Wild Camping in Scotland: Best Places and Key Tips
Scotland is the wildest place in the United Kingdom, a land of beautiful scenery, tall mountains and endless lochs and lakes. It’s rugged, prone to bad weather and, at times, remote and isolated, but few other places can match Scotland for its scenery.
And despite the temperamental weather, camping is one of the best ways to really immerse yourself into the beautiful Scottish landscapes. But rather than simply pitching up at a regular campsite, wild camping is fast becoming the latest trend amongst outdoor lovers.
But what is wild camping, and is it even legal in Scotland? We’re here to answer all your wild camping questions, and to recommend the best places in Scotland to pitch your tent. Read on to find out more…
What Is Wild Camping
Wild camping is the best way to appreciate the great outdoors, and to get really off the beaten track in Scotland. It’s kind of like regular camping, but the big difference is that, simply, you’re not pitching your tent at an organised or official camping site or camping area. Instead, you’re literally camping out in the wild.
That means that you can essentially pitch up your tent and spend the night in the outdoors anywhere that’s not private property or subject to certain rules (more on that later) in Scotland. Plus, you’ll be able to stargaze at night and wake up to a beautiful morning sunrise.
Wild camping is great when you’re looking to venture further afield from the established tourist spots or from the main cities such as Glasgow or Edinburgh. You can escape the crowds, but you’ll need to be totally self-sufficient and to follow the unwritten wild camping rules and regulations to help keep Scotland pristine.
Is Wild Camping Legal in Scotland?
Wild camping isn’t always a given right in every country but, luckily, Scotland is a unique exception to the rule.
Wild camping is – with a few exceptions – almost entirely legal everywhere in Scotland. Of course, you can’t just camp out on someone’s garden or on the motorway, but it’s legal to wild camp in any area of unenclosed land in the country.
That means that you can pitch your tent in most national parks and in many of the wildest parts of the Highlands or the Scottish Isles. Importantly, the land where you pitch your tent has to be unenclosed for you to camp there. That means it has to be land that essentially no one has yet put a fence around.
In practice though, you can also ask permission from farmers or landowners to camp in remote parts of the country that might technically be enclosed, and you will often gain permission. This also counts as wild camping, as there will likely be no available facilities.
The important rule to remember is to double check before you begin your trip, if the area you want to camp is public land. If you’re in national parks or following marked hiking trails you’ll usually be fine, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure with the local rangers first if you can.
Some particularly touristy areas of Scotland have recently enacted new rules outlawing wild camping, and this includes the popular area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Hopefully Scotland will remain a wild camping haven, but that relies on wild campers keeping the outdoors clean and tidy, and not abusing the privilege.
Scotland is very different to much of the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to wild camping, so remember that it’s not legal in England and Wales, if you are hiking in border areas or travelling south after your journey through Scotland.
The Wild Camping Code
While there are no real laws or official regulations when it comes to wild camping outside of ensuring your location is a legal domain to set up your tent and spend the night, in order to keep wild camping legal you need to follow the wild camping code and not abuse the wilderness.
Remember to keep your camping area clean and tidy and, when you depart, leave it exactly the way you found it. You could even do the right thing and clean up any rubbish that might have been left behind by other campers. Locals will get annoyed if their outdoor areas are left in a bad condition by visitors, and rightly so.
Follow the ‘leave no trace’ principles, and keep Scotland clean. This includes when going to the toilet in the outdoors. Dispose of your rubbish in designated areas.
Keep campfires to a minimum and check you’re allowed them first to avoid disturbing the wildlife and the environment.
Be wary of the weather in remote places too, to avoid any calls to the local rescue services if you get in trouble.
Wild Tent Camping vs. Wild Campervan Camping
While wild camping is traditionally applied to more traditional Scottish camping sites, whereby you pitch a tent outdoors, it’s also more recently been applied to campervan camping too.
Road tripping around Scotland is one of the best ways to see the more remote landscapes and most beautiful destinations, and having a campervan allows you to be more independent.
You can wild campervan camp off the side of many roads and within many national parks, but again check the rules first. In comparison to traditional wild camping, you don’t have to worry about hiking or carrying your own gear out into the wilderness because you’ve got it all in your van, and you’ll have a level of luxury that most wild campers can only dream of.
What Do I Need to Wild Camp?
For more traditional wild camping, you’ll need a few basic items of equipment, but it’s important to pack as light as possible. This is because, generally speaking, most wild campers will be walking or hiking to their camping spots.
Packing light can be a challenge, as you’ll need to be self-reliant and self-sufficient when wild camping in Scotland, and these can be two ideals that are difficult to compromise on.
How much equipment you take will ultimately come down to personal preference, experience and how long you will be wild camping for.
As a bare minimum, you’ll need the following items and pieces of equipment to wild camp in some level of comfort in Scotland.
- Tent: this is seemingly an essential piece of equipment, however many hardcore wild campers will camp out in makeshift shelters or in bivouacs too, rather than carrying tents around, especially when the weather is better in summer!
- Sleeping bag: a truly essential piece of kit because you never know when the weather will take a cold turn. You’ll need better sleeping bags for winter or for altitude than in summer.
- Hiking rucksack: unless you are driving or in a campervan you’ll need a quality rucksack to carry your kit, with straps to take the weight off your back, and a waterproof cover.
- Roll mat: for comfort!
- Torch: for when it’s dark at night.
- Camp stove: for cooking up some delectable wild camping cuisine.
- Food and water: try to stay self-sufficient but you’ll be able to pick up water easily.
- Battery pack: to keep charged in the wilderness.
- Map and compass: to stop you from getting lost.
- Rain gear: because this is Scotland…
- Warm clothes: Always carry spare clothes in Scotland and keep a pair dry in case it rains.
- Cameras: because the scenery is beautiful when you wild camp in Scotland!
Wild Camping Facilities
Of course, when you’re wild camping there are no facilities to speak of, except for ones that you might find in nearby villages or towns.
On long distance hiking routes you might be able to spend the odd night in a Scottish Bothy, which is sort of like a communal shelter or refuge. But aside from this you’ll be on your own.
You’ll need enough food, or you’ll need to plan where you can pick up more food and supplies on route. You’ll also want to be careful where you refill water although in general Scottish water supplies are very clean, particularly in the more mountainous areas.
There won’t be any toilet facilities out in the wilds of Scotland either, so plan accordingly!
Luckily, you’re never too far from a pub in Scotland if you feel that you need to escape the cold and enjoy a warm meal or a glass of whisky!
The Best Places to Wild Camp in Scotland
Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park is one of the best areas in Scotland to wild camp, because this is one of the most spectacular areas of natural beauty in the country.
Located between Inverness and Aberdeen, this is proper hill walking territory and the Cairngorms is known for its high mountains and beautiful passes.
Enjoy long distance hikes across the national park, and wild camp as you tackle peaks and enjoy the rugged scenery.
Isle of Skye
One of the largest islands in the Hebrides, the Isle of Skye is one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
Few other locations in the United Kingdom can match the Isle of Skye for beauty, but in summer it can be crowded. Take advantage of the wild camping options and head away from the tourist trail. Camp out under the night sky and enjoy the serene solitude of this northern part of Scotland.
Brave the winter and the rough sea crossings and you could even see the Northern Lights if you are here in the darker and colder months of the year.
The Orkney Islands are found off the northeast coast of Scotland and are teeming with not just natural beauty with history too.
You can wild camp in the night before exploring ancient stone circles or searching out ruined Norse settlements in the day.
The remote and isolated northern region of Scotland’s mainland, known as Sutherland, is full of wonderful wild camping spots.
Sutherland is best known for its long sandy beaches, and these are some of the best overnight camping grounds, many of which can only be reached via footpaths, making them incredibly quiet and peaceful, even in summer.
Located deep in the Highlands of Scotland, Glencoe is a place that’s steeped in legend and history.
This is the traditional stronghold of the Scottish clans, and you’ll soon see why when you wild camp in secluded valleys that are surrounded on all sides by seemingly impenetrable mountains.
It’s a spectacular place for long distance walks and high hill walking, where you’ll need to wild camp to appreciate the surrounds!
Located just a short journey from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, the Bonaly Reservoir is a great place if you want to quickly get out of the city.
You can spend the night wild camping on the edge of the water before returning back to normality the following day, suitably refreshed after a night under the stars.
The Best Time of Year to Wild Camp in Scotland
Scotland has notoriously bad weather and even in summer it can be entirely unpredictable, especially in the Highlands and on the islands. The further north you travel, the colder it’s going to be.
Summer is the best time of course when the weather is at its best, and is mostly sunny and warm. Winter can bring snow and ice, as well as dark days and little sunlight.
Is it legal to wild camp in Scotland?
It’s legal to wild camp on any piece of unenclosed land in most areas of Scotland, but remember that some regions have their own rules, so always double check.
How cold is Scotland?
This depends on how far north you are and what time of year it is. The further north you travel, the colder it’s going to be. The later in the year it is, the colder it’s going to be.
Is it safe to wild camp in Scotland?
It’s perfectly safe to wild camp in Scotland, but just be mindful of the weather, as it can turn for the worse quickly.