Visiting the NC500 in winter is a very different experience to what it is like visiting in the summer months. You will enjoy your trip so much more if you are prepared and know what to expect from the north coast 500 in winter. 

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The NC500 is a beautiful road trip come rain or shine, however the experience is completely different depending on when you decide to travel it. In this guide, driving the NC500 in winter as well as the following 

  • Prepare for the weather
  • Is Anything Open on the NC500 in Winter?
  • Driving the NC500 in Winter
  • Camping on the NC500 in Winter
  • Wildlife on the NC500
  • Daylight Hours on the NC500 in Winter
  • Winter Colours on the NC500
  • Preparing for your trip to the NC500
scotland mountains covered in snow

Prepare for the Weather

Due to the wet weather that Scotland experiences in winter, you can expect boggy and marshy conditions underfoot when visiting some of the popular tourist spots on the NC500.

If you have visited Scotland before, you may know that the weather can change extremely quickly. The weather can be glorious one minute, and then as soon as you get out of your car and far enough away from the shelter, the rain will come down.

This can also be the case with weather warnings for wind and rain, however, don’t let this put you off as there will be gaps in the weather when the rain will stop and you can get outside for an hour or two.For comfort and warmth, we would recommend you pack a good pair of boots to keep your feet dry and warm if you head off the beaten path or get caught in a rainstorm.

In addition to the boots, a pair of waterproof and comfortable walking trousers will also come in handy. You are going to be out and about a lot during your trip, so you should not let a little rain get in the way of exploring the natural beauty on the NC500.

road in scotland surrounded by snow

Is Anything Open on the NC500 in Winter?

The NC500 is very quiet in winter as there are very few tourists that visit the this far north during the off-season.  This means that some of the bars and restaurants will be closed during this time and you will be limited to where you can go.

This is also the case for campsites, they won’t all be open during the winter months.

It is therefore recommended that you thoroughly research what pubs, restaurants, and hotels will be open during your visit in order to avoid being left disappointed.

Driving the NC500 in Winter

The North Coast 500 can be very wet during the winter months, which can then lead to frozen roads and dangerous driving conditions. Due to how remote some of the roads are, they are not all are going to be treated with salt to prevent this freezing, so it is up to you to take care during these icy conditions.

During some of the heavier rainfalls, some of the roads around the north of Scotland are likely to experience flooding. 

If it snows, roads may become inaccessible. It is important to make sure if snow is in the weather forecast, you are prepared with extra blankets and spare food and water in your car in the event of an emergency where you are stranded.

A very popular drive is the Bealach na ba in Applecross. A curvy, narrow road up the mountains. It can be a very dangerous route to drive and it is worth keeping in mind that in poor weather conditions, the road will be closed.

sign for beleach na ba

Camping on the NC500 in Winter

If you plan to camp on the NC500 in winter, then it is handy to note that not all campsites will be open or have their facilities open during the winter season. This means you will need to either wild camp instead or have your own facilities. There are plenty of wild camping spots on the NC500 and if you are in a campervan, you will not struggle to find somewhere to camp up for the night.

If you are planning to pitch a tent, there are also plenty of spots suitable for doing so, however, be mindful in the winter months on the north coast 500 that heavy rainfall may result in pitching up on very marshy conditions, which can result in sleeping in your car instead.

tent in the snow

Wildlife on the NC500 in Winter

There are lots of roaming animals on the North Coast 500 including sheep, rabbits, deer or sometimes even highland cows. This will mean that as you make your way along the winding roads mainly throughout the west coast, you will probably see them cross your path on the road. Slow and controlled driving is therefore required at all times of year to protect the livelihood of these beautiful animals.

It is important to take particular care in the winter months as if it is windy, the animals may not hear you coming and therefore not run away.

A benefit to travelling the NC500 is that you won’t have to put up with the dreaded midges. If you are from Scotland or have visited Scotland before, you will know exactly what I am talking about. For those of you who have never been to Scotland, during the summer months the hills come to life with flying insects from hell. Midges are tiny, mosquito-like insects that have the ability to ruin a trip if you are not prepared for them.

You will only need to worry about coming across midges if you are visiting late spring to late summer (May to September) as they can’t survive the winter frost. This makes winter the perfect time to get out and explore the highlands of Scotland, worry-free about any unwanted visits from the flying devil.

 

stag in the snow

Daylight Hours on the NC500 in Winter

Due to how far north this road trip is in Scotland,  the daylight hours vary drastically from summer into winter. In the peak of summer, there will be nights when it does not seem to get dark at all, with a constant twilight sitting on the horizon. In contrast, during the winter months, the daylight hours are very short, some days only have 5 hours of sunshine, if you are even lucky enough to see the sun. It is important to bear this in mind when you visit during winter and remember that you do not have as much daylight to see as many sights as in the summer.

A benefit to travelling the NC500 in winter, is how late the sunrise is. So if you are into photography and enjoy getting that sunrise golden glow, you can have a bit of a lie in.

mountain covered in snow behind loch

Winter Colours on the NC500

Winter may not be the brightest time to visit the NC500, the flowers are not in bloom and the trees have been laid bare. However, perhaps the most beautiful characteristic of the Scottish Flora is the colour it produces across the hills during the winter.

The heather turns a magnificent orange/brown and, when paired with a dusting of snow on the tops of the mountains, as well as a golden sunset, it creates a sensational palette of warming golds, reds, browns, and oranges across the hills. Winter in Scotland is arguably the most spectacular time of year for photographers and nature lovers alike.

Before You Leave on the North Coast 500

Before you head off on your trip around the NC500, there are certain things you will need to get organised to ensure a smooth trip. These include how to get around the route, including being aware of single track roads, etc., what to pack for Scotland, where to stay along the route and what travel insurance to book.

Read more planning tips for the North Coast 500 in our full guide.

 

How Do I Get Around the NC500?

Given the remote location of the NC500 and the majority of the sights along the route, the best way to get around this road trip is by driving. There are of course other methods that are still popular, such as cycling and hiking, however, if you have a short amount of time on the route, neither of these are very suitable.

As for public transport, the use around the NC500 is understandably difficult due to how remote each location is, however, with the increasing problem of congestion along the route, this is a good option to research if you have time. If it is something that interests you, you can read a public formed itinerary of how to get around the NC500 by public transport over here.

If you are looking to rent a cosy, reliable and luxurious campervan for your trip along the NC500, we highly recommend hiring through Bunk Campers. We toured with these guys around the up-and-coming Heart 200 road trip in Scotland’s central highlands and could not believe the comfort and customer service we experienced with their vans.

Browse the full range of vehicles on offer at Bunk Campers over here.

Passing Place by the Bealach na Ba Pass.

What Should I Pack for the NC500?

When it comes to packing for a trip along the NC500 there is one item of clothing that you are going to need all year round: a waterproof. It rains in Scotland on average 250 days a year, meaning that during your 7-day NC500 road trip you will probably experience at least a drizzle of rain. Due to this, the number one item on any Scotland packing list is a good waterproof jacket.

 

As for the rest of the year, the temperature in Scotland and the central heartlands is reasonably mild for most of the year. During the winter months, you will most likely experience snow, however, temperatures usually sit around freezing, so it is not too cold. For your reference, the average temperatures in Scotland are listed below during each season.

Spring (March, April, May) – 5-10 degrees C

Summer (June, July, August) – 15 degrees C

Autumn (September, October, November) – 5-10 degrees C

Winter (December, January, February) – 0-5 degrees C

 

As you can see, the weather never really gets above the teens, with anything over 25 degrees C considered a heatwave. The best way to pack for your trip to the highlands is with layers that can be added and removed as you need them. You will definitely need a hat and gloves during the colder months and will most likely need sunscreen to protect you on the long days in the open.

For our full list of items that we pack no matter where we go in the world, check out our full packing guides over here.

 

Given the beautiful sights and scenery that you are no doubt going to see around Scotland, we highly recommend packing a good camera for your trip. If you want to read more about the cameras we use and why we love them, check out the link below.

You can read what else we keep in our camera bag over here.

 

Photography Equipment

Main Photography Camera – Sony A7iii Mirrorless Camera

Main Lens – Sony FE 16-35 mm f/2.8 GM 

Zoom Lens – Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8

Camera Stand – Neewer Portable 177cm

Vlogging Camera – Sony HX90v

Action Camera – GoPro Hero 8 Black

Drone Camera – DJI Mavic Pro 2

Camera Bag – Lowepro Flipside 300 AW

 

Where Should I Stay on the NC500?

The remoteness in the highlands of Scotland will leave you with little choice of accommodation in each location along the NC500, however, there are still enough options to choose from to ensure a comfortable trip. These are mostly in the shape of B&Bs, Airbnbs, converted cottages and other quirky accommodations.

Depending on how adventurous you are, there may be more accommodation choices than just the above, often with an even better view. Caravan and camping sites are abundant along the NC500, drawing camping enthusiasts from all over the world. For some of the most spectacular bedside scenery along the North Coast 500, we recommend packing a tent and getting in touch with nature for the week.

As we travelled along the North Coast 500, camped in our trusty Vango tent on a mixture of campsites and wild sites. Wild camping is a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of the highlands, however, it must be done respectfully. Read our full guide to Wild Camping if you wish to give it a go so you know everything you need to for a comfortable and sustainable trip.

camping in scotland

What is the Best Travel Insurance?

No matter what type of adventure you are heading on, whether it is a mountain adventure or a relaxing beach destination, one thing we all need to be aware of is that accidents can happen. The last thing you want is for an unexpected medical emergency to ruin your trip of a lifetime. Luckily, that is what travel insurance is for.

Whenever we travel abroad, we get covered with World Nomad’s Travel Insurance, a reliable, friendly and extremely affordable method of covering yourself on any adventure. With years of experience working for backpackers around the globe, the service they provide is perfect for whatever type of trip you have planned.

Get covered for your next trip and get a quote from World Nomad’s right here.

So there you have it, our best tips to prepare for the North Coast 500 in winter. If you have visited the NC500 in winter before and have any other tips, please share them with us in the comments below.

As always, sharing is caring so make sure to share this guide with your family and friends and inspire them to head off on their own North Coast 500 adventure. If you are planning the trip for yourself, make sure you have a look at the rest of our Scotland content for more inspiration to our beautiful home country.

When you set off on your own adventure, be sure to tag us in your photos on Instagram and we will share them with the rest of our community. In the meantime, why not follow us over there to see what we are currently up to and keep up with us on our Instagram Stories.

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