Few places in the world afford the stunning views of the Scottish wilderness. From windswept moors to baggable munros and craggy lochs, the wilds of Scotland have a lot to offer to any outdoor adventurer. Best of all for those looking to escape the daily grind and strike a path of their own, wilderness camping is entirely legal and even encouraged.
So if you’re feeling the call to adventure, pack your bags and secure a camping permit for a trip you won’t soon forget.
What Exactly Is Wild Camping?
In many parts of the world, camping is limited to designated campgrounds and official sites. You might pitch a tent or even drive a campervan to one of these sites and enjoy some amenities like fire pits, toilets and even running water.
Wild camping or wilderness camping does away with these niceties. Wild camping is truly striking out into the wilderness to find a promising spot to pitch a tent and spend time in nature. And unlike most of England and Wales, wild camping is legal throughout Scotland.
Of course, you do still need to obey certain laws and policies before venturing into the national parks and wild places in the Scottish countryside. First of all, you’ll need to choose a location that is available for public use; you don’t want to trespass onto someone’s private property by accident! Second, you may need to secure a permit to camp in your destination of choice; do a bit of research on the location before you arrive so you can be sure you’re not running afoul of any restrictions.
Due to the stunning scenery and popularity as a destination, parts of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park employ byelaws during peak camping seasons, so be sure to check your destination and dates to see whether any limitations may apply. All campers are also expected to follow the Scottish Access Code when enjoying the outdoors, whether in an established park or the wilderness.
Best Wild Camping Sites In Scotland
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is one of Scotland’s two national parks, and it encompasses 1,865 square km of wild forest, mountains, rivers, hills and lochs. Located less than hour from most of Scotland’s most populous cities, this wild getaway boasts some of the best wild camping anywhere in the country.
Some of Scotland’s finest wild camping sites and destinations are located within the national park:
Three Lochs Forest Drive
Forest Drive is a 7-mile stretch of scenic road that passes three stunning lochs: Lochan Reòidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray. Of the three, Loch Drunkie may be the best for beginner campers. With a number of easy trails, picnic sites, public toilets and ample parking, there’s nothing standing in the way of your getaway.
Once you’ve chosen a spot to set up camp, you can enjoy trails of varying difficulties. All will afford you beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and can be completed within an hour, whether you’d like to venture out to the shore of Loch Drunkie or climb the more strenuous path through Pine Ridge Trail. Loch Drunkie is also a popular fishing spot as well as a place to spot wildlife like red squirrel and osprey.
Lochan Maoil Dhuinne, Rowardennan
Nestled right on the bay, Lochan Maoil Dhuinne is one of the most stunning and peaceful camping destinations you could ask for. Secluded on the east bank of Loch Lomond, Lochan Maoil Dhuinne feels like a hidden treasure in an otherwise busy destination.
You can spend your day listening to the sounds of water and the call of birds overhead as you pitch your tent near the stony shores. If you’re looking for a more active adventure, you can spend a day traveling the popular hike from Lochan Maoil Dhuinne to Inverarnan. The journey will take you from six to nine hours to complete and covers some complex and beautiful terrain. Stepping onto the path truly feels like entering a fairy glen, and you’ll never feel closer to nature. One word of warning: The midges are hungry and not shy about feeding on campers!
River Dochart, Crianlarich
The River Dochart travels east from Loch Dochart, and its stony banks provide a picturesque setting for wild camping. Near Killin, the river broadens and drops off to form the breathtaking Falls of Dochart, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country.
Downstream is a mid-river island, Innis Bhuidhe, which is home to the historic Clan MacNab Burial Ground. Take some time on your camping trip to explore the ancient grave sites of nine clan chiefs from the 1700s. If water sports are your preference, you can enjoy plenty of them here. Be careful, however, as the waters are rapid and stony in places.
Ben A’an, Brig O’Turk
If mountain hiking and positively stunning views are your aim, you can’t beat Ben A’an. At just 454 meters, Ben A’an is a “wee” peak, but it offers truly spectacular sights and plenty of space for camping. Your adventure can easily begin with a casual hike up the slope before pitching your tent and gazing out over the water as you sip a cup of tea. You’ll also get a lovely view of the Hogwarts-esque Tigh Mor Hotel on the banks of Loch Achray.
Nestled between Loch Katrine and Loch Achray, the peak can be reached in less than two hours of climbing, but you can spend a whole day soaking up the sights. Nearby parking will cost you just £3 for the day, and you can venture down to the village of Brig O’Turk for some hearty Scottish food and beer if you find yourself missing some creature comforts while you’re camping.
If you’ve never tried wild camping before, the best way to ease into it might be with a selected permit site chosen with the help of a park ranger. Give the national park a ring and ask for advice on picking a location that will offer the features you’re looking for. Whether you want a scenic view, a challenging hike, proximity to amenities or a great fishing hole, the ranger can point you in the right direction.
For a less adventurous traveler or one who would rather have access to more amenities, there is no shortage of campgrounds in The Trossachs. Holiday parks, campsites and cabins are available seasonally and can provide a great reprieve from the more bare-bones wild camping experience.
Tips for Successful Wild Camping
Wild camping is a very different experience from outings to official campgrounds, and you don’t want to embark on this adventure lightly. For your safety and the safety of others in your party, please be mindful of some important camping rules and guidelines:
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expected to return. You don’t need to stay connected during your wilderness holiday, but it is a good idea to inform someone of your plans. If an accident or other calamity were to befall you, a trusted friend with your timeline and travel plans would be able to send help.
- Pack appropriately. You’ll want to be sure that you have enough food and water to be comfortable during your expedition. Do a test run to be sure you can comfortably haul your tent, bed roll and provisions. Also be sure to dress in layers and plan ahead for the weather.
- Beware of midges. In the summer, and especially near the water, these irritating insects can be a real menace. Use a spray repellant on your clothing, and consider using a head net to keep them away from your face.
- Be sure to put out your fires completely. When building a campfire, be mindful about the location and keeping it contained. Extinguish with dirt and water, then stir up the ashes to break up any cinders.
- Remember that not only do you need to haul all of your gear to the site, you’ll need to haul your trash away. Plan accordingly so that you don’t leave behind any litter. You can also do your part to keep Scotland beautiful by picking up any stray litter you may find while you’re hiking or setting up camp as well.
- Camping in the wild means that you’ll be some distance from the nearest toilet. There are guidelines for relieving yourself in the wilderness: you must find a spot at least 30m from water or buildings, dig a hole or trench and bury your waste afterward, and bag up any sanitary items or toilet paper. Plan accordingly by packing a small trowel and sealable plastic bags.
Following these rules and guidelines is an important part of keeping yourself safe and preserving the natural beauty of Scotland. The ability to camp freely in the wilderness is a great privilege, and it only works when everyone follows the rules. By doing your part to protect the wilderness, you can ensure that you and others can appreciate these breathtaking wilds for generations to come.