When visiting Scotland in a motorhome or campervan we would encourage visitors to use official campsites or designated overnight parking areas if possible. Many campsites offer amazing coastal, lochside or scenic views. These sites also support the local economy and they are a great base to explore the vast, rich and varied natural beauty of Scotland. For more information on how to find Scotland’s excellent campsites click here.
Sometimes however, it is not always possible to stay in a campsite – you may arrive in an area late at night or need to leave very early in the morning. It may be that you are hoping to park near the start of a hillwalking route. Informal camping is the term used to describe anyone who stays overnight out-with a formal campsite. Visitors should remember that informal camping in Scotland is not a right and historically has relied upon the goodwill of landowners to permit overnight use.
With an increasing number of visitors to Scotland, the impact of people choosing to undertake informal camping has become more visible and in some areas, it is causing problems. We would ask anyone who chooses to park overnight outside of campgrounds, to follow the guidelines below and behave responsibly.
Remember that informal camping is supposed to be discrete and away from residential areas. Just because you have seen another motorhome parked up, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable or legal. We would also highlight that putting up washing lines and setting out picnic areas in car parks is not appropriate and should be avoided.
One final point to note, is that wild camping is a term that legally refers to small tents in remote mountainous areas – it does not apply to motorhomes, campervans or cars parked at the side of roads, access tracks or car parks. Please see below for more guidance on the Do’s and Don’ts for informal camping.
Whilst picturesque campfires are often part of marketing messages, the reality is that campfires can leave ugly scars on beautiful landscapes, with damage to foliage and are a common cause of wildfires. We recommend that small campfires are only lit using portable fire pits, with those responsible ensuring that leave no trace guidance is strictly followed.
Bbq’s and campfires should only be lit in a responsible way, and only at no risk to your surroundings. If you do decide to use a bbq or campfire, please follow the advice of Paul Kirtley, who has some great advice in his blog article “How to leave no trace of your campfire“.
Scotland is rightly very proud of its access rights; however, when you are looking for places to park overnight in a motorhome or campervan, it is important to bear in mind the following key points:
Scottish access rights and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code don’t apply to motor vehicles.
Most un-metalled roads, unfenced land and beaches are private property, and you don’t have a right to park unless it’s authorised by the landowner by verbal agreement or signage. The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that you can drive a vehicle up to 15 yards off a public road for the purpose of parking, but this does not confer any right to park the vehicle. You still need the landowners permission.
Some communities (e.g. Loch Lomond) have established their own guidance for campervans and the use of designated overnight parking spaces with seasonal permits… if you’re in such a place, follow the guidance! For information on Loch Lomond, click HERE
Do make sure the spot you have found is suitable for a vehicle of your size and that you will be parked safely and completely off the road.
Do take great care to avoid fragile ground/sensitive habitats, (e.g. wild flowers, rich machair on the Western Isles) – never drive down to beaches or onto grass verges as it destroys the habitat.
Avoid overcrowding. If another vehicle is parked in a secluded spot – try not to park right next to them and find your own spot elsewhere. Respect other people’s privacy.
Do allow 4m between parked vehicles at night for fire safety. Motorhomes & campervans normally have gas tanks on board and these can pose a dangerous fire risk. In the day when everyone’s awake, you can respond quickly to a fire, but if sleeping, you will need more time to wake up and evacuate a vehicle. 4m space between units will help give everyone those extra few minutes and could save lives. See our FAQ page for more information on this.
Use only biodegradable detergents and drain waste-water tanks in campsites at designated areas.
Ensure your vehicle is self-contained with toilet facilities (such as a Porta-potti or cassette toilet) and waste-water tanks. If you don’t have a potti, invest in a poo pot and bag-it and bin it.
Do a full ‘litter-pick’ before you leave, taking all of your rubbish and any you found there already, disposing of it properly when you’re back in ‘civilisation’. Please also read our Waste Disposal section.
Do support a sustainable tourism industry – support local communities, buy groceries in local shops, have a coffee and cake in the many wonderful cafes or enjoy an evening meal in a local pub or restaurant.
Do take a moment to think about the cumulative effect of informal camping in some secluded areas. If the ground underfoot looks worn and overused, find another spot.
Don’t park in areas where signs state ‘no overnight parking’ or where there is a campsite nearby. Whether the signs are legal or not, respect the fact that the sign is there for a reason.
Never stop in a passing place – it’s against the law.
Don’t park overnight within sight of houses unless it is within a designated motorhome overnight parking area – respect local resident’s privacy at all times. Many harbours and village car parks are currently being used for overnight parking, but these are often unsuitable locations. Church car parks/graveyards are also not acceptable for overnight stays.
Don’t block access to roads, entrance ways or tracks to estates and fields – estate owners need access 24/7 year round.
Don’t light BBQs or fires unless it is safe to do so, and you can supervise it properly. They should be fully extinguished when finished, any remnants cleared away and no evidence at all left behind. Be aware that some areas may have complete fire bans due to fire risk in dry weather. Always check before starting a campfire.
Only empty toilet waste in a designated chemical waste disposal area on a campsite, motorhome service point or in your own home. Please read our waste disposal section for more information on this.
Don’t leave any remains of human waste behind, whether toilet paper or poo. If you don’t have an on-board toilet, invest in a poo pot to bag it and bin it.
Don’t act irresponsibly or anti-socially, including noise pollution or use threatening or aggressive behaviour. Avoid loud music, parties or gatherings.
Avoid sharing locations of informal camping spots on websites. It leads to overcrowding in some areas and often the websites do not keep up with the latest guidance.