North Coast 500 - 7 day Highlights Itinerary
If anywhere is perfect for a road trip, it’s Scotland. Stunning scenery, friendly people and wide open spaces perfect for hiking, biking and wildcamping.
The North Coast 500 is one of the world’s best coastal driving routes taking you on a huge loop along the Great Glen to Inverness, then up the east coast with stop offs at Applecross and Ullapool.
Make yourself the most northerly person on the great British mainland on this slow road adventure to Britains extremes.
There is so much to do and may detours to take but here’s our recommendation for a 7 day highlights tour itinerary.
Day 1: Inverness – Evanton (approx. 17 miles)
With just a short drive to start your journey there’s plenty of time to explore Inverness before you set off. A compact, cosmopolitan city, Inverness has plenty to do. So enjoy some time in the town and stock up on supplies at the markets before you set off on your adventure.
No trip to Inverness would be complete without a trip to Scotlands most famous lochs, Loch Ness. After your half an hour or so drive, hop on a loch cruise and enjoy the spectacular scenery, monuments and castles making sure to keep an eye out for the resident pod of dolphins in the Moray Firth. Loch Ness is the largest volume of freshwater in the British Isles and has more than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!
Take your time on this short approx 30 minutes drive to Evanton for a nights stop over.
Day 2: Evanton – Helmsdale (approx. 53 miles)
Go back on yourself for a few miles and explore the history rich area of the Black Isle peninsula. One of the area’s big draws is its resident pod of bottlenose dolphins so head out on a dolphin watching expedition or depending on the tide you can sometimes see them from Chanonry Point.
For the mountain bike enthusiast, here’s your chance to head out on the Learnie Red Rock trails, home to 6 purpose built mountain biking trails for a range of abilities.
After you’ve had your fill of excitement visit your first distillery on your route and take your pick of the tours at the Glen Ord Distillery. Pre-booking is a must!
Day 3: Helmsdale – Thurso (approx 71 miles)
As you drive up the East coast you’ll arrive in the county of Caithness.
Fo those who like to get out on foot there’s a 3 km walk with a 125m assent which combines a visit to two remarkable attractions. The Whaligoe steps, a 330 step depend to the naturally formed Whaligoe Haven, one of the least-accessible harbours you could imagine surrounded on three sides by 250ft cliffs, whilst inland is the Cairn of Get, a very well preserved chambered cairn. Extreme care is needed on the steps.
A must see is the Camster Cairns, head off the beaten track and stand among two of the oldest stone monuments in Scotland – a pair of Neolithic tombs originally built more than 5,000 years ago, which provide a fascinating insight into Neolithic funerary practices.
Afterwards take a drive up the Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of Mainland Britain.
If you happen to be travelling in Autumn or winter make sure you keep an eye out after dark for one of the world’s most spectacular nature light display, the Northern Lights. A great spot to watch from Thurso is the beach at the village of Castletown, about a 10-minute drive away.
Day 4: Thurso – Durness (approx 71 miles)
Today you will journey along the roof of Scotland, a stunning drive west taking you into the county of Sutherland.
Stop off at the North West Highlands Geopark, one of the most sparsely populated corners of Europe and recognised by UNESCO as one of the most outstanding landscapes on the planet.
With 100 miles of iconic ‘island’ mountains, white sandy beaches, caves and rocks on the seashore which are 3 billion years old! You can learn more about the park by following the Rock Routes which link the 20 outstanding viewpoints that have information boards explaining the stunning scenery around you. Or download one of the Pebble Routes as you follow the NC500 path.
As you head towards the town of Durness around a mile before you around in the town is a spectacular sea cave, set into the limestone cliffs called Smoo Cave. Accessible by boat or foot via a wooden stairway that zig-zags along the rock face to the beach below. At 50ft high, the cave boasts the largest sea cave entrance in Britain. There are also 20 minutes tours available dependent on time of year.
Day 5: Durness – Ullapool (approx 94 miles)
Start your morning off with a 4 mile fairly flat hike along a well trodden path to the most remote and unspoilt beaches in the UK, Sandwood Bay. The beach is backed by the huge dunes of Farid head and a loch. It is said that Vikings drew their longships up here to launch them on Sandwood Loch. The beach is nearly 1.5 miles of pink sand flanked by cliffs.
For those looking for an adrenaline rush, Hamlet Mountaineers offer scrambling, rock climbing, sea kayaking and canoeing around the hamlet of Achiltibuie set in beautiful mountain and coastal scenery.
Just outside of Kylesku take the B869 turn off onto 22 miles of single track road, not suitable for larger vehicles so please research if the roads suitable for your vehicle and plan and alternative if needed. You will be weak rewarded after this challenging route with some of the most stunning scenery and plenty to do. Achmelvich is a popular beach for water skiers, windsurfers and kayakers during the summer months with many walking and climbing routes for the hikers. For those who like something a little more relaxing, the beach is a popular spot for fishers.
Dogs are permitted on the beach however there are Rangers around making sure that owners keep their dogs under control and to pick up afterward them so do keep an eye on the rules signposted by the beach.
Another must see is Europes smallest castle, known locally as Hermits Castle.
Day 6: Ullapool – Kinlochewe (approx. 76 miles)
Today it’s time to head to the picturesque fishing village of Ullapool, on the shores of Lochbroom and the main town on the North West Coast. Watch the boats come and go, head to the Ullapool museum, choose from a variety of walks including mountains, rocky coasts and inland footpaths with some of the finest summits in the north west Highlands.
For a unique experience, stop off at the Shieldaig Lodge where you can try your hand at Falconry, archery and an opportunity to handle Owls, Buzzards and Hawks. Flying demonstrations and handling sessions must be pre-booked.
The Shieldaig Lodge is also a great spot if you are looking to treat yourself along the way and have a night out of the camper. Recently refurbished, this Victorian hunting lodge is set on a 26,000 acre estate with cosy snugs, real log fires, a games room and magnificent waterside views. Most importantly.. the Liberator Bar is home to over 250 award winning whiskies and over 110 world class gins, including every Scottish gin so you won’t be picking up the car keys for the rest of the day!
Day 7: Kinlochewe – Inverness (approx. 127 miles)
A highlight and must see on todays drive is the impressive Rogie Falls, situated off the main road to Ullapool just over a mile north west of the village of Contin. In August and September there’s an high chance of seeing wild salmon leaping upstream making the arduous swim from the North Sea towards their spawning grounds. In Autumn and Winter, after heavy rain or snow, the water gushes from the slopes of Ben Wyvis making the waterfalls even more sensational. There are several lovely forest walks and a new suspension bridge across the beautiful Black Water River.
As you pass through the town of Contin take the turning to Strathpeffer, a leafy Victorian spa town near Ben Wyvis and a popular spot for walkers. There are superb views from the Iron Age hill fort of Knock Farrill, of the surrounding mountains.