Five Sisters of Kintail: Ridge and Legend
The Five Sisters of Kintail stand out as some of the UK’s most famous and classic mountains. It’s a distinguished ridge walk which gives some truly spectacular views on a clear day.
While only 3 of the 5 Sisters are actually Munros, most enthusiasts will want to complete the ridge for that feeling of satisfaction at the end. It is possible to miss out the last 2 Sisters which we’ll look at on Alternative Routes.
Legend has it that five men were to marry the five daughters of a local Kintail Chief. A pair of Irish princes who were already in love with the Chief’s two other daughters were sent back to Ireland to fetch the five men. Unfortunately, they were killed on the voyage. The sisters didn’t know this so they waited and waited. They eventually asked a local ‘grey magician’ if he would keep them in Kintail during the afterlife so that they would always lie in wait. To do this, he turned them into the Five Sisters of Kintail mountains.
It’s a nice little story used describe and explain the naming of this alluring set of mountains.
It’s interesting to know that one of the western sides of these mountains has a constant 30-degree incline for more than 3000 feet. In other words, the entire height of one Munro is reached in one constant slope. Don’t worry, you don’t have to climb or descend this section! (if you don’t want to)
Keep in mind that the route is linear so two vehicles would be ideal. Park a car at the beginning and end to save a pretty nasty 8-mile walk along the main road.
- Munros Climbed
- Getting There
- Duration & Length
- Where To Stay
- The Hike
- Alternative Routes
- Nearby Hikes & Things To Do
- To Conclude
- Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe – 1027 metres (3369 ft) – pronounced SKOOR-NA-KISHTE-DOOIY
- Sgurr na Carnach – 1002 metres (3287 ft) – pronounced SKOOR-NA-CARNICH
- Sgurr Fhuaran – 1067 metres (3501 ft) – pronounced SKOOR-OOARIN
If you’d like to know a bit more about Scotland’s mountains then check out this post here.
If you’ve already climbed some of Glen Shiel’s many peaks then you’ll be more than familiar with the location of the Five Sisters.
Turn off the A82 at Invermoriston onto the A887 towards the Isle of Skye. Follow this road for 30 miles (48 km) where you’ll reach the large Glen Shiel layby on the right. This is the starting point.
If you bring two cars (which I recommend) then you’ll want to take both to the end point which is in the hamlet of Ault a’ chruinn. It’s on your right 9 miles past the Glen Shiel layby. If you find yourself going over a left-sweeping causeway then this is too far! Alt a’ chruinn is right before it.
Click here to see the starting point on Google Maps.
While the hardest section is undoubtedly the climb straight up from the Glen Shiel layby to the bealach, the ridge itself offers some challenging sections. After the initial climb, you get a stunning view of the 3 Munros ahead. At this point, they look a simple case of a short up and down for each one but this it’s not this simple.
A lot of the terrain is actually very rocky and requires care and some mild scrambling. Don’t worry, it’s nothing dangerous but is worth keeping in mind!
Duration & Length
Duration: 7 – 10 hours
Length: 8.1 miles (13 km)
A friend and I did this hike in just over 8 hours and we were going at a fairly relaxed pace. If you like to motor along then 7 hours is more realistic whereas if you take your time or like to go slow then set aside a good 10 hours for the whole hike.
Where To Stay
Kyle of Lochalsh has several B&B’s. For something even closer it’s worth checking out:
The Five Sisters can be hiked from either end but the most popular is from the Glen Shiel Car Park. This way you climb the 3 Munros first.
From the car park head straight up the steep slopes. There’s a boggy path which zigzags and winds it’s way north. It’s not actually far but took us the best part of an hour to get up to the Bealach an Lapain directly between the Brothers and Sisters of Kintail.
Take your time during this climb, you don’t want to exhaust yourself for the rest of the hike! Bear in mind it’s probably the toughest section of steep climbing and you get it out the way early on.
At the Bealach, you’re heading left. Right would take you over the Brothers Ridge.
From here on, the hike over the Five Sisters of Kintail is actually very self-explanatory. It’s one of Scotland’s most spectacular ridge walks and definitely one you should try and do with best possible visibility.
Follow the undulating path along the ridge and up the mildly rocky slopes to the peak of Sgurr nan Spainteach. This is the top before you reach the summit of the day’s first Munro.
Take care on the brief but rocky scramble down Sgurr nan Spainteach. Follow the ridge ahead. The path veers right and then will sharply turn to the left before the final steep ascent of Sgurr na Ciste Duibh.
Munro number 1’s summit cairn is massive and on a clear day you’ll get stunning views of Loch Duich and over to the Isle of Skye.
The next Munro, Sgurr na Carnach, is the day’s smallest but probably the toughest. Follow the ridge as it bears right and onto the Bealach na Craoibhe. From here it’s straight up to the summit of Sgurr na Carnach.
It’s very rocky going and while there is a minor path heading up, I recommend you go where you feel comfortable and most secure.
That’s you at the top of Munro number 2! From here the terrain is very similar over the third and onto the rest of the Sisters.
Head straight down Sgurr na Carnach and over the Bealach na Carnach. Go directly north towards the slopes of Sgurr Fhuaran. At 1067 metres, Sgurr Fhuaran is the day’s highest point.
The climb up the third Munro is again rocky and involves a bit of scrambling. It’s not as tough at the last one but you still need to watch your footing.
That’s the third of the Five Sisters. Enjoy the spectacular views of Glen Affric to the northeast and the Cuillins directly to the west. If the weather is very clear then southeast you’ll even get a glimpse of Ben Nevis.
Now from an aesthetic point of view, I do highly recommend finishing off the Five Sisters. If you do want to end the hike then it’s possible to cut back down into Glen Shiel after Sgurr Fhuaran. We’ll touch on this in the Alternative Routes section.
The walk to the end of the Sisters is not too challenging and is all about appreciating the spectacular scenery on offer.
Head west off Sgurr Fhuaran and then continue north up onto the peak of Sgurr nan Saighead. This is the 4th sister.
Drop down towards the smaller peak of Beinn Bhuidhe and enjoy the stunning views north east into Coire na’ h-Uaighe.
The climb up to Beinn Bhuidhe is a rocky scramble, similar to that of the second and third Munros.
Looking to the north you’ll see the peak of the fifth and final Sister, Sgurr na Moraich. There are several false summits but the steady ascent makes for a relatively straightforward final climb.
From Beinn Bhuidhe, head northeast and onto the curving wide ridge of Sgurr na Moraich. The summit offers arguably even better views of Loch Duich and the Isle of Skye in the distance.
Descend northwest off Sgurr na Moraich and down the pathless slopes towards Allt a’ Chruinn. I found this section to be tedious, mainly due to the mossy terrain and lack of a path. Loch Duich stretches out in the view ahead.
Eventually, after about a mile, you’ll reach Allt a’ Chruinn river and a clearly marked path. Take the path right and follow it the remaining kilometre down to Ault a’ chruinn.
This is the end of the Five Sisters and from here it depends on how organised you are! If you’re with company and brought two cars then one should be parked here, if not then (sorry!) but it’s a long 8-mile walk back along the main road.
If you’re extremely fit and loved the hike that much then you could go up and over the Sisters again, if you do then I take my hat off!
The fact that this is a linear route means there aren’t too many variations.
If you’re keen on bagging the 3 Munros but don’t want to traverse all the sisters then this is possible. I would say that it makes it feel that bit sweeter having conquered all 5, but several of you will want to call it a day.
Just 3 Sisters
After Sgurr Fhuaran, the third Munro, head straight down the valley going northwest. The ascent is steep and continues all the way down to Loch Shiel. Continue along the shore of the loch until you reach the main road.
The Opposite Direction
This exact same original route as described before is taken but from Ault a’ chruinn to the Glen Shiel car park as opposed to vice versa. I would say that it’s really up to you and you can maybe let logistics be the deciding factor. The opposite direction may be slightly tougher because the final descent down to the car park is very steep. If you have dodgy knees or aren’t a fan of ‘going down’ then I’d just do it the normal way.
Nearby Hikes & Things To Do
Well, take your pick?
There are a huge array of nearby hikes, some of which are:
- The South Glen Shiel Ridge (tough).
- The Brothers Ridge (moderate).
- Carn a’ Ghluasaid and its neighbours (easier).
Things To Do
- Isle of Skye (a stone’s throw away).
- Glen Affric.
- Eilean Donan Castle.
- All The Goodness is one of the area’s best cafes.
Hopefully this mini-guide has given you a better idea of what it’s like hiking The Five Sisters of Kintail. If you’re in the area and fancy a challenging day out in the hills then you should 100% give this a bash.
While it’s a ridge walk, there are some surprisingly tough sections and I probably wouldn’t recommend tackling the whole thing if you’re a novice. Take some well-protected boots for the rocky sections.
The views are simply staggering and it’s one of my favourite hikes in Scotland up to now.
The legend of the Five Sisters gives the mountains a bit of character and they’ll always be a firm favourite among mountain enthusiasts in the UK.
As always, thanks a lot for reading and if you’ve got any questions or anything you’d like to add then drop a comment below. 🙂