Wild camping in Scotland is awesome. It’s definitely one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in Scotland’s wild and rugged beauty.
Best of all, you can typically have some of the most stunning and remote areas of the country entirely to yourself. Majestic mountains, peaceful glens, shimmering lochs, ancient forests, and jaw-dropping beaches… There are countless magical spots in Scotland that are perfect for a night in the wilderness.
Wild camping isn’t for the faint hearted. There are no toilets or showers in the wilderness. No taps, no shops. You need to carry everything you’ll need with you, be well prepared, and know what to do in an emergency.
It’s more than worth the extra effort though. The reward is spectacular natural beauty, unparalleled closeness to nature, and a deep feeling of satisfaction and inner calm. It’s freedom and true adventure. And there are very few things better than drifting off to sleep under a blanket of stars.
Is Wild Camping In Scotland Legal?
Yes, in most circumstances – as long as you follow certain rules.
The Scottish Land Reform Act (2003) gives you the right to wild camp on most areas of unenclosed land in Scotland. “Unenclosed” generally means land that is not surrounded by fences or walls (i.e. not in fields or other farmland).
Scottish wild camping laws generally do not cover camping in/with a vehicle, although this is often tolerated provided you are considerate and respectful (i.e. don’t block access roads or park in dangerous places), and leave no trace.
The law also says that you should only wild camp for a maximum of three nights in the same spot, and not be in a group larger than six people.
You must also familiarise yourself – and comply – with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is a simple set of rules and guidance that you must follow when wild camping in Scotland.
The Code is based on three main principles. (1) Take responsibility for your own actions. (2) Care for the environment. (3) Respect the interests of others.
It’s all fairly simple and should be common sense. Essentially, in order to enjoy the right to wild camp in Scotland, you must be considerate, responsible, and (most importantly) leave no trace.
Practically, this translates as:
- avoid camping in areas where there are other people – if it’s busy, find another spot,
- keep well away from buildings and roads,
- don’t camp in fields of crops or livestock,
- remove all traces of your campsite when you leave,
- avoid polluting sources of open water,
- bury all human waste (hint: bring a trowel), and
- take everything else out with you, including all organic matter (even banana skins take up to 2 years to biodegrade).
I can’t stress how important it is that you follow the Outdoor Access Code and camp responsibly. It’s there to protect the environment, local wildlife, and the rights of everybody to use and enjoy the land.
Sadly, some people ignore this guidance. These people are incredibly selfish, destructive, and threaten the rights of others to enjoy the privilege of wild camping in Scotland. Don’t be one of these people.
The Outdoor Access Code advises campers to use a stove wherever possible, rather than lighting open fires.
If you must light a fire, keep it small, under control, and supervised at all times. Make a small circle of stones to enclose the fire and reduce the spread of flames. Be very careful to ensure it’s fully extinguished (use water) when you are finished.
Check the local advice on fire risk conditions in advance. Never light a fire during a prolonged dry period, or in forests, on peaty ground, or in other sensitive/high risk areas.
It sounds obvious, and it is. But camp fires can (and do) easily get out of control and cause wildfires, which can be incredibly destructive and sometimes deadly.
Again, leave no trace. Remove all traces of an open fire before you break camp.
An Exception: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Although wild camping is permitted across most of Scotland’s wild places, the main exception is Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
Due to its popularity (and some people consistently not complying with the Outdoor Access Code), this beautiful National Park is subject to byelaws which restrict wild camping in certain areas.
However, these “Camping Management Zones” cover only about 4% of the national park, mostly along the shores of Loch Lomond itself and areas around the main roads. With a bit of planning, it’s easy to find somewhere to camp outside of the restricted areas.
If you do want to camp in the restricted areas, you must either do so in official campsites or obtain a permit allowing you to wild camp. Permits can be obtained online and cost £3 per tent per night.
For more information on obtaining camping permits for Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, see the park’s website.
Be warned: the local authorities are often strict in enforcing these rules, and are likely to move you on (including in the middle of the night) and/or threaten you with fines if they catch you camping without a permit…
Best Places To Go Wild Camping In Scotland
With so many stunning places to go wild camping in Scotland, you really are spoilt for choice. The following are some of the very best.
Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park is a real hidden gem. Often overlooked by visitors who head straight up to the Highlands and Islands, this quiet, unspoilt corner of south-western Scotland offers some of the most beautiful, untouched wilderness in the country.
The park itself spans an area of more than 300 square miles (770 square kilometres), including the largest forest in the country and much of the Galloway Hills. Sometimes described as “the Highlands of the Lowlands”, its rugged uplands, remote glens and ancient forests are perfect for wild camping.
Some of the best spots include the Carrick Forest, and the areas around Loch Riecawr, Loch Doon, and Loch Trool.
The first place in the UK to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park, Galloway Forest Park is also one of the best places in Europe to see the night sky.
For more information on hiking in the park, check out this article.
Isle of Skye
With its jagged mountains, wild coastline and dramatic landscapes, the Isle of Skye needs no introduction. Although this epic island can get a little overrun during the high season, most visitors are day-trippers. It’s easy to escape the crowds and find your own little secluded spot to pitch your tent for the night.
The summit of Quiraing – a striking plateau that was shaped by a huge landslip, near the northern tip of the island – is one of the most spectacular places imaginable to set up camp.
Hardcore wild campers might also be tempted to try a high camp on the slopes of the imposing Cuillin mountains (not for the inexperienced). Other fantastic spots include Glen Slichagan, Camasunary Bay, and the area around the Trotternish Ridge.
Isle of Arran
Affectionately known as “Scotland in miniature”, the Isle of Arran is another great place for wild camping.
Head to Glen Sannox, where you can enjoy fantastic hiking with panoramic views in the Goat Fell mountains. At the northern end of the glen there are several excellent spots to camp, beside the pools and waterfalls flowing into the Sannox Burn.
The Cairngorms National Park is the largest national park in the UK, covering an area of more than 1,700 square miles (4,500 sq km) – twice the size of the English Lake District.
Much of the park is wilderness, containing some of the country’s largest forests and tallest mountains.
There are so many amazing places to wild camp here. Upper Glen Feshie is one of my personal favourites, although it takes the best part of a day’s hike to reach. Another – slightly more accessible – option is the area around Derry Lodge, near the Linn of Dee.
One of the most inaccessible (and beautiful) places in the UK, the remote Knoydart peninsula is a wild camping paradise. Reachable only by ferry (or a challenging multi-day hike), Knoydart is one of the UK’s last great wilderness areas. It’s raw, untouched, and utterly stunning.
Barrisdale is a fantastic place to set up camp, surrounded by mountains including Ladhar Beinn and Sgurr na Ciche. Equally beautiful (and slightly easier to access), there are also some great camping spots along the tranquil shores of Loch Hourn.
Keep an eye out for Scottish wildcats. Although extremely rare, Knoydart is one of the best places to see these animals in the wild. Also, if you pass through Inverie, check out The Old Forge – the UK’s most remote pub.
Sandwood Bay Beach
If you’re a fan of beach camping, don’t miss the iconic Sandwood Bay Beach.
One of the prettiest beaches in the UK, near the very top north-west tip of mainland Britain, Sandwood Bay is wild and spectacular. With over a mile of pristine pink-gold sands and clean turquoise waters, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve left Scotland and somehow ended up in Hawaii. (Seriously, this place is incredible!)
To reach this remote bay, there is a four mile (relatively flat and easy) hiking trail leading from the car park in Blairmore. It’s very exposed to the elements, although when the sun shines this beach is world-class. Sunsets up here can be truly epic.
Glencoe’s “Lost Valley”
The “Lost Valley” of Glencoe (also known as the Hidden Valley, or Coire Gabhail) is a hidden hanging valley, separated from the rest of Glencoe by a wall of imposing mountains and steep gorges. The valley’s meadowed floor is peppered with giant boulders and crossed by sparkling mountain streams.
It’s a particularly atmospheric place to camp, with dramatic scenery and stunning views. Despite being only a couple of miles from one of the most popular places in the Highlands, the Lost Valley feels every bit as wild as some of the country’s more remote areas.
Helpful Tips For Wild Camping In Scotland
Bring a suitable tent
One thing you really need to avoid happening when wild camping is your tent failing. Getting wet and cold in the middle of the night, in the middle of the wilderness, will almost certainly ruin your wild camping experience. Depending on the temperature outside, it can also put you at risk of hypothermia, which can be fatal.
Therefore, one essential piece of kit that you really ought to invest in is a good tent. Look for a tent that is compact, lightweight, easy to pitch (especially if you are camping solo), sturdy, and able to withstand high winds and heavy rain.
Steer clear of large multi-room (i.e. “festival”) tents. These take up far too much space, are heavy and not particularly durable.
In my opinion, the best tent that money can buy is the MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person tent. This is an exceptional piece of kit – not exactly cheap, but I think it’s worth every penny. It’s extremely well designed, high-quality, compact yet spacious, ultra-lightweight, strong, very easy to put up, and just nice to be in.
My Hubba Hubba tent is one of my favourite possessions in the world (yes, I am a massive camping nerd).
If you do get a new tent for your wild camping adventure, make sure you know how to put it up before setting off. I always recommend practicing pitching it and packing it away in advance (in your garden, the park, wherever).
Trust me, you really don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere – in the howling wind and rain – trying to figure out how to put up your shelter for the night.
Take it easy at first
If this is your first time wild camping, consider starting with one night only. This way, if anything goes wrong, you won’t be too far from help/your car/a town, station or bus stop.
The more wild camping you do, the better at it you’ll get. You’ll become more familiar with your equipment, refine a perfect packing list, and become more confident in your ability to survive and be self-sufficient in the wilderness.
Of course, you could totally disregard this advice and head straight for the Cape Wrath Trail… But I wouldn’t recommend it.
Tell someone where you’re planning to be
It’s very important that you let somebody know your plans before setting off. Large parts of Scotland have very poor (/no) phone signal and mobile data coverage – especially the parts that are best for wild camping.
If something bad were to happen (which it probably won’t – but never say never), you’ll be really glad that someone else knows where you are. At a minimum, tell somebody else where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing, and when you intend to be back.
If you’re planning to venture into more challenging terrain (especially in the mountains), this becomes even more important. Depending on what you’re planning to do, giving someone you trust a set of detailed route cards can be a good idea. Use your judgement.
Finding an ideal spot to pitch your tent
As you’ll know from studiously reading the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, you should avoid wild camping in areas where there are other people, buildings, or in fields with animals or crops.
Beyond that, there are a few other things to bear in mind when picking the ideal place to camp. Try to find a spot that is flat, well-drained, and (ideally) sheltered from the elements. If possible, orient your tent so that the door is facing the opposite direction to where the wind is coming from.
While it can be great to camp near a loch or a mountain stream (for cooking, drinking, washing, etc.), water levels can rise quickly and unpredictably, especially following heavy rainfall. I learned this the hard way once, waking up in the middle of the night surrounded by water, with a soaked sleeping bag. That’s not a mistake you make twice.
Keeping warm and dry
Much of this comes down to how good your gear is.
A combination of a decent tent, decent sleeping bag, and thermally insulating mattress should keep you warm and dry at night. During the day, you obviously need good quality waterproofs, but don’t forget a waterproof cover for your backpack too.
I usually take a three-season down sleeping bag when wild camping in Scotland. However, if you’re going between November and March, you should invest in a warmer four-season bag.
These essential pieces of kit (together with a change of clothes) should be kept dry during the day at all costs. Simple things like being careful when opening your backpack in the rain – and taking care when crossing streams – make a huge difference when it comes to how warm and dry (and therefore comfortable) you’ll be at night.
Top tip: if you have items of clothing that are damp (but not soaking wet), you can place these in your sleeping bag at night. Your body heat will dry them overnight.
As mentioned above, it’s important that you leave no trace when camping in the wilderness. This means taking all rubbish out with you.
When nature calls, you must dig a hole and bury all evidence. Be very careful not to pollute water sources – go as far away from open water as you can. And, obviously, keep it well away from buildings, paths, and wildlife.
For further information and explanations, check out this document from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. Not the nicest of topics, but essential and unavoidable.
Suggested Packing List For Wild Camping In Scotland
Because wild camping involves carrying everything that you need with you, it’s important to keep weight to a minimum, especially if you’re planning to cover lots of ground on foot.
That said, you need to carry enough equipment and other stuff to keep you warm, dry, happy, and safe. Everybody has their own preferences and thoughts on what amounts to “essential items” when wild camping, and you’ll probably refine your own list after doing it a few times.
The following suggested packing list should be a helpful place to start:
- large comfortable backpack with a waterproof rain cover (I usually use a 70 litre Osprey pack, though you could probably get away with a slightly smaller one, depending on how many nights you’re away for)
- decent lightweight tent (see above)
- warm sleeping bag
- sleeping bag liner (silk ones are best)
- Thermarest, or similar insulating mattress
- a few drybags
- lightweight clothes that are quick-drying (i.e. not denim or cotton)
- waterproof jacket & trousers
- comfortable hiking boots & decent socks
- flip flops for wearing around camp (you’ll be glad to be out of your boots)
- camping stove (Primus do great ones) & gas
- lighter/matches (in a drybag)
- lightweight cutlery, mug and plate
- enough food to last the trip (plus a bit extra, just in case)
- walking snacks (dried fruit and nuts, protein bars, etc.)
- large water bottle (or two, depending on where you’re going)
- water purification tablets or a filtration system (I really rate the Grayl Geopress)
- headtorch (don’t forget this!)
- first aid kit (including blister plasters)
- toilet paper (in a drybag)
- alcohol hand sanitiser
- lightweight trowel for burying waste
- biodegradable toiletries
- insect repellent (Smidge is great) & head net (especially if camping between May and September)
- bags for carrying out rubbish
- Ordnance Survey map(s) of the area(s) you will be in (get the old-school paper version – it won’t run out of battery)
- compass, if doing significant amount of navigation (especially in the mountains and moorlands)
It sounds like quite a lot of stuff, and it is. But I’d argue that all of these things are essential. That’s why you need to pack smart, and invest in high-quality, lightweight gear.
The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) maintains over 100 bothies across Scotland. These basic shelters (usually old abandoned buildings) are typically found in remote, mountainous areas. They provide protection from the elements although usually have very few (if any) facilities.
Bothies can be a welcome alternative to sleeping in a tent, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worst. However, you can’t reserve a place in one, and you might have to share it with others. Worst case scenario, the bothy might be full, in which case you will need to sleep outside. (Top tip: always be prepared to camp, just in case!)
The MBA has developed a Bothy Code which all visitors must follow. As with the Outdoor Access Code, it’s mostly common sense. Take all rubbish out with you, leave the place as you would wish to find it, make other visitors welcome, ensure the doors and windows are properly closed and any fire is out before you leave… That sort of thing.
If you’re interested in giving bothying a go, check out the excellent Scottish Bothy Bible.
Additional Hints & Tips For Wild Camping In Scotland
Check the local weather forecast before you set off and decide if it’s safe (/a good idea) to go. If you’re wild camping in the Highlands, the best place to look is the Mountain Weather Information Service website.
A word on the infamous Scottish midges… These tiny bloodsuckers can be a real nightmare and have the ability to easily ruin your trip. Midge season typically runs from May until September, and the worst swarms are usually found in the West Highlands.
Midges are especially fond of mild, humid, still conditions. Try to avoid pitching your tent right next to still bodies of water. Bring decent insect repellent (Smidge usually does the job pretty well), and consider investing in a head net. They look stupid, but can be a real lifesaver.