The Best Walks in THE Cairngorms

The Cairngorms boasts some of Scotland’s most beautiful walks. From mountain crags to loch shores, the area has a lot to offer.

Few activities top the traditional Scottish pastime of a good ramble through the wilderness. The right to roam is a wonderful freedom enshrined in Scottish law. It allows anyone the right to wander the misty glens, conquer the snow-topped peaks, and camp out in the wilderness. Given that the Cairngorms offers some of the most beautiful walks in Scotland, this is just as well, affording visitors the luxury of an abundance of hiking destinations backed by stirring scenery and tranquil trails. From the award-winning picnic destination of Loch an Eilean, to the famed Eyrie at Loch Garten, there are many fabulous walks to enjoy. The Scottish wilderness is as notorious as its weather, so always be well-prepared with decent walking shoes. In winter you may find a little mountaineering equipment is needed for the higher peaks, while summer frequently brings dreich (dull and damp) days that create clouds of hungry midges.

Loch an Eilein Circuit

One of the most stunning walks in the Cairngorms is at Loch an Eilein – Loch of the island – with a stunning hill-riddled forest, and castle ruin. It’s been enjoyed by humans for centuries, and a favourite spot for thousands of visitors each year. Named Britain’s Favourite Picnic Spot in 2010 by Warburtons, this is a picturesque area you can explore at your leisure.

You only need to stroll a short distance from the car park to find the mountain, its ancient pines, and – of course – the castle. From here you can enjoy a 3-mile (5 kilometres) walk around some of Scotland’s best low-level paths, as well as a piece of Rothiemurchus trails, until you reach the loch.

Loch an Eilein itself is a beautiful sight, offering a 7.2-kilometre circular walk that is used primarily by hikers and runners. With local wildlife including the Scottish Crossbill, Crested Tit, Red Squirrel making their home around the lake, it’s the perfect spot for nature explorers. If you’re there in the summer, you’re likely to catch sight of the Ospreys as they search the loch for fish.

There is no public transportation taking you to the start of the walk, however, the start itself is a car park (they charge per person).

Loch Garten
Take in all the beauty of one of Scotland’s most famed nature reserves at Loch Garten, home of soaring Ospreys, grazing deer, teetering wood-ant nests, and ancient forests. The pinewoods at Garten are famed for their Osprey eyrie, while Loch Mallachie offers a more secluded hide. Short walks can easily be enjoyed on waymarked trails, while the forest tracks and paths are in generally excellent condition – although there is one boggy section where you’ll need to watch your footing! If you’re taking your trust hound, be sure to keep them on a short lead between the 1st of April and the 15th of August, as the rare capercaillie live in the woods and have a very sensitive breeding season during this time. Garten woods car park is the place to start, however, you won’t find public transport to help you get there.

Loch Morlich

At just over 1,000ft, the beach at Loch Morlich offers fantastic views across the Cairngorms’ Northern Corries. The perfect place to have a paddle or hire a boat, the surrounding area boasts a range of superb walks, from short strolls to an epic two-day adventure.

With one of the finest settings in Scotland, Loch Morlich is fringed by beaches and surrounded by forests. As a backdrop, you’ll enjoy the northern Cairngorms’ snow-clad peaks.

The circular walk around the loch will take you through stunning mixed woodlands, with detours to enjoy mountain views and wander down to the water’s edge – it’s an amazing way to spend a few hours. At 3.5 miles, there are good tracks and paths throughout.

Parking is available at the start, for a charge, and you can access the loch via the Glenmore bus from Aviemore.

Photo by @a.iqb
Photo by @missimber

Carrbridge Riverside Walk

The village of Carrbridge offers many pleasant walks, with woodlands containing a mix of young and mature trees, home to red squirrels, crested tits, the Scottish crossbill, and many more species of wildlife.

With seven trails to choose from, including a 30-minute stroll beside the River Dulnain, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Other paths will take you meandering through Glencharrnoch woods. If you’re looking for a longer hike the Calderwood viewpoint trail offers spectacular views right across the peaks of the Cairngorms. Alternatively, you can take Sluggan Bridge, famed for its construction in the 1700s by General Wade’s redcoats.

Carrbridge is fringed by Ellan Wood, a stunning pine forest that is partially owned by the Woodland Trust. Short waymarked trails can be found in abundance, any of which can be combined for a longer walk. At the end of the route, you’ll find the photography hotspot at packhorse bridge.

Ellen Wood offers a car park for easy parking, while Carrbridge is easily accessible via public transport in the form of buses, and a railway station a mile away.

carrbridge
Lochan Uaine

Perhaps Cairngorm National Park’s easiest (and loveliest) short walk, Lochan Uaine, the Green Lochan, is a magical treat for any rambler. It offers a 25-minute trek on an excellent track to the crystal clear waters of Lochan surrounded. Ringed by ancient Scots pine trees, you’ll find the whole setting stunningly beautiful.

If you fancy a longer walk, another ten minutes or so will take you to Ryvoan Bothy, where you’ll find shelter (if needed) from the mercurial Scottish weather.

You’ll find the return trip gives you spectacular views of Cairngorm and Loch Morlich. Parking is available at Glenmore Forest Park’s visitor centre, while a bus from Aviemore is available if you’re arriving by public transport.

Photo by @ehhjackson
Photo by @kirstyy.mac

Speyside Way

One of Scotland’s four official long-distance routes, The Speyside Way runs between Spey Bay and Ballindalloch and has an extra spur to Tomintoul, which was added to the route in 1990. Further extensions have been made to the north, from Spey Bay to Buckie, in 1999, and a final addition made in 2000 from Ballindalloch to Aviemore. Together, the route is now a link from the Moray coast to the Grampian Mountains’ edge.

Beginning close to the mouth of the River Spey, the Way follows the general route of the valley upstream towards Aviemore. Stunning scenery can be found along the route, particularly along the Tomintoul spur, which also includes a distillery experience for those who enjoy a good tipple. The Spey valley itself offers gently flowing river banks, a disused railway trackbed, and open moorland for a truly diverse ramble.

Sgòr Gaoith

Sgor Gaeoith, the windy peak, sits overlooking Gleann Einich from its perch on the very edge of the craggy slopes to the east. This dramatic vantage is contrasted by the western side that enjoys grassy slopes and heather-strewn hills falling down to Glen Feshie.

A diverse walk that is both scenic and slightly challenging, if you head just to the north you’ll find Cairngorm Gliding Club’s Feshie landing strip, the perfect place to really take advantage of up-currents that prevail on the western slopes. If you’re well-versed in gliding you can easily attain well beyond 20,000 feet from this vantage, with the average flight time achieved here among the best Scotland has to offer.

Braeriach

As Britain’s third highest peak, Braeriach may well offer the finest walk of all in the Cairngorms. The vast summit plateau found at its peak can be reached by a long walk that meanders through the truly wild countryside. The surrounding area boasts a vast range of corries that are both beautiful and dramatic, while the summit lies above the immense cliffs of Coire Bhrochain. Here the snow lies later than pretty much anywhere in all of Scotland.

When it comes to route choices, ramblers headed for Braeriach are spoilt for choice. Most head up to the peak from the north, with the most popular starting points being at Glenmore and Rothiemurchus. Lower down a network of paths and tracks connect to the north-eastern approach. If you’re considering the vast plateau to the west, be aware it has particularly harsh conditions to navigate, with cornices and mist in winter that can obscure the coire edges.

Indeed, the conditions in the area are infamously treacherous, with the wreckage of two crashed planes for World War II still lying on Braeriach’s eastern slopes.

Braeriach
Photo by @andrew.lynas
Braeriach
Photo by @andrew.lynas
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail

Last but by no means least is a unique sculpture trail that is slowly being lost to the wilds of the Cairngorms. Contrary to what you may assume, it was Frank Bruce, the artist’s, intention the sculptures be slowly reclaimed by nature.

Made from reclaimed wood this beloved and impressive collection is hewn from stone and timber to present the ‘archetypal abstraction’ style that was developed by the Aviemore-based sculptor.

Found at Feshiebridge, this striking collection of carvings explore Scottish culture as well as our place within the wider world. Some are beautiful, others create a rather more mysterious air, while some convey a hint of menace. It was inevitable that these works of art would eventually weaken and fall to mother nature, while others would prevail and survive the tests of time. This was key to the artist’s creation of the trail and makes for an interesting opportunity for introspective as you hike it.

They were made from the stones and trees in which they sit, and shall one day return to their roots, as part of the everlasting natural cycle of which we are all a part: birth, life, and eventual decay.

Photo by @thelegoland
Photo by @thelegoland

loch Avon Circular

This tough but highly rewarding route in the remote Loch Avon will take you high up to the Cairngorm Plateau, which best enjoyed during the winter. As you exit you will pass through Cairn Gorm’s eastern face for a truly spectacular outing. During the winter it’s possible to complete the entire route in a day, however, you will want to get an early start.

You’ll find challenging conditions as you travel down towards Loch Avon, and you should come prepared with ice axes and crampons (as well as the skills to use them!). There is one particularly awkward section on the descent, so it’s important that any embarking on the route are able to handle this.

Summer conditions are easier, yet this is still one of the Cairngorm Mountains’ toughest routes and you should come prepared. No matter what time of year, you may encounter harsh weather.

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