Yes, This Is Scotland!
Welcome to Nomadic-Planet’s brief guide to Scotland’s world class coastal route, featuring where to wild camp north coast 500.
Home to some of the most unbelievable and idyllic landscapes, it’s hard to believe all of this is in the U.K.! Read on to find out why this should be your next adventure.
At the end of this post you’ll find 7 great locations to pitch up while working your way around one of the worlds most spectacular coastal routes.
The North Coast 500, notoriously dubbed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, stretches 500 miles around the northernmost region of Scotland’s pristine coastline. Starting and ending at the highland city of Inverness, this spectacular road trip cruised its way into Travel Now magazine’s top 6 coastal routes in the world!
And rightly so….
The Highlands endlessly engulf the romantically rugged west coast, which is itself dotted with numerous white sand beaches hosting turquoise waters reminiscent of the Caribbean.
With its boundless gyrating roads, high altitude passes and gripping hairpin bends, NC500 isn’t for the faint hearted.
That being said, North Coast 500 is an absolute must for everybody and anybody with even the mildest of passions for the outdoors.
Why Wild Camp North Coast 500?
While the route is popular with camper van owners, there’s no more authentic way to go than to wild camp north coast 500.
Scotland’s access legislation (the Land Reform act 2003), permits wild camping on most unenclosed land. Provided campers respect the Scottish outdoor access code, there’s no shortage of places to pitch up, sit back, and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.
With hundreds of miles of coastline begetting a plethora of tranquil Lochs, meandering rivers and vast valleys, what could be more inviting than pitching up at a location of your choice beneath a canopy of stars?
When To Wild Camp NC500…
While this is a common question, it’s a tricky one to answer. Scotland has a lot to offer at every season. More importantly, the weather is often hard to predict.
May and June are the driest months and July to September are the sunniest.
During mid summer, Scotland offers 18.5 hours of daylight, while mid winter only offers 6.5 hours!
The best advice is to go anyway and expect anything!
Inverness – Lochcarron – Applecross – Gairloch – Ullapool – Lochinver – Scourie – Durness – Tongue – Thurso – John O Groats – Wick – Lybster – Brora – Inverness
There’s no right or wrong way to undertake North Coast 500, but it’s a good idea to start and finish at the city of Inverness. How you execute the route largely depends on the weather, your time constraints and any other activities you may have planned along the route.
We highly recommend sticking to the official route as to soak up the best of what’s on offer. For this reason, we recommend the more detailed official North Coast 500 route map (see below for more information on how to get your free map).
Distances between petrol stations vary and can often be hours apart, (occasionally they may even be closed!). We therefore recommend always preserving half a tank in reserves. Although not every filling station is marked on the official Nc500 map, there are enough to keep you going.
Maps & Sat Navs, Getting Around
A Sat Nav is recommended, even if it is on your smart phone! To ensure your following the official NC500 route however, (and not google’s fastest route), you’ll want the Official NC500 map. They are available at the tourist information centre at Inverness free of charge. If you’d rather get your hands on one in advance, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The official NC500 map indicates the following useful information:
- Petrol station locations
- Road identification
- Cautious driving advice
- Key towns/villages
In addition to this, and owing to intermittent and often non-existent mobile phone signal, we recommend downloading the MAPS.ME offline map and navigation app available in the App Store.
Skye, Lewis and Harris
The Isles of Skye, Harris and Lewis aren’t officially on the north coast 500 route. That being said, they are worlds of their own. Home to spectacular viewpoints and pristine beaches, they deserve to be built into your itinerary. For this reason we have provided information of where to camp during your visit…
For the Isle of Skye, cross the free land bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. While exploring the west coast, the Isle of Skye is a great place to spend the night. Be sure to visit the breathtaking viewpoint at Quiraing only 10mins drive from our recommended wild camp location at Saffin bay. You may even wish to camp at Quiraing itself. Here you’ll find spectacular mountain trails offering unique hiking opportunities.
For the Isles of Lewis and Harris, take the ferry from Ullapool to the town of Stornoway on the island of Lewis. The ferry will ship you and your vehicle across in a mere two and a half hours. For timetables, prices and bookings click here. Alternatively, you can cross to Tarbet harbour on Harris from Skye’s northern port at Uig.
From Stornoway, take the scenic drive (A859) to the southern island of Harris, a journey of roughly an hour.
Luskentyre And The Campsite
Be sure to check out the immaculate white sand beach at Luskentyre. If you can’t quite find a spot to wild camp, we recommend the “campsite” at Horgabost beach, only a 10 minute drive around the bay from Luskentyre.
Although it’s a campsite, it has no reception and thus works on a trust system. Starting at £14/night for a single pitch, subs must be placed into a safe box.
Camp fires aren’t allowed on the grass, however there are several sandy pits scattered near the dunes which may be used. Shower facilities, although basic, will probably be much welcomed by now.
If you must stay at a camp site, even if it is only for your weekly shower, let it be this one!
The West coast of Scotland is home to some of the most spectacular white sand beaches you’ll ever see. While navigating your way around the North Coast 500, be sure to check out Uig Bay on the island of Lewis, Luskentyre and Hogbost beaches on Harris, Ceannabeinne beach at Durness, and the breathtaking white sands along the west coast main land as you negotiate the A832 between Gairloch and Ullapool. If you make it as far as Dornoch on the East coast, be sure to check out the golden sands of Dornoch beach!
Planning Your Time
To do any justice to North Coast 500, we recommend no less than 7 nights. Even then, you’ll only be scratching the surface, but it’s doable. Of these seven nights, we recommend spending one night on the Isles of Harris and Skye respectively. If you have more time, all the better!
If you are fortunate enough to be more generous with your time, we recommend spending as much time as possible along the west coast, (particularly between Lochcarron and Durness). It’s simply the most breathtaking part of the route.
Although there are still some great views and iconic places to visit, upon leaving the north coast village of Tongue, the physical landscape starts to get a lot flatter. Having spent several days immersed in the highlands, you may feel slightly underwhelmed.
7 Places To Wild Camp North Coast 500
1) Dornoch beach:
Situated in front of the Royal Dornoch golf club, this spectacular sandy beach offers a great location to pitch. Nearby parking is available. A quick google search will provide details of how to get to the golf club.
2) Ceannabeinne beach:
For this pristine white sand beach, take the A838 east from Durness. It is located 45 minutes west of Tongue. There are several such beaches on the road from Durness, however this particular beauty offers nearby parking, excellent pitching ground and stunning views.
3) Sandy Bay, John O Groats:
This isolated spot overlooking the North Atlantic is probably the best spot to camp at John O Groats. Only an 8 minute drive from the tourist information centre, off-road parking is available. Sandy bay is clearly marked on the local John O Groats map available at the tourist information centre. Be aware, there is a short but hilly walk down to the bay. Local seals can be spotted from this location.
4) Loch Laxford:
This rugged sea Loch is located on the A838 between Ullapool and Durness. Featuring a traditional Scottish boat house, on site parking and great views, Loch Laxford is a great place to pitch up while navigating the west coast.
5) Loch Glascarnoch:
Located on the A835 20 minutes south of Ullapool, this location awaits you. Follow the discrete off-road tracks down to the loch from the main road (A835). Drive south, away from Ullapool, (having arrived via the coastal route). As you drive along the Loch road, you’ll see a set of grass tyre tracks to your left leading off the main road down to the water front. Following these tracks will take you to the camp location. This Loch is easily found on google maps and is a great place to stay while in the Ullapool area.
6) Staffin Bay/Quiraing, Isle of Skye:
Not officially part of NC 500’s official route, Staffin bay is only a 10 minute drive from the spectacular Quiraing viewpoint. As you drive northbound along the A855, take a right near Staffin bay holidays homes, Flodigary, in the direction of the coast. Follow the single track path down towards the camper van parking area. There are a few camp locations along this particular track. As mentioned earlier, we also recommend camping at Quiraing.
Getting to Quiraing…
If you arrive on the Isle of Skye from Harris, follow signs from the port of Uig to Staffin bay, and then “Staffin via Quiraing” (15 min drive). If you cross the bridge onto Skye however, it’ll take approximately 1 hour 30mins to reach the north. At Quiraing, there are an abundance of places to park and/or pitch up for the night. Note: Quiraing gets busy from approximately 8am. For best photo and hiking opportunities, get up early! It’s also advised to leave early as cars start blocking the exit road.
7) Horgabost Beach:
Also not on the official route, this site is a must. On the isle of Harris, visit the immaculate Luskentyre beach. From here, follow the bay around for Horgabost beach. While you can wild camp in the area, this campsite is highly recommended. (see Skye, Harris and Lewis above for details).
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