Wild Camping on the Scotland 500
Wild camping has exploded in recent years. The joy and freedom of heading into nature to pitch a tent for the night is unparalleled. Hotspots are forming and campers are on the hunt for their next adventure with Scotland on the horizon for many hikers!
Scotland benefits from having a Freedom to Roam act. This allows wild campers to set up camp in any National Park and nature area. As such, hikers from all over the UK flock to Scotland to discover its wild fells, rugged coastline, and boggy moors. The Scotland 500 has emerged as a front runner for one of the best road trips in the country. To get you in the loop, here are tips on how to wild camp on the Scotland 500.
What is the Scotland 500?
The Scotland 500, or North Coast 500 (NC 500), is a 516-mile coastal road in northern Scotland. It follows the immense coastline of Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross & Cromarty allowing visitors to sample some of the most extraordinary landscapes in the British Isles.
The Scotland 500 is a loop that starts in Inverness, winding its way around the Scottish Highlands, before finishing at Inverness Castle. The route will take at least 5 days to drive although many travellers opt to do the journey in 7-14 days.
Where to Wild Camp on the Scotland 500?
The mix of landscapes on the Scottish 500 are astonishing. From white sand beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean, to remote fishing villages, a wind-blasted coastline, and towering fells.
Below is a list of fantastic wild camping spots to explore. Some are friendly for van and RV campers (check for signs upon arrival), while others are only accessible for hikers and tent campers. Don’t be afraid to go off-trail and search for your own secluded camp spots as there are hundreds waiting to be discovered!
- Sandwood Bay Beach
- Kilmory, Isle of Rum
- Vatersay Island, Outer Hebrides
- Loch Glascarnoch
- Glendhu Bothy
- Dornoch Beach
- Loch Laxford
- Ceannabeinne each
- Loch Assynt, Sutherland
- Duncansby Lighthouse
When to Visit the Scotland 500?
Your reasons for visiting the Scotland 500 will affect your selected season to visit. For example, although the summer will bring the best weather, there are considerable downfalls. The roads will be busy, camp spots may be full, and there are plenty of midges to contend with.
Conditions are cold, harsh, and snowy during winter but that shouldn’t necessarily deter adventurous travellers. Beaches will be sparse and empty of tourists which makes for a truly wild experience. Advanced surfers may want to visit in winter to surf the storm swells at Thurso and Dunnet Bay.
Shoulder season (March-May and September-October) could provide you with the best of both worlds. Beautiful weather, quiet beaches, and fewer tourists taking to the roads. Unfortunately, rain is common all year round so expect to get wet whenever you plan to visit!
Top Sites on the Scotland 500
Throughout the Scotland 500 you will gain a sense of the spectacular nature Scotland has to offer with a particular emphasis on the coastline. However, there are also some key sites you can look out for. Many of these locations are in remote spots with the possibility for wild campers to pitch a tent in the area!
If castles are your thing, travel 500 years back in time by visiting the ruins of Ardvreck Castle on the banks of the magical Loch Assynt. You could also consider a detour to Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle as it’s considered one of the finest medieval ruins in Scotland. read about “Wild Camping around Loch Ness” here
If you’re in the mood for hiking, climb Stac Pollaidh – a 612-metre-high peak that offers spectacular vistas over Loch Bad a’ Ghaill and Loch Lurgainn. Other great hikes include the Island of Hoy, Stac Pollaidh, and Siloch Mountain.
If you’re after beaches, the Scotland 500 is the perfect itinerary for you. Head to Balnakeil Beach for one of the most pristine bays in Britain. Go to Chanonry Point for wildlife tours and a chance to see bottlenose dolphins and grey seals.
Hike to Sandwood Bay for a view of the remote Am Buachaille sea stack (Old Man of Stoer is another must-visit rock feature on the Scotland 500). Or, head to any secluded beach for the night and pitch a tent on a headland overlooking the bay.
Scotland 500 Kit List
Wild campers should be fully equipped for a trip on the Scotland 500. All equipment for self-sufficient camping should be carried with anyone wishing to explore this route. A kit list should include a tent, sleeping gear, cooking equipment, and any miscellaneous items or valuables.
Scotland has a few challenges about its terrain that are worth bearing in mind. The midges and mosquitos in summer descend in their hoards. Insect repellent is a necessity. So are insect nets, both to cover your tent or sleeping bag and even your face when hiking. The midges aren’t as bad on the coast but if you head inland, they worsen drastically.
Next, you want to pack a good pair of hiking boots. These should be waterproof and provide ankle support. Gaiters are also highly recommended. The Scottish Highlands are filled with bogs and marshes. Gaiters and waterproof boots allow you to tramp through these swamps while keeping your feet as dry as possible!
If you don’t have your own car or campervan, you may want to hire one in Inverness. Getting between wild camping spots and secluded coves is more challenging with public transport than if you have your own vehicle. However, using local busses is more environmentally friendly and it helps to reduce congestion which has become increasingly problematic in recent years.
The Scotland 500 is a huge success, arguably too much so. The tiny fishing villages and narrow roads can’t cope with the influx of vehicles during the summer holidays. So, if you can, try to be responsible. Don’t drive too fast, leave no trace, and respect the rules of every community. That way, you can keep the Scotland 500 flourishing for years to come! If your new to wild camping why not read our “beginners guide to wild camping” article.