How Long Does It Take to Cover the NC 500?

The twisting Bealach na Ba mountain pass – a hard ascent on the Applecross Peninsula along the NC 500.
The twisting Bealach na Ba mountain pass – a hard ascent on the Applecross Peninsula along the NC 500.

Since it was inaugurated in 2014 the North Coast 500 has become a great success – drawing in hundreds of adventure hungry tourists to the more remote regions of the Scottish Highlands and giving the local economies a distinct boost.

The NC 500 isn’t a race track! It’s not even a single road or highway, but a collection of existing roads that have been merged on a map to form a loop that binds together the superb sights, sensations and spectacular experiences of the north coast of Scotland.

The official route runs to and from Inverness Castle, covering 516 miles of stunning scenery in between. There’s so much to see and do on the way round that it’s extremely difficult to put a time limit on the trip!

Prince Charles’s North Highland Initiative which administers the NC 500 suggests a minimum of five to seven days to drive the route and make the most of all the diverting attractions you’ll want to stop and enjoy on the way.

You could, however, allocate longer – or you could enjoy just a taster and do a short hop, starting and ending wherever the fancy takes you. In the latter case you’d better count on wanting to return at a later date for a much longer tour of discovery.

How long does it take to Cycle the NC 500? 

In recent years the NC 500 has emerged as an extremely popular challenge for serious cyclists, sparked in part by endurance athlete Mark Beaumont who was one of the first to take on the route for a non-stop cycle. The full journey took him 38 hours. If you’re thinking of emulating his feat you can ride along with the film that was made of Mark’s epic journey. 

Note: Former professional cyclist James McCallum beat the Beaumont time by seven hours in a follow up mission!

Endurance challenges are one thing, but most of the cyclists who hit the road for the NC 500 are after leisure and pleasure rather than making sporting history. For a full, flexible tour around the route using pedal power most cycling fit explorers seem to favour a two-week expedition. Of course, you can just pick a section of the route to cover and take it at your own pace. It’s all down to your level of fitness and how much distance you think you can cover in a day, bearing in mind the road conditions, the weather and the terrain on the stretch of the NC 500 you choose to navigate.

If you include the infamous Bealach na Ba – a 2,053 ft high pass in Wester Ross – you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views from the summit across the strait to the Isle of Skye. It’s a devilishly hard ride up a single-track mountain road, though.

Can you walk the NC 500?

How about those who want to take on the NC 500 on foot? 

Well, it can be done of course, for those with the time and inclination. According to the World Walking website the entire route requires you to take 1,146,508 steps, and it is described as “delightful”. This website for serious walkers breaks the route down into nine segments, but this involves walking between 57 and 144 kilometres a day. If you’re not in that league, we’d suggest you allow much longer – perhaps two weeks or more – to fully enjoy the route and keep blisters at bay. 

Of course, if you have limited time available you can just pick a spot on the NC 500 and take some local walks to enjoy the scenery and fresh Highland air.

However you tackle it – on four wheels, two or on foot – you can bet your boots the NC 500 won’t disappoint, especially if you start and end your journey of Highland discovery at the historic, homely, traditionally Scottish Aultguish Inn with our hearty breakfasts, home-cooked evening meals, and really comfy beds.


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