If you’re looking to lace up your walking boots and get outdoors, the North Highlands is one of the best places to start. The North Coast 500 truly is a walkers paradise, with plenty of routes for people of all ages and levels of fitness to enjoy. We’ve compiled a list here of most recommended short walks, favourites of locals, visitors and NC500 staff members alike.
While completing the North Coast 500 involves a significant amount of time in your car, make sure to factor in plenty of time for walking. Likewise, if you are exploring from a base, you’ll have ample opportunity to get out and about and explore the local area on foot this winter. Whether it’s a Sunday stroll or a Boxing Day walk, take inspiration from our range of destinations, from forest walks to gardens, caves and one of the world’s rarest habitats. Beaches, too, aren’t just for summer – read up on our favourite beaches along the North Coast 500, wrap up warm and enjoy a bracing winter walk.
1.Craig Phadrig – Inverness
Just a short drive from Inverness, the beginning and end of the NC500 route, Craig Phadrig is a wooded hill that rises to the west of the capital of the Highlands. Climb all the way to the ancient fort at the top of the hill and take in the wonderful views across the Beauly Firth.
2.The Bone Caves – Lairg, Sutherland
Take a walk on the wild side and explore The Bone Caves. Located within the North West Highland Geopark, walkers here have previously found bones of species such as lynx, reindeer and polar bear which once roamed here centuries ago (can be steep in places, take caution). Likewise, Smoo Cave, around a mile east of Durness, is set into Sutherland’s limestone cliffs and can be explored on foot or by boat.
3. Forsinard Flows – by Melvich, Sutherland
The area around RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve and lookout Tower has an abundance of trails waiting to be discovered. Located on the A897 just 14 miles from the north coast road, the Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre is open seven days a week from April to October (9am – 5pm). The Dubh Lochain Trail is the best way for families to explore the reserve and to learn more about what makes blanket bogs special. Follow the boardwalk up to the Flows Lookout and then venture off onto the flagstone discovery trail that snakes through the pool systems.
Enjoy wildlife by day, stars and constellations by night!Find out more here.
4. Falls of Shin – by Lairg, Sutherland
Take time out to explore the Falls of Shin, located by Lairg in Sutherland. Watch salmon leap upstream in the River Shin, and stop in past the Visitor Centre to learn more about the wildlife in this unique area. In the surrounding woodland, paths and walking routes have been created by the Forestry Commission for visitors to explore and spot wildlife. Some of the trails have games to keep little walkers amused, too! After a walk, be sure to grab a bite to eat at Mac and Wild, which proudly showcases the best of Scottish produce. Opened in June 2018, this is the third venue for Mac and Wild, following two successful restaurants in London.
5. Big Burn – Golspie, Sutherland
A true hidden gem in Sutherland, Golspie’s Big Burn walk involves ascending up a gorge, zig-zagged by foot bridges and ending by a spectacular waterfall. It’s an excellent circuit, though these slopes can be steep in places, so mind your step!
6. Rosemarkie Beach and Hillockhead Circuit – Black Isle
The Rosemarkie Beach and Hillockhead Circuit walk takes walkers through a variety of different landscapes within the Black Isle. Beginning at Rosemarkie Beach, you can decide whether to continue along the beach, or take the signed path for ‘Caird’s Cave’ up the steps to follow a coastal path through the trees instead. The two options rejoin the main circuit on the beach just before Caird’s Cave. Continue along rocky shoreline and ascend into country lanes, before finishing in a wooded glen, complete with waterfalls. Although safe, please note that the shoreline section of the walk cannot be completed at high tide. The terrain can also be particularly tiring in places; it’s a tough walk, but very rewarding.
7. Evanton Wood and Black Rock Gorge – Evanton, Easter Ross
For fans of Harry Potter, Evanton Wood and Black Rock Gorge is a must-visit: this dramatic canyon featured in the fourth film in the wizarding world series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Consisting of a network of paths and tracks through woodlands, this walk can be muddy in places, so great care is needed towards the end of the gorge.
8. Fyrish Monument – near Alness, Easter Ross
Whether you are travelling up or down the east coast, you may notice the prominent unusual monument atop the hills outside Alness and Evanton. The ‘Gates of Negapatam’ also known as Fyrish Monument are a trio of uneven arches with ruined pillars that, on a clear day offer unparalleled views across the Black Isle and Cromarty Firth. The energetic but pleasant walk leads you through woodland before ascending open moorland.
9. Ceannabeinne Township Trail – by Durness
This short walk through the abandoned former village of Ceannabeinne is a poignant reminder of the effect the Highland Clearances had on the people of Scotland in the 19th century. In 1841, this village was home to 50 people, but by the following year all had been cleared. Remains of a row of cottages can still be seen today, along with information boards detailing the story of the village and its history.
10. Castletown: The Flagstone Trail – by Dunnet Bay, Thurso
The Flagstone Trail combines three short walks, including the trail itself which explores the heritage of Caithness flagstones, once a major industry in this area. Combined with a coastal walk and a sculpture trail through community-owned woodland, this is an informative and enjoyable walk for the whole family to enjoy.
11. Dunnet Forest – Dunnet, Caithness
Dunnet Forest is the most northerly community-owned woodland in the UK. Managed since 2003 by the Dunnet Forestry Trust, this dense woodland can be explored by way of a signposted circular route, featuring a log cabin and a giant wooden xylophone, among other points of interest.
12. Laide Wood – by Aultbea, Caithness
Consisting of 85 hectares of woodland, Laide Wood is open year round for walkers to explore and enjoy. Wander by the two lochans, past the waterfall that feeds Loch na Creige, and enjoy the peace and quiet in this tranquil corner of Caithness.