The drive from Fort William to Mallaig on A830, the Road to the Isles, is one of the most beautiful in Scotland.
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 with maps, tips and photos.
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Why drive on the Road to the Isles in Scotland (A830)?
A830 from Fort William to Mallaig is called the Road to the Isles, as it leads to the ferries crossing 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.
Even if you don't plan on taking the ferry, I recommend driving it and then driving back.
And don't miss the magnificent Loch Shiel along the way!
Below a short video to give you a feel of what it is like to drive the road to the isles, including the alternative coastal route near Mallaig - one of the best driving roads in Scotland!
The Jacobite train
This same road is also one of the most famous train rides in Scotland.
And the Jacobite train is closer to the lochs in some areas, so it provides better views.
The song "The Road to the Isles"
This name is also for a song published in 1917 (learn more about the song here and listen to version of it here).
It mentions many locations in Scotland including a few on this road such as Loch Shiel, Loch Ailort and Loch Morar.
More photos after the planning tips.
PLANNING TIPS & Map - Fort William to Mallaig Drive
Reaching the Road to the Isles
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How long does the Fort William to Mallaig drive take ? - Road to the Isles Map
- From Fort William to Mallaig, without stopping, the drive takes 1h each way (43 miles - 69km)
- There is one lane in each direction
- If you add the coastal root at the end, plan 1h20
- However, if you are stopping and exploring, I recommend blocking at least half a day
- Toilets are available at Fort William, Mallaig and in the middle at the Glenfinnan monument visitor center (20p donation, closed at 4:45PM)
- Below is a map to get you oriented:
Best stops along the Road to the Isles
My 4 -favorite stops are:
- The Neptune's staircase
- The Glenfinnan monument and Loch Shiel
- Loch Eilt
- The beaches with turquoise water
You will see them all in pictures below.
And all stops presented in this article are included in my eBook (with practical maps and GPS coordinates):
Plan your dream trip around Scotland!
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
- Take the ferry to the Isle of Skye, to shorten your time on the road - Check out ferry times and prices
Road to the Isles accommodations
- You can stay at the beginning of the drive in Fort William, if you want a larger town - Check out the best rated accommodations in Fort William
- If you plan on taking the ferry early morning, it is best to stay in Mallaig - Check out the best rated accommodations in Mallaig
- You can stay at the end of the drive near the beaches - Check out the best rated accommodations in Arisaig
- Or for more mountain views in a wilder area, choose Glenfinnan - see the few accommodation options
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.
From there you can go take the Gondola up the mountains.
Or if you just want a view of the highest point in Scotland culminating at 1,346 meters (4,414 ft), when you drive past stop 2, find a place to stop and look behind you: the top of Ben Nevis is in alignment with the road.
STOP 2 - Neptune's Staircase
As you leave Fort William on A830, you can stop at 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 lock 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 19m (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.
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 3 - Glenfinnan Monument, 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 car park (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 4 - Loch Eilt and a scenic drive
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.
STOPS 5 & 6 - 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 sparkling in front of me.
Small islets spot the loch, and a large carpark allows you to enjoy the view.
STOP 7 - Arisaig & Coastal Route - end of the Mallaig road trip
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 at the beaches with transparent water and white / golden sand!
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 of Rum (and its mountains from the Cuillin range) and Eigg (famous for the Nose of its summit An Sgurr).
Return drive - Mallaig to Fort William
I opted to drive back to enjoy more scenic roads 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 castles. You can find some find some of the best stops in my article here.
Want to see more wonderful roads to drive in Scotland? Here are a few:
- A82 through the Valley of Glencoe - read article
- Glen Etive to reach Loch Etive - read article
- The road around Loch Leven - read article
- The Old Military Road through Cairngorms - read article
- The road to Skye - read article
- The road through Wester Ross - read article
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