The North Coast 500 is a circular route that starts and ends at Inverness. It's about 500 miles long and takes you to some of Scotland's most stunning scenery. It's been called "a journey through time" because it takes you past prehistoric sites, castles and battlefields, as well as more recent history like World War II defences, oil rigs and fishing villages. It's also one of the most challenging drives on earth, with narrow roads and tight corners
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The North Coast 500 is a road trip along the northern coast of Scotland. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the world, with some of the most breathtaking sights in Europe.
The North Coast 500 is not just about driving; it’s about exploring the stunning landscapes and enjoying some of the best natural wonders in Scotland
Northern Scotland is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. From rugged mountains and wide open glens to serene lochs, ancient forests, and breathtaking beaches, this region has something for everyone.
Here are the best natural wonders of the North Coast 500 scenery
1. Bealach na Ba
Bealach Na Ba or The Cattle pass takes a very steep and windy route from Loch Kishorn, climbing through the spectacular corrie of Coire na Ba.
It’s the third-highest road in Scotland, rising from sea level to 626m in 5.5 miles. The Bealach na Ba is 11.1 miles long and runs east-west from Tornapress to Applecross.
It is considered to be the best climb in Britain. On a clear day, there are panoramic views of Raasay, the Cuillin, northern Skye, and the Western Isles from Carn Glas viewpoint.
It’s a number one, in my humble opinion of the best of North Coast 500 scenery
The Parliamentary Road was completed in 1822, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it received bitumen coverings. The road is a single track all the way, with sharp bends and steep gradients. Although there are several ‘passing places,’ it’s unsuitable for learner drivers, caravans, coaches, and large vehicles. Even today, the pass can be blocked for weeks during the winter
2. Duncansby Stacks
If you’re touring the NC500 in Scotland, then don’t forget to stop off at the Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse – they’re hugely popular tourist attractions and are easy to reach.
Here, the dramatic North Coast 500 scenery is even more beautiful and it changes as the weather play along the sea.
Duncansby Head is certainly a must-see for anyone who likes its scenery both natural and dramatic. Duncan’s Head and Stacks can be seen from the Coastal Walk south of the lighthouse.
The finest views of Duncan’s Head and Stacks are from the vantage point on the path south from the lighthouse. Whales and dolphins are regularly seen from here.
The Ness of Duncansby is one of the best beaches in the North Highlands for those who wish to collect shells, especially groatie buckies. There is a very good walk along the shore from John o’Groats to the Bay of Sannick.
The panoramic view from Warth Hill -Park near an old quarry off the A99 -4km south of John O’Groats is best seen from the summit after walking 200m
3. Smoo Cave
The cave – it’s something that you’ll be glad to make it on your list of things to look out for, as it’s just amazing. The cave entrance itself is impressive, as it has the largest entrance of any sea cave in the UK.
It’s about 15 meters high, while the main chamber is 60 metres by 40 metres. Allt Smoo plunges 25 metres into an inner cave. The waterfall can be observed from a platform and, after heavy rain, flows into an underground pool.
There have also been explorations of the lower chamber for many years, but they have yet to find a way in.
You can only pay for tickets to the cave with cash. And if you are on the NC500, you may have not seen a cash machine for many miles before you got here. There is a small free parking lot. The steps leading down to the bottom are steep.
4. Torridon Mountains
Torridon, a mecca for all hillwalkers and lovers of wild places, is home to many scenic paths. The Torridon’s are a group of at least 8 hills, between Loch Maree and Loch Torridon: the big three are Liathach, Beinn Eighe, and Beinn Alligin; other significant hills are Beinn Dearg, Baosbheinn, Beinn an Eoin, Meall a’ Ghiuth
Torridon is an ancient and enchanting wilderness of water and rock. North Coast 500 scenery shows up the rugged mountains which are incredibly old – the Torridonian sandstone that forms the bulk of all the mountains dates back 750 million years.
On the west side of the Torridon estate, the hilly and loch-strewn landscape is even older. Composed of Lewisian Gneiss, it is over 2.6 billion years old and it was the erosion of this land that provided the sediment, laid down in shallow seas, for the sandstone we know today. There are a few good walks and hikes suitable for all abilities.
Considered one of the most iconic mountains, relatively easy to climb, although it involves a long walk. A “mere” 2,389ft high with a name said to come from the Norse “Pillar Mountain”: which shows, not surprisingly, that the Vikings saw its seaward profile first.
The walk may be longish but it is stunning – don’t miss the waterfalls either. Allow yourself time, take lots to drink, and enjoy this stunning walk.
The climb and walk back will take around 8 hours from the car park near Glencanisp Lodge. This is in summer and for generally fit walkers. I’d aim for a full 10 hours of daylight for your walk, longer if you have to walk all the way from Lochinver.
Highly recommend watching not the average mountain movie ‘Edie‘ which features Suilvan with the fantastic play of Sheila Hancock.
6. Inchnadamph Caves
100 years ago, there was a remarkable discovery of animal bones in two caves located in the south of Inchnadamph.
The discovery was made while geologists were surveying the area and stumbled across the two locations filled with animal bones. Species discovered here include Arctic fox, wolf, lynx, brown bear, and even Polar bear.
Perhaps the most exciting find was the skull of a Northern Lynx, dated at around 1,770 years old, which was found at the back of the inner cave in 1927. This is the only Northern Lynx site in Scotland. Most likely, the lynx crawled into the cave and couldn’t get out, or was dragged in by another animal.
The caves are easily accessed by a 2-kilometre path, and they are fascinating to explore, but it does go over some rough and steep ground so please take care at all times.
Similarly, though the caves’ entrance chambers may be examined standing up, care should be taken at the rear of the Reindeer Cave where it drops down to a crawlway.
7. Forsinard RSPB
The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland is a vast area of blanket peat bog, one of the world’s rarest habitats. It’s the largest in the UK and covers about 3885 km².
The Flow Country is one of Scotland’s most important natural treasures and the RSPB looks after more than 21,000 hectares of it.
The rolling landscape provides a wide range of RSPB Forsinard Flows Reserve is unique, with a visitor centre in the train station and a landscape unlike any other.
It is situated on the A897 single-track road through Strath Halladale and the flagstone trail winds through the moor, lochans and peat bog.
The visitor centre is in the railway station and opens in April-October. Inside, you can explore and see amazing audiovisuals of birds and other wildlife that live here.
There’s also the chance to get guided tours, which often start from outside on display boards and markers detailing interesting facts about the area
8. Wailing Widow Falls
One of the hidden gems of NC500 is very easy to miss because of its location but is actually fairly accessible and within a short distance from the parking.
Known as Hanged Man Falls, cascading down from Loch na Gainmhich to the gorge below, the story goes that a grieving mother threw herself over the edge of the falls some time ago after her son tragically fell from his horse at the same place during a deer hunt.
This is one of the highlights of the North Coast 500 scenery. The falls are not signposted, but there are small parking places off the A894 to park when viewing the falls. Wailing Widow Falls are located along the A894 past Ullapool, between Kylesku Bridge and Ardvreck Castle.
Both views – above and below – are fabulous. Wear waterproof boots as the walk is not easiest, but 100% worth it when you get to the waterfall.
9. Knockan Crag
Over 420 million years ago, here Knockan Crag was a spot where the landmass containing Scotland collided with the landmass that included England and the rest of Britain.
It is actually recognized worldwide as the place where scientists first understood the nature of Thrust Tectonics. The trail that leads above the crags to take in breathtaking views of the Coigach and Assynt hills, includes also sculptures and poetry.
There are places to sit and a treasure hunt for younger children. The moderate walk with steep sections, mostly on steeps, takes approximately an hour to complete and brings you back to the car park