White sand beaches and blue turquoise water in – Scotland? That can’t be right! You bet your bottom it is. These are the kinds of sights that you can see along Scotland’s North Coast 500 road a.k.a. “the Scottish Route 66” and the following North Coast 500 campsites are not to be missed. This guide will include official campsites, options for camper vans on the North Coast 500 and wild camping possibilities.
Why camp along the North Coast 500?
Besides the tropical-like scenery, you’ll be able to enjoy the grandeur of the Highlands with its emerald hills and lochs (lakes), while driving along this road. What more could nature/adventure enthusiasts ask for? As hotels, hostels and b&bs book out fast on the NC500, camping is the ideal form of accommodation for those who are booking in a hurry. Plus, North Coast 500 camping is economical, for the most budget-friendly option adhere to Scotland’s wild camping rules (see below) and set up anywhere!
North Coast 500 campsites
As I’ve already mentioned, the North Coast of Scotland boasts a variety of different landscapes. This region is unique in every sense of the word, and it is extremely gorgeous, so that’s why you need to see it for yourself.
Now, camping allows us to get close and personal with nature, in a way that we rarely experience nowadays. I’m sure that an adventure through this region will leave you with a wide smile on your face and asking for more.
Another great thing is that Scotland’s law allows wild camping in most areas as long as you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Where to camp?
Where to camp, where to camp? A great dilemma as there are so many fantastic NC500 campsites. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to do the increasingly popular NC500 camping trip and whatever works for you is all that matters.
In this section, I am going to focus on both campsites and beaches but I find beaches to be the most pleasant spots for sleeping. For other trips, I would normally recommend these beach tents, however, for this Scottish tour, you will need something that offers more protection from the elements.
Down to its views, exceptional beautiful views and proximity to the freshly cooked fish served at the Applecross Inn (1o minute walk), Applecross is one of Scotland’s most famous camping spots. The site offers large tent areas, free hot showers and toilets, shaver points, dish washing facilities and free WiFi around the reception area. Applecross also caters for campervans and motorhomes via ten serviced hard standing pitches and 9 electric grass pitches. Applecross used to be popular now, it is off the chart in demand so book using their online system.
2. Mellon Udrigle Beach
Mellon Udrigle Beach really is one of Scotland’s special spots. This is one of the first turquoise seas beaches you will come across while touring the NC500. It’s a quiet beach with a £10 daily charge for campervans. Free water and chemical disposal available but no public toilets. A good spot for beach camping in Scotland.
3. Achmelvich Bay
This award-winning beach sits next to the family-friendly Shore Caravan Site which offers no-set pitches but aims to not turn anyone away. They have an overrun campsite close to the caravan site. Facilities include toilet block with showers, launderette, on-site shop, on-site chip shop and WiFi. Bonfires are allowed (not on the grass). Shore Caravan Site is open end of March to mid-October. Prices range from £7-£16.
4. Clachtoll Beach
The family-run Clachtool Beach welcomes eco-friendly guests to their campsite close to the town of Lochinver. Facilities include electric hook-ups, toilet and shower facilities, hair straighteners points, dishwashing, laundry, eco-friendly toilet waste disposal, a vending machine with hot drinks, media charging lockers and WiFi! Prices range from £4-£16
5. Loch Laxford
This sea loch is located in the northwest, between the villages of Durness and Scourie, roughly. An interesting thing that you can see here is a traditional Scottish boathouse. This location also has parking so your car will be safe and sound, as you pitch up and relax while looking at the mountainous landscape.
6. Sango Sands
At the top of the NC500 route lies the town of Durness. Durness is home to Smoo Cave and Sango Sands campsite. You really feel like you are at the end of the world staying at this campsite on the North West. Sango Sands is open from April to the end of October and offers 58 electric hooks up points (hard standing and on the grass). If you don’t require electricity, there is usually enough room to rock up on the day. Facilities include toilets, shower block, kitchen, waste disposal, dishwashing, laundry facilities and a restaurant with a bar. Furry friends are welcome at this pet-friendly campsite. Like many of the North West Scotland’s campsites, there is a lack of shelter so it can get windy up there.
7. Ceannabeinne Beach
To reach Ceannabeinne Beach, you should take the A838 road east of Durness. It is located in a small bay that faces north towards Eilean Hoan island. There are plenty of beaches that resemble Ceannabeinne, but this one offers parking as well as excellent pitching ground. Oh yeah, the views aren’t too shabby either.
8. Sandy Bay near John o’ Groats
As you reach the John o’ Groats tourist info centre, stop by to grab a map of the area, and on it, you’ll see a clearly marked Sandy Bay. It is a 10-minute drive away from the centre, and when you get there, you will see an off-road, grass parking. After a short walk through the hills, you’ll probably spot some campers which means you arrived at the spot.
Detour – Torvaig Campsite on the Isle of Skye
If you have extended time and want to explore one of Scotland islands, take a detour to the Isle of Skye. Torvaig Caravan and Campsite is not exactly wild camping but thought it would be a good idea to spend a night at a more comfortable location. You can find electricity and running water here, as well as WiFi and washing machines. The price for one adult and a tent is £9.
North Coast 500 Wild Camping
The beauty of camping in Scotland is that you can camp anywhere, to an extent. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code states you must
- Respect the interest of locals – this is especially true when camping on land
- Care of the environment – leave the land as you find it, no digging or fires at cultural sites
- Take responsibility for your own actions – be safe, stay away from buildings, farms and roads
The grey area with NC500 wild camping is that the main way to get around the route is by car and wild camping in other areas of Scotland is often utilised by those on foot (see our West Highland Way guide for more details on Scotland’s West Coast hike). As you are not supposed to wild camp near roads you will need to leave your car as you hike to your camping spot. The beaches are perfect spots for this.
That being said, these rules are in place to protect you, locals and the environment and not infringe on your rights to explore the Highlands so be smart but have fun.
Before you set out on your NC500 adventure, you will need to have your equipment in order. So what is it exactly that you’ll need? Everyone’s packing lists may vary, but here is how a list of the essentials might look like:
- A quality tent that will keep you safe from wind and rain
- Summer clothes, as well as something to keep you warm and dry (raincoat Gemma loves this Marmot Precip, jacket, long trousers)
- Comfortable footwear such as hiking shoes (like these Salamon trek shoes)
- Personal hygiene products
- Portable cooler
- Extra phone batteries (you will need it for maps)
- Don’t forget to bring a lot of money for petrol/gas and food/water!
The best time for camping
In case you didn’t know, the weather in this region is unpredictable, and some would say that you can experience multiple seasons in one day. However, when it comes to camping, there are some months that are obviously preferable to others.
Late spring to late summer is the best time to go here. While May and June are the driest months of the year, July and August are the sunniest. The daylight lasts for about 18 hours a day during the summer, which gives you a lot of sunlight to enjoy the scenery.
North Coast 500 motorhomes
Camping not your cup of tea? Hiring a campervan for the NC500 is very common and is a relatively easy way to get around. Obviously, you do have the winding roads of the Bealach na Bà to content with (close to Applecross on the West Coast) and Scotland’s ‘A roads’ (single roads) make driving on the other side a slight challenge but fellow drivers are courteous if you are too. There are plenty of ‘passing places’ for you to pull over in to let other drivers past. Other benefits of taking North Coast 500 motorhomes trip is that you have flexibility with your itinerary (accommodation like hotels book up really quickly) and a bit of luxury!
North Coast 500 caravan sites tend to run alongside the camping sites mentioned in this article. The facilities available at each have been mentioned above. To save money you can always create your own stops, nip into the supermarkets (there are a few on the road at Inverness and Ullapool, eating out can get expensive) and pack a filter bottle, Scotland’s drinking water is very nice.
So that would be all that I’ve got for you today. My NC500 camping guide has reached the end, but I hope that reading this will mark the beginning of your journey. In case camping is not your thing, I’d still recommend you to check out this road and all it has to offer, as you can find plenty of decent accommodation here too.
If all this sounds interesting to you, read on and find out more about the North Coast road, as I’ve only covered the very basic information in this article. So, until next time, stay adventurous and live life to the fullest!
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Written by Melanie Campbell and Two Scots Abroad
Melanie is an outdoor and camping enthusiast behind Ardent Footsteps, enjoying this wonderful world since 2010. She shares expert advice when it comes to camping and outdoor trekking. With the main focus on making the most out of camping and outdoor adventures, Melanie will make you want to go out today!