover more things to do & places to see in my Travel Scotland Destination Guide.
Great variety of scenery, don't you think?
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: