For me, the Old Man of Storr was a big deal. This rock pinnacle on the Isle of Skye was one of the reasons I came to Scotland. Views of the Old Man of Storr rising from mossy green hills that tumble down to the sea had captured my imagination years ago, and I knew I had to see that view with my own eyes one day. To my surprise, the Storr was visible from the yard of the house where we stayed! But despite being able to see it every day, the view from afar was nothing compared to the hike to the Old Man of Storr. It just took a few days for us to get there.
The weather on the Isle of Skye is unpredictable. It rains a lot and can be very windy, and sometimes our plans were thwarted by storms. I learned that when you’re on the Isle of Skye, you have to be ready to take quick advantage of breaks in the stormy weather — if it’s not raining, get out and do those hikes!
The Old Man of Storr is the pinnacle that sticks out among the Storr, the rock formations of the Trotternish ridge. Ancient landslips created this unusual landscape. One legend claims that the Old Man is actually the thumb of a giant who’s buried under the Trotternish ridge!
To get to the Storr, simply drive on A855 a few miles north of the town of Portree.You can also take a bus from Portree — try booking with the local bus company Go Skye. You’ll see a small parking area on the left, but this fills up quickly, so look for a place to park on the side of the road (and the road is narrow, so have kids exit the car away from the road).
You’ll see the trailhead with an information board showing the routes. You can’t miss it–simply follow the main trail straight up to the rocks. The entire hike is about 3.8 km and takes less than two hours, but if the weather is good, I would recommend staying longer. There’s a lot to explore up there, and you’ll want to have plenty of time to rest, look for bunnies and take photos. (If you’d like to see more, follow the directions for a slightly longer hike here.)
The first section of the trail is a flat gravel path with a slow ascent. You’ll soon get beautiful views of the water and hills below. At one point, you’ll come to a fork in the path (see below). We decided not to take it, but from what I’ve read, on the way back down, you can take this way for a slightly longer descent. Otherwise, the more direct way is to take the same trail up and back.
There used to be a forest in this first section of the hike, and you’ll see evidence of the trees that have been felled here.
Soon you’ll come to a place where you’ll need to cross shallow water. There are rocks that you can use to step across, but you may want to walk around to the left to avoid the water. It was very muddy the day we were there, and we were thankful to have our waterproof hiking shoes on!
The latter half of the ascent is more difficult. The trail becomes steeper, and the trail is not in good condition in some places. Our kids had no problem with this section, but as you can see below, there are a lot of rocks and steps to navigate as you get closer to the Old Man.
Once you’re below the Old Man of Storr, you need to veer off to the left or right. Don’t try to climb the pile of dirt and rocks just below the pinnacle — Noah went up that way, but Gabriel and I, while trying to catch up, got stuck there on one unstable rock after another. Be smart and stay on the trails, especially if you’re hiking the Storr with kids.
And while those green hills look really inviting, they’re also very slippery if it’s been raining. Wear good shoes, hold your kids’ hands and take it slow if you find yourself on precarious trails.
Once you’re up at the level of the Old Man of Storr, you’ll find a bunch of small trails leading into the Sanctuary (the rocks) and up the hills to the right. Just to the right of the Old Man is the Needle. Continue this way and climb to the flat ledge shown to the right of the Needle below. This is where you can get some of the best views of the rocks, the Sound of Raasay and even the mainland.
We actually didn’t make it quite that far because it started to sprinkle, and I worried that it would rain and the trails would get even muddier than they already were.
From up here, you can take one of the many small trails back down to the main one and then descend to the car the same way you came.
Tips for hiking to the Old Man of Storr with kids:
Hiking to the Old Man of Storr was the highlight of our 2.5 weeks in Scotland. My kids, ages 9 and 6, found it invigorating and were proud of themselves for climbing so high. It wasn’t too far or too hard for them, though there were a couple of times when the younger one needed help.
- Wear good hiking shoes. We love Blundstones for the whole family because they’re durable and waterproof.
- Dress in layers. You’ll get warm while ascending, but you’ll need a warmer layer at the top, where it’s windy and colder.
- The weather here changes quickly. We had sun, clouds and rain in a matter of two hours.
- The hike is not difficult, but you should use caution to avoid falls, especially near the rocks and on the steep parts of the trail.
- Keep your hands free — if you bring water, try to bring a bottle that can fit in your pocket.
- Look for rabbits and listen for sheep at the top.
A more adventurous climb to the summit (without kids!)
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