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The Cairngorms National Park
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Loch Morlich, Cairngorms National Park

Landscapes and nature

Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park has more mountains, forest paths, rivers, lochs, wildlife hotspots, friendly villages and distilleries than you can possibly imagine. You can find five of the UK's six highest mountains, alongside 55 Munros - mountains over 3,000 ft.

There is no shortage of things to see and do in the mighty, majestic Cairngorms National Park - read on to explore some of the best sites and activities to experience on your visit. From ancient fortresses, wildlife and distilleries to some of the best attractions and museums, you won't be lost for activities in the Cairngorms.

Explore the Cairngorms:

Key facts about the Cairngorms National Park:

Find it: located between the cities of Perth and Inverness.
Size: the Cairngorms National Park stretches 4,528 sq. km (1,748 sq. miles)
Status: it officially became a National Park in 2003 and was later extended to include the area of Blair Atholl in 2008.
Key towns: Aviemore, Kingussie, Grantown-on-Spey and Ballater.

Inverness is the closest city to the north of the park, roughly 30 minutes away, and Aberdeen is only an hour away from the east side. The park stretches across a number of regions including parts of Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highlands, Angus, and Perthshire.

If you're looking for a true hidden gem, don't miss the beautiful historic region of Badenoch just south of Aviemore. Discover its stunning scenery, and some fascinating stories shaped by the mountains and rivers in the heart of the National Park.

Things to Do in the Cairngorms National Park

1. Snowroads Scenic Route

The Snowroads Scenic Route is an incredible way to experience the Cairngorms. Stretching for 90 miles, the route is a popular adventure for those looking to get outdoors in the Highlands and encompasses some of the highest public roads in Britain. Starting at Blairgowrie and heading north to Grantown-on-Spey, stop off along the way and admire the stunning views that surround you. Make sure you look out for the three scenic route installations placed along the route that will entice you to discover new perspectives - they also make for a great photo opportunity.

Explore more of the Snowroads Scenic Route.

2. Lesser-known towns and locations

The Cairngorms National Park is a popular spot for family holidays and adventure weekends away, but the park is also home to many hidden gems, including rural towns, quaint villages and more. Head off the beaten track to explore Badenoch - a historic part of the Cairngorms filled with ancient ruins, castles, distilleries, real Highland culture, wildlife and more to explore. Visit the smaller towns of Kincraig, Kingussie, Newtonmore, Dalwhinnie and Laggan where you'll be met with some of the UK's best attractions and museums.

Explore the stories and more with #BadenochTheStorylands app.

3. Walking

It wouldn't be a trip to the Cairngorms without a spot of walking! With hundreds of walking routes, trails and paths across the park, you won't be lost for places to explore on foot. There are walks for all abilities and ages too, whether you fancy a lochside stroll or an adventurous mountain climb, you'll find something here.

If you'd rather have the knowledge and experience behind you, why not choose a guided walk or ranger-led guided tour? You'll be in experienced hands, as they know all the top places to soak up amazing views.

When you do head out into the great outdoors, it is essential to come prepared with the right equipment, and leave only footprints. Check out our guide to safety outdoors in Scotland.

Find more walks and hikes in the Cairngorms.

4. Dark sky parks and experiences

The magic doesn't stop at night. The Cairngorms is lucky enough to have low levels of light pollution which creates the perfect conditions for you to try a spot of stargazing.

Bless your lucky stars at the recognised Tomintoul & Glenlivet - Cairngorms Dark Sky Park, the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world, and the darkest in the UK - which has been awarded an 'International Dark Sky Park' status. There are many amazing vantage points and vast horizons throughout the park, and with such low levels of light pollution, the Cairngorms is easily one of the best places in Scotland to star gaze! There is also a range of star gazing and astronomy events held throughout the year too - so keep an eye out for more information.

You don't always need fancy, expensive equipment to see a wealth of stars, constellations and the Northern Lights, the naked eye or a pair of binoculars work just fine too.

Sometimes can experiences the dark sky from your accommodation too! Easter Corrie boasts a secluded location in the National Park - creating the perfect conditions for a night of star gazing.

Find out more about dark skies in the Cairngorms.

5. Mountain biking & cycling

A great way to get outdoors and explore the Cairngorms is on two wheels. There are dozens of cycle paths that loop around stunning scenery and past iconic landmarks, that are ideal if you want to cover a lot of ground in one day. The Cairngorms boast a variety of mountain biking centres, cycle trails, and bike hire shops across the park.

Find out more about mountain biking and cycling in the Cairngorms.

6. Watersports

One of the most popular activities in the Cairngorms, watersports is the perfect outdoor activity for a fun family day out. There is a huge range of watersports to try out, including canoeing, kayaking, white water rafting and paddle boarding, and dozens of centres and lochs to visit.

Head to Loch Insh for an array of watersports, including raft building, pedalos, windsurfing and more. Or try out some on-land activities if you'd rather keep your feet dry. Afterwards, tuck into a hot meal in the Boathouse, or bring your own picnic to enjoy with immense views.

Immerse yourself in a spot of luxury with Spirit of the Spey open canoeing. On this journey package, combine watersports with distillery tours, historic sites, indulgent accommodation and delicious dining for a unique Highland holiday.

If you're an experienced swimmer and fancy the freedom of taking a dip whenever you please, why not try wild swimming? The Cairngorms is home to hundreds of lochs so you're spoiled for choice if you decide to head for a swim. Before you do, please check out the safety advice first and bring the correct clothing and equipment with you.

Explore more about Cairngorm watersports.

7. Skiing and snowsports

One of the best places in Scotland for enjoying the snow, the Cairngorms is the ideal location for a skiing or snowboarding holiday. With mountains a plenty and guaranteed heavy snowfall, you'll have the perfect conditions to hit the slopes this winter. The Cairngorms is home to three ski centres; the Cairngorm Mountain, Glenshee Ski Centre, and The Lecht. Each boast their own unique features, but all equally offer an excellent experience on the slopes, with lessons, beginner slopes, and equipment hire available too.

Try your hand at winter snowsports in the Cairngorms.

8. Horse riding and pony treks

One way of exploring the Cairngorms that you may not have thought of is on horseback. With miles of paths and trails, dense woodlands, and open country roads, it's a great place for a pony trek. There are many horse riding centres dotted across the park that cater for all ages and abilities.

If you're not confident in heading out into the landscape, you can always take a lesson in an enclosed school first. Many centres have native Highland ponies which are hardy horses more than capable of taking on Scotland's rugged landscapes. Here are a few centres you could add to your itinerary:

Explore the Cairngorms on horseback.

Attractions to Visit in the Cairngorms National Park

As well as memorable experiences and a range of options for exciting days out, the Cairngorms also boasts an array of fantastic attractions to visit and get involved in.

Wildlife experiences

It wouldn't be a trip to the Cairngorms without experiencing some of the native Scottish wildlife. If you're quiet enough, you may be able to see a range of wildlife species when you're out on a walk or cycle. Keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels, red deer, wildcats and even birds of prey flying overhead. There are various attractions and locations where you can see Scotland's wildlife up close and even get hands on with smaller species.

  1. The Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig is a popular places for families and those wanting to see Scotland's incredible wildlife up close. As well as some of the world's endangered species, you can see a variety of well-known animals too, from red pandas, Amur tigers, and snow monkeys, to camels and even polar bears. Say hi to Victoria, the only female polar bear in Scotland, as well as the two males, Arktos and Walker, and Hamish, the first polar bear cub to be born in the UK for 25 years.
  2. If you head out on to the plateaus of the Cairngorms, you may come across Britain's only free-ranging herd of reindeer. They are very tame and friendly, so head out on a daily guided hill trip to see them for yourself. There are currently around 150 reindeer in the herd!
  3. Maybe you'd like to experience some of Scotland's birdlife too. Only a 20 minute drive from Aviemore, the RSPB Loch Garten Nature Centre offers the chance to see some of Scotland's most amazing creatures. At the centre there are CCTV screens, binoculars and telescopes to help you to get great views of wildlife habitats and the surrounding nature scenes.
  4. Why not embark on a bespoke trip with Speyside Wildlife? Their expert guides know everything about Scotland's wildlife, including when to see them and where, so you'll be in good hands if there are specific species you want to see.
  5. Another great way to uncover Scotland's native wildlife is on a Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safari. From golden eagles soaring overhead, osprey fishing in the lochs, crested tits and crossbills, to elusive red squirrels, pine martens and elegant red deer, there is so much to see!

Uncover more wildlife in the Cairngorms.

Malt Whisky Trail, distilleries and breweries

  1. The Speyside region is world-famous for its whisky and distilleries, so why not follow the Malt Whisky Trail? This unique experience encompasses a combination of distilleries, things to see and do, quaint cafés, incredible outdoor pursuits and more in the Moray Speyside area. There are nine distilleries to visit, each featuring delectable blends of whisky that you can try, or take home with you. Along the way, make sure you stop to enjoy the sites and scenery that surround you.
  2. The Cairngorms National Park itself is home to six distilleries. Head to Dalwhinnie Distillery, Visitor Centre & Whisky Shop whose single malt whisky is known for its gentle flavours highlighted with notes of heather honey, citrus, vanilla and sweet malt.
  3. In Ballater, the Royal Lochnagar Distillery uses age old craftsmanship and technique to produce one of Scotland's most elusive whiskies.
  4. If you head further south to the cusp of Perthshire, Blair Atholl Distillery is situated in the open landscape at the foothills of the Grampian mountains. The distillery's ancient source of water, the Allt Dour, flows through the grounds from the slopes of Ben Vrackie - book a tour and learn all about the whisky making processes.

Explore more distilleries and breweries in the Cairngorms.

Arts, culture & museums

It wouldn't be a trip to Scotland and the Highlands without experiencing some true Scottish culture and art. Although the Cairngorms may be known for its outdoor pursuits, there's still plenty of history, craft and heritage to experience here too.

  1. The Badenoch Shinty Trail boasts an interactive storytelling journey where you can uncover the history of the sport and its ancient ties with the heritage and culture of Badenoch. This sport has been a cultural staple in the Badenoch area of the Cairngorms for hundreds of years, maybe even longer. Shinty was a community sport played for recreation and entertainment by the locals, and was also strongly intertwined with the Gaelic language.
  2. The Highlands boast a strong cultural tie to the famous Highland games, which are held across various locations in Scotland every year. Head to the Braemar Highland Games Centre where you can delve into these ancient games that showcase true strength, a welcoming community, local businesses, age old traditions, a great family day out and more.

Explore more museums and art venues in the Cairngorms.

Castles & historic attractions

The Cairngorms is ancient land, so you'll find dozens of historic sites, ruins and attractions to explore, from castles and ruined fortresses, to ancient battlegrounds, famous Scots and more.

  1. You won't be lost for castles to explore in the Cairngorms. Head to Ballindalloch Castle, just north of Glenlivet, which was once a fortified tower house built 1546, but after much renovation and extension during the Victorian era, it has been transformed into a delightful country retreat. Wander around the gardens and soak up the atmosphere of this ancient estate.
  2. In Grantown, visit the Highland Heritage & Culture Centre where you can get involved with interactive screens to learn all about the Highland's railways and the history of the Speyside Line, kilt making, the history behind Grantown East Tartan, the popular Highland games, native Clydesdale Horses and more. Stop by the gift shop to take a souvenir home with you too!
  3. A great one for families - stop by the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore where you can get hands on and step back in time to learn about how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived on the land, how they built their homes, how they farmed, how they dressed and more.
  4. Nearby in Kingussie, get to know the infamous Jacobites and the turbulent history behind the Jacobite Risings with a trip to Ruthven Barracks. These barracks were attacked not once, but twice, by the Jacobite rebels back in the 1740s. Today this impressive ruins stands on an advantageous hilltop overlooking the surrounding landscapes.
  5. Another site linked to the gory happenings during the Jacobite era is Killiecrankie Gorge. Located in Pitlochry, this gorge saw a raging battle involving the Jacobites and the British Army - head to Soldier's Leap, the spot where a 'Redcoat soldier' is said to have leapt 18ft across the River Garry to flee the Jacobites.

Visit more castles and historic sites in the Cairngorms.

Family days out

  1. The Cairngorms is a popular destination for solo travellers and families alike, with plenty of days out, activities and adventures to be had. One that has been a family favourite for decades is Landmark Forest Adventure Park in Carrbridge. Just north of Aviemore, this adventure playground is every child's dream, with tree top trails, climbing walls, water slides, the world's first Bamboozeleum, a Skydive and much more. Stop by the café, take a souvenir home from the giftshop, or explore the beautiful woodlands with walking trails onsite.
  2. If you're looking for family friendly walks and lochs to explore, Loch an Eilein might just be right up your street. Wander through Rothiemurchus Forest trails for a day out exploring, on foot or by bike,  that leads to the loch, or there is a car park by the loch for those who just want to admire the scenery. There is a little shop with toilets by the loch, and the shores of the water are shallow enough to dip your toes in too.
  3. If the wee ones are a fan of a train journey or two, you're in luck! The Strathspey Railway is an original and restored steam-powered locomotive, and back in 1978, 10 miles of the original Highland Railway Line was rebuilt and is used today for this unique and special experience. This steam engine also hosts events and festive experiences throughout the year too, so it's a perfect outing whenever you decide to visit.

Find more fun family things to do in the Cairngorms.

Accommodation & Travel in the Cairngorms

There are plenty of accommodation options available for all budgets, preferences and groups sizes, from camping, glamping and youth hostelling, to luxury hotels, exclusive use self-catering properties, and secluded cottages for you and the family.

There are hundreds of holiday cottages in the Cairngorms to choose from, many are dog-friendly so your furry friend can join in the adventures too. Or why not stay in a Cairngorm holiday bungalow for a cosy winter getaway amongst the mountains?

Travelling to the park is very accessible, as you can travel here by road, train, plane, or even on foot. Hop on a train direct from Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London where you can choose the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston.
There are many main roads through Aviemore - the A9 stretches from Edinburgh up to Inverness, passing through Perth, Kincraig, Aviemore, Tomatin and onto Inverness. From Glasgow, follow the M80 out of the city towards Stirling, where you can join the A9 to Perth and into the National Park.

If you're coming from further afield, there are airports in Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, where you can continue your journey by car, train or coach to the Cairngorms.