North Coast 500 Route Planner

North Coast 500 Route by Motorhome & Campervan

NC500 route map motorhomes

The North Coast 500 is a 516 mile route around the north coast of Scotland.  The North Coast 500 route start / end point is Inverness.  Many people ask, which is the best way to go round the North Coast in your campervan hire?  Clockwise or anti-clockwise?  To be honest, it probably doesn’t make much difference, but for the purposes of the Atlas itinerary, we’ve chosen to go round the North Coast anti-clockwise.  When planning your motor home hire Scotland route, you can of course, go in the opposite direction if you prefer.  Just remember, we drive on the left hand side of the road!

Some people simply want to tick the North Coast 500 campervan route off their bucket list and attempt to do it in a campervan in 3 days.  We’re not saying that’s not possible, but do take into account that a Scottish country mile on the north coast, especially in a motorhome, will without a doubt take you at least double or even triple the amount of time.  Also a motorhome hire trip round the North Coast 500 is not something you want to rush.  In fact, the longer you take the better, as it means less time driving your campervan and more time exploring everything that Scotland has to offer round the North Coast.

Outline of Route by Day

Day 1 – Motorhome Hire Collection Day

Day 2 – Inverness to Dornoch

Day 3 – Dornoch to Wick

Day 4 – Wick to Durness

Day 5 – Durness to Lochinver or Ullapool

Day 6 – Lochinver or Ullapool to Applecross

Day 7 – Applecross to Inverness & Onwards towards Glasgow

Day 1 – Motorhome Hire Collection Day

When you pick up your motorhome hire from the Atlas Depot in Glasgow our handover procedure should take no longer than 15 minutes.  This will give you plenty of time to put some miles in before you need to stop for the night.  There is so much you can do between Glasgow and Inverness (see our other ideas eg the Heart200), but for the purpose of this itinerary, we want to get to the start point of the North Coast 500 as soon as we can.  You’ll take the M8 out of Glasgow following the signs for Stirling M80 continuing all the way to Inverness on the A9.

If you haven’t brought food and drink supplies with you, there are a couple of stops on route where you can stop:-

Asda Robroyston, Glasgow G33 1AD – 10 mins from the Atlas

Tesco Extra, Perth PH1 2NR – 1hr from the Atlas

Tesco Extra, Inverness IV2 7GD – your destination, 3hrs from the Atlas

Now you’ve got your motorhome all stocked up, it’s time to set up camp for the night.  There are couple of campsites the other side of the Moray Firth, which will locate your motorhome in the right place to see the dolphins the following day.

Where to Stay

Rosemarkie Camping and Caravaning Site

Fortrose Bay Campsite

Daily Estimated Travel Time

3hrs

Day 2 – Inverness to Dornoch

north coast 500 dolphin watching

Having been behind the wheel of your campervan the previous afternoon, you might want to diary in a slower start to your motorhome hire trip around Scotland.  From either of the above campsites, you can walk to Chanonry Point, which is famous for dolphin spotting.  This really is an experience not to be missed and crowds of people congregate on the beach to watch this spectacle.  The best time to see the Moray Dolphins is approximately 1hr after low tide.  If you’re on the beach around this time you’re unlikely to miss anything, as you’ll hear a cry from someone who spots them first and all the camera lenses clicking into action.

Now it’s time to hit the road and head further up the north coast towards Dornoch.

north coast 500 dornoch

If you’re partial to a wee dram of whisky, why not stop off at Glenmorangie Distillery where you can take a guided tour and perhaps buy a bottle of their single malt to take back home with you.   Dornoch is famous for it’s Beach, it’s Links Royal Golf Course and it’s CathedralDornoch Cathedral sits proudly in the middle of the town square.  Around the square there is Dornoch Jail and some lovely little boutique shops and cafes.  No trip to Dornoch would be complete without visiting it’s amazing beach.  It’s golden sands stretch as far as the eye can see and it is possible you may see some more dolphins or seals.  At sunrise or sunset, you may even have the beach to yourself.

Things to See & Do

Moray Dolphins

Glenmorangie Distillery

Dornoch – Beach, Cathedral & Jail

Places to Eat

Milk & Honey

Luigi’s

Where to Stay

Dornoch Caravan & Camping Park

Grannies Heilan Hame Holiday Park

Daily Estimated Travel Time

1hr

Day 3 – Dornoch to Wick

It’s now time to stretch your legs, so drive your campervan a little bit further up the north coast route to Golspie and park at the Highland Wildcat Trails (chargeable).  Choose whether to shred on your mountain bike (MTB) or don your hiking boots to climb Ben Bhraggie; locally pronounced vraggy.   The views from the top are quite spectacular and on a clear day both the West and the East coast of Scotland can be seen.

 

NC500 dunrobin castle

In the afternoon visit Dunrobin Castle built in the style of a French chateau.  You can take a tour inside the castle, wander round the gardens and even take in a falconry display.

Brora Golf Club North Coast 500

On route north to Wick you’ll pass through the village of Brora, which also has an amazing beach.  Brora Golf Course runs the length of the beach and sheep and highlands cows are regular visitors to the fairways.

Things to See & Do

Ben Bhraggrie

Duke of Sutherland Monument

Dunrobin Castle

Brora Beach

Places to Eat

Poppy’s Coffee Shop, Golspie

Sutherland Inn, Brora

Where to Stay

Wick Caravan Site

Daily Estimated Travel Time

1hr 30mins

Day 4 – Wick to Durness

castle sinclair NC500

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is a must see if you’ve stopped at Wick and a definite highlight of the North Coast 500 route.  Although in a ruined state it is stunning and very atmospheric.  As well as the castle itself, there is the option to walk down to either the mini stacks or the beach.  You are also able to see Noss Head Lighthouse from here.

 

john-o-groats sign

Next stop, John O’Groats, the end of the route north.  Get your ‘sign selfie’ next to the mileage sign post and walk the 3km along the coast path passing by the Bay of Sannick to Duncansby Head, the most north easterly part of the British mainland.  If you’re not up for the walk to Duncansby, then motorhome parking is available at the Lighthouse.  From there you can walk along to see the Duncansby Stacks.  For wildlife lovers you may spot birds nesting in the cliffs and if you’re lucky you might also spot seals at the bottom of the cliffs.

 

north coast 500 duncansby stacks head

If you want to tick the most north point of the mainland off your bucket list, then take the 10 minute diversion off the main road to Dunnet Head.  A word of warning……it can be very windy especially in a bigger motorhome!

Thurso is the last big town for a couple of days, so if you need any supplies now is the time to stock up.  From there head north west to your destination for today, Durness.  Take time to enjoy the amazing scenery on route and stop off at points along the north coast for photo opportunities.  The view from the Kyle of Tongue are particularly impressive.

Things to See & Do

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Noss Head Lighthouse

John O’Groats

Bay of Sannick

Duncansby Head & Stacks

Dunnet Head

Places to Eat

Stacks Coffee House & Bistro, John O’Groats

Sango Sands Oasis Restaurant & Bar

Where to Stay

Sango Sands

Daily Estimated Travel Time

4hrs

Day 5 – Durness to Lochinver or Ullapool

We at Atlas may be biased, but if it was us, we’d spend a couple of days at Durness.  The campsite sits high on the cliffs above the beach, accessible via a path.  What better way to spend some time, than sitting in your motorhome looking out to the North Sea and just stopping for a bit.

From the campsite you can walk to Balnakeil beach, an expanse of near white sand and dunes.  On your way back, stop in at the Balnakeil Craft Village where local artists and businesses sell unique pieces.  There is also a chocolatier, Cocoa Mountain, who not only sell amazing chocolate, but the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted.

No trip to Durness would be complete without a visit to Smoo Cave.  The cave is formed from limestone and it splits into 3 chambers.  The first chamber is enormous and is Britain’s largest sea cave.  You can access the second chamber via a wooden walkway, where you will see the impressive waterfall cascading in through the opening in the ceiling.  To venture into the third chamber you need to take a tour, which starts with a short boat ride that takes you to the point where you can start your very own Indiana Jones style exploration.

Leaving Durness you are now heading down the north west coast of Scotland where the scenery becomes more rugged.  Stop at the viewpoint to the north of the Kylesku Bridge for some fantastic photo opportunities.  Keep your eyes open for stags on the hills nearby.  Not long after the Kylesku Bridge you have a choice whether to continue down the A894 to Lochinver or turn right along the longer coast route B869 before arriving at one of the campsites below, just outside Lochinver.  If you’re tight for time, continue down the A894 route straight to Ullapool.

Things to See & Do

Balnakeil Beach

Balnakeil Craft Village

Smoo Cave

Kylesku Bridge

Places to Eat

Cocoa Mountain, Durness

Peet’s, Lochinver

Lochinver Larder

The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool

Where to Stay

Clachtoll Beach Campsite

The Shore Caravan Site, Achmelvich (not dog friendly)

Broomfield Holiday Park, Ullapool

Daily Estimated Travel Time

3hrs (Lochinver) / 4hrs (Ullapool)

Day 6 – Lochinver or Ullapool to Applecross

If you have time to spare, you might want to stay a couple of nights in Lochinver to allow you to spend the day at the beach.  If not, continue your route to Ullapool, stopping at the Lochinver Larder to stock up on their famous pies.

If you’re planning on extending your trip to visit the Outer Hebrides, Ullapool is the main ferry terminal for Lewis.  It’s a nice village and a good point to stop if you’re planning on doing some road cycling or hill climbing.

From Ullapool continue your route south and then take a right along the A832, stopping at the Corrieshalloch Gorge viewpoint.  From the car park, if you’ve a head for heights, you can walk down to the suspension bridge and the viewing platforms.  Continue your route west past Little Loch Broom and Gruinard Beach, where there’s campervan parking available if you want to stop for a picnic.

If you enjoy gardens, then you must stop at Inverewe Gardens just before Poolewe.  Inverewe is a botanical garden run by the National Trust and has a vast array of flowers, plant and trees.

If you’ve not stopped for a picnic already, why not stop for lunch in Gairloch.  There is campervan parking next to Gairloch Beach and well as a small café serving much need refreshments.

The drive alongside Loch Maree is beautiful and for even better views take a quick stop at the Victoria Falls, named as such because Queen Victoria visited there in 1877.  At the southern end of the Loch is the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, where there is a visitor centre and a few walking trails.

If you’ve 15 minutes to spare and it’s a clear day, take the time to continue 3 miles through Kinlochewe to the Glen Docherty Viewpoint, which allows you to look back at the spectacular view down the valley towards Loch Maree, which really will take your breath away.  Head back towards Kinlochewe to the A896 towards Torridon or if you’re tight for time and wish to skip the Applecross coast route continue onto Achasheen and pick up on Day 7 of the itinerary.

Once you reach Shieldaig it’s time to make a choice.  You can either turn right and head along the coast route towards Applecross or continue down to Tornapress and tackle the famous Bealach na Ba route.  This is a stunning route, but if you are in any way a nervous driver, do not take this second option.  It is an uphill single track road with passing places, hairpin bends and is hard enough to drive in a car never mind a motorhome.  If you are in our shorter 6 metre long Luxury 4 person motorhome (Rollerteam TL590) it is worthy of considering, but if you’re in any of our longer motorhome, then I’d definitely take the Applecross coast route.

There is a campsite at Applecross, as well as several places to wild camp and the Applecross Inn is worthy of a visit for food or a small refreshment.

Things to See & Do

Inverewe Gardens

Gairloch Museum

Victoria Falls

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

Places to Eat

Bridge Cottage Café, Poolewe

Kishorn Seafood Bar

Applecross Inn

Where to Stay

Applecross Campsite

Daily Estimated Travel Time

5hrs

Day 7 – Applecross to Inverness & Onwards towards Glasgow

We’re now on the last leg of the North Coast 500.  Like your arrival at Applecross, you have the choice of returning via the Applecross coast route or the Bealach na Ba.  Once back on the A896 / A890 continue onwards towards Achnasheen and the A832.  This joins up with the route from Kinlochewe.

Not to be missed is a stop at the Rogie Falls just south of Garve.  Take a walk down to the Blackwater River and suspension bridge to see these amazing waterfalls surrounded by forest.  If you’re lucky you may even see wild salmon leaping upstream.

Just after Contin take a right following the signs for Muir of Ord.  Here you will find the Singleton of Glen Ord distillery where they offer tours and tasting sessions all year round.  Once through Muir of Ord continue down to Beauly and the site of the Beauly Priory, so called because Mary Queen of Scots once visited and exclaimed what a beautiful place it was “c’est un beau lieu”.  It’s now only 10 miles back to Inverness and you’ve completed the North Coast 500 route!

All good things must come to an end, but there’s still some tremendous scenery to see on your route back to Glasgow.  To break up your journey, we recommend stopping at the House of Bruar where you can grab a coffee, have a toilet break and browse through the extensive high class highland shops.  They have dedicated motorhome parking, but not overnight.

We would recommend either stopping overnight in Stirling or the outskirts of Glasgow to allow yourself to get packed and organised before handing your motorhome hire back to us in the morning.

Things to See & Do

Rogie Falls

The Singleton of Glen Ord Distillery

Beauly Priory

Places to Eat

House of Bruar

Where to Stay

Witches Craig, Stirling

Red Deer Village Holiday Park, Glasgow

Daily Estimated Travel Time

6hrs