It is a common misconception that doing the NC500 will cost you a fortune. There are hundreds of spectacular parking spots where you can stay overnight that are absolutely free. Of course, campsites are still a valuable and often essential service, whether you need to empty your black/grey water, or refill your water, or even just want to take a shower without worrying about water consumption. However, this post showcases the 10 best free park-ups on the NC500 route, tried and tested by yours truly!
These overnight park-up spots are listed in the order they would appear if you are doing the NC500 anti-clockwise.
For a more in-depth analysis of each park up spot and a breakdown of the facilities available at each, click on the individual links provided.
1. Shandwick Beach Car Park
Shandwick is one of a trio of villages (with Balintore and Hilton) on the east coast of Scotland known as the Seaboard Villages. These villages run in succession and all are within walking distance of each other. This park up overlooks a stunning award-winning sandy beach that stretches for miles – perfect for anyone who is brave enough to try their hand at wild swimming.
Within a kilometer of the park up, there are free toilets and even an outdoor tap to replenish your water supply.
Things to do near Shandwick:
- visit the Mermaid of the North 1 mile north)
- visit the nearby villages: Tain (8 miles north) and Dornoch (18 miles north)
2. Skelbo – Loch Fleet
Skelbo is extremely rural and has absolutely no facilities such as toilets or a water source. Despite this, it is one of the most sought-after park ups on the NC500. Skelbo is directly on the banks of the Loch Fleet – a national nature reserve. Here you can sea common (and sometimes grey) seals bask on the sandbanks at low tide. Depending on where you park, the seals may be as close as 30m from your vehicle.
The spaces for this park up fill up exptremely quickly. Make your you arrive by 6pm in peak summer months to guarantee a spot.
Things to do near Skelbo:
- Watch the basking seals
- Explore the ruins of Skelbo castle (5-minute walk from the park up)
- Dunrobin Castle (9 miles north)
3. Wick Harbour
Wick is one of the largest towns on the NC500 and also the perfect place to stock up on food and fuel. Although the town isn’t the most exciting, this park-up has a stunning view that will make it worth your while. It is directly on the harbour’s edge and has uninterrupted views out over all the fishing vessels.
Things to do near Wick:
- Castle Sinclair (5 miles north)
- Whaligoe Steps (7 miles south)
- John o’ Groats Signpost (17 miles north)
- Duncasby Head and Stacks (19 miles north)
- Swim at Dunnet Bay (19 miles north)
- Dunnet Head (23 miles north)
4. East Strathy Car Park
East Strathy is one of the best-hidden gems on the NC500. Situated almost exactly in the middle of the north coast, it really is the perfect base to explore this amazing coastline. This car park is located a couple of miles off the beaten track and has the best facilities on this list. It has been designed with wild campers in mind. There is a beautifully clean toilet block and running water, there are even picnic benches and bins.
East Strathy is known for its award-winning beach, which is situated a mere 5-minute walk from the car park. This beach is nestled behind some sprawling sand dunes and is idyllic!
Unfortunatley, this park up has no service or internet connection.
Note: the car park is next to a graveyard, so that may scare some people, however, we slept soundly and didn’t run into any ghosts!
Things to do near East Strathy:
- Visit Strathy beach
- Visit Melvich beach (3 miles east)
5. Kyle of Durness Viewpoint
This stunning spot has views that stretch for miles. The Kyle of Durness is a coastal inlet surrounded by mountains. It is truly spectacular.
From your van (or car) you can see sandy banks and blue water. There are even some sheep that stroll right past you without a care in the world. It really is a special park up! If you’re up for it, there is even a stunning coastal walk around the perimeter.
This park up unfortunatley does not have any toilets, water source, or bins, however, it does have good signal and reliable internet. You win some, you lose some!
Things to do near the Kyle of Durness:
- Cape Wrath Ferry terminal (1 miles)
- Balnakeil Craft Village (3 miles east)
- Balnakeil Beach (3 miles east)
- Smoo Cave (3 miles east)
- Golden Eagle Zip Line (5 miles east)
- Visit Scourie (23 miles south)
- Handa Island Day Trip (25 miles south)
- Kylesku Bridge (33 miles south)
6. Knockan Crag Viewpoint and Visitor Centre
Knockan Crag is one of the most well-equipped and equally stunning park ups on the NC500. It has everything you could wish for – toilets, running water, and beautiful picnic benches. There is even a pavilion that educates you on the surrounding history and geology. It sounds too good to be true, and for the most part, it is, the only weakness this spot has is the lack of internet connection here.
Things to do near Knockan Crag:
- Achmelvich Bay (26 miles north)
- Bone Caves, Inchnadamph (8.3 miles north)
7. Ullapool Lay-by
This parking spot is arguably the least scenic on the NC500.
This park-up is a couple of miles out with Ullapool. It has no real facilities other than a couple of bins. Unfortunately, there is not a stunning view to look out onto. However, what this park up has is a reliable internet connection and easy access to the stunning village of Ullapool – the best village on the NC500 (in our opinion)!
This park up is very utilitarian – but we loved it!
Things to do near Ullapool:
- Speedboat ride
- Wildlife Cruise
- Take a ferry to the Outer Hebrides
- Dine at one of the fresh seafood restaurants
8. Corrieshalloch Gorge and Waterfall
Corrieshalloch Gorge is undeniably one of the most impressive things you will see on the NC500. The 100-foot Gorge is staddled by a suspension bridge which is floats of a 45-foot waterfall. It truly is a sight to be seen.
Unfortunately, this park up doesn’t have any facilities such as toilets and bins. The real selling point of this spot is that you have access to the gorge at times when there are no other tourists around – perfect for getting a great Instagram pic!
Things to do near Corrieshalloch Gorge:
- Visit the gorge and the surrounding walks
- Corrieshalloch Gorge viewpoint (0.5 miles south)
- Mellon Udrigle Beach (32 miles south)
Note: if we were to do the NC500 again, we would consider staying at the viewpoint car park rather than the Gorge car park. It is only half a mile away and has a much nicer view, however, there are still no facilities. It depends if you want to prioritise the view or the easy access to the gorge!
9. Layby near Gairloch
This spot feels like it is in the middle of nowhere (and it kind of is)! The peaceful park up overlooks a loch and mountains in the distance, it is absolutely stunning.
However, that was not the main selling point for us. Having fast and reliable 4G internet was! It was incredible. Between Ullapool and this lay-by there is little to no internet, and as millennials addicted to our phones – we were positively starved of social media.
Things to do near here:
- Visit Gairloch (6 miles north)
- Waterfall walk in Gairloch (6 miles north)
- Glass bottomed boat ride in Gairloch (6 miles north)
- Inverewe Gardens (12 miles north)
- Search for Stags in Torridon (25 miles south)
10. Strathcarron Layby (near Applecross)
Strathcarron Layby is large and pretty far removed from the roadside and boasts incredible views across the sea to the Isles of Skye, Rassay, and Rona. It is also very flat and quiet, making it ideal to sit back, relax and enjoy your own company whilst soaking in the dramatic scenery!
We think this is the perfect place to park up for the night prior to taking on the infamous mountian pass – the Baelach na Ba!
Unfortunately, this park up has no service or internet. If you can’t bear to spend an evening without internet, there is an alternative car park not too far from Applecross that you could park overnight in – it’s called Toscaig Pier (9 miles south).
Things to do near Strathcarron Lay-by:
- Visit Applecross (4 miles south)
- Eat at the award-winning Applecross Inn (4 miles south)
- Drive the Baelach nà Ba (10 miles south)
Park up Spots Round-Up
Picking the perfect park-up spot for the night can be difficult. The lists below break down what to expect at what park up spots on the NC500. So whether you are in dire need of refilling your water tank, or need to offload some rubbish, you’ll know where to stop for the night to best suit your needs!
Park ups with toilets on the NC500
- Shandwick Beach Car Park
- East Strathy Car Park
- Knockan Crag Viewpoint and Visitor Centre
- Ullapool town centre has free toilets and even a free shower!
Park ups with reliable internet connection on the NC500
Park ups with a tap to refill your water tank on the NC500
- Shandwick Beach Car Park
- East Strathy Car Park (running water – no external tap though)
- Knockan Crag Viewpoint and Visitor Centre
Park ups with a bin on the NC500
All of these park-ups on the NC500 are great and serve their purpose incredibly well. Some have views that stretch for miles, others are in the perfect location to access the nearby villages and attractions.
You really cant go wrong with any of them!
More NC500 content coming soon!