Sally Brookes
18th January 2017

Britain’s largest and most northerly national park is also the country’s newest, established as recently as 2003. Stretching over 4,528km and including much of the Central and Eastern Highlands, the Cairngorms National Park actually covers one-fiftieth of the UK’s land mass – that’s bigger than Luxembourg and three times the size of the city of Greater London. It’s big!

The park encompasses a magnificent wilderness of the high mountains, lochs, rivers and glens of ancient Caledonian forest, the protection of which is the core reason why the park was established.

Hiking And Climbing

Four of Britain’s five highest mountains are located within the Cairngorms National Park, making it a magnet for climbers and hikers. There are more than 984km, in fact, of core paths for all types of walker and plenty of organised and guided hikes to join in.

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Indeed, if you’re considering tackling one of the bigger ascents, it’s well worth going with a local guide as it’s sadly all too common that visitors overestimate their own abilities, and they head out into what is, after all, one of the last great wildernesses of Northern Europe, and one of the volunteer local mountain rescue teams needs to be called out.
You can combine hiking with nature tours if you sign up with Speyside Wildlife, which offers full-day wildlife tours.
Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s outdoor adventure training centre, is also located on the edge of the Park near Aviemore and offers outdoor enthusiasts of all ability levels (from complete novice to experts) instruction on how to make the most of adventure activities and to be safe.


It doesn’t have to be a leisurely hike in the hills; there are plenty of high-octane activities offering full-on adrenalin fun in the park.

The Rothiemurchus estate around Aviemore offers dozens of different outdoor activities, with everything from archery or clay pigeon shooting through to off-road Segway adventures or off-road Land Rover Defender driving.
How about dog sledding? You can actually do that on wheels rather than sleds in the Cairngorms in summer, thanks to the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre, the only daily working sleddog centre in the UK and one of only five in Europe.


Cyclists have more than 480km of promoted routes in the park, which provide a mixture of quiet roads and off-road trails.

There are many bike rental options in the park including Cairngorm Bike & Hike, and if you’d like to cycle there yourself from anywhere in the UK, Route 7 of the national cycle network (sustrans.org.uk) takes a spectacular route in.

For downhill bikers, CairnGorm Mountain, a ski and snowboard area located within the park in winter, offers guided descents from the top of its funicular railway. Laggan Wolftrax also has another 30km of downhill biking trails free to use, ranging from the 4.8km Green route, suitable for all the family, and the 3.6 km Orange grade Fun Park, to the extremely difficult Black grade trail containing the “2 Ton Drop” and the “Back, Sack and Crack Attack” features.


If you prefer your bikes to have four wheels and a motor, Quad Bike Treks Aviemore are the company for you. They offer quad bike treks led by experienced guides through magnificent Caledonian pine woodland and heather moorland with breathtaking views of the Cairngorms and into shallow stretches of the River Druie.

Landmark in Carrbridge is one of the most popular venues in the region. A theme park where the theme is forest adventure, there are family-friendly water coasters, forest towers and more.


Water is life for the park, and you can sail on it, fish in it, splash through it, even drink it (it’s converted to beer at Aviemore’s Cairngorm Brewery, which offers free tours and has its products widely available across the area).

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Full-day white-water rafting expeditions with qualified guides or river tubing and canyoning are offered by the aptly named Full On Adventure company (01479 420123; fullonadventure.co.uk). Or if you prefer your water less white and frothy, there’s the usually serene, smooth surface at Loch Insh Water Sports, where you can book wind surfing, sailing and kayaking rentals and courses.

Families And Mixed-Interest Groups

Although on the one hand the Cairngorms are a serious mountain wilderness, on the other they are Scotland and Britain’s leading adventure area, and there are plenty of attractions down in the valleys for which you don’t need to be a seriously fit and experienced outdoors personman.

It’s a long list but, for example, you can find wildlife parks (there are tigers, polar bears and snow monkeys at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig), outdoor theme parks, mountain railways, golf courses, horse riding, a reindeer farm and a steam railway. Or you can make a distillery visit, or perhaps go royalty-spotting near Balmoral.

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Royal connections with the Cairngorms stretch back more than 160 years, and Royal Deeside was of course a particular favourite of Queen Victoria, who purchased Balmoral Castle in 1852. It has provided a haven to the royal family ever since. The castle is open to the public for just four months each year until 31 July – so it’s open now.

In any case, you can find everything you need for a less intense but still fulfilling experience of the great outdoors in the park if that’s how you prefer to enjoy it.


In fact, at whatever level you experience the Cairngorms National Park – full on, laid back or a bit of both – the magnificence of the scenery, the splendid isolation and the natural beauty are likely to be the main memories you take away with you.

Getting There

Cairngorms National Park is easy to reach by road, rail or air with flights from Gatwick, Luton, Heathrow, Manchester and other cities into Inverness. The park’s western boundary follows both the modern A9 trunk road north from Perth and the historic stretch of the east coast mainline to Inverness served direct by the noon Highland Chieftain train from King’s Cross (virgintrainseastcoast.com) or an overnight sleeper from London Euston (sleeper.scot). All other UK rail stations can be used to access the region with one or two changes.



Cairngorms National Park: cairngorms.co.uk
Visit Cairngorms: visitcairngorms.com
Visit Scotland: visitscotland.com

Balmoral: balmoralcastle.com

Cairngorm Bike & Hike : cairngormbikeandhike.co.uk
Cairngorm Brewery: cairngormbrewery.com
CairnGorm Mountain: cairngormmountain.org
Cairngorm Sleddog Centre: sled-dogs.co.uk
Full On Adventure: fullonadventure.co.uk
Glenmore Lodge: glenmorelodge.org.uk
Highland Wildlife Park: highlandwildlifepark.org
Laggan Wolftrax: laggan.com/mountain-biking.asp
Landmark: landmarkpark.co.uk

Loch Insh Water Sports : lochinsh.com

Quad Bike Treks Aviemore : quadtreksaviemore.com
Rothiemurchus Estate: rothiemurchus.net
Speyside Wildlife: speysidewildlife.co.uk


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