Scotland | 5 Beautiful North Coast 500 Campsites

Driving the North Coast 500 has been on our bucket list for the last year or two - ever since some clever marketing genius created the northern Scottish highlands route in 2015. With it's ever growing popularity you can imagine business owners are taking full advantage of the increased tourism and prices are bound to go up as hotels and B&B's try to meet demand. If, like us, you'd like to spend the week exploring our beautiful country on a budget, these campsites are an excellent option! 

"Into the wild" Juniper Press mug at Clachtoll campsite

We spent 5 nights camping along the NC500 route and each spot we picked was beautiful, with it's own unique appeal. The heatwave was a welcome surprise too and it's safe to say that the sun had a big part to play in our positive camping experience. If you're planning your own trip, I hope I can help by sharing the 5 beautiful places we chose to camp...

View of the sun setting from Applecross towards Skye
Deer at Applecross campsite
cooking and cocktails at Applecross campsite
View towards Skye, from Applecross

Applecross Campsite

We made our way from Aberdeenshire to Inverness, then headed west to Applecross for our first night. A medium sized campsite, with a small reception area which closes at night time, and ample toilets and shower facilities. It's nothing fancy but has all the basics covered.

A short walk from the camp site is the Applecross Inn which has an excellent selection of local beer and Scottish spirits and incredible views across to Skye! Deer are known to roam freely in the area and we met some right outside the campsite, as well as along the shore. A perfect start to our highland adventure.

Cost = £22* 
(*1 night camping for 2 people in a medium size tent)

Gairloch Sands campsite
In our tent, camping on the North Coast 500 route
Panoramic view of Gairloch Sands campsite

Sands Caravan & Camping Park, Gairloch

This one came highly recommend and didn't disappoint. A short drive from the main village of Gairloch, Sands is huge with camping space stretched across the length of the beach. There's a large shop with a good selection of food and drink and all your camping essentials, a café and outside catering van, plus a TV and games room, play area and two large toilet and shower blocks - with straighteners! 

The Barn Café looks lovely and we enjoyed a cold pint of Thistly Cross cider but it is quite expensive for food. This campsite is ideal for families - it has everything you could possibly need and the view of the beach is unrivalled.

Cost = £20*

View to Clachtoll beach
The shower block on Clachtoll beach campsite
Sipping Scottish craft drinks on Clachtoll beach

Clachtoll Beach Campsite

My favourite of the North Coast 500 campsites, Clachtoll was smaller and more secluded feeling - despite being only a couple of feet from our neighbour. We didn't book ahead (as we weren't staying the minimum 2 nights) but they were happy to accommodate us just turning up and even gave us a guided tour of the site. The toilet and shower blocks are super clean, with hairdryers and straighteners provided, and we made use of the freezer for our ice blocks. Extra facilities include media charging lockers and a hot drinks/soup vending machine.

A short walk up the road is a tiny wee shop selling lots of goodies ideal for campsite cooking, and Gordon picked up a few beers there too. However, the star attraction is by far the secluded beach with white sand and crystal blue waters!

Cost = £22*

Gin and tonic in a Juniper Press mug, wild camping at Loch Hope
Wild camping at Ben Hope
Fire pit, Wild camping at Loch Hope

Wild Camping at Loch Hope

On our 4th night we decided to go a little off the NC500 route and wild camp along the shores of Loch Hope, so we were nice and close for hiking Ben Hope in the morning. Our location was picturesque overlooking the loch with the mountain looming behind us, but the reality wasn't so ideal. We were swarmed by horse flies and bitten to death! Once we'd got a wee campfire going though it kept the worst of the beasties away and we were able to cook our sausages on the camp stove and enjoy a cheeky dram.

This was the only place we had any problems with flies so don't worry about it too much - we were maybe just unlucky! If you do decide to wild camp anywhere I'd recommend you have a wee walk around the area before you pitch your tent. As for campfires - keep it small and avoid anywhere near dry grass, heather, peaty ground etc especially in the summer.

Cost = Free!

Our tent pitched below Ben Hope

Wild camping is legal in Scotland but there are a few rules - read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Basically don't do it in large groups and make sure you leave absolutely no trace - i.e. pick up your rubbish and don't damage the area.

John O'Groats sign
Duncansby stacks near John O'Groats
Flavours ice-cream at John O'Groats 
John O'Groats Caravan & Camping Site

I have to admit this was my least favourite of our overnight stops. John O'Groats campsite was fairly basic, with a rubbish hairdryer in the shower blocks and nowhere to plug my own in, but it was very clean and my expectations were perhaps too high after our experiences at the West coast campsites!

This site is within walking distance of the John O'Groats sign, Stacks Coffee House & Bistro, and Flavours ice cream shop which I highly recommend. The view from our pitch overlooking the cliffs was pretty unbeatable!

Cost = £18*

Achmelvich beach on the North Coast 500 route

There are a couple of other sites we didn't stay at but would like to try in future including Shore Caravan site at Achmelvich beach (head here if you can't get a spot at Clachtoll), Sango Sands Camp Site at Durness (we would have stayed here if we didn't wild camp at Loch Hope) and Dunnet Bay Caravan site, which would make a good alternative to John O'Groats.

I hope you've found this helpful in planning your own North Coast 500 camping trip. 

9 comments:

  1. The Shore Caravan Site @ Achmelvich was really good! Friendly staff, right at the beach. We were sang to sleep by the sheep!

    Also currently at Bunchrew Caravan Park just outside of Inverness. There is a little sort of food hut that's open for breakfast and dinner, great toilets and showers. Would 100% recommend.

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    1. I hadn't heard of Bunchrew, sounds good! Hope you enjoyed your roadtrip :)

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  2. OK, this might be a dumb question. I visited Scotland in mid-August and had a jacket on the whole time. So how cold does it get when you go camping in Scotland?

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    1. It really depends on the time of year. On this particular trip (in June) we were experiencing temperatures of over 20 degrees celsius which is quite unusual! I'd say about 17 degrees is our usual high summer temp. Camping in Spring or Autumn especially could feel fairly cold at night but would be fine with plenty layers and a good quality sleeping bag. I wouldn't recommend camping in winter unless you have specialist gear as temperatures are likely to drop below 0

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  3. This makes me want to pack my bags and book a trip right now!! We're not much on camping but you may have convinced me to give it a try with scenery like this!

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    1. I wasn't much of a camper before this experience, but now love it as an affordable way to travel around Scotland!

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  4. I wasn't aware that the coast of Scotland could be that pretty. Glad I saw your pics that made me change my mind :). Is os too cold to get in the water? Even with the heat wave going on?

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    1. It would maybe get to 10-12 degrees celsius in summer. Not exactly warm but bearable if the sun is out :)

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  5. Lovely place and lovely pictures as well! I hope I can visit Scotland soon. Thanks for sharing :)

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