Steall Falls

Glen Nevis / Fort William, Scotland, UK (Great Britain)

About Steall Falls


Hiking Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2-2.5 hours

Date first visited: 2014-08-28
Date last visited: 2014-08-28

Waterfall Latitude: 56.7704
Waterfall Longitude: -4.97995

Steall Falls was a very beautiful waterfall ostensibly tumbling 120m into a wide open scenic valley backed by tall mountains of the Nevis Gorge.

It’s said to be Scotland’s second highest waterfall, which (if true) would be fitting considering it is in close proximity to Ben Nevis, which is the tallest mountain in Britain.

Steall_Falls_109_08282014 - Steall Falls
Steall Falls

This waterfall may be called Eas an Steill (meaning Steall Waterfall) or An Steall Ban (the white spout) in Scottish Gaelic.

I’ve also heard it pronounced like “shtowl” (like it rhymes with “towel”) instead of like “steel” though I’ve heard it both ways.

In any case, the hiking experience to access Steall Falls was truly back to Nature as the area was owned by the John Muir Trust.

Their aim was to restore the area to a state as if people hadn’t interfered with Nature.

The only thing that kept us from lingering longer and basking in this sublime naturesque place was the swarm (more like clouds) of midges.

Steall_Falls_195_08282014 - Looking back towards the Nevis Gorge at the mouth of the wide open valley containing Steall Falls
Looking back towards the Nevis Gorge at the mouth of the wide open valley containing Steall Falls

These bugs apparently had an itchy bite, which really conspired to take our minds away from the late-Summer beauty of this place.

The Hike to Steall Falls

We began our hike at a car park at the end of the road passing right near the head of Glen Nevis (see directions below).

From there, we went on a well-established trail that before long started to climb as well as get rockier as it clung to ledges on the north side of the Nevis Gorge.

For the most part, the ledges were fairly wide enough to keep us from being too nervous about dropoffs.

Steall_Falls_016_08282014 - Julie and Tahia on the Steall Falls Trail surrounded by tall mountains flanking the Nevis Gorge
Julie and Tahia on the Steall Falls Trail surrounded by tall mountains flanking the Nevis Gorge

However, the dropoffs were significant enough to induce butterflies in our stomachs if we were to step closer to the edge.

Even though we had some concerns about Tahia falling in some of the trickier spots, she seemed to do quite well.

Other hikers who noticed our three-year-old on the trail seemed quite impressed by her fearlessness.

Speaking of the tricky spots, we helped her hop across some of the unbridged gullies flowing with water, and we also helped her with the odd high and awkward rock step.

Steall_Falls_029_08282014 - The Steall Falls was not as easy as the modest hiking distance would make it appear because it was full of uneven rocky sections like this one
The Steall Falls was not as easy as the modest hiking distance would make it appear because it was full of uneven rocky sections like this one

Anyways, this uphill climbing would persist for about the first 45-60 minutes (we probably were slow because we let Tahia do the hike with minimal aid).

That said, we also had opportunities to look back towards Glen Nevis as well as back towards the trailhead where we saw an impressive sliding cascade tumbling on the slopes of Ben Nevis.

As we continued on the now-seemingly-unending climb, the valley then narrowed to a point where we were in a gorge as the rocky walls closed in on both sides.

Meanwhile, the Water of Nevis (the stream passing through the valley) could be heard even louder.

Steall_Falls_034_08282014 - Julie and Tahia continuing on the steep uphill Steall Falls Trail as we passed through the narrow and rocky Nevis Gorge
Julie and Tahia continuing on the steep uphill Steall Falls Trail as we passed through the narrow and rocky Nevis Gorge

The midges were also starting to get increasingly more annoying at this stage of the hike.

Eventually after getting through this narrow and rocky gorge section, the climb leveled out and we found ourselves in an open valley.

By now, we caught our first satisfying views of Steall Falls as the Allt Coire a’Mhail made its dramatic tumble beneath 800-1000m peaks.

That creek eventually joined with the main Water of Nevis watercourse that we had been hiking alongside the whole time.

The views were already good from the start of this open-meadowed valley, but we hastily continued further to get a closer look.

Steall_Falls_067_08282014 - Finally starting to see Steall Falls as we traversed the narrow part of the Nevis Gorge and into a wide open valley
Finally starting to see Steall Falls as we traversed the narrow part of the Nevis Gorge and into a wide open valley

Unfortunately, this meadow was also where the midge swarms were really at their worst as we would suddenly be surrounded by them.

They looked for any orifices to fly into while the females looked for a way to draw our blood.

We wound up lingering for probably 15 minutes or so at a point where the trail branched in a couple of directions within view of Steall Falls.

One path continued further east within the valley as the mountains would start pinching it off.

The other path headed straight towards the Water of Nevis, where there was a three-wire bridge traversing it.

Steall_Falls_180_08282014 - Looking further upstream along the Water of Nevis as the valley appeared to start closing in again in the distance
Looking further upstream along the Water of Nevis as the valley appeared to start closing in again in the distance

Since the view of Steall Falls was already good at this trail junction, this was the turnaround point for Julie and Tahia, where they ultimately finished the hike in about 60-90 minutes round trip.

However, I stuck around to do a little more exploring, including traversing that three-wire bridge.

The Three-Wire Bridge and the Base of Steall Falls

So taking the trail that led to the three-wire bridge over the Water of Nevis, I had a choice.

I could take the three-wire bridge over the stream, or I could just cross it the old-fashioned way (i.e. using the waterproofing of the Gore-tex boots and get across with some nifty roch hopping).

Steall_Falls_190_08282014 - Looking back at a woman crossing the three-wire bridge that led to the base of Steall Falls
Looking back at a woman crossing the three-wire bridge that led to the base of Steall Falls

I wound up doing the crossing both ways (unbridged crossing on the way there and three-wire crossing on the way back).

Regarding the three-wire crossing, the bridge was high enough that a fall here would most certainly result in a bad injury (especially given how rocky the stream was).

It was also high enough to really mess with your mind and add that sense of fear.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by how stable having three anchor points at a time was.

Steall_Falls_191_08282014 - What the three-wire bridge by Steall Falls looks like when you're actually about to go on it
What the three-wire bridge by Steall Falls looks like when you’re actually about to go on it

You basically use both arms to hold onto the upper wires while tightroping one foot in front of the other on the lower wire.

As long as you concentrate on the task at hand and block out the distractions, you’ll do fine.

Of course, you also have to adhere to the rule (and hope others do so too) that no more than two people in the same direction can go on at a time to keep the wires from being too bouncy.

Given the novelty of the three-wire bridge, it was quite popular and there was definitely a queue to use it.

Steall_Falls_140_08282014 - Looking at Steall Falls with its sloping drop from the other side of the Water of Nevis
Looking at Steall Falls with its sloping drop from the other side of the Water of Nevis

Anyways, on the other side of the Water of Nevis, the path continued past some house before degenerating into a really muddy walk.

The combination of grass and water saturation from the frequent rains here really forced me to be selective about where to make my next steps (or else end up shin-deep in the mud).

Eventually after 10-15 minutes of hiking, I’d eventually scramble towards the middle of the base of the Steall Falls on an “island” surrounded by the Allt Coire a’Mhail.

Even though getting past the three-wire bridge wasn’t necessary to get a good experience of Steall Falls, I was glad that I got to have this unusual perspective.

Steall_Falls_174_08282014 - Looking up from the very bottom of Steall Falls
Looking up from the very bottom of Steall Falls

After having my fill of the bottom of Steall Falls (where the midge swarms weren’t actually that bad), I then went back the way I came.

Even though the overall trail was about 2.5 miles round trip, I ended up spending about 2.5 hours away from the car.

This included all the resting, picture taking, and hiking, including the added adventure of going to the bottom of Steall Falls over the three-wire bridge.

Steall Falls and Harry Potter

While we were preparing to visit this waterfall, Julie alerted me in her spontaneous browsings of the web that Steall Falls also happened to make a cameo appearance the Harry Potter movies.

Steall_Falls_111_08282014 - Focused look at the Steall Falls from nearby the turnaround point for Julie and Tahia, which also was the perspective that the Harry Potter movies might have shot it
Focused look at the Steall Falls from nearby the turnaround point for Julie and Tahia, which also was the perspective that the Harry Potter movies might have shot it

Apparently, it showed up in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well as in Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince.

That would mean millions of people would have at least seen this waterfall (albeit not in person), and they might even recognize it without having even been there.

Since I wasn’t much of a Harry Potter fan, I wouldn’t be able to tell exactly where in the movies that Steall Falls made its appearances.

That said, I’m sure if ever catch a TV-syndicated re-run on cable or some streaming service (time permitting), then I’ll be sure to look out for it.

Authorities

Steall Falls resides in Glen Nevis near Fort William in the Inverness-shire, Scotland. It is administered by the John Muir Trust. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Steall_Falls_004_08282014 - This was the cascade or water slide seen from the Steall Falls car park that I believe tumbled on the slopes of Ben Nevis
Steall_Falls_011_08282014 - Julie and Tahia on the Steall Falls Trail surrounded by the tall mountains flanking Glen Nevis and the Nevis Gorge
Steall_Falls_015_08282014 - Julie further ahead on the Steall Falls Trail flanked by a mountain slope
Steall_Falls_022_08282014 - Julie helping Tahia get over some of the rocks and roots as well as steps along the Steall Falls Trail
Steall_Falls_024_08282014 - Julie and Tahia negotiating steps as it was pretty much all uphill on the way to the Steall Falls
Steall_Falls_025_08282014 - This was our first glimpse of Steall Falls as we were still headed up the Nevis Gorge
Steall_Falls_027_08282014 - As you can see, the Steall Falls hike was quite popular (despite its deceptively moderate difficulty) as there were numerous people ahead us, behind us, or going the other way
Steall_Falls_033_08282014 - This picture shows how rough the surface of the Steall Falls Trail can be, where Tahia was struggling a bit more than usual because of it
Steall_Falls_044_08282014 - Around the half-way point of the climb, we were able to look back into Glen Nevis to see how far we've come
Steall_Falls_046_08282014 - Julie helping Tahia past another tricky rocky section of the Steall Falls Trail
Steall_Falls_047_08282014 - This boardwalk clinging onto some cliffs of the Ben Nevis Gorge was one of the easier parts of the Steall Falls Trail
Steall_Falls_049_08282014 - Tahia and Julie hiking past some vertical cliffs with overhangs on the Steall Falls Trail
Steall_Falls_051_08282014 - The last bit of rocky sections of the Steall Falls Trail before entering the wide open meadowed valley
Steall_Falls_057_08282014 - Looking ahead at our first satisfying look at Steall Falls just as we were transitioning from the Nevis Gorge to the wide open valley
Steall_Falls_061_08282014 - Looking way in the distance towards Steall Falls as we couldn't wait to get closer
Steall_Falls_063_08282014 - As we continued hiking the much flatter trail leading closer to Steall Falls, we now had to contend with midges
Steall_Falls_071_08282014 - Looking back towards the mouth of the valley and the head of the Nevis Gorge just to show you how far into the valley that we had walked on the Steall Falls Trail
Steall_Falls_075_08282014 - I briefly paused to look at this bright rock to show just how many of those annoying midges there were in the area
Steall_Falls_076_08282014 - Tahia and Julie still getting closer to Steall Falls while simultaneously swatting (futilely) at midges with their hats
Steall_Falls_090_08282014 - Focused on Steall Falls with some people dwarfed in the front for scale
Steall_Falls_094_08282014 - Another look at Steall Falls with hikers further up ahead to provide some sense of scale
Steall_Falls_097_08282014 - Looking back at a lot of other hikers approaching the Steall Falls as they have come from Nevis Gorge section and are now hiking the open meadow area
Steall_Falls_121_08282014 - Broad view looking across the Water of Nevis towards Steall Falls
Steall_Falls_124_08282014 - Looking further into the wide open valley from near the trail junction leading closer to Steall Falls
Steall_Falls_130_08282014 - Looking towards the three-wire bridge crossing with someone making the traverse while someone else is filming him
Steall_Falls_132_08282014 - Looking back towards the head of the Nevis Gorge and the mouth of the open meadow from the other side of the Water of Nevis
Steall_Falls_134_08282014 - Checking out another person doing the three-wire bridge crossing to get closer to the bottom of Steall Falls
Steall_Falls_135_08282014 - A closer look at the Water of Nevis showing that you don't necessarily need to cross the three-wire bridge to get to the other side
Steall_Falls_139_08282014 - Looking back at the context of the three-wire bridge and the Water of Nevis just as the sun came out
Steall_Falls_155_08282014 - Looking back towards a house on the other side of the Water of Nevis as well as what I think could very well be Ben Nevis in the background on the topright of the photo
Steall_Falls_179_08282014 - The trail to the base of Steall Falls degenerated into a muddy slog for most of that final distance
Steall_Falls_170_08282014 - Getting closer to the base of Steall Falls
Steall_Falls_193_08282014 - Looking back towards the head of the Nevis Gorge and what might possibly be Ben Nevis in the background
Steall_Falls_199_08282014 - A closer look at that waterslide on the slopes of Ben Nevis that I had seen earlier from the car park
Steall_Falls_212_08282014 - On the trail back to the car park for Steall Falls.  Notice the thin waterslide to the topleft of the photo, which I think is the same one tumbling on the slopes of Ben Nevis

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Driving to Steall Falls from Fort William, we headed east on the A82 towards a roundabout shortly past the town center for Bedford Road on our right.

We then left the A82 and took the Bedford Road for about 6.5 miles through the scenic valley of Glen Nevis.

Along the way, we passed by the Ben Nevis and Visitor Centre as well as a handful of campsites and trailheads.

Steall_Falls_001_08282014 - The car park for Steall Falls at the very end of the road in Glen Nevis
The car park for Steall Falls at the very end of the road in Glen Nevis

While most of this road was already narrow yet still supporting two lanes, the last two miles to the very last car park at the head of the Glen was on even narrower single-track road.

We parked at the very last car park, in which this drive was about 15-20 minutes from the town centre of Fort William.

However, we did see there were other car parks preceding the final two miles of single-track road.

These included the Lower Falls Car Park or even further down into Glen Nevis at the so-called Braveheart car park.

Steall_Falls_003_08282014 - The Steall Falls car park involved driving the last two miles on a single-track road
The Steall Falls car park involved driving the last two miles on a single-track road

And while it may not be necessary to walk the entire Glen just to start the hike for Steall Falls, I could totally understand why someone might want to do so given how scenic Glen Nevis was as we were passing through.

That might mean parking at the Ionad Nibheis Centre at the very start of the Glen.

Just for a sense of reference, the town of Fort William was about 64 miles (90 minutes to 2 hours drive) southwest of Inverness, about 108 miles (roughly 2.5-3 hours drive) drive north of Glasgow, or 133 miles (over 3 hours drive) northwest of Edinburgh.

Sweep of the falls as we first laid eyes on it after a fairly strenuous climb. Note the persistent white balls which were actually the midge swarms keeping us from enjoying this place


Sweep starting with the three-wire bridge crossing then showing the valley we're in


Top down sweep from the very base of the waterfall (well on the other side of the three-wire bridge)

Tagged with: glen nevis, fort william, ben nevis, inverness-shire, scotland, uk, united kingdom, highlands, waterfall, harry potter, loch linnhe, wire bridge



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About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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