Cairngorms National Park is a breathtaking natural area nestled in the center of the Scottish Highlands. Cairngorms - UK's largest National Park - features impressive landscapes, including majestic mountains, lush forests, waterfalls, and crystal clear lochs.
Apart from its spectacular scenery, many 'wow' factors make Cairngorms National Park an extraordinary place. It features some of the highest peaks of Scotland to hike and climb and provides a premier location for winter sports. It is a unique wildlife habitat to spot an array of animals and even some of UK's threatened species. The original Caledonian forest is home to excellent mountain bike trails and its dark skies are ideal for stargazing! Last but not least, the park is steeped in history that you can witness in its castles and a heaven for whisky lovers who can experience a real taste of Scottish culture.
Well, we understand you might have difficulties choosing where to start! So, we made a list of 8 adventurous activities to discover Cairngorms National Park and its awe-inspiring nature. Check them out here!
1. Hiking and climbing
There are endless walking paths to explore in Cairngorms National Park. From high mountains and long-distance hikes to woodlands and river trails, everyone will find a suitable track to discover the park's heritage, landscape, and nature at their own pace.
Do you fancy a climb in the mountains? Cairngorms is home to two of Scotland's highest peaks: Ben Macdui and Braeriach. Both provide challenging and leisurely walks and some breathtaking views during your climb up to the top.
Another famous climb is the picturesque Kingussie Crag that provides panoramic views of the surrounding valley. You can take different routes of varying difficulty to reach the top. Several trails are great for climbing in the winter too. To get even more out of your adventure, you can hike with a knowledgeable Wilderness Guide who can tell you everything about the area and the flora and fauna you will encounter.
Long-distance hikers - and whisky lovers - should hike the Speyside Way. This classic long-distance walk goes through the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, passing moorlands and beautiful Highlands. Following the River Spey, this trail is a lovely way to visit Scotland's best whisky distilleries and enjoy nature at the same time. Those who prefer to hike just a part of it can choose from one of the eight sections of the route. The section from Boat of Garten to Aviemore is a beautiful 2-hour walk across heathland and birch tree forests.
The famous Linn O'Dee circuit is a marked trail that passes through old pine woods and along numerous waterfalls. It starts in Linn O'Dee downstream the River Dee and goes through vast woodland and stunning pinewoods that are home to an array of Scottish wildlife. The track emerges beside Luiberg. When you continue on the trail through Glen Lui, you will return on the circuit trail that leads you to the beginning. After your hike, you can explore the rocky Linn O'Dee, the favorite picnic spot of Queen Victoria!
Talking about picnic spots… Our top place for a family picnic is Loch an Eilein. On the 5-km long footpath around the loch, you wander through pine woods and get gorgeous views of the mountains and the castle ruins on the island in the middle of the water.
2. Water sports all around
Cairngorms National Park is the playground for water sports lovers. It features more than 25 river sections for exciting whitewater kayaking and calm lochs for a relaxing canoe excursion.
Loch Insch and Loch Morlich both have water sports centers to hire kayaks, canoes, and SUPs. You can take as well lessons in windsurfing and sailing! If you're looking for a relaxed afternoon, visit Loch Morlich's sandy beach and go swimming… and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains.
The River Spey invites kayakers and canoeists for adventurous hours on the water; there are sections for beginners and exciting parts for adrenaline-fueled experiences. River Feshie - a side stream of River Spey - is ideal for a relaxing kayak tour, while if you fancy something more thrilling, try out rafting on the mighty River Findhorn or River Tummel. As you see, there is a stream or lake to suit everyone's wish!
3. Get on your mountain bike
With a mix of mountain trails, downhill tracks, and quiet forest paths, there are some excellent mountain biking opportunities across Cairngorms National Park.
For family friendly trails, check out the biking trails at Laggan Wolftrax (some of the best in Scotland) or the tracks at the heart of the Glenlivet Estate. For something more challenging routes, head to Pitfichie Forest or High Burnside Mountain (near Aviemore) for some exciting (downhill) rides.
An excellent route to explore Cairngorms National Park is Glen Feshie, a 16-km-tour that takes you through the valley with fantastic countryside views.
Finally, Anagach Woods in Grantown on Spey also has some well-maintained mountain bike trails (40 in total). Opened in 2012, it features a central circular loop (Lizards Loop), from where you can jump on other tracks to explore the rest of the pine tree woods.
Cairngorms National Park is known to hold some of Scotland's darkest skies, particularly in winter. Especially the area near Tomintoul ad Glenlivet makes for excellent stargazing.
As there are such low levels of light pollution, you'll be able to see the Milky Way, Shooting Stars, and even the Northern Lights with your naked eye or binoculars. In honor of its awe-inspiring night skies and efforts to reduce light pollution, Tomintoul ad Glenlivet were awarded the International Dark Sky Park status!
Cairngorms holds astronomy events throughout the year to let visitors discover the wonders of the night sky… or just snuggle up on a hillside (with a hot chocolate) and witness the spectacular display of stars.
5. Exploring castles
Aberdeenshire - the county in which Cairngorms is situated - is home to 19 of the country's castles and is also known as Scotland's Castle County. You will find some fascinating stone fortresses that, for young and old, are exciting to explore. If you want to learn about Scotland's history, you can also embark on Scotland's Castle Trail. Visiting the Cairngorms, you cannot miss these castles:
Balmoral Castle. It is probably the most famous castle in the area and Majesty the Queen's holiday home. It features walking routes and trails around the estate all year round, and at certain times of the year, it even opens to the public!
Braemar Castle is a well-maintained castle in the heart of the Cairngorms. You can explore the inside of this dramatic castle during one of their open days guided by locals that operate this castle.
Blair Castle counts with a 700-year history. While visiting, you can see historical artifacts, follow a sculpture trail in the gardens, and children can even participate in the Castle Detectives Challenge. Thus, Blair Castle provides for a great family trip!
You can find more history in the pretty Corgarff Castle, dating back to the 16th-century. Set in stunning scenery with magnificent views, the first thing that will catch your eye is its star-shaped outer wall. The castle has an important military past that you can witness in its reconstructed barrack rooms where the soldiers were sleeping back in that time.
6. Watching wildlife
If wildlife programs have inspired you, get out and see some wildlife yourself in Cairngorms National Park; you won't find a better place to spot wildlife up close. You might encounter the majestic deer, wildcats, badgers and golden eagles, capercaillie, red squirrels, and even pine marten… You can also join a wildlife guide and see some of the most secluded animals in the park. On an evening watching-tour, you might spot even some rare animals, some of them you would have only read about!
You can also get into a Land Rover and make a wildlife safari searching for wildlife native to the Cairngorms National Park. And at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, you can make ranger-led walks to the only free-ranging reindeer herd in Britain. This is a beautiful family excursion.
Loch Garten's surrounding Caledonian pine forest, wetland, and moorland is a fantastic natural environment to see Scottish wildlife and is the perfect place for bird watching. Osprey, Scottish crossbill, and woodland grouse can all be found here.
7. Fun in the wintertime
During the winter months, the mountains of Cairngorms National Park are covered in snow and make the perfect spot to practice some snow sports. It is home to three ski resorts, Glenshee (the largest resort), The Lecht (ideal for children), and Cairngorms Mountain (the highest mountain of the three). At the foot of Cairngorms ski-area, around Loch Morlich and crisscross Glenmore Forest, you will find many trails that are popular for cross-country skiing.
So whether you're a novice, looking for a family winter holiday, or an expert skier, you'll find something that suits your needs.
8. Whisky tasting
Within Cairngorms National Park, the Speyside region is home to more than 40 distilleries who together are responsible for producing over half of Scotland's whisky.
Embark here on the Malt Whisky Trail and discover world-renowned single malt whisky distilleries crafted by generations worth of know-how. Learn about the art of making barrels, and of course, take the chance to enjoy some tasting experiences of the finest Scottish whisky. Don't miss out Tomatin Distillery or Dalwhinnie distillery, both belonging to the highest whisky-producing distilleries of Scotland.