Visiting the NC500 in winter is a very different experience to 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. The experience, however, is completely different depending on when you decide to do it. In this guide, we discuss driving the NC500 in winter as well as the following 

Table of Contents

scotland mountains covered in snow

Destination North Coast Map

If you are planning an adventure to the North Coast of Scotland, make sure you have all the resources you need to make the most of your trip. Our Destination North Coast Map is the perfect addition to any traveller’s toolkit. With detailed information on all the best spots, along the NC500, this map is your ultimate guide to exploring the rugged beauty of Scotland’s north coast.

Read more about this map here.

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 away from the shelter, the rain will come down.

This can also be the case with weather warnings for wind and rain but don’t let this put you off. 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 quiet in winter as very few tourists visit 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. Some activities may also be weather dependent, such as Smoo Cave.

This is also the case for campsites on the NC500, 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 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 them freezing, so it is up to you to take care during these icy conditions.

In addition, during 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 that 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.

If you are driving the NC500 in a motorhome or similar vehicle, you will need to take extra care due to the size and weight of the vehicle.

sign for beleach na ba


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If you are looking for a good bag for your time exploring the NC500, we can highly recommend the Wandrd Bag PRVKE 41L if you are carrying camera equipment around. If you are looking for a smaller backpack, The Nest by Tropicfeel is one of the most comfortable bags I have ever owned.

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 stop 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. Also, keep in mind the tips for wild camping responsibly.

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 won’t 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

What Are the 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 in mind the lack of daylight (generally between 8am and 4pm) when you visit during winter and remember that you will not have as much time to see as many sights as in the summer.

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

mountain covered in snow behind loch

Winter Colours on the NC500

Winter is not the brightest time to visit the NC500, the flowers are not in bloom and the trees have been laid bare. However, 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 for 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.

How Do I Get Around?

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.

Where to Stay on the NC500

There is a wide range of accommodations around the NC500 route, so you will not be short on options. Depending on how long you are spending in each area will depend on how long you spend in that location. It is worth bearing in mind that some accommodations will require you to stay a minimum number of nights so it is worth researching this when you are planning your North Coast 500 itinerary.

Our new book North Coast 500 Where to Eat and Stay shares the best places to eat and stay around the NC500 and includes whether places are dog friendly, accessible, have wifi and EVC ad whether they cater to dietry requirements.

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.

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.

achmelvich beach

What Should I Pack?

When it comes to packing for a trip to Scotland 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 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 (men’s / women’s).

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.

It is also important to stay hydrated, especially when you are out exploring in the marvellous landscape of Scotland. We use Water to Go water bottles to fill up with water from running streams when we are hiking.

We would also recommend taking our NC500 guidebooks with you on your journey. This will help you plan your itinerary and ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the best places to go on the NC500. Our Destination NC500 guidebook is well paired with NC500 Where to Eat and Stay and you can buy the combo here.

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.

What is the Best Travel Insurance for the North Coast 500

I know travel insurance is the least enjoyable thing to purchase and look at when you’re planning a trip, however, you wouldn’t want to be without it in the event that something happened. Accidents can happen anywhere and the extortionate medical bills will ruin your trip if you are not covered.

To ensure you have a stress-free trip with no worries about potential medical bills, make sure you cover yourself when you travel. We can recommend using SafetyWing, a backpacker-friendly and cheap insurance company that provides good coverage and support. It is also nomad-friendly, unlike most other insurance companies, meaning you do not need to worry about being out of your home country for too long.

Get a quote for your travel insurance right here and get covered!

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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