In a former life, we spent all our spare time – weekends, long weekends, and annual leave, taking trips across Scotland.
One of our big passions is escaping the crowds, immersing ourselves in nature – and that’s why we love wild camping!
For us this is about camping outside of designated areas – it’s such a luxury to be able to do this, and we want other people to be able to enjoy it but enjoy it responsibly! There are protected areas and habitats, and also areas where it is not possible to wild camp so we have compiled some of our best tips and secret locations here, as well as answer some common questions, like how do you cook, where can you pitch a tent, where do you go to the loo, how do you get water?
Let’s take a crack at it!
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code
So – being from Scotland, I didn’t realise that being able to walk and camp pretty much anywhere, was NOT common beyond our border. That’s partly what makes it so special.
So, generally speaking, wild camping is legal in Scotland. Unless there is a ‘No Overnight Camping‘ sign, you can camp, either in a tent or in a van, and provided you observe the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. This is essentially a “leave no trace” policy.
Here are the basics of the Code:
- Avoid overcrowding by moving on to another location if it’s already a busy spot.
- Use a stove or leave no trace of any camp fire. Never cut down or damage trees.
- Take away your rubbish and consider picking up other litter as well.
- If in doubt, ask the landowner. Their advice just might help you find a better camping spot
This doesn’t apply to East Loch Lomond, sadly, due to overuse. Also – don’t camp on the fragile machair habitat (coastal grassland) found in Ardnamurchan and along the west coast.
We prefer to have an idea of where we want to go, and make a pit stop for supplies and take any last convenience breaks in a nearby town, then head off and find our pitch for the night.
That’s why for all our favourite spots listed here, I’ve also included the nearest town.
We have been working on getting this down to a fine art so that we can walk out and camp further away from the car while minimising what we need to carry.
Check out this guide for our essential kit.
Reviewing our kit list, its clear we need to work on our minimalism – but this is just how we like it.
And If I was just going to take one thing with me, for the record – it would be the aeropress and the Kelly Kettle. We love it that much – morning coffee is essential. You feel me?
And the last thing to really consider is the time of year you go.
We tend to go camping in April – June, and March and September too, if we are feeling hardcore. It is possible to camp any time of year, but it will be chilly, so make sure your gear is up to it. In the summer months, there’s no way round it really.
You will be battling the famous midgies, and they always, always, always win. Don’t let them put you off – just be prepared. That might be about having enough Midge to last your trip, or keeping a camp fire going, camping in a windier location and away from water bodies, or just being prepared to find a pub to eat in, if you don’t want to eat in your car for the whole trip. (We’ve been there.)
Wild Camping Spots in Scotland
When the fancy for wild camping takes us, it’s more often than that not the Cairngorms that we head to first.
One of our favourite go to spots is Loch Morlich as it’s such easy reach from Edinburgh. Outside of the summer months, if you’re brave enough, there are no overnight parking restrictions. You can get close to the beach, and it’s an incredible spot to wake up.
During summer months, the Forestry Commission signage says overnight camping is prohibited.
When we have visited during the summer, we have pitched up in the car park further along the road towards the Cairngorm resort – also lovely, much less midgie, and great picnic benches for that extra touch of civilisation!
Nearest facilities: Aviemore, 8 Miles (Tesco & local cafes – our favourite is The Mountain Cafe for their incredible cake selection. You can also buy their cook book!
Our second favourite spot in the Cairngorms is Glen Feshie. Along this river you can find numerous spots, though on gorgeous days they get occupied fast! There are plenty of spots to enjoy wild swimming, if the weather permits.
Nearest Facilities: Aviemore (13 miles)
Our third favourite spot in the Cairngorms (we do love this place!) is at Loch Garten.
Here we were blessed with incredible dark skies, which made a fantastic photoshoot experience in the middle of the night after we got back to pitch the tent after a wedding. That’s how we Wild Pioneers roll!
Nearest Facilities: Aviemore (13 miles)
North Coast 500
On one particular trip after the Cairngorms, we kept heading north to take in the North Coast 500 – a spectacular 500 mile drive around the coastline of the north of Scotland.
It starts and ends in Inverness, and is listed in the Travel Now magazine’s top 6 coastal routes in the world. It was such a phenomenal experience that I can’t leave it off the list, plus it fits in nicely as it makes an incredible itinerary.
But shock horror, it’s Scotland – and for us, the weather wasn’t amazing so we did have to make small compromises.
We had one cold, blustery night in a campsite in Dunnet Head, near Thurso (Dunnet Bay Caravan Club Site) and one night in Ullapool (Ardmair Point Caravan & Camping Park) – these were in designated campsites so it feels like slightly cheating to include them here, but we were so grateful for the facilities – the weather wasn’t in our favour this time!
Driving along the north coast and passing by Cape Wrath was such an epic experience – and plenty of opportunities for wild camping.
Camping on the West Coast of Scotland & The Hebrides
Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye is one of my favourite places – I keep asking Espen if we can move there. We have cycled round it and stayed in bunkhouses and hostels, and we have also driven it in our own cars which was slightly less onerous. And a damn sight quicker. In general, Skye is just spectacular and here you’ll find some of Scotland’s most scenic landscapes. But my goodness it is windy. We have camped in a few spots, and one of the places where we felt safest (and sheltered) was near the Rigg viewpoint off the A855. It’s incredibly handy for local beauty spots like the Old Man of Storr.
Nearest facilities: shops, fuel & toilets: Portree (10 miles)
Luskentyre Bay is one of the prettiest beaches in the whole world – and I’m being extremely serious about this. We visited in early summer, before the crowds arrived – if they ever do? It is remote, a huge expanse of white sand and crystal clear water. We didn’t fancy pitching up a tent there, I think access was tricky – so we drove on a little further and found a community area where wild camping is welcome by donation. It’s so well maintained that it was well worth it.
It’s flat – and for that reason it also attracted vehicles overnight so we weren’t alone. It meant my yoga poses on the beach were photobombed pretty badly, but overall, it was a terrific place to camp for the night.
Nearest facilities: the mainland. Come prepared, and with plenty of fuel and food.
Dumfries & Galloway
As much as I love the north and west coast of Scotland, one of my favourite camping experiences was in the Dumfries and Galloway Forest.
It’s at Stroan Loch which you can reach via Raiders Road and when we got to the loch we were spoilt for choice. It’s an incredible spot that is absolutely perfect for enjoying the night skies – Dumfries has the UK’s first Dark Sky Park. Find out more at one of the three visitor centres like nearby Clatteringshaws.
Nearest facilities: shops, fuel & public conveniences: Castle Douglas (15 miles)
Benefits of Wild Camping
We love it for so many reasons – it’s thrilling, exhilarating and makes us feel so alive.
The feeling of getting up, peeking your head outside the tent and seeing how close the sheep are, of cleaning your teeth by the side of the road, and making a quick cup of coffee to warm up is just a great deal of fun – if you like that sort of thing. It’s enormously freeing.
And also –
- It’s free
- Solitude – often there is no one else around for miles
- Flexibility – just stop and pitch up where you fancy
- Getting closer to Nature – you can get so much closer and more of an experience when you aren’t in a designated camp ground.
We cherish these benefits of wild camping and are super grateful that this is possible in Scotland.
Have you wild camped in Scotland? Send us a message or drop a comment and share your favourite spots with us!
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