The Cairngorms National Park and the Scottish Highlands have it all – ancient forests, shimmering lochs, peaceful glens, jaw-dropping beaches, and majestic mountains. The Cairngorms National Park is truly one of the best places for wild camping in the UK.
Listing all the magical wild camping spots in these areas where one could spend a few unforgettable nights under the stars is impossible, but we’ve made sure to find and review the best ones for our guide.
The town of Aviemore, a popular tourist resort, is located in the northwestern section of the Cairngorms National Park. This place is surrounded by lochs, forests, cycle routes, and treks – it’s an ideal destination for any wild camper.
One of the best wild camping spots in the Aviemore area is the treeless lake of Loch Eanaich, which is the primary water source for the town itself. Cycling or hiking to this stunning mountain lake can be tricky, but its unforgettable sights are well worth the effort.
If you’d rather stay closer to the town, consider wild camping at Loch Morlich. This large water expanse is less than five miles east of Aviemore. Pitch a tent where the treeline meets the golden beach and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the Cairngorms.
The Ryvoan and Lochan Uaine Route, which runs for 5 miles near Aviemore, also deserves mention. You’ll find plenty of superb wild camping spots along this circular walk. Consider staying at the Ryvoan Bothy – there, you’ll find a big pile of felled logs, a wide bench to sleep on, and a fat little stove.
Situated in the west of the Cairngorms National Park, Glen Feshie is a breathtaking valley whose upper reaches are clothed with lovely Caledonian pinewoods. It is home to a vast array of wildlife, including lapwings, otters, ptarmigans, black grouse, ospreys, pine martens, wildcats, and eagles.
If you’d like to spend a few nights in Glen Feshie, your best option is the bothy at Ruigh Aiteachain. It can be found east of the famous Glenfeshie Lodge, just across the river.
This bothy is a “member” of the network of mountain huts made available to campers and hikers for free. It is fabulously situated and features a composting toilet, Norwegian cast-iron stoves, and two rough-planked rooms.
If you’d rather sleep under the stars, move up the glen and pitch your tent among the remnants of ancient pine trees. You’ll enjoy spectacular views of the valley and won’t have to deal with midges.
Another excellent wild camping area in this part of Scotland is the wilderness surrounding the Boat of Garten. This small village is located north of the National Park, some 20 miles south of Inverness.
Out of all places where you can pitch a tent in this area, the best one is undoubtedly Loch Garten. This tranquil lake is nestled within the Abernethy nature reserve and is ideal for picnicking, cycling, and walking. Moreover, its smooth and calm water makes it a perfect destination for campers interested in wild swimming.
You’ll be able to park your vehicle in the Garten Woods car park and stroll down to the lake through the charming woodland. On the shoreline, you will find loads of little nooks that offer some privacy – Loch Garten doesn’t have that one “beachy” section where all campers congregate.
Another great thing about this area is that it offers the feeling of being “out there” while still being less than half an hour away from Aviemore. It is also very close to Loch Mallachie, an equally stunning lake providing plenty of space for everyone interested in wild camping.
Lying close to the banks of the famous River Avon, Tomintoul is a small settlement in the northeast of the Cairngorms National Park. It’s a popular stop on the Malt Whiskey Trail and the highest village in the Highlands (1164 ft).
While there are plenty of wild camping opportunities in the area, your best bet is to head south of the village to Loch Builg. It’s a 10-mile hike that follows River Avon and Builg Burn south to Central Cairngorms.
There, you will encounter a pristine mountain lake surrounded by the breathtaking Highlands scenery. In the case of high winds, you’ll be able to pitch your tent behind the ruins of Lochbuilg Lodge (southern shore).
This wild camping area is a particularly excellent destination for those interested in wildlife watching. At Loch Builg, you will almost certainly see herds of Red Deer and flocks of Ring Ouzels.
As its name suggests, this town is situated on the River Spey – Scotland’s fastest-flowing river. It’s a picturesque Highland community with many leisure and outdoor activities on its doorstep.
This area’s obvious wild camping choice would be setting up camp on the banks of River Spey. However, I consider spending a few nights at Lochindorb – which is only 6 miles northwest of the town – a much better option.
This lake is about two-thirds of a mile wide, 2 miles long, and relatively windswept. It is, however, one of the most scenic Scottish lochs, boasting standout landscape features on its surrounding hills.
If you’re into canoeing, visit the ruins of Lochindorb Castle. Constructed in the late 13th century, it is situated on an island in the middle of the lake. You could even set up camp on the island – someone has already made a fire pit amongst the ruins.
The village of Braemar can be found in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. It is surrounded by beautiful scenery and provides visitors with plenty of camping, hiking, wildlife watching, and snowsports opportunities.
Some of the best wild camping areas near Braemar include Dubh Lochan, Loch Callater, Sandy Loch, Loch nan Eun, and Loch Muick. All of these are spectacular mountain lakes, with Loch Muick being the largest.
Situated 9 miles southeast of Braemar, Loch Muick is a prime destination for wildlife watchers – bring a pair of binoculars and observe herds of deer. You won’t, however, be able to fish there: to do so, one needs to be a member of the Ballater Angling Association.
While camping here, check out the Falls of the Glasallt. Located near the head of Loch Muick, this is an impressive 160-foot-tall waterfall and a great place to take stunning photos.
Unlike the towns, villages, glens, and lochs described above, Newtonmore is located in the western section of the Cairngorms National Park, some 30 miles south of Inverness. This village is very close to the geographical centre of Scotland.
Besides pitching a tent on the banks of the River Spey – which runs next to the settlement – those who come to this area can also camp on the shores of many small mountain lakes. These include Lochan Odhar, Loch Ettridg, and Loch an t-Seilich.
However, the best wild camping destination near this village is undoubtedly Loch Gynack. Situated very close to Newtonmore and Kingussie, this pristine lake features crystal-clear water and gorgeous views of the surrounding hills.
Getting to Loch Gynack from Newtonmore can be tricky (sturdy footwear required!), but you’ll be richly rewarded for your effort. It is especially beautiful in Autumn time – the entire area is full of striking colours and crisp Highland air.
If you prefer mountain over lochside wild camping, Fisherfield Forest is an excellent option. Despite its name, this is a vast tract of uninhabited wilderness located in the far north of the Scottish Highlands, almost 50 miles northwest of Inverness.
This place is unique because it’s situated at the base of the Fisherfield Five. These are Scotland’s most remote Munros (mountains with a height of over 3,000 feet) – Ruadh Stac Mor, A’ Mhaighdean, Beinn Tarsuinn, Mullach Choire Mhic Fhearchair, and Sgurr Ban.
The Fisherfield Forest is quite isolated and mostly devoid of people and domesticated animals. You’ll be able to set up camp anywhere you want and enjoy the moody and mean but splendid vistas from the dramatic summits.
Wild camping in this area can be arduous and should be done only by experienced campers. Make sure to bring everything you’ll need as you’ll be miles away from civilisation.
Without Loch Ness, no list of the best wild camping areas in the Scottish Highlands is complete. This large freshwater loch requires little introduction. It might as well be the most well-known lake in the world due to the alleged sightings of Nessie, a mysterious cryptozoological creature.
Most rules and regulations regarding wild camping around this top-rated tourist destination are just common sense. Campers must leave all areas as they found them, use stoves instead of open fires, and pack out all the litter.
Some of the best wild camping areas near Loch Ness include Foyers, Suidhe Viewport, Fort Augustus, Ivermoriston, and Drumnadrochit. Out of these five, my favourite one is Suidhe Viewport.
This viewpoint looks west towards Loch Ness and provides campers with breathtaking views of the lake. However, like most wild camping spots on the lake’s eastern side, it’s far from any shops or cafes – make sure to come here fully prepared.
This wild camping area can be found on the Isle of Rùm, which is one of the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides. Due to its remote location, Rùm is very sparsely populated: less than 50 people call this island home.
Kilmory Bay is situated on the isle’s northern coast. As such, it provides a magnificent view of the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye (we also have a guide to wild camping on Skye). There is a sandy beach here – a perfect spot for a relaxing wild camping trip.
Another great thing about this place is that it’s home to a long-term study into the behaviour of red deer. Bring a pair of binoculars and observe stags challenging each other or wandering the beach.
It takes about two and a half hours to get here from Kinloch Castle on foot. The walk is worth it, though – Kilmory Bay is an immensely peaceful place with unforgettable views.
A number of towering peaks hide this high-level glen from the world-famous Glencoe. Also known as the “Lost Valley”, Coire Gabhail is a genuine natural wonder and one of the best wild camping locations in the entire country.
An interesting thing about this valley is that it has a pretty dark past. Back in the late 17th century, this was the place of refuge for the members of the MacDonald clan after the Massacre of Glencoe.
Since it’s surrounded by mountains on all sides, Coire Gabhail is an ideal spot to pitch a tent and soak in the magnificent Highlands scenery. Campers can easily find shelter behind various boulders in the valley.
To reach Coire Gabhail, you’ll have to leave your vehicle at one of the car parks along A82 and walk the route across the river. Despite being just a few miles from one of Scotland’s most popular camping destinations, this place feels extremely remote – if you’re seeking peace and quiet in the wild, the Lost Valley is the place to go. For more campsites in this area, check out our guide to wild camping in Glencoe.
Developed Campsites in the Cairngorms & Highlands
Boat of Garten Caravan Park
Due to its phenomenal location – just six miles from the town of Aviemore – the Boat of Garten Caravan Park is popular with campers, hikers, and cyclists alike.
This is a perfect place to stay for those who don’t fancy a night under canvas. Here, you will find well-equipped lodges and a plethora of various on-site facilities. These include a washing area, a fishing lake, a course, and a children’s play area.
Rothiemurchus Camp and Caravan Site
For some people, nothing beats sleeping under the stars in the middle of a forest. That is precisely what visitors can expect at this lovely Cairngorms campsite.
Rothiemurchus is an award-winning campground located in a charming Caledonian pine forest less than two miles southeast of Aviemore. It welcomes tent and caravan campers and features a clean facility building with heating, showers, toilets, and self-service laundry.
Dalraddy Holiday Park
Situated in the northwestern section of the Cairngorms National Park, the Dalraddy Holiday Park offers 360-degree views of the surrounding forests and mountains.
The campsite is within walking distance of Loch Alvie, a popular fishing destination, and River Spey, the second-longest river in Scotland. There are 50 pitches here, along with facilities such as toilets, showers, laundry, and a licensed shop for the essentials.
Blair Castle Caravan Park
If you’d like to mix in a bit of culture into your Cairngorms camping adventure, consider staying at the Blair Castle Caravan Park.
Folks staying at this campground receive subsidised entry to Blair Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Murray. There are 33 non-electric pitches here and several clean on-site shower and toilet facilities.
This campground is among the largest in the Cairngorms. It features over 200 pitches, electric hookups for motorhomes, hot showers, and clean toilet facilities.
Due to its central location in the National Park, Glenmore Campsite also provides superb views of the Cairngorm mountains. If you decide to stay here, everything you need will be within a short bike ride or walk. Also, there are local wildlife and pine trees all around – the Glenmore Forest surrounds the campsite.
Clachtoll Beach Campsite
This environmentally-friendly campground is a perfect destination for campers looking for the sounds of waves gently crashing and the smell of fresh sea air in the morning.
Located in the far north of Scotland, Clachtoll Beach Campsite allows visitors to partake in watersports such as water skiing, sailing, and bodyboarding. It is also very close to the Old Man of Stoer (a 200 feet-high sea stack) and Stoer Head Lighthouse (built in 1870).
Altnaharra Caravan & Motorhome Club Site
Situated in a serene, remote, and rural region of the Highlands, Altnaharra Campsite is an excellent choice if you’d like to stay as far away from civilisation as possible.
The campsite’s staff is renowned for its friendliness, the facilities are basic but clean and well-maintained, and there is also easy access to several superb hiking routes. It’s the perfect HQ for exploring the northern Highlands and places like Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath.
Fortrose Bay Campsite
If you’d rather stay closer to Inverness, consider pitching your tent or parking your motorhome at the spacious Fortrose Bay Campsite.
This well-kept campground is only a 30-minute drive from Inverness and close to several Black Isle attractions. These include the picturesque village of Cromarty, Black Isle Brewery, and Channonry Point – a popular dolphin-watching area.
Port a Bhaigh Campsite
Port a Bhaigh Campsite provides its visitors with stunning views of Scotland’s magnificent Summer Isles. As a shoreline campground, it is particularly popular with campers interested in paddle boarding and kayaking.
Like most campsites in the country’s far north, this one also features basic but clean and modern facilities. However, there is one thing that puts it above the competition – the Fuaran Bar, an on-site combo of a bar and a restaurant.
Those wishing to camp as far north in the Scottish Highlands as possible should stay at Ferry View, a family-run campsite on A836.
The prices at this quirky and eco-friendly place are reasonable, and its amenities are well-kept and modern. Ferry View is open year-round and has plenty of space for motorhome and tent campers. And, as its name suggests, it is close to the ferry for visits to Shetland and Orkney.
Helpful Tips for Wild Camping in the Cairngorms & Highlands
The Wild Camping Code
As outlined in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, wild camping is supposed to be a “light” activity, i.e. one that doesn’t impact the environment in any way. Here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind while searching for a suitable camping spot in the Scottish Highlands:
- When possible, avoid making a campfire. Only do so in designated areas (fire pits). Use a camping stove to prepare your food.
- Do not stay in one spot for more than two nights. Camp in a small group.
- Remove all traces of your stay. Take away your belongings and litter.
- Be considerate of local wildlife. Do not disturb animals such as grouse, capercaillie, and deer.
- Try to be as discreet as possible. Do not set your campsite close to roads, buildings, historic structures, and enclosed fields of farm animals or crops.
- Always answer the “call of nature” at least 30 metres away from rivers and lochs. Bury the waste with a trowel.
What Do I Need to Wild Camp?
While it’s essential to pack as lightly as possible, some pieces of equipment are still an absolute must for a comfortable wild camping experience in Scotland. Those are:
- Tent – You’ll want to bring a tent that is easy to pitch and capable of withstanding heavy rain and high winds.
- Sleeping bag – A lightweight and warm sleeping bag makes all the difference when the weather turns cold.
- Camping stove – Hot drinks and delicious food are a camping must. Choose a portable but sturdy and reliable stove that will help you prepare your favourite meals in the wild.
- Hiking backpack – Unless you’re planning a motorhome wild camping adventure, you’ll want to bring a quality hiking rucksack. Choose one with a waterproof cover.
- Waterproof jacket & trousers – Because this is Scotland.
When is the Best Time to Wild Camp in the Cairngorms & Highlands?
Generally, the best time to camp in Scotland is between June and August. The reason is simple – you’ll have more daylight hours for exploring the beautiful wilderness.
Unfortunately, visiting the Cairngorms & Highlands during this time also means dealing with midges. While these pesky insects don’t carry disease, they can be pretty irritating and easily ruin the camping experience. Keep them at bay with bug spray and insect-repellent clothing.
You could also camp in these breathtaking regions during the shoulder seasons. This is the best option for folks who’d like to avoid crowds. You will, however, have to prepare for shorter days and lower temperatures.
There is no shortage of astounding wild camping areas in the Cairngorms and Highlands: you just need to choose one whose location and scenery suit your needs.
Whichever place you choose, make sure to abide by the rules and regulations mentioned above and leave these regions as clean and beautiful as you found them.
It is my grandparents fault. They took me camping every year from the age of three, and hiking was simply walking up hills! He would be surprised now to hear of wild camping – for him living in Scotland – he just pitched up and camped. I don’t think he paid for a campsite in his life.