North Coast 500 Route Planner for a 7 Day Road Trip
The route known fondly as the NC500 is now on many people’s bucket lists and draws visitors from far and wide. Here’s our go at an ideal North Coast 500 itinerary. This NC500 route can be done in 6 days but 7 days will give you the time to linger if you find a favourite spot. The NC500 is an amazing 516 mile route around the North of Scotland that we have enjoyed many times, each time finding something new.
The route keeps close to the coast and takes you through extraordinary scenery with an abundance of wildlife. There are lots of places you could turn off the main route and explore if you have the time to do so. So it is worth spending some time on researching the NC500 before you come, to be sure you get the best out of your adventure.
Please let us know how you get on if you try out our suggestion for the best NC500 itinerary and, of course, any suggestions you have to make it better.
NC500 Day 1: Dolphins and Distilleries
As soon as you cross the bridge over the Moray Firth you are onto the Black Isle. Here you can visit the village of Cromarty which is full of charming shops and cafes. It also has a lovely beach. You can also stock up on treats at the Black Isle Brewery Charnory Point is a popular place for spotting bottle nose dolphins as they come to feed in the rich waters. And a little further up the East coast you’ll be able to take a tour of the famous Glenmorangie Distillery.
You will soon reach the historic town of Dornoch, home to a majestic 13th Century cathedral and castle. The castle is now a hotel with a fine whisky bar and the location of Dornoch Distillery where you can enjoy the crafts of the Thompson Brothers old style whisky and organic gin.
There are a few places to stop over for the night. Dornoch Caravan Park is just a short walk from the town and sits behind the award winning beaches of the Dornoch Firth.
NC500 Itinerary Day 2: Northward Bound
For a sense of the history of the area, now would be a good time to start reading Neil M Gunn’s book, “The Silver Darlings”. This novel is set in the North East of Scotland. It tells the tale of a family in one the herring fishing communities that grew up after the Highland Clearances. You can visit many of these old fishing villages as your travel up the coast. Golspie is a good choice as the extraordinary Dunrobin Castle is nearby. If you take the tour and see the falconry display this will take up a whole day! Helmsdale is another old fishing town worth a visit and was once home to Europes largest herring fleet.
Next, head towards Wick, where you can visit the Old Man of Wick, the castle ruins on the edge of high cliffs. There a many viewing points along this route to stop and take in the extraordinary and striking cliff top scenery. If you need some beach action then the white sands of Sinclair’s Bay are a good place for a walk and swim.
Carry on to John O’Groats, the most northerly point of the United Kingdom, to take the obligatory photo under the sign! If you have time to visit Orkney, this is where you can catch the ferry across. Sadly, there is not a lot that is special about John O’Groats so I would be tempted to carry on around the point to Dunnet Head. There is a lovely walk to the lighthouse with views across to Orkney, or simply enjoy some peace and solitude at the RSPB reserve there.
The Dunnet Bay Caravan Site is a great place to stay if you want to enjoy some time on this amazing part of the coast. Nearby are the Dunnet Bay distillers and sample their gin and vodka, if you fancy a change from whisky.
NC500 Day 3: Dunnet to Durness
Day three will take you from Dunnet/Thurso to Durness – about 90 miles. You will pass a number of coves and sandy bays that will beckon you for a paddle. If you want to take it slowly and stop for the night somewhere, we’d suggest a stay on the Kyle of Tongue. From here there are wonderful views of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal. This is a National Scenic Area, one of only 40 in Scotland considered absolutely exceptional.
Just before you reach Durness, stop off at the Smoo Cave. a natural sea cave 1 mile to the east of Durness village. If you have time, there is a magical boat trip to explore the cave. There is a lovely little shop at Cocoa Mountain where you can pick up some luxury chocolate treats, before spending the night on the cliff tops above the beaches at Sango Sands campsite. There is a restaurant next to the campsite if you fancy a meal out.
If Cape Wrath is on your list of things to see, you can catch the ferry from Kyle of Durness and the bus will meet you there.
North Coast 500 Itinerary Day 4: Durness to Ullapool
The next stage of the trip is from Durness to Ullapool. This is 64 mile stretch of single track road, so be prepared to be patient. Please be considerate of other drivers and don’t use passing places for stopping off, however tempting!
There are lots of steep drops and rises on this route. The change in scenery is fantastic. One place you should make time to stop off is at the viewpoint on the Drumbeg Loop. Campsites along this part of the NC500 route include Scourie Campsite and Clachtoll Campsite, right next to the beach. If you stop off at Scourie, the local Scourie hotel is well known for wonderful food.
Ullapool is about an hour away, if you want to press on and spend the night there.
North Coast 500 Itinerary Day 5: Ullapool to Applecross
Ullapool is a sweet coastal town surrounded by breathtaking scenery. It’s a great base for numerous activities such as sea kayaking, fishing, biking and walking. From here, it’s a two hour spectacular drive to Applecross. A good stop en route is Gruinard Bay with its pink sand beaches and stunning views of the northern Highlands. This is a challenging drive, not for the faint hearted, so please make sure you are confident reversing on a narrow route and be prepared for the notorious old cattle pass of the Bealach na ba. This film of the route gives you a pretty good idea.
Applecross has a great campsite to stay at and you’ll eat like at king with locals and travellers at the Applecross Inn.
NC500 Day 6: Applecross to Inverness
Applecross back towards Inverness is around 80 miles. The road takes you via Lochcarron and Achnasheen before you reach the Black Isle and head south. Congratulations, you have now officially completed the NC500!
NC500 Additional Information
The NC500 has a dedicated website that has a lot of helpful information. You can also download an App and and share your #mync500adventure. Of course, we hope you will tag @bigskycampers too! You will find some extra tips and also information shared by our customers regarding lovely campsites, great beaches and trip highlights. Enjoy the ride!
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