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The best hikes on the NC 500

One of my highlights from this strange year was definitely the roadtrip I did with my mate Andrea around the NC 500. The publications and the last article I wrote about this trip on the route 66 of Scotland drew lot of attention and many of you asked me more info about what to do and see on this epic road.

Clear path Loch Coulin and Loch Clair circuit

I think one of the most important things to remember when you plan this trip is too allow plenty of time for walks. When I do roadtrips I really like to explore by foot to get a feeling of the landscape. There are so many hiking opportunities with spectacular scenery pretty much everywhere you go on the NC 500 so it would be a great shame not to use your hiking boots during this trip. Here is a selection of the best hikes we did during this incredible post lockdown get away.

Spectacular scenery from the Kinlochewe Mountain Trail

Fyrish Monument (Alness)

Distance: 6 km (3.75 miles)

Time: 2-2.5 hours

Ascent: 292m

Standing in front of the Fyrish monument

If you complete the loop anti clockwise from Inverness this is a walk you can very easily complete on your first day. It starts at a small car park on a minor road to Boath. This is really not a difficult walk and even though it's not a loop you'll have the option to walk back trough a different way. The climb is straightforward and will take you through some woodland before rewarding you with some fine views at the top of the hill where stands Fyrish monument.

Nice and clear path taking us down the mountain

The monument is a strange structure that was built in 1782 on the orders of Hector Munro 8th of Novar, a native lord who had served in India as a general. It's supposed to represent the Gate of Negapatam, a port in Madras, in India.

Once you're at the monument, you can test you're climbing skills for a photo opp on top of it. Big fail for me !

Andrea finally made it to the top of the actual monument!

Knockan Crag Tail

Distance: 2km (1.25 miles)

Time: 1 hour

Ascent: 185m

Jo Smith's impressive Globe sculpture

This is definitely one of the easiest walks we did but 100% worth it with some incredible views over the Assynt region. The trail starts at Knockan Crag visitor centre on A837 (South of Elphin) which you can access for free. On the way there are lot of sculptures and interesting information about rock formations from this area.

Fantastic views on the lochs and the mountains

There are three trails options, I would definitely recommend the longest one which is a loop with plenty of viewpoints that you can easily complete in an hour.

Stac Pollaidh ridge and circuit

Distance: 4.5km (2.75 miles)

Time: 2-4 hours

Ascent: 510 m

Breathtaking view from the Stac Pollaidh ridge

This walk only starts a few miles away from Knockan Crag visitor centre so both can easily be combined on the same day. The thing we did is that we walked the Knockan Crag Trail in the morning and around midday we started the Stac Pollaidh circuit. It shouldn't take you more than half a day to complete it.

Stac Pollaidh seen from the car park

This hike is more challenging than the couple of walks I've introduced above but it's definitely an highlight that I strongly recommend. There is a dedicated car park where the trail starts – it can get quite busy though around lunch time as the hike is quite a popular one. The ascent starts at the very beginning of the loop and takes you to the ridge of Stac Pollaidh. The climb up to the ridge is steep so take your time and you will soon be rewarded with spectacular views over the summer isles and mountains (Coigach and Cul Mor)

View on the summer isles

Don't get discouraged if the sky is a bit cloudy on the day you intend to do this walk as the weather change very quickly up there. It was quite grey when we started walking but it had cleared up by the time we reached the ridge so we enjoyed some breathtaking scenery before completing the loop.

Incredible views, even on the way down

Kinlochewe Mountain Trail

Distance: 6.5km (4 miles)

Time: 3-4 hours

Ascent: 586m

Lochs and moutains at the highest point of the trail

Another gem from the NC 500. This hike is the longest we did and you might need almost half a day to complete it. From Coille na Glas Leitre Trails car park (which is well signposted on the Loch Maree side of the A832) you will start walking through pinewoods before the route starts climbing gradually.

Superb pinewoods at the start of the walk

As you ascent the views on Loch Maree get better and better. This loop is easy to follow and well marked throughout with special cairns. Though bare in mind that it gets a bit steep and rocky at times so make sure you wear appropriate shoes. The change of scenery as you evolve makes this walk incredible, at the highest point you will reach an ice-scraped plateau of quartzite rocks with fantastic views.

Plateau of quartzite rocks

Once you've passed a few lochs, before starting the descent, you can easily get off trail (naughty!) and extend this walk by climbing another mountain. That's what we did anyway as we really got carried away and it was still early!

Rocky off trail climb!

It probably added an extra 90 minutes to the hike but we didn't regret it as the views up were even more spectacular.

Rewarding views on Loch Maree

Loch Coulin and Loch Clair

Distance: 9km (5.5 miles)

Time: 2.5-3.5 hours

Ascent: 110m

One of the best low level walk on the NC 500

If you're after some spectacular views from the region but aren't much of a mountain walker, this one is definitely for you ! Again it's a loop (yaaay!) that goes around two magnificent lakes (Coulin and Clair) surrounded with mountains.

The circular walk takes you around both Coulin and Clair Lochs

It might be the longest hike we did but it was also the easiest as it's totally flat from start to finish. You can start this low level walk from a small car park on A896, opposite the turn off for minor road to Coulin Lodge. The highlight from this hike is the views of Beinn Eighe and Liathach mountains from across the water.

Path leading to the car park at the end of the walk

If you already have completed the NC 500 loop yourself and have other walking suggestions it would be great to read them in the comment section. Or if you're planning to complete this loop next year and still have some questions, do get in touch, I can help you organising and booking your trip !


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