The North Coast 500 (NC500) in Scotland is not just a road trip for driving enthusiasts; it's also a paradise for nature lovers and hikers. Along this breathtaking route, you'll find numerous scenic walks that allow you to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. Here's a guide to some of the most picturesque walks on or near the NC500:
1. Bealach na Bà Viewpoint (Applecross)
Description: This walk takes you to the Bealach na Bà viewpoint, providing panoramic views of the Applecross Peninsula and the surrounding mountains. It's a relatively short walk with a rewarding ascent to witness the beauty of the West Highlands.
As you make your way up to the Bealach na Bà viewpoint, you'll be surrounded by lush greenery and the fresh scent of the Scottish Highlands. The trail is well-maintained, making it accessible for hikers of all skill levels. The journey begins at the base of the mountain, where you'll find a clearly marked path leading you towards the summit.
As you ascend, the landscape gradually changes, offering glimpses of the stunning vistas that await you. The path winds through a variety of terrain, from gentle slopes to rocky outcrops, adding an element of adventure to the walk. Take your time to soak in the tranquility of the surroundings and listen to the sounds of nature.
As you approach the Bealach na Bà viewpoint, the anticipation builds. Once you reach the top, you'll be greeted with breathtaking views that stretch as far as the eye can see. The rugged mountains rise majestically on one side, while the sparkling lochs glisten in the sunlight on the other.
Take a moment to catch your breath and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds you. The panoramic views of the Applecross Peninsula and the surrounding mountains are truly awe-inspiring. The combination of the towering peaks, the winding coastline, and the vast expanse of the sea create a landscape that is both dramatic and serene.
As you descend from the viewpoint, take the time to explore the area further. There are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, from red deer to golden eagles. Keep your eyes peeled for the vibrant wildflowers that dot the landscape, adding a splash of color to the rugged terrain.
Before you leave, make sure to take a moment to reflect on the experience. The walk to Bealach na Bà viewpoint offers not only physical exercise but also a chance to connect with nature and appreciate the beauty of the Scottish Highlands. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a beginner, this walk is a must-do for anyone visiting the area.
So, lace up your hiking boots, pack a picnic, and embark on this scenic adventure. The Bealach na Bà viewpoint awaits, ready to reward you with unforgettable views and memories that will last a lifetime.
2. Fairy Glen (Ullapool)
Description: Discover the magical beauty of the Fairy Glen in Ullapool, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Scotland. This enchanting destination offers a picturesque walk through lush greenery, moss-covered trees, and a captivating waterfall. Whether you're a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply looking for a peaceful escape, the Fairy Glen is a must-visit attraction.
As you step into the Fairy Glen, you'll be transported into a world straight out of a fairytale. The vibrant hues of green, the glistening water, and the gentle sound of the waterfall create a whimsical atmosphere that will awaken your senses. The trail meanders through the glen, leading you on a journey of exploration and discovery. Along the way, you'll stumble upon hidden nooks and crannies, inviting you to pause and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature.
One of the highlights of the Fairy Glen is the charming waterfall that cascades down the rocks, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. You can stand in awe as the water gracefully flows, or even take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear pool below. It's a perfect spot for photographers, as every angle offers a picturesque view that is worthy of capturing.
For those seeking a bit of adventure, the Fairy Glen also offers opportunities for rock climbing and bouldering. The rugged terrain and unique rock formations provide a thrilling challenge for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced climber, there are routes suitable for all skill levels.
After a day of exploration, you can find a peaceful spot in the glen for a picnic. The lush grass and serene surroundings make it an ideal setting to enjoy a packed lunch or simply relax and unwind. The Fairy Glen is a place where time stands still, allowing you to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Visiting the Fairy Glen is an experience that will leave you with lasting memories. It's a place where magic comes alive, and the beauty of nature takes center stage. Whether you're a solo traveler, a couple, or a family, this enchanting destination offers something for everyone. So, pack your bags, put on your walking shoes, and embark on a journey to the Fairy Glen in Ullapool. You won't be disappointed.
3. Smoo Cave Trail (Durness)
Description: The Smoo Cave Trail combines coastal views with the marvel of Smoo Cave. This walk takes you along rugged cliffs and offers glimpses of the North Sea before leading you to the cave, where you can take a guided boat tour.
The Smoo Cave Trail is a true adventure for nature enthusiasts. As you follow the trail along the rugged cliffs, you'll be treated to breathtaking views of the North Sea crashing against the rocks below. The sound of seagulls fills the air, adding to the coastal ambiance. The trail offers a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.
As you continue along the trail, you'll notice the diverse flora and fauna that thrive in this coastal ecosystem. Keep an eye out for seabirds, such as puffins and guillemots, nesting on the cliffs. The vibrant wildflowers that dot the landscape add a touch of color to the otherwise rugged terrain.
After a leisurely walk, you'll finally arrive at Smoo Cave, a natural wonder that has captivated visitors for centuries. The cave entrance is a sight to behold, with its towering cliffs and roaring waves crashing against the rocks. Step inside, and you'll be transported to a world of mystery and intrigue.
Embark on a guided boat tour to explore the hidden chambers of Smoo Cave. As you glide through the dark waters, your knowledgeable guide will regale you with tales of the cave's formation and its fascinating geological history. Marvel at the intricate rock formations that have been sculpted by thousands of years of erosion. The echoes of the water dripping from the cave ceiling create an eerie yet enchanting atmosphere.
Don't forget to bring your camera along on this adventure. Capture the beauty of the cave's interior and the stunning coastal scenery that surrounds it. The interplay of light and shadow within the cave creates a photographer's dream.
After the boat tour, take some time to relax and soak in the tranquil atmosphere of the cave. Sit on one of the rocky ledges and listen to the gentle lapping of the water against the cave walls. It's a moment of serenity that will stay with you long after you leave.
Before you head back, make sure to explore the surrounding area. The Smoo Cave Trail is part of a larger nature reserve, offering additional hiking opportunities and wildlife spotting. Keep an eye out for seals basking on the nearby shores or dolphins frolicking in the waves.
The Smoo Cave Trail is a must-visit for anyone seeking an unforgettable adventure in nature. Immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the Scottish coastline, marvel at the geological wonders of Smoo Cave, and create lasting memories in this hidden gem.
4. Dunnet Head (Dunnet)
Description: Dunnet Head is the northernmost point of mainland Britain, and the walk to the cliffs provides breathtaking views of the Pentland Firth and Orkney. It's a great spot for birdwatching, especially puffins.
The walk to Dunnet Head is a treat for birdwatchers and nature lovers alike. As you make your way to the cliffs, keep an eye out for the vibrant puffins that call this area home. These adorable birds with their distinctive colorful beaks and comical waddling are a delight to observe. With their black and white feathers, they stand out against the rugged landscape, creating a picturesque scene that is perfect for photography enthusiasts.
But the beauty of Dunnet Head doesn't end with the puffins. The rugged coastline stretches out before you, offering panoramic views of the Pentland Firth and the distant Orkney Islands. The crashing waves and the salty sea breeze create a sense of tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere. Take a moment to immerse yourself in the sounds of nature, as the waves crash against the cliffs and the seabirds soar above.
As you explore the area, you'll come across various species of seabirds that call Dunnet Head their home. From guillemots and razorbills to fulmars and kittiwakes, the cliffs are teeming with life. The sight and sound of these birds nesting and diving into the sea is a true spectacle of nature.
Don't forget to bring your binoculars to get a closer look at the fascinating birdlife that inhabits this area. With their help, you can observe the intricate details of the birds' feathers and their unique behaviors. You may even spot other wildlife such as seals or dolphins swimming in the waters below.
When planning your visit to Dunnet Head, it's important to note that the weather can be unpredictable. Be prepared for strong winds and sudden changes in temperature. Dress in layers and wear sturdy footwear to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Additionally, make sure to bring a packed lunch and plenty of water, as there are no facilities or shops nearby.
Whether you're a seasoned birdwatcher or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, Dunnet Head is a destination that should not be missed. The combination of breathtaking views, diverse birdlife, and the sense of tranquility it offers make it a true paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. So grab your binoculars, pack your camera, and embark on an unforgettable adventure to the northernmost point of mainland Britain.
5. Ben Hope (Near Tongue)
Location: Near Tongue
Description: For those seeking a more challenging hike, consider climbing Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro. The summit rewards hikers with stunning views of Loch Hope and the surrounding mountains.
The Thrill of the Climb
If you're up for a challenge, a hike up Ben Hope is a must. As the most northerly Munro, reaching the summit is no small feat, but the rewards are worth it. The journey begins at the base of the mountain, where you'll find yourself surrounded by untouched wilderness and a sense of anticipation.
As you start your ascent, the path gradually becomes steeper, testing your endurance and determination. The rugged terrain demands careful navigation, but with each step, you'll feel a surge of adrenaline as you inch closer to the summit.
The real magic of hiking Ben Hope lies in the breathtaking views that await you. As you climb higher, the landscape unfolds before your eyes, revealing the true beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
At the summit, a panoramic vista of Loch Hope stretches out before you. The sparkling waters reflect the sky above, creating a mesmerizing sight that will leave you in awe. The surrounding mountains, their peaks kissed by the clouds, add to the dramatic backdrop, reminding you of the untamed power of nature.
Take a moment to catch your breath and soak in the serenity of this untouched wilderness. The peaceful silence is interrupted only by the occasional cry of a bird or the rustling of the wind through the heather. It's a moment of pure tranquility that will stay with you long after you descend from the summit.
A Sense of Accomplishment
Reaching the summit of Ben Hope is not just about the views; it's about the personal achievement. As you stand at the highest point, looking down at the rugged path you've conquered, a sense of accomplishment washes over you.
Every step, every struggle, and every moment of doubt fades away, replaced by a profound sense of pride. You've pushed yourself to the limit and emerged victorious. The challenges you faced on the journey only make the triumph sweeter.
As you make your way back down the mountain, the memories of this extraordinary adventure will stay with you. The beauty of Ben Hope and the sense of accomplishment will inspire you to seek out new challenges, knowing that with determination and perseverance, you can conquer anything.
6. Chanonry Point (Fortrose)
Description: Chanonry Point is known for its resident dolphins. Take a leisurely stroll along the shore and enjoy the opportunity to spot dolphins playing in the Moray Firth. The best times for dolphin watching are during the tidal changes.
Chanonry Point is a haven for dolphin lovers. As you stroll along the shore, keep your eyes peeled for the playful dolphins that frequent this area. The best times to spot them are during the tidal changes when they come closer to the shore to feed. The sight of these majestic creatures leaping out of the water is truly awe-inspiring. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Moray Firth and the incredible marine life that calls it home.
7. Gairloch Sands Beach Walk (Gairloch)
Description: Enjoy a peaceful walk along Gairloch Sands Beach, where you can take in views of the sea and the surrounding mountains. The expansive sandy beach offers a tranquil setting for a relaxing stroll.
A walk along Gairloch Sands Beach is the perfect way to unwind and connect with nature. Located in the picturesque coastal town of Gairloch in the Scottish Highlands, this hidden gem offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
As you step onto the soft sand beneath your feet, you'll immediately feel a sense of tranquility. The rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against the shore creates a soothing atmosphere, washing away any stress or worries you may have.
Take your time to explore the beach at your own pace. The expansive stretch of sandy shoreline provides ample space for a leisurely stroll. As you walk, you'll come across an abundance of seashells scattered along the beach. Take a moment to collect these beautiful treasures, each one a unique reminder of your time spent in this coastal paradise.
While the beach itself is a sight to behold, the surrounding views are equally breathtaking. Look out towards the sea and you'll be greeted by the mesmerizing sight of the waves rolling in, their foamy crests crashing against the rugged coastline. Turn your gaze towards the horizon, and you'll be treated to a majestic panorama of the mountains that frame the beach. Their snow-capped peaks stand tall and proud, creating a stunning backdrop that adds to the natural beauty of the area.
For those seeking a moment of solitude, find a quiet spot along the beach and simply sit and soak in the peaceful ambiance. Close your eyes and let the gentle sea breeze brush against your skin, carrying with it the scent of saltwater and the faint cries of seagulls soaring above. It's a moment of pure serenity that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.
Whether you're visiting Gairloch Sands Beach alone or with loved ones, the experience is sure to leave a lasting impression. The combination of the pristine sandy beach, the calming sound of the waves, and the awe-inspiring views of the sea and mountains make this a truly unforgettable destination.
So, the next time you find yourself in need of a peaceful escape, head to Gairloch Sands Beach. Let the beauty of nature wash over you as you take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline, collecting seashells and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Tips for Hiking on the NC500:
Weather Preparedness: Be prepared for variable weather conditions. Wear appropriate clothing and carry essentials such as water, snacks, and a map.
Trail Conditions: Check the condition of trails and paths before embarking on a walk. Some areas may be challenging, especially in adverse weather.
Wildlife Awareness: Scotland is rich in wildlife. Respect the local fauna and flora, and be aware of your surroundings.
Leave No Trace: Follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the beauty of the natural environment.
These scenic walks along the North Coast 500 offer a chance to connect with nature and appreciate the diverse landscapes that make the Scottish Highlands truly special. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, there's a trail for everyone to enjoy on this iconic route.