A guide to Steall Falls near Fort William

Written by Chris Thornton | 23rd of September 2023
Steall Falls near Fort William

After leaving Fort William and Old Inverlochy Castle's ruin, I was keen to visit Steall Falls, about 7 miles away. I had seen some fabulous images online of this large 120-metre waterfall, but little did I know how spectacular this waterfall would be in person. Steall Falls was by far the best place we stopped on my 40th birthday tour of central Scotland.

Getting to Steall Falls

Leaving Fort William to the south, we travelled along Glen Nevis Road; there was a multitude of places here, such as Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park and Glen Nevis Youth Hostel... this place was really geared up for outdoorsy people, there were hikers everywhere!

The scenic route to Steall Falls.
Glen Nevis Road, a stunning journey to Steall Falls.

Glen Nevis

This section of the road is utterly stunning. High hills with steep waterfalls flow down into the River Nevis. It's easy to see why this section of Glen Nevis Road was used in the filming of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" blockbuster movie. We stopped at various places here to take some photographs and even spotted some Highland cows; I felt a little jealous of them in their idyllic surroundings.

Highland cows, basking in the summer sun.
Highland cows relaxing in the meadows near the River Nevis.
 
Glen Nevis Road
Stunning countryside near Fort William.
 
River Nevis surrounded by beautiful mountains.
The River Nevis.
 
Stunning landscapes near Fort William.
The scenic views around here are second to none.

Eventually, the road changed from two-way traffic to just a single-track road; there are very frequent passing places, so don't worry too much about that.

We passed the lower falls but decided to stop there on the return journey as they looked pretty impressive too, but for now, we wanted to get the good of the day and get to the main falls first.

Steal Falls Upper Car Park

Our visit to Steall Falls was a bit spur of the moment, so I hadn't really researched much about it, but to our surprise, there was a moderate-sized car park available, and it was busy! We did manage to find a parking space, though.

Looking around at the other tourists, we felt very underequipped; everyone was in hiking gear, and we were in jeans and trainers... but we didn't let that put us off, and we made our way to the start of the walk.

Car parks
The upper car park for Steall Falls.
 
Precipitous mountainsides with more waterfalls!
Another waterfall flows high on the hillside near the car park.

Nevis Gorge- Steall Falls Walk

We had no idea how far it was to the main falls (there is an info board, but we didn't stop to read it), but the actual walk itself is a huge part of a visit to Steall Falls. The path leads along the hillside of the Nevis Gorge with fairly steep drops to your right.

The start of the path to access Steall Falls, a lovely walk.
Example of the path to the waterfall.

There were so many smaller waterfalls along this route that the path even has specifically made partitions for the water to flow through. The path itself has a variety of surfaces, from gravel to hard stone, wooden walkways, and actually clambering over large rocks. Steall Falls is sadly not disabled-friendly. It had begun to occur to me that I had become rather unfit in my old age...

Waterfall shuttering.
Stone partitions for the many waterfalls.
 
Dappled light makes the walk even more beautiful.
Following the trail to Steall Falls.

I could have spent a lot of time photographing the small waterfalls along this route; there must be at least ten falls, each beautiful in its own right. The path actually makes you walk over the flows of a couple of the falls, mildly dangerous but passable with care.

One of the many smaller waterfalls.
One of the many smaller waterfalls while walking to the main waterfall.
 
Photographers are spoiled here.
Babbling waterfall on the route.
 
Fast moving water.
One of the many waterfalls while walking to the main waterfall.
 
The rocky road to Steall Falls. A short hike.
The paths are quite rocky and uneven in some sections.

At one point, there is a break in the trees, and you can look right down the Nevis Valley for a breathtaking view. Other than the main falls themselves, this is probably the best viewpoint of the whole area. We could see a kayaker far below on the "Waters of Nevis"; it wasn't for me; it looked quite a challenge.

Amazing views of the glens around Ben Nevis.
The best view while hiking Steall Falls. Ancient woodland below.

Near the end of the walk, we noticed huge boulders that had fallen down over the river; perhaps these have been here since the last ice age; there's no way humans could have moved them here.

Huge boulders. A great hiking experience.
Huge boulders in the Waters of Nevis.

The walk seemed to go on forever; how long was the Steall Falls walk?!

Finally, we got a glimpse of the main visage of the Steall Waterfall through the rocks and vegetation; I knew this would be something special.

A stunning place for a long walk.
Finally spotting the upper falls through the rocks and trees.

Glen Nevis

The canopy of trees and rocky surroundings gave way to an open meadow; in central view, the spectacular waterfall cascaded down the hillside in the distance. There had been a lot of rainfall leading up to our visit, so it looked even more impressive.

The Waters of Nevis River flows past to the right at a leisurely rate, but seeing it downstream, it becomes a raging torrent at some sections... but here in the valley, it added to the peaceful serenity of this picturesque setting.

A well-trodden path meanders in the general direction of the falls; it's a pleasant route taking in the glorious scenery.

An Steall Ban
The open valley and meadows.
 
A great short walk in west Scotland.
Making our way to Steall Falls.
 
A distant view of the waterfall.  Only a short distance now.
Looking from across the Water of Nevis River.

Harry Potter waterfall

While entering this valley, I had a niggling feeling I had seen this waterfall before. It wasn't until I returned home I found out that it was a filming location for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). Harry must face the Hungarian Horntail Dragon in the pit in the fictional arena near Steall Falls. Although it was most obvious in this movie, the waterfall actually appears in five Harry Potter movies between 2001 and 2009, mainly during Quiddich match sequences. West of Fort William, you can also find the film location for Dumbledore's Grave.

We made it to a large open area; there are two directions here; the left takes you further up the valley but not to the Steall Waterfall; however, there are some great angles to be had here for photos.

A bit closer!
Front view of the falls, it's hard to get a sense of scale from this image.

Steall Falls Rope Bridge

The right path leads you to the wire rope bridge. A little shot of panic ran through my mind; I didn't realise this was the only way to get to the foot of the falls and cross the Waters of Nevis river. As a child, I would have been over it like a shot, but suffering from bouts of vertigo as an adult, it was a bit of a thought to cross it; I felt quite anxious and considered just turning back from here. Other couples were also deliberating the crossing, and many did turn back.

The infamous wire bridge made from strong metal wire. 2 hand wires with a single lower wire to walk upon.
The wire rope bridge is the only way to cross the Water of Nevis if the water level is high.

Luckily my wife Janette was keen to try it, so there was no way I would be left behind. I'm so glad we did the river crossing, as we would have missed out on the best part of the falls.

Although it is called a rope bridge, it is made from three lengths of very strong wire; it's anchored at one side with a concrete base and steel frame. The cables are securely attached to the rocks on the far side. You hold onto the two "hand ropes" and walk across a single rope.

There were about eight people coming back from the far side, so we had to wait our turn. Janette went first, and I followed as the wire allowed two people to cross at once. It wasn't as bad as I had feared; the movement of the wires was quite minimal, and walking with our feet at 90-degree angles, we were soon over the river. It was nothing. I felt embarrassed that I had even considered not crossing; my inner 8-year-old self was shaking its head.

The wire bridge added a sense of adventure to an already adventurous trip by our standards. If you go, please consider it; the reward at the end is more than worth it.

Looking up the valley to the left of Steall Falls. An impressive sight.
The Waters of Nevis can only be crossed by rope bridge!

Onwards to Steall Falls

We followed the most obvious path to the falls, passing nearby Steall Hut, which looked like bothy-style accommodation. More information can be found on the Steall Hut website; it costs £10 per person with a minimum spend of £50.

Steall Hut and river.
Looking back towards Steall Hut.

The path almost disappeared further ahead, and the land was very wet and boggy; we regretted not taking better footwear. I wonder if the rope bridge filters out the crowds and that's why there is no established path. We arrived at Steall Falls.

Getting closer to the big waterfall.
Approaching the waterfall.

The Foot of Steall Falls

Words can't convey the beauty of looking up at these falls. They stand at 120 metres and fall over multiple levels splitting into two distinct forks at the bottom. The sound of roaring water flows from the slopes of An Gearanach, and the fine spray fills your senses as you take in the awe of this spectacular waterfall.

A watery spectacle to behold!
Looking up at Steall Falls.

Steall Falls gets its name from its Gaelic title - "An Steall Bàn", meaning "The White Spout" and is famous for being Scotland's second highest waterfall (the highest being "Eas a' Chual Aluinn" far north in Sutherland). It's fitting that one of the tallest waterfalls should be situated near the tallest mountain in Britain - Ben Nevis.

Bottom of the waterfall.
Water frothing at the foot of the falls.
 
A high speed freeze frame of the frothing waters!
Water cascaded over the rocky ledges.
 
Photographers paradise.
Feel the freshness!
 

We climbed around this area, finding various places to take photographs. A couple named Steve and Donna arrived behind us a few minutes later; I offered to take their photo with my "big camera" and email the pics to them; they kindly reciprocated and took a shot of me with Janette.

Visiting Steall Falls was so worth it. The drive, the great walk, the wire bridge, it was worth it. This waterfall was just utterly beautiful and my highlight of the year. We remained at this spot in awe for about 15 minutes but then grudgingly decided to leave as we had hotel accommodations to reach, and it was already 5 pm.

The walk back seemed much faster; why do journeys home always feel quicker? We arrived back at the now emptying car park and drove back along the single-track road. We passed Steve and Donna on the road; they must have been hardcore hikers to not only hike to Steall Falls but also from wherever they were staying that night!

Lower Falls car park

We pulled into the small car park directly next to the lower falls. This is a smaller waterfall but has a much more aggressive flow; it's worth a look when visiting Steall Falls; the power of the water is quite impressive.

An hour's walk is available here to Paddy's Bridge, offering incredible views.

The lower falls at Steall Waterfall.
The lower falls at Steall Falls.
 
A shameless selfie.
Selfie at the lower falls!

Steall Falls FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about Steall Falls.

Is the walk to Steall Falls safe for kids?

It is moderately dangerous; small kids should have a harness for you to hold onto just in case. There are some severe drops that could easily kill. Older kids (8-12) will also need some help crossing some sections of the route; the waterfall crossings can be slippy. As an adult, I felt some areas were treacherous and would probably be having kittens if my 6-year-old daughter had been with us.

How long will it take to hike Steall Falls?

The Steall Falls hike should take about 2 hours, the route is considered easy to moderate, but for the unfit like me, I found it a little challenging but not beyond completing. It is about 3.5 km.

How fit do you need to be to visit Steall Falls?

Moderate fitness would be helpful, but for me, a slightly tubby 40-year-old who sits at a computer all day, I managed OK, although I was a little out of breath at some sections.

Some balance is required to traverse the wire bridge, so if you have problems with that, you will not get directly to the bottom of the falls.

Crossing the bridge when heading home! No cable car.
Traversing the rope bridge, it's not as bad as it looks!

Can you drive to Steall Falls?

Only to the car park, there is a significant walk to get to the actual falls.

Can you wild camp at Steall Falls?

Yes. Wild camping is permitted, but go in the warmer months! The best spots are probably not near the falls themselves, as it is very wet and boggy. The northeast side of the valley, looking towards the falls, might be better. No fires are allowed and bring the Midge repellent.

Bothy style accommodation is available at Steall Hut for £10 per head.

Can you swim at Steall Falls?

Yes, there are sections of the Waters of Nevis that look quite peaceful and still. Just remember that the water in Scotland is COLD, and if you come into any difficulty, it will take a while for emergency services to reach you. In recent years many people have drowned in Scotland after misjudging the water temperature, depth and currents of open bodies of water.

What is the best time to visit Steall Falls?

This very popular waterfall will be the busiest between April and September. Off-season would be considered from October to May, but conditions might not be as favourable. If you visit in the summer months (peak season), it's worth coming early (before 9 am) to ensure a space in the car park.

If you visit in off-season, remember the sun sets early in the Scottish winter, sometimes as early as 4 pm, so don't get caught walking home in darkness.

Are there toilets at Steall Falls?

No, there are no toilets available, and due to how busy the place is, you can't go for a cheeky pee behind a tree! Make sure you go to the toilet prior to your visit. If you have to go, please go far from the water and paths. The hut near the falls cannot be used as a toilet.

Are Midges a problem at Steall Falls?

This tiny biting insect can be annoying, but we had no problems when we visited. Check my Midge Survival Guide if you want to learn more about repellants.

Can I take my dog to Steall Falls?

Yes, but keep it on a leash until you get to the open meadow area; there are so many sheer drops and difficult sections to traverse for our four legged friends.

What Wildlife can be seen at Steall Falls?

We didn't see much, apart from a wee river vole scampering in some rocks. However, it's possible to see golden eagles circling above the meadows near the falls. The forested sections are comprised mainly of Scots pine and Birch.

Are there bike racks at Steall Falls?

Yes, the car park has a bike rack so you can safely leave your bike while you walk to the falls.

Bike racks at Steall Falls.
Bike racks at Steall Falls.

Can I climb Ben Nevis from Steall Falls?

No, this is not the route up Ben Nevis; you will need to retrace your steps 5 miles back to the Ben Nevis visitor centre to reach the start of the path.

Who is in charge of the area around Steall Falls?

The John Muir Trust administers the area and has a ranger that regularly roams the area. Please see their website for more info. Donations of £5 can be sent by texting STEALL to 70085.

Are there any other nearby attractions close to Steall Falls?

It depends on what you like, but Fort William nearby offers Old Inverlochy Castle if you like old ruins, and the Jacobite Steam Train is a fantastic experience (especially for the Harry Potter fan looking to try the Hogwarts Express!).  The walk to Ralston Cairn in Glencoe is breathtaking.

Heading back to the car par at the very end of our hike.
Heading back in the direction of the car park.

Some videos from Steall Falls

Here are a few short videos of the falls and the area leading up to them. Turn down your volume a little; the water sounds can be quite loud in the videos.

One of the smaller waterfalls on the hiking route.
 
Another waterfall on the scenic hiking trail.
 
So many waterfalls!
 
Huge boulders in the river below.
 
One of the waterfalls that must be crossed to arrive at the main falls.
 
The main view of the falls with the Waters of Nevis flowing below.
 
Another detailed view looking directly at the falls.
 
Janette taking a mighty leap over the falls.
 
Crossing via the rope bridge, it was a piece of cake!
 
Looking up from the foot of the falls
 
The general area at the foot of the falls, the autofocus failed here for some reason!
 
The raging torrent of water at the lower falls.

Key information on Steall Falls

  • Steall Falls is around 7 miles from Fort William.

  • The waterfall is 120 meters high and utterly spectacular.

  • The second tallest waterfall in Scotland.

  • Also called "An Steall Bàn", meaning "The White Spout".

  • A bothy exists near the waterfall but must be booked in advance.

  • If you want to visit the foot of the falls, there is a wire bridge to cross the river.

  • If you're not brave enough for the wire bridge, it may be possible to cross at shallower sections upstream.

  • The walk is around 2.25 miles and will take about 2 hours.

  • The hike would be considered easy for seasoned hikers.

  • Wild camping is possible within the vicinity of the falls.

Conclusion

Our visit to Steall Falls is something I will remember for the rest of my life; it was the ideal way to spend my 40th birthday. If you're looking for a waterfall in the Scottish Highlands, I don't think you will find one better than this.

We headed north to our accommodation for the night, The Tomich Hotel, near Drumnadrochit, chatting about the amazing Steall Falls the entire way.

Back on the road heading to our next destination.
Travelling to our next destination after a great hike at Steall Falls.
Old Inverlochy Castle location map

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

Claim Your Free 6 Day Travel Itinerary:

Simply enter your email and we'll send it your way!

Free Scotland travel itinerary

Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?