The Nevis Gorge, it's been said, is where Scotland pays its little tribute to the Himalayas. High walls of crag and boulder rise on either side. The path runs through a narrow gap where forest clings to the steep hillside and the river crashes below among its boulders.
Rocks and falls galore
Four different types of rock make up this scenery, and three of them are obvious from the walk. The crushed and ancient rocks of the Central Highlands (the Dalradian series) are mostly grey schist, but here there is also the pale-grey quartzite of Sgurr a'Mhaim, above the bend of the glen. The grinding of the continents at the time the Caledonian mountains were formed caused great bubbles of melted rock within the schist. These now appear at the surface as the granite on the lower slopes of Ben Nevis. It's grey on the outside, but pink when freshly broken or washed by streams. The granite was formed deep underground, but above it volcanoes were pouring out the black lava that now forms the summit of Ben Nevis and its formidable northern crags.
As the glen bends east towards the gorge, stop at the Polldubh car park (Grid ref: NN 145683). The first waterfall is hidden underneath the road bridge. The riverbed is the pinkish Nevis granite, cut by two dykes – vertical intrusions of volcanic rock – which the river has eroded into twin channels. Continue up the road to its end at the second car park, where the walk starts. Glen Nevis has the rounded outline of a glacial valley. Glacier-smoothed rock below the car park has become an informal 'symbolic cemetery', commemorating those killed by the mountains they loved. Once above the gorge, the depth of the former glacier is shown by the rocks of Meall Cumhann, on the Ben Nevis (north) side. These are obviously smoothed by the ice that has passed right over the top of them.
Steall Fall is about 300ft (91m) high. In a good winter it freezes completely and climbers ascend it in spiked crampons with an ice axe in each hand. The valley above the fall, the Allt Coire a'Mhail, once flowed gently out into a higher version of Glen Nevis. From above, it still appears to unwary walkers to do so. Ice deepened Glen Nevis by 750ft (229m). In the following 10,000 years, the side-stream has barely started its task of eroding the hanging valley down to the level of its new endpoint.
It should be noted that the waterslide above the car park is the Allt Coire Eoghainn – if you mistake it for the Steall Fall and set off towards it you are on a difficult and potentially dangerous path. The path you will take on this walk is much easier, but even here there have been casualties, mostly caused by people wearing unsuitable shoes. At the top end of the car park you will see a signpost that shows no destination closer than the 13 miles (21km) to Kinlochleven – accordingly, this walk will be a short out-and-back. The well-made path runs gently uphill under woods of birch and hazel, across what turns into a very steep slope. For a few steps it becomes a rock-cut ledge, with a step across a waterfall side-stream. The path at this point is on clean pink granite, but you will see a boulder of grey schist beside the path just afterwards. Ahead, the top of the Steall Fall can now be just glimpsed through the notch of the valley.
The path continues downhill to cross a stream with big rock blocks; the rock now is schist, with fine zig-zag stripes of grey and white. A short rock staircase leads to a wooden balcony section. From here the path is just above the bed of the Nevis Gorge. Here the river runs through some huge boulders, some of which bridge it completely.
Quite suddenly, the path emerges on to a level meadow above the gorge. Ahead, the Steall Fall fills the view. The well-built path runs along the left-hand edge of the meadow to a point opposite the waterfall. Here a side path turns off right, to the riverside.
The walk ends here, beside a footbridge which consists simply of three steel cables over a very deep pool. Those who wish to attempt the crossing should note that it gets wobblier in the middle; it's hard to turn round, but the return journey is rather easier. From the wire bridge, the driest path runs alongside the main river round one bend before heading up to the foot of the waterfall. The view from directly beneath is even more spectacular.
Well-built path with drops alongside
Deep wooded gorge, wet meadow above
Off lead, beware of steep slopes alongside path
OS Explorer 392 Ben Nevis & Fort William
Walkers' car park at end of Glen Nevis road
Glen Nevis Visitor Centre
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Apart from the Orkneys and the Shetlands, Highland is Scotland’s northernmost county. Probably its most famous feature is the mysterious and evocative Loch Ness, allegedly home to an ancient monster that has embedded itself in the world’s modern mythology, and the region’s tourist industry. Monster or no, Loch Ness is beautiful and it contains more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales put together. The loch is 24 miles long, one mile wide and 750 feet deep, making it one of the largest bodies of fresh water in Europe.
At the very tip of the Highlands is John o’ Groats, said to be named after a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, who lived here in the early 16th century and operated a ferry service across the stormy Pentland Firth to Orkney. In fact, the real northernmost point of the British mainland is Dunnet Head, whose great cliffs rise imposingly above the Pentland Firth some two miles further north than John o’ Groats.
The Isle of Skye is the largest and best known of the Inner Hebrides. Its name is Norse, meaning ‘isle of clouds’, and the southwestern part of the island has some of the heaviest rainfall on the whole of the British coast. Despite this, it’s the most visited of all the islands of the Inner Hebrides. It’s dominated from every view by the high peaks of the Cuillins, which were only conquered towards the end of the 19th century.