There’s not many places more perfect for you and your dog to explore then the Scottish Highlands. With miles and miles of open spaces, a huge selection of walking trails from easy strolls to challenging day hikes, beautiful remote beaches and plenty of pet friendly campsites to choose from, the North Coast 500 is the perfect road-trip with your pup.
We’ve put together a 6 day itinerary that you and your dog can both enjoy with restaurants, walks and campsite that will cater to both you and your dog. Remember, the Highland Overland trucks are all pet friendly and we can equip them with a dog crate at no extra cost if you need, just let us know when booking.
Quick tips to travelling the Highlands with your dog
There’s a few easy ways to make your four-legged friends road trip a lot more safe and comfortable. Keep them safe in the car by either keeping them crated or using a safety tested dog harness such as the Ezydog Car Harness and always make sure there is plenty of water on board we love these Long Paws Pet Water Bottles or the no spill Road Refresher bowl.
Most campsites require dogs to be kept on a lead at all times, double check their rules on arrival and for a hands free way of keeping your pet leashed, try a Pet Tie Out Stake.
Ensure you read up on The Scottish Outdoor Access Code before setting off on your road-trip and read up on their dog walking guide so you and your dog can enjoy your time in the Highlands while respecting the land.
Dogs are welcome at many RSPB reserves but our reserves are very varied, so there may be restrictions at certain sites to protect the wildlife there. We would recommend checking with the reserve you are planning to visit what the access arrangements are for dogs.
There are a few beaches in the Highlands where there are restriction on walking your dogs, generally these are seasonal with bans over the popular tourist months of April/MAy to September. Keep an eye on beach restrictions with The Beach Guide which highlights where and where not your four-legged friends can go with you.
If you enjoy getting away from the crowds then ensure to invest in a National Trust for Scotland membership before you head off along the North Coast 500. This will open up a number of country parks and estates away from the tourist tracks for your to explore with your four-legged friend. Not only is it a fantastic day out but you’re helping take care of Scotlands heritage and landscapes too. Prices begin at just £5.25 per month.
Day 1 – Inverness – Dornoch
Pick up your Highland Overland vehicle for the team at Inverness and get started on your North Coast 500 adventure.
Make your way towards the village of Rosemarkie and stop off at the RSPB Scotland Fairy Glen Nature Reserve for a beautiful walk along winding footpaths and through hidden glens which lead you to waterfalls and through broadleaf woodland.
For an evening runaround head into Skelbo Woods which has a roughly hour long circular route through pine woods, passed ancient ruins and over streams. A perfect place to puff your pup out before a night on the campsite.
Enjoy some live music and great food at The Coach House Bar & Restaurant which overlooks the Cathedral, Castle and Jail in the centre of Dornoch. Dogs are welcome in the bar area so you can enjoy dinner with your pup no matter what the weather.
Pre-book your stay for the night at Dornoch Caravan and Camping Park, set in a beautiful spot next to Dornoch’s award winning golden beach and only 5 minutes from Dornoch Cathedral. The campsite is well equipped with a range of facilities but please note dogs need to be kept on leads at all times while on site.
Day 2: Dornoch to John O’Groats
Wake up and enjoy a sunrise morning walk along the miles of golden sand on Dornoch Beach and enjoy a wake up swim. Enjoy a stroll to Dornoch point for views towards the Kyle of Sutherland.
If you’re looking to pamper your pooch then make sure you book them into Ultimuttly Groomed in Dornoch , a holistic based dog grooming salon and spa where Viki and the team will provide a luxury and calming grooming experience for your VIP pooch.
Head north towards Golspie and enjoy a morning stroll around the Big Burn Walk, popular with local dog walkers. A lovely little woodland walk which leads to a waterfall and a great leg stretcher before heading for your next stretch of drive.
Just a short drive past Golspie is the stunning fairytale Dunrobin Castle, one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the 1300’s. Overlooking Moray Firth, this French Chateau inspired castle is open from 1st April until 31st October. Dogs are not allowed in the castle or formal gardens, however they are welcome to explore the woodlands surrounding them.
The Mackay’s Hotel welcomes dogs into their lobby and bar areas giving you a chance to stop off for lunch or stay for the night in their dog friendly accommodation if
Lunch – Stacks Coffee House and Bistro in John O’Groats is a perfect pit stop and the friendly staff will make your pup feel right at home with a biscuit on arrival and water bowl to keep him cool.
Natural Retreats Storehouse also close to John O’Groats where your four-legged friends don’t need to miss out on the fun and will be treated to a puppuccino (yes that its now a thing!)
Between Wick and John O’Groats is Sinclairs Bay, a stunning white sand beach with 16th century castles at both ends and sand dunes and cliffs behind. Popular with surfers, its a great spot to let your dog out for a break from the car, just keep an eye out for the seals bathing.
Park up for the night at John O’Groats Caravan and Camping site which features 90 generous pitches for tents, caravans and motorhomes and plenty of 16A electric hook-ups.
If you fancy a break from the camp life the Seaview Hotel in John O’Groats.
Day 3: John O’Groats to Durness
The John O’Groats area isn’t short of rugged coastal walks, so you’ll have your pick of paths on which to enjoy a morning stroll. Enjoy the challenging cliffs around Dunnet Head, explore St John’s Point with its beautiful views of Pentland Firth or see the famous sea stacks on the path from John O’Groats to Duncansby Head, a highlands instagrammable must do.
It’s around a 2.5 hour drive between John O’Groats and Durness today but there’s a few beaches along the way to stop at and let your pup get out and stretch their legs. Sandside Bay and Melvich don’t have any dog restrictions and Strathy Bay is open to dogs all year round, however the dunes are often occupied by sheep and cattle from late autumn to early spring so dogs should be kept on leads.
Enjoy an afternoons dog walk around the small peninsula of Faraid Head and Balnakeil Beach, a popular tourist spot thanks to it’s expanse of white flowing into turquoise waters. The dunes behind are also a favoured nesting spot for a variant of seabirds.
An absolute must-do is a stop at the infamous Cocoa Mountain in Balnakeil for a hot chocolate or some gifts to take home. Open from 9am – 6pm.
Dog friendly restaurant at Smoo Cave Hotel, bar area in Durness for dinner.
Perched onto of the cliffs above award winning beaches is The Sango Sands Oasis Campsite, allowing well behaved pets who need to be kept under control at all times. The campsite is normally open form April through to October, keep an eye out for whales, seals and even the occasional bottlenose dolphin can be spotted as you take in their impressive views.
Day 4: Durness to Clatcholl
If you enjoy a challenge then weather dependent try a climb up Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro in the country. It’s a big climb with an ascent of 946m and will take 4-6 hours so only suitable to take your dog if they are energetic and the weather it just right. Make sure you pack plenty of water for both you and your pet as well as take lots of breaks along the way so you can both rest.
A great lunch spot along the way is the Eddrachilies Hotel, theres a few resident dogs for your pup to make friends with and as dog lovers themselves they are super dog friendly. Well behaved and fully socialised dogs are allowed in all public areas including the upper room of the restaurant and there are plenty of walks which they can point out to you for a post lunch stroll.
Or enjoy a sustainable seafood feast straight from the loch and local coastal waters at the Kylesku Hotel where happy and well behaved dogs are welcome in the restaurant, bar and rooms.
Head onto your stop for the night at Clachtoll Beach Campsite in the stunning area of Assynt. A small award winning family run campsite just 100 metres away from Clatcholl Beach where you can have a lovely and relaxing evening walk.
Day 5: Clatcholl to Gairloch
It’s time to pack up the hiking bag again for a stroll around Stac Pollaidh with an optional ascent to the ridge but great views over Assynt along the whole walk. It’s a scramble to the summit, so this challenge isn’t recommended for everyone. The walk starts from Stac Pollaidh car park and takes between 2-4 hours.
Stop off for a bite to eat at The Arch Inn in Ullapool, situated on the shores of Loch Broom with stunning views over the Fannich Hills and serving locally sourced products where available. Sit outside on the seafront and enjoy the views, open from 11am – 11pm.
Spend the night at Sands Camping and Caravan Park where you’ll have unsurpassed views of the Isle of Skye and Outer Hebrides, choose a spot shelter amongst the dunes or enjoy a raised pitch with unrivalled views. A relaxed campsite with a licensed grocery shop open from April to October. Dogs are welcome on the site provided they are kept on leads and owner clean up after them.
DAy 6: Gairloch to Inverness
On your way back to Inverness take in the last of your NC500 adventure with a cruise across the most famous Scottish Loch, Loch Ness with Loch Ness by Jacobite. Dogs are welcome on board the Reflection, Contemplation and Inspiration tours.
Drop off the Highland Overland vehicle back at Inverness airport and start planning your next trip!
We love to hear your tips and tricks, so if you’ve travelled the North Coast 500 with your pet we’d love to hear where you went and what adventures you got up to.