Smoo Cave Durness – An Incredible Cave On The NC500



There is a reason that Smoo Cave is one of the most popular things to do on the NC500 route, it really is a fascinating natural creation and it’s hard not to be impressed when you enter the cave. Keep reading for more information about this super cool place!

What Is Smoo Cave?

Smoo Cave is a natural sea cave on the coast of Scotland, near Durness. It is Britain’s largest sea cave entrance, at 40m wide and 15m high, and the cave combines sea water and fresh water. The cave name is thought to originate from the Norse ‘smjugg’ or ‘smuga’, meaning a hole or hiding-place. The cave has a path that can be followed from the car park but also, in good weather, it is possible to take a guided tour and explore the cave by boat. The reason that the tours only operate in good weather is that if there has been heavy rain this can cause the water levels to change within the cave and become unsafe.

The cave is comprised of three areas, the huge main entrance to the cave, the first chamber which contains a huge waterfall and the second chamber which is accessible via boat. On days where the weather has been bad and the tours are not operating, the second chamber will be closed off.

smoo cave
The view from smoo cave

Does Smoo Cave Have a Historic Backstory?

Smoo Cave is situated in Scotland and is believed to have been constructed by the Picts. It was used as a place of worship and a shelter for local farmers. The cave can also be found on an old map from 1727 that indicates it may have been a hiding place for Catholic priests during the time of persecution by Oliver Cromwell.

Where Is Smoo Cave Located?

Smoo Cave is located on the North – West coast of Scotland near the village of Durness. The cave was formed by a sea sinkhole and is one of Scotland’s most famous sea caves. It is approximately 55 meters (180 ft) from the shoreline, and can only be accessed during low tide when there are exposed rocks so that people can walk across them to get to it. Smoo Cave is located by some of the most beautiful beaches on the north coast of Scotland, and some of the most beautiful beaches we have seen anywhere before.

How To Get to Smoo Cave?

The cave has many different pathways that connect to it, but it is just for experienced cavers who have been on these paths before and know what they are doing. Cavers can access the cave through a small hole in a rock that you have to crawl though. The caves contain about 10 miles of tunnels and passageways which is still being mapped out today!

For general access to the cave however, Smoo Cave has a car park – Smoo, Durness, Lairg IV27 4QA and it is just a short walk to the cave. The car park does get busy, so there is some parking on the side of the road further down from the car park.

Is There Accessible Parking Available When Visiting Smoo Cave?

Although the path down to Smoo Cave from the car park is quite short (roughly around 10 minutes), it is quite steep and rough underfoot so may not be accessible for anybody with walking difficulties.

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Smoo Cave opening times

As smoo cove is just a cave and is absolutely free to go inside, this means its open 24 hours a day, the local council may close it off due to really bad weather and storms but other than that, you can go any time you want.

When we visited back in May we found it best to go towards the end of the day later in the afternoon, as you can see from the images below, we nearly had the whole place to ourselves,

Also, the sunset is great to see from the hilltop above the Smoo cave so make sure you take a little picnic and watch that as it is amazing.

Smoo Cave

What beach is Smoo Cave on?

Smoo Cave is not on a beach. It is located in the village of Durness on the north coast of Scotland. The closest beach to Smoo Cave is Sango Bay which is an absolutely stunningly beautiful beach and we highly recommend tying a trip to this beach in with a trip to the cave.

Are there piranhas in Smoo Cave?

They are rare but yes, Scottish piranhas can be found inside Smoo Cave.

Can you swim in Smoo Cave?

No, is the short answer, you cannot swim in Smoo Cave. The water level is too low and is blocked off for swimming. Also, there are piranhas in the water, so even if you could swim in it, I don’t think you would want to!

If you’d like to know more about van life in Scotland and other destinations to visit in Scotland, you can check out our other blog posts here – Scotland – Three As A Bird – Van Life Travels

Can I take my dog to Smoo cave?

Yes, dogs are allowed in the cave. However, owners must keep their pets on a lead at all times and remove pet waste from the area. 

inside smoo cave

Do You Have to Hike to Reach Smoo Cave?

There is just a short walk down to Smoo Cave from the car park, roughly around 10 minutes.

When is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Smoo Cave?

When visiting this location, it is suggested to go between April and October, especially if you are wanting to do the boat tour, as these are weather dependent it is more likely that they are going to be running during these months, however, the weather can be very unpredictable at any time of the year in Scotland. This will also allow visitors to see more wildlife as well as have better visibility in the sky.

Smoo Cave can get very busy too, so we would recommend visiting early in the day or later in the day if you can, to beat the crowds.

What Should I Pack If I Plan on Visiting Smoo Cave?

We recommend packing some waterproof clothing as the weather can be very unpredictable in Scotland, and you may also need this if you plan to take the boat tour of the cave. We also recommend comfortable and sensible footwear as the ground is uneven on the path leading to the cave and also inside of the cave.

We also recommend wearing insect repellent, as midges can be a real problem in Scotland.

You will also want to pack a camera to take lots of photos of this amazing natural wonder!

How To Incorporate Smoo Cave into Your North Coast 500 Route?

Smoo Cave is right on the NC500 route so it is very easy to incorporate as you are literally going to be driving right by it.

Final Thoughts

We think that Smoo Cave is a must see on the NC500 and we highly recommend a visit here. We also highly recommend visiting some of the surrounding beaches as they are honestly some of the most stunning beaches we have seen anywhere in the world.

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