If you’re looking for an unforgettable outdoor adventure, look no further than the Cairngorms National Park. This stunning park is located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and has some of Scotland’s most iconic views of lochs, rivers, and valleys. You can go hiking and do many other active things in this area. In this article, we share the 8 best things to do in Cairngorms.
We visited Cairngorms while traveling for 3 weeks in Scotland with a campervan, so we share general tips that can be used by everyone and tips specific for travelers in a campervan.
Things to do in Cairngorms
Many travelers visit the West Highlands by going to the Isle of Skye but skip Cairngorms National Park. It’s a shame, as there is so much to explore in this beautiful area. From spectacular mountain walks to waterfalls and wildlife spotting, Cairngorms has something for everyone! Here are some of the 8 best things to do in Cairngorms.
Tip: use the map of Cairngorms below to see where all the highlights can be found. Click on the top right corner to enlarge the map. If you click on the star symbol next to the title you can save this map in your Google Maps account. In the folder, you can show or hide different categories. You can then use this map to navigate when you are at your destination.
Cairngorms National Park Hikes
Cairngorms National Park is a great place to go hiking. There are many villages around the park that you can visit and start hiking, like Aviemore and Glenmore. These villages are also located on the road from Edinburgh to Inverness, so they’re easy to get to if you’re traveling through Scotland. We did the Meall a’ Bhuachaille trail, Loch Morlich trail and we did the half of Ryvoan Trail. But next to these hikes, there are so many more hikes to do. If you do not have that much time or just want to do one hike then the Meall a’ Bhuachaille trail is the one you should do. You can use the map to see how you need to walk.
Meall a’ Bhuachaille trail
Meall a’ Bhuachaille trail is one of the best trails to do in Cairngorms. It’s a moderate difficulty, 4-5 hour hike of 5.25 miles / 8.5 km with wonderful views like Loch Morlich and Speyside Way. You start this hike at Glenmore Visitors Centre and you follow the blue signs till An Lochan Uaine. From this lake, you walk through Ryvoan Bothy (small hut) and turn left to walk all the way to the top of the mountain. On your way up, you will have amazing views of Loch Morlich and eventually reach a peak with 360° views over the Cairngorms. The trail is not difficult, but there are some steep climbs that can be challenging for those who aren’t used to hiking. Bring a jacket with you because at the top it can be very windy.
Ryvoan Trail in Glenmore
If you do not want to walk all the way to the top of the mountain you can do the Ryvoan trail which is 3.5 miles / 5.8 km and takes 2.5 hours to complete. You can start at the visitor center and follow the blue signs. You walk till An Lochan and back. On the way back you pass a viewpoint.
If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, the Ryvoan Pass Trek which takes around 6-7 hours is recommended in this case.
Loch Morlich Trail
This is a shorter hike that you can do from the same visitor center in Glenmore. It’s an easy to moderate-difficulty hike and takes around 2 hours. You will walk along the banks of Loch Morlich and have views across the Cairngorms National Park. During your walk, you will pass by ancient Scot’s pine forest with many birds and squirrels. At the end of the trail, you visit a viewpoint where you have views across Loch Morlich, one of Scotland’s most picturesque lochs.
Where to stay in Cairngorms
Option 1 Comfortable & location: High Range Lodge Hotel
High Range Lodge Hotel offers comfortable rooms that come with a TV and a private bathroom. There is also an on-site restaurant offering traditional Scottish fare and daily specials. The hotel also boasts an outdoor swimming pool, gym and sauna.
Check actual prices and availability for High Range Lodge Hotel here.
Option 2 Budget & traditional: The Balavoulin
The Balavoulin is the perfect place for a cozy stay in Aviemore. This traditional Scottish cottage is located in a quiet spot by the river, with stunning views of Cairngorms National Park. The cottage has its own garden and private hot tub, as well as two bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.
Check actual prices and availability for The Balavoulin here.
Rothiemurchus Forest is what is left of the Caledonian Forest in the Cairngorms. There are plenty of walking trails here, as well as opportunities for outdoor activities such as quad biking, wildlife watching, or river sports like kayaking. If you want to do this you can ask for more information at VisitScotland Aviemore iCentre.
The best thing you can see in the Rothiemurchus forest is Loch an Eilein. If you are looking for a wonderful outdoor adventure, take the 4.25 mile / 7km hike around Loch an Eilein! You will be rewarded with beautiful views and fresh air while taking in all that nature has to offer.
Loch an Eilein
Loch an Eilein is a popular loch in Cairngorms National Park, located just outside of Aviemore. The highlight of the area is a 15th-century castle, nestled on an island in the middle of the loch. The castle was built by Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Mar in 1450, and has been beautifully preserved since then.
The castle on Loch an Eilein had a turbulent history. After it was built in the 15th century, it was occupied by Clan Grant for some time before being abandoned for over 200 years. In 1748, it was restored and used as a hunting lodge by Alexander Gordon of Abergeldie, who re-roofed it and added the stone fireplace that still stands today. The castle fell into disrepair after it was abandoned again in the early 19th century, but it has since been carefully preserved by Scottish Natural Heritage. Today the castle is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
You can park the car at Car Park Loch an Eilein for £1.50 per person.
Tip general: there is a small shop next to the lake where you can buy some snacks and drinks. If you are hungry it is better to go to the Tesco or ALDI in Aviemore which is a 10-minute drive.
Tip for campervans: visit the lake at the end of the day because you can stay overnight at the parking lot. You have to pay £10 per vehicle + £2 per person (no electricity). We arrived later and the ranger at the entrance was already gone so we parked for free. The cool thing is that you can visit the lake and the castle during sunset and sunrise.
Wintersport in Cairngorms National Park
Cairngorms is a great place for winter sports and activities, with plenty of facilities available. The main ski resort in Cairngorms is the Ptarmigan Station, which has slopes to suit all abilities. There are also a number of other ski resorts and snow parks dotted around the national park, such as Glenshee Ski Centre and Cairngorm Mountain.
The Ptarmigan Station is a great place to enjoy winter sports, as it has the highest vertical descent of any ski resort in Scotland (1,097m). There are also plenty of other activities on offer, such as husky sledding and snowshoeing. The Ptarmigan Station also offers a gondola lift that takes you all the way to the top of the mountain, where you can ski down and enjoy incredible views across the Cairngorms.
You can still use the gondola lift at Ptarmigan Station to get to the top of Cairngorms Mountain any time of year. From the top, you will have a great view.
The ski season in Cairngorms usually runs from late November to early April, with the best conditions between January and March. During this time of year, there is usually plenty of snow on the slopes and temperatures can be quite cold.
Discover the old towns and villages
The Cairngorms National Park is home to a number of quaint towns and villages. One of the most popular villages in the area is Braemar, where you can find many charming shops and traditional pubs. The village also boasts its own castle, which dates back to 1628.
Another must-see village is Tomintoul, which is the highest village in the Scottish Highlands. It has a pleasant main street and some lovely historical buildings to explore.
The old packhorse bridge of Carrbridge is also worth visiting when you are in Cairngorms National Park. This 18th-century bridge is one of the oldest remaining structures in Scotland and it has been carefully preserved since then.
Aviemore is a fantastic place to visit for those who love the outdoors. This is one of the biggest towns in the Cairngorms where you can find many restaurants and accommodations.
Adventure activity in Cairngorms National Park
If you are looking for an active holiday, then Cairngorms is the place to be. There are many activities available in the area, such as mountain biking and watersports.
Mountain biking is incredibly popular in Cairngorms National Park and there are plenty of trails suitable for all levels of ability. Some of the best trails are at the Cairngorm Mountain Bike Park, where you can take on some challenging downhill tracks.
Watersports are also popular in the area, with plenty of rivers and lochs to explore. You can go kayaking or sailing on Loch Morlich or try your hand at white water rafting on the River Spey. There are also many other activities available in Cairngorms National Park, such as golf, hill walking, and climbing.
Aviemore is the best place to base yourself when visiting Cairngorms National Park, as there is a wide range of accommodation and facilities available. This is also where you will find the nearest Information Centre, where you can find out more about the activities available in the area and get advice from experienced guides.
Watching the stars at Cairngorms
One of the best things to do in Cairngorms National Park is to watch the stars. This national park is one of the darkest places in the UK and therefore a perfect place to get a good view of the night sky. Tomintoul and Glenlivet are two of the best areas for stargazing. We spotted the stars ourselves when we stayed at Loch and Eilein with our campervan.
The Cairngorms National Park is home to two of Scotland’s most iconic whisky distilleries: Speyside Distillers Co Ltd and Tomatin Distillery. Both have their own unique stories, from the traditional production methods used at Speyside to the innovative techniques employed by Tomatin.
A whiskey tour is a great way to experience the unique atmosphere of these two distilleries. You can take a guided tour and learn about the production process, as well as taste some of their finest whiskies.
Speyside Distillers Co Ltd has been producing whisky since 1887 and is known for its traditional methods, while Tomatin Distillery is renowned for its award-winning whisky and modern techniques.
If you have the time to spare, a whiskey tour in the Cairngorms National Park is a great way to experience two of Scotland’s most iconic distilleries.
There are more distillers in the area, if you want to know more information, we recommend checking out this page for a total overview.
How many days do you need for Cairngorms National Park
You need at least two days to see the highlights of Cairngorms National Park. However, if you want to do all the activities mentioned above and explore this beautiful region at its best, then you can easily stay for one week or more. There is always something new to discover in Cairngorms National Park!
If, like us, you are traveling through Scotland, we recommend staying 2 nights in the Aviemore area.
Where to stay in Cairngorms
Aviemore is the best place to stay in Cairngorms National Park, as there is a wide range of accommodation and facilities available. You can also find campsites, bed & breakfasts, and hotels in the area.
It is also wise to book your accommodation at least 6 months in advance, especially if you are going to travel between the months of April to October. We recommend two properties below that are excellent choices for a stay in Aviemore.
High Range Lodge Hotel offers comfortable rooms that come with a TV and private bathroom. There is also an on-site restaurant offering traditional Scottish fare and daily specials. The hotel also boasts an outdoor swimming pool, gym and sauna.
The Balavoulin is the perfect place for a cosy stay in Aviemore. This traditional Scottish cottage is located in a quiet spot by the river, with stunning views of Cairngorms National Park. The cottage has its own garden and private hot tub, as well as two bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.
Tip Campervans: we stayed two nights in Cairngorms and stayed the first night at The High Range Touring Caravan Park. You pay £26-34 per night (depending on which season) for electricity. The campsite has a new visitor area with new showers and other facilities. On the second night, we stayed at the parking lot Loch an Eilein which is £10 per vehicle + £2 per person (no electra). It was a great spot because it is next to the lake.
Where can you eat good in Cairngorms National Park
Aviemore is home to a wide variety of restaurants, pubs, and cafés. There are also lots of places to eat in the surrounding area, from traditional Scottish pubs to Italian bistros.
The Winking Owl is one of the best places for good food in Aviemore, serving up delicious fish and chips, burgers, and salads. The restaurant also has a great selection of wines, beers, and spirits. If you want to have pizza at La Taverna next to High Range Lodge Hotel. There are also plenty of takeaways in Aviemore and the surrounding area like fish and chips and pizzas.
Tip campervan: if you want to make your meals yourself you can do your grocery shopping at the ALDI or Tesco in Aviemore.
Transport in Cairngorms National Park
If you want to explore the Cairngorms having your own car or camper with you is the easiest way to get around. There are buses that take you to Aviemore, but exploring the region with busses is difficult, as buses do not run to all places and buses do not run often. This makes it best to rent a car or camper.
If you travel to Scotland by plane and you are looking for a car to rent, you can rent it through Rentalcars. We use Rentalcars when we want to travel by car to discover new destinations. They’re easy to use and book with.
Traveling to Scotland with a motorhome is the perfect way to experience this beautiful country! With IndieCampers, you get an excellent motorhome with high quality and prices that are budget-friendly. We really liked it, everything went as planned – even better than expected due to their exceptional service.
How to get to Cairngorms National Park
The most convenient way to get to Aviemore is by car. The town is located just off the A9 road and there are plenty of parking options available in and around the town center. You can also reach Aviemore by bus, with regular services from Inverness and other nearby towns.
If you are traveling from Edinburgh you can take a bus or train to Aviemore. You can take the train at station Edinburgh Waverley in the direction of Inverness and get out at Aviemore station. Travel time is 3 hours. The bus is also 3 hours but is cheaper. Bus tickets can be bought here.
Travel time from the most popular places to Aviemore (Cairngorms National Park) are:
- Edinburgh to Aviemore: 2 hours and 45 minutes | 128 miles / 205 km
- Inverness to Aviemore: 45 minutes | 40 miles / 64 km
- Glasgow to Aviemore: 2 hours and 45 minutes | 145 miles / 233 km
- Loch Ness to Aviemore: 1 hour and 30 minutes | 55 miles / 89 km
- Fort William to Aviemore: 3 hours and 15 minutes | 134 miles / 215 km
What is the best time to visit Cairngorms
The best time to visit Cairngorms National Park is between April and October. During this period, the weather is warm and sunny, and there is plenty of daylight to enjoy the many things you can do in the park. The average temperatures in the Cairngorms National Park during this period range from 4°C (39°F) to 17°C (63°F). Temperatures can drop slightly at night, so it is recommended to pack some warm layers.
The busiest period is from July to August. During this time, accommodation prices tend to be higher than usual, so you should book your accommodation as soon as possible.
Traveling during spring and autumn is a nice time because the landscape is beautiful due to the colors. It also has the advantage that it is no longer so busy compared to the summer and prices are not extremely high.
Finally, the winter months are not great for traveling to Cairngorms only if you want to go skiing. But if you want to explore the country in general you have the skip the winter months.
Do you want to see more in Scotland?
If you are looking for more places to visit in Scotland, we recommend reading our 3 weeks itinerary of Scotland. This itinerary is a great way to explore the stunning landscapes, charming cities, and friendly people that make up this beautiful country. You can use it as inspiration to build your own itinerary or copy it exactly if you prefer – whatever works best for you!
We traveled from Cairngorms National Park to Loch Ness. We wanted to find out if it is worth visiting this popular destination. We loved it! Check out our tips for visiting Loch Ness here. From Loch Ness, we started the NC500. A 500-mile road trip through Scotland’s most beautiful sights. The NC500 is a road trip that is a great way of exploring Scotland’s stunning landscapes. Enjoy your time in Scotland!