The 5 Best Places to Camp in the Highlands
Posted on Apr 28, 2016 by John Walker
The Best Wild Camping Spots in Scotland
When pondering the best places to camp in the Highlands, one person’s idyllic wild-camp could be another’s idea of Hell.
So considering a few vital things can make a real difference when selecting a spot.
Wilderness Guide, John Walker shares his favourite camping spots and what else to think about with his 5 Best Places to Camp in the Highlands.
What to think about when choosing a great wild camping spot:
- Access to water – That wee lochan may look lovely, but will you have to boil everything you drink? Running water is best, and is plentiful in Scotland! Keep in mind that you don’t want to have to hump it for hundreds of metres. That said, do not base yourself too close as it may be prone to flooding if the burn (Scots word for river) swells with the rain!
- Shelter – The idea of a mountain-top spot is wonderful, but ensure you’re not going to get blown away if the wind gets up.
- A breeze – Paradoxically, due to the midges, a light breeze is usually preferable. Find out easy tricks for avoiding Scotland’s most feared wildlife, the Highland Midge here.
- Sloping or tussocky terrain – You may have the best roll mat in the world, but choose your ground wisely if you want to sleep well!
- Proximity to a road – Remote is good, but carrying kit can be hard work. Strike a balance, or manage your expectations.
- Proximity to a pub – As I said, ‘one man’s meat……’
Find out more about what makes a good campsite (or a terrible one) in: Wild Camping: What NOT to do.
Indeed, would you prefer an ‘all mod cons’ campsite, with showers, toilets, electricity and internet access? If so, I am afraid they’re not listed here. Here we have a little walk on the wilder side of camping. So which are my (current) favourite five? In no particular order….
Gleann na Muice, Fisherfeld, NH048785
A proper wild camp spot, requiring a long walk-in from either Poolewe or Corrie Hallie. Includes a challenging river crossing on the latter route.
I have used this a number of times as a base to break down the long trip required to bag the Fisherfield Five, (used to be Six before Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was demoted from munro status of course).
Once there, you find a splendid area of flat grass as the burn splits and ribbons, surrounded by An Teallach to the North East, Beinn Dearg Mor to the North West, and to the South and West the wonderful peaks that make up the rest of the Fisherfield cirque.
- Pros – Wild, remote, atmospheric.
- Cons – Can be difficult to cross the Abhainn Strath na Sealga at Shenavall if it is in spate.
Sheigra Bay, North of Kinlochbervie, NC181600
A ‘camp site’ of sorts, looked after by the local community, but really just some cracking machair grassland leading to a deserted beach.
There is a tap and a couple of waste bins further up the track. Quite simply wonderful, with cliff-top walks to boot! The famous Sandwood Bay is within a few hour’s walk too, if you’re so inclined. I stumbled upon this gem whilst looking for a place to pitch up prior to a trip out to Sandwood, as I didn’t fancy carrying our gear all the way out there. It is a fine place to stop and just relax.
- Pros – A wild feel, but with not far to walk! Lovely sunsets.
- Cons – The track can be rough for cars, but it’s not far.
The Ultimate Wild Camping Articles
Glas Bheinn Chaol, Glen Etive, NN141427
A proper wild camp again, this time set at 660m at the head of the Allt nam Meirleach, in the coire between Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor.
I first used this on a great trip with my wife, when we bagged Beinn Aighenan. Well, great except for the fact I had omitted to replace the insoles in her boots post-cleaning, a fact not discovered until the summit – Whoops!. An absolute belter of a high camp, benefiting from the views back to West Glen Etive, a surprisingly flat area to camp, and a good water source. It is also fairly well sheltered from most wind. The camp spot on the picture is just below the bealach on Ben Starav’s East ridge, and just above the ridge in the centre of the picture.
- Pros – A fantastic base to ‘bag’ the five local munros, a real mountain eyrie.
- Cons – You have to carry your kit up to that height.
Loch Etchachan, Cairngorms, NJ011003
Probably my favourite wild camp, in the atmospheric Coire Etchachan, alongside the highest named body of water in the UK, at 920m.
I like a midsummer night walk to the summit of either Derry Cairngorn or Ben Macdui, which is usually quite possible even without a head-torch. It is even straightforward if dark enough to need one, especially under moonlight (as long as your navigation is up to it of course!) Make a couple of days of it and explore the heart of the Cairngorms.
- Pros – They don’t come much wilder.
- Cons – It’s a long old walk from the ski centre or Forest Lodge with your kit, but well worth it.
The Red Squirrel campsite, Glencoe, NN119573
Set in lovely woodland adjacent to the river Coe, it is loved by many, loathed by equally as many – but I couldn’t help myself!
If you like a lively (if not raucous at times) atmosphere, campfires and random loonies with guitars and cans of Tennents, it’s a hoot. If you prefer the kind of atmosphere I have been describing in the sites above, it will be hell on earth. I often think everyone should try the Red Squirrel at least once, especially after an exciting crossing of the Aonach Eagach, or a full-on day on Bidean nam Bian. The blood will be up, and after a good ole’ night in the Clachaig Inn along the road. Sometimes you can strike it lucky and end up around a campfire with some great singers and copious amounts of malt whisky. Just don’t plan to climb too much the next day! ;)
- Pros – Basic facilities. Lively, smoky, slightly mad atmosphere. Close to the famous Clachaig Inn.
- Cons – The basic facilities versus price. Earplugs usually required until the early hours.
So there you have it, my tried and tested 5 best places to camp in the Highlands. Who knows, maybe I will see you there? And remember, however heavy the pack may seem, there’s always space for a hipflask of malt! ;)
Want to explore these camping locations but new to the whole sleeping in the outdoors thing? Have a read of our Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping for some starter tips.
Guided Wild Camping Trips in Scotland
If you’re still not sure you’re ready to brave the wilderness alone, why not try one of our canoeing or sea kayaking expedition trips that include wilderness camping, and let our expert guides show you the ropes. Our trips take wild camping to another level with freshly baked bread, great menus, cosy communal teepees and the most secluded of locations, to prove we do the best wild camping tours you can check out reviews here.
Read more from John Walker here!
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