Hiking In The Cairngorms

By: Anna Millar

October 29, 2014

Whoever said that less is more has never set foot in the Cairngorms National Park. Situated in the heart of the Scottish highlands, it’s twice the size of Scotland’s sister park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and a whopping 40% bigger than the Lake District. Better still, it’s just a short trip from Aberdeen, or a manageable train or road trip from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Especially for active types, take a look at our guide to hiking in the Cairngorms.
Hiking in the Cairngorms | Beach next to Loch Morlich at Glenmore
Stroll along the beach beside Loch Morlich and take in the backdrop of the Cairngorms

© VisitScotland and Scottish Viewpoint

Home to vast landscapes, world-renowned peaks and granite tors, as well as a quarter of the UK’s endangered bird, animal and plant species, the park is far more than the sum of its parts. Hikers travel to the Cairngorms for the simple reason that five of the UK’s highest mountains reside here, with heaps of lower, less strenuous peaks on offer too. Go all in with a hefty climb, or on lower land, take your pick from beach routes, forest trails and gorge and glen walks.

Hiking in the Cairngorms | Red Deer can be spotted in the walks around Cairngorm National Park
Spot all kinds of wildlife whilst in the park, including the majestic Red Deer © Glenlivet Wildlife

So where to start? Here, big really is better. Of all the park’s mighty offerings, Ben Macdui is a must. At just over 1300m (4,295ft), it’s the highest peak in the Cairngorms, and stands proudly behind Ben Nevis as the second highest mountain in Britain. There are a couple of decent routes up, but we’d recommend starting from the car park at the Cairngorm ski centre. Best to be attempted in good weather conditions, sharp navigational skills and decent stamina are a definite plus, and the nearby town of Aviemore is a good shout for a stopover when you’re done.

Hiking in the Cairngorms | Walkers on the track from the Lairig Ghru mountain pass
Walkers on the track from the Lairig Ghru mountain pass © VisitScotland and Scottish Viewpoint 

Given the park’s vast space, the options are plenty. The well-known wild Lairig Ghru mountain pass, which cuts through the central Cairngorms, is not for the faint-hearted, but worth the effort. It can be done in a day – though at 20 or so miles long, it’s worth considering packing your tent and camping en route.

Hiking in the Cairngorms | Water sport near Loch Morlich
Loch Morlich is a great place to enjoy some watersports or pick up some easy hiking trails © VisitScotland and Scottish Viewpoint 

For something a little less raucous and low level, Loch Morlich offers some great family friendly options for hiking in the Cairngorms, as well as some great watersports. With the peaks of the northern Cairngorms as a backdrop, the forests and beaches are a magnet for locals and visitors alike – and the 4ish mile circuit of the loch is a great way to experience the national park on some very manageable terrain.

Hiking in the Cairngorms | Lochnagar
The view of atmospheric Lochnagar © Ewan Chesser/iStock/Thinkstock

The village of Braemar, around 60 miles west of Aberdeen, is well known for its close proximity to Balmoral Castle, but similarly also offers some fantastic walks up some of the park’s smaller hills. The Morrone is a lovely climb and offers an extraordinary panoramic over the Cairngorm peaks. Give yourself half a day to do it justice, and plenty of time to soak up the views. Braemar itself offers some great wee spots for a libation when you come back down. If you’re around that area anyway, the far more taxing and wonderfully atmospheric Lochnagar Mountain is simply unmissable.

Header image © Jennifer Campbell

Virgin Atlantic Little Red is our UK domestic service, offering great value, full service multiple daily flights between London and Manchester, London and Aberdeen and London and Edinburgh. Book your flight with Little Red today.

Have you been hiking in the Cairngorms? Share your tips with us in the comments section below.

Written by Anna Millar


Anna Millar

Anna is a Glasgow born and Edinburgh based freelance writer and editor specialising in arts and travel. When she’s not exploring the Highlands and Islands or reviewing Scotland’s festival scene, she’s likely to be found propping up the bar at one of New York’s finest watering holes or exploring Europe’s untapped corners.

Categories: Our Places