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19 Best walks in the Cairngorms National Park Scotland

The Cairngorms National Park is the largest National Park in the UK and also my favorite. It feels more wild than many of the country’s national parks and there are so many places to explore.

If you’re alooking for the best walks in the Cairngorms you’ll find a list of 19 Cairngorms walks ranging from easy, mostly flat walks, to hard multi-day hikes in the Cairngorms.

I’ve shared my favourite places to go hiking in the Cairngorms and have included a mix so you’re bound to find something that excited you and makes you want to get out there.

Going walking is one of the best things to do in the Cairngorms National Park and defintely the best way to experience this beautiful wild space.

Best walks in the Cairngorms National Park

Map of the best Cairngorms Walks

Below you’ll find my Cairngorms hiking map which includes all the best walks in the Cairngorms included on this list as well as the best things to do in the National Park and where to eat in Aviemore as well.

Just click the image (or here) to open up the map on your phone or on your desktop.

Navigating while on the trail: You can find this hike on AllTrails which is my usual go-to for planning my hikes, navigating, checking trail conditions and, if hiking solo, making sure others know I’m safe. The OS Map app is one of the best hiking apps for trails in the UK and is just like having hundreds of OS maps in your pocket!

lochnagar cairngorms
Lochnagar Cairngorms

Lochnagar

  • Distance: 20.1 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 7 hours
  • Elevation: 974 m
  • Trail map

Delve into the heart of the southern Cairngorms with the Lochnagar hills and its numerous munros with several lakes, including Loch Muick to discover.

Begin at the car park on Loch Muick Road and pass the Spittal of Glenmuick Visitors Centre, then follow the trail up and over Meikl Pap, Cac Carn Mor and Lochnagar, before descending to the shores of Loch Muick.

Here, you can take a direct route back to your car or walk a circular loop around the loch to soak up the views.

Lochnagar is a popular climbing area and so you’ll likely see some people doing this hike with climbing gear. At the summit you get what’s aguably one of the best views in Cairngorms National Park; it’s one that reminded me of hikes in Norway!

winter hiking cairngorms national park uk
On the way to the summit

Meall a’Bhuachaille

  • Distance: 8.7 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 3 hours 40 mins
  • Elevation: 606 m
  • Trail map

A great introduction to the Cairngorms, Meall a’ Bhuachaille stands at 804m so it’s not quite a Munro but still a hike in the Cairngorms worth doing and is one of the best hike in Cairngorms National Park all year round.

This Cairngorms walk offers great variety, with ancient Caledonian pine forests, lochs, and a windswept ridge which you can walk along to make the hike longer and turn it into a loop trail.

We started this Cairngorms hiking trail from the Glenmore Visitor Centre near Loch Morlich. On the way you’ll pass the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and the loop linked above also takes you past the beautiful Green Loch, though you could also take a more direct route.

The trail is steep and rocky in places, and can be very windy at and near the peak so make sure you’ve packed plenty of layers. You’ll also want waterproof shoes or warm socks since the bottom of the trail can be very boggy and wet!

green loch aviemore

Ryvoan and Green Loch (An Lochan Uaine)

  • Distance: 8.2 km
  • Duration: Moderate
  • Difficulty: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation: 254 m
  • Trail map

Green Loch near Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park is a beautiful lake that’s super green and one of the best things to see in the Cairngorms.

There are multiple different ways to get to this loch, either by taking a direct route from Glenmore Forest Centre, or by making it longer by going part way up to Meall a’Buachaille. It’s a bit of a choose your own adventure route.

The map I’ve linked above is slightly longer, but if you read my guide on how to get to Green Lochan I’ve included the more direct route.

I also highly recommend continuing your walk in the Cairngorms up to the Ryvoan Bothy. Up here the views really open up and are so beautiful. Plus, you can take a snack in the bothy which is ideal if the weather isn’t playing ball.

seven bridges trail in ballater cairngorms

The Seven Bridges Trail Ballater

  • Distance: 10.8 km
  • Duration: Moderate
  • Difficulty: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation: 201 m
  • Trail map

The Seven Bridge Trail in Ballater is a scenic 10 km walk through the beautiful Dee Valley.

Starting in Ballater village, the trail features seven historic bridges, including the iconic Polhollick Suspension Footbridge.

Along the way, you can explore the Mackenzie Monument and the remains of Knock Castle, known for its tragic 16th-century tale. The trail offers gentle climbs and panoramic views, combining beautiful views with some of Scotland’s rich history.

cairngorms pyramid secret scottish pyramid balmoral

Secret Cairngorms Pyramid and Balmoral Cairns

  • Distance: 8.7 km
  • Duration: Moderate
  • Difficulty: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation: 301 m
  • Trail map

Deep in the forest on the Balmoral Estate is a secret Scottish pyramid!

It’s one of the worst kept secrets in the Cairngorms but it’s still a super cool thing to go and see and involves a lovely walk through the forest.

To find the Cairngorms Pyramid you’ll walk into the Balmoral Estate and through the woodland on either a direct, shorter trail straight to the pyramid, or a longer loop trail that takes you past several other Balmoral Cairns which commemorate members of the Royal Family.

You’ll also get views of the Balmoral Castle and out over Cairngorms National Park.

falls of bruar cairngorms
Falls of Bruar Cairngorms

The Falls of Bruar and Bruar Gorge

  • Distance: 2.6 km
  • Duration: Easy – Moderate
  • Difficulty: 1 hour
  • Elevation: 138 m
  • Trail map

Experience the power of nature at the Falls of Bruar in the Cairngorms which comes alive especially during the rainy season.

This beautiful trail in the Cairngorms takes you along the Bruar Gorge and to the Upper Bruar Falls where you will be treated to beautiful views of the river. You can also walk down to Lower Bruar Falls for an alternative view as you explore this area.

The trails can get a little muddy so good walking shoes or hiking boots are recommended.

sgor gaoith cairngorms hikes

Sgòr Gaoith

  • Distance: 15.3 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 5-6 hours
  • Elevation: 853 m
  • Trail map

Starting from the trailhead at Glen Feshie’s car park by the Allt Ruadh bridge, Sgòr Gaoith is a strenuous hike that takes you through scenic pinewoods and over rocky and rough terrain.

This peak stands at 1,118m above sea level and from the summit you’ll get amazing views over the surrounding mountains and Loch Einich below.

cairngorm northern corries rim walk

Northern Corries Rim

  • Distance: 11.4 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 5 hours
  • Elevation: 842 m
  • Trail map

A 5-6 hour circuit around the Northern Corries in the Cairngorms, this is one of the best walks in the Cairngorms National Park.

You’ll start from the base at the Cairngorm Mountain ski hill where there are toilets and restaurants and then make your way up to the summit of Cairn Gorm at 1 245 m high.

From here, you’ll make your way along the ridge where you’ll get incredible views the whole way especially from Coire an t-Scneachda and Coire an Lochan.

Take care while walking as it’s often windy up here and there are some very steep cliff edges on this Cairngorm mountain walk.

muir of dinnet cairngorms walk

Muir of Dinnet and Cnoc Dubn Circular

  • Distance: 11.4 km
  • Duration: Moderate
  • Difficulty: 3 hours
  • Elevation: 308 m
  • Trail map

The Muir of Dinnet is one of the most beautiful palces to visit in the Cairngorms Scotland.

You can choose to make this hike as long or as short as you like. I recommend following the linked trail map since it takes you on a beautiful loop trail in the area.

On this trail, you’ll start at the begin at the car park at the Burn o’Vat Visitors Centre, make your way through the woods and towards the summit of Cnoc Dubh.

You’ll also get some great views looking over Loch Kinord.

ben macdui summit

Ben MacDui Walk

  • Distance: 16.1 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 4-5 hours
  • Elevation: 825 m
  • Trail map

Ben MacDui is Scotland’s second highest mountain and the 2nd highest in the UK after Ben Nevis). This means that it’s a popular one for hikers visiting the Cairngorm National park.

Making your way up t the summit on the Ben Macdui hike requires a fair amount of effort. You’ll walk on rough paths and the weather is often not great with wind, rain and mist making navigation a bit tricker than you’d expect.

Once you do make it to the top (and provided you’ve got clear weather) you’re rewaded with some steallr views of Laririg Grhu, Cairn Gorm and the rest of teh Cairngorms lying in front of you.

At the trailhead for this walking route, you’ll find a cafe and bar which is perfect for a post hike pint or warm drink.

braeriach cairngorms walks

Braeriach via Chalamain Gap

  • Distance: 20.9 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 6 hours
  • Elevation: 1 293 m
  • Trail map

Braeriach is Scotland’s 3rd highest mountain so if you’ve already done the first and second then this peak is surely next for peak baggers in the Cairngorms.

The summit of Braeriach has great panoramic views over the cliffs of Coire Bhrochain which often has a little bit of snow coverage well into the late spring months.

The plateau area at the end can be tricky to navigate when the clouds come in so an offline map is a must.

Loch an Eilein aviemore

Loch an Eilein Circuit

  • Distance: 5.6 km
  • Duration: Easy
  • Difficulty: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation: 113 m
  • Trail map

This beautiful woodland trail takes you around Loch an Eilein which is one of the best places to see near Aviemore in the Cairngorms.

You’ll wander through the Rothiemurchus Forest and find loads of great views over the lochan, and out to the castle on its island. It’s one of the best short walks in Cairngorms National Park.

This Lochan Eilein Castle dates to the 13th century and it’s believed it might have been connected to the bank in previous times.

If you own a paddleboard or kayak, feel free to break up your walk by paddling out to the castle for a fun side adventure. If not, this is still one of the best Rothiemurchus walks.

frank bruce sculpture trail

Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail

  • Distance: 1.9 km
  • Duration: Easy
  • Difficulty: 30 mins
  • Elevation: 32 m
  • Trail map

The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail is is a great easy walk in the Cairngorms National Park where you’ll discover art as you wander through the forest.

The suclptures here are made of wood or stone and they’re super fun to spot making this a great walk in the Cairngorms with kids too.

morronne circular walk in cairngorms

Morronne Circular

  • Distance: 10.5 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 4 hours
  • Elevation: 544 m
  • Trail map

Sitting above the historic village of Braemar in the Cairngorms National Park, Morrone isn’t as tall as some of the other peaks on this list but it still offers some great views.

The hike up will definitely get your heart pumping.

After starting out on a 4×4 trail, you’ll go through some forest and make your way uphill all the way to the summit on what’s mostly single-track.

Just before reaching the 5 cairns the path gets wider and rocky and continues this way for quite some time to the top.

uath lochans cairngorms

Uath Lochans Circular

  • Distance: 3.5 km
  • Duration: Easy
  • Difficulty: 1 hour
  • Elevation: 108 m
  • Trail map

South-west of Aviemore this easy walk around the Uath Lochans (small lakes) is perfect if you’re looking for an easy hike in the Cairngorms.

You’ll discover 4 lochs in the Glen Feshie area and discover a forest of moss covered trees when hiking in Cairngorms National Park on this trail.

Keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels which can be seen around here. I love how hairy their ears are!

Another gem on this walk is the Ruigh Aiteachain bothy where you. canspend the night, or just take a snack break.

osprey center loch garten cairngorms things to do

Loch Garten

  • Distance: 3.4 km
  • Duration: Easy
  • Difficulty: 1 hour
  • Elevation: 84 m
  • Trail map

Starting by the Loch Garten Osprey Cetnre, this easy walk takes you through the Abertnethy Forest in Cairngorms National Park and alongside the beautiful Loch Garten which is a must-visit in Scotland.

This walk through the nature reserve is full with beautiful scenes: ospreys in the sky, deer on the ground, and some really old trees.

Bring binoculars and pop into the Osprey Centre to learn more about the birds and see if there have been any recent sightings. These cool birds are some of the things to see in Cairngorms National Park!

cairn toul traverse

Aviemore to Cairn Toul – Braeriach Traverse and Corrour Bothy

  • Distance: 54 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 2 days
  • Elevation: 1 662 m
  • Trail map – map shows point to point route, not the return

This hike is long and so best done as an overnight hike stopping in to sleep at Corrour Bothy or wild camping nearby.

You’ll make your way up from Aviemore and climb four munros on this route while enjoying some spectacular views during one of the best Cairngorms National Park hikes.

If the weather isn’t on your side I’d suggest giving it a miss unless you’re good at navigation in Scotland. That’s because trailfinding can be tricky and there are lots of steep cliffs which could be very dangerous.

Scotland’s Right to Roam – Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
In Scotland, you can go on to most land to enjoy the outdoors – as long as you behave responsibly, care for the environment and respect the interests of others. You can learn more about the Scotland Outdoor Access Code, and what it means for your activities here.

loch morlich kayaking

Loch Morlich Trail

  • Distance: 5.8 km
  • Duration: Easy
  • Difficulty: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation: 170 m
  • Trail map

Loch Morlich is one of the best places in the Cairngorms and is a popular place to spend a beach day since it has sandy shores. You can also enjoying kayaking and paddleboarding on the lake or, take this easy walk around its perimeter.

Depending on the season. ofyour visit you might be gazing. atthe lake with snow-capped peaks in the background which is super cool to see.

dalwhinnie distillery scotland

Speyside Way

  • Distance: 137 km
  • Duration: Hard
  • Difficulty: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation: 301 m

Journey through the heart of Scotland as you hike the Speyside Way commonly considered one of the best hikes in the Cairngorms for long distancer hikers.

Stretching from Spey Bay to Aviemore, this route lets you experience peaceful river valleys, old steam railways, and the vastness open moors that are typical of Scotland.

The Speyside Way is one of four official Long Distance Routes in Scotland and first opened in 1981. The entire route links the Moray coast with the edge of the Grampian Mountains and generally follows the River Spey.

What makes this route even cooler is that you can also combine your multi-day hike with distillery visits along the way. It’s the ultimate Cairngorms long distance walk!

loch muick walk cairngorms

What to know before doing these hikes in the Cairngorms

Before you go walking in the Cairngorms Scotland, be sure to read through this list of things I’d recommend you know.

  • Cairngorms Weather Conditions: The Cairngorms are known for rapidly changing weather. Always check the forecast before you head out and be prepared for sudden shifts in conditions.
  • Proper Gear: Wear layers of moisture-wicking and insulating clothing, sturdy waterproof hiking boots, and consider walking poles for stability. In winter, ice axes and crampons might be necessary.
  • Navigation Skills: Even though many routes are well-marked, bringing a map and compass (and knowing how to use them) can be essential.
  • Stay Hydrated: Carry plenty of water and know where natural water sources are on your route. However, always purify water from streams before consumption.
  • Pack the 10 Hiking Essentials: This includes food, a first-aid kit, a whistle, a headlamp or flashlight, spare batteries, sun protection, and an emergency shelter or bivvy.
  • Wildlife Awareness: The Cairngorms are home to various wildlife, including deer and birds of prey. Respect their habitats and know how to react if you encounter them.
  • Plan Your Route: Given the vastness of the Cairngorms, decide on your route in advance, considering your experience level and current fitness.
  • Mobile Reception: Phone reception can be patchy. Inform someone of your planned route and estimated return time. Consider carrying a satellite phone or personal locator beacon for emergencies.
  • Camping: If you plan to camp while hiking Cairngorms National Park, be aware of the “Leave No Trace” principles. Camp at designated sites or, if wild camping, ensure you’re at least 100m from roads and buildings.
  • Hut Availability: There are bothies and shelters in the Cairngorms, but they can get occupied quickly in peak seasons. Always have a backup plan i.e. bring your camping gear!
  • Public Transport: Some routes can be accessed by public transport, but services may be limited, especially in the off-season.
  • Permits and Restrictions: While most of the Cairngorms National Park walks are open access, there may be areas with restrictions, especially during deer stalking season. Check for any permits or notifications before your hike.
hiking cairngorms walks

Best time for walking Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park in Scotland offers breathtaking landscapes, but its high-altitude and northern location means that weather conditions can be quite variable. Here’s a seasonal breakdown of the best times to go walking:

  • Spring (March to May): In the Cairngorms, Springs average temperatures range from 2°C (36°F) in early March to around 12°C (54°F) by late May. Spring sees the snow starting to melt, especially in lower areas. This can lead to wet trails, but it’s also when the park starts to come alive with blossoming flora. There are usually fewer tourists than summer and an explosion of wildflowers. It’s a great time to spot early nesting birds and other wildlife. Take note that higher paths might still be snow-covered or muddy, especially in early spring.
  • Summer (June to August): Average temperatures are between 10°C (50°F) and 18°C (64°F), though occasional heatwaves might bring warmer conditions. Generally the driest and sunniest period, but being Scotland, rain showers are still possible. The long daylight hours and warmer temperatures, make summer ideal for backpacking and longer days. However i’s peak tourist season, so popular trails can be busier, and midges (tiny biting insects) can be a nuisance, especially near water or in still air.
  • Autumn (September to November): The average temperatures are about 14°C (57°F) in early September, dropping to 5°C (41°F) by late November. Yoy can expect crisp air and a mix of clear sunny days and rainy spells. The first snow might appear on high peaks by late November. The autumn colours in the Cairngorms are stunning, with golden hues dominating the landscape. It’s also a good time for spotting deer during the rutting season. However days get shorter, and temperatures drop as winter approaches. Be prepared for colder conditions, especially in late autumn.
  • Winter (December to February): With average temperatures hovering around 0°C (32°F) and sometimes dropping well below freezing, especially at higher altitudes hiking in winter can be cold. Snow is common, especially on the peaks, and blizzards can occur and the days are short. The snowy landscape is magnificent, offering a winter wonderland feel. Suitable for winter sports enthusiasts and those experienced in winter hiking. Many trails can be hazardous due to snow, ice, and reduced visibility so it’s essential to have winter gear like crampons and ice axes and to be knowledgeable about their use.
cairngorms national park scotland

What to pack for walking in the Cairngorms

Here’s a detailed packing list for hiking in the Cairngorms:

  • Backpack: A durable and water-resistant backpack with comfortable straps and adequate space for your gear.
  • Clothing Layers: Moisture-wicking base layers, an insulating mid-layer, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer.
  • Hiking Boots: Waterproof boots with good grip or trail running shoes are a good idea.
  • Spare Clothes: Extra socks, underwear, and a lightweight change of clothes are a good idea to leave in your car if you get caught in the rain!
  • Warm Hat & Gloves: Even in summer, the Cairngorms can be chilly at higher altitudes.
  • Sun Protection: Sunglasses, wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen with high SPF.
  • Food & Snacks: Energy bars, trail mix, sandwiches, and other easy-to-eat and high-energy foods.
  • Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder: Carry at least 2 liters of water, more if the route has limited water sources.
  • Water Purification: Water purification tablets or a small filter, in case you need to refill from natural sources.
  • Garmin inReach: Useful to have in case. ofemergecy situations where there’s no signal
  • Navigation Tools: Map of the area, compass, and optionally, a GPS device.
  • First-Aid Kit: Including bandages, antiseptic wipes, blister treatment, pain relievers, and any personal medications.
  • Headlamp: With extra batteries or a battery pack as required.
  • Emergency Shelter or Bivvy: A lightweight emergency shelter can be crucial in unexpected situations.
  • Multi-tool or Knife: For general utility and potential emergency situations.
  • Toilet Paper & Trowel: For when nature calls. Ensure you bury waste at least 6 inches deep and 200 feet from water sources. A Kula cloth is great for number 1s!
  • Personal Identification & Emergency Contacts: Kept in a waterproof pouch.
  • Mobile Phone & Power Bank: Ensure it’s fully charged. A power bank can be a lifesaver if your phone runs out of battery.
  • Hiking Poles: Especially useful for steep or rocky terrains and for stability.
  • Lighter or Waterproof Matches: Useful for emergencies and for lighting stoves.
  • Bug Spray: To deter midges and other insects.
  • Camera and/or Binoculars: For capturing the scenic beauty and spotting distant wildlife.

Remember, the conditions in the Cairngorms can change rapidly, so it’s essential to be prepared for all scenarios. Tailor this list based on the season, your route’s specifics, and the expected duration of your hike.

Where to stay in the Cairngorms

If you’re planning to explore the vast Cairngorms, you might opt to hop between different hotels in the park. Alternatively, you could settle in one spot and venture out for day trips. If Aviemore is on your radar, I have a comprehensive guide on the best places to stay there.

  • Boat Country Inn and Restaurant: A 10-minute drive from Aviemore, this luxurious hotel has monsoon showers, roll-top baths, and an outdoor terrace.
  • Cairngorm Bothies: This cozy spot offers private parking, terraced seating, and opportunities for evening barbecues. Spot woodpeckers from the deck and relish the convenience of walks nearby.
  • Glen Clova Hotel and Luxury Lodges: A 3-star establishment that has rooms with mountain vistas, a terrace, and contemporary comforts..
  • The Osprey Hotel: A short walk from the Highland Folk Museum in Kingussie, this hotel offers splendid terrace views and is near various hiking trails. It’s also pet-friendly.
  • Cambus O’ May Hotel: In Ballater this hotel offers free bicycles, a comfy garden lounge, and a terrace. It’s pet-friendly too.
  • The Balavoulin: This inn has rooms with mountain views and a great breakfast menu. Its in a great location for hiking, skiing, and cycling.
corrie fee cairngorms things to do

FAQs about the best Cairngorms walks

Where is the best place to hike in Cairngorms National Park?

The best place to hike in Cairngorms National Park is subjective, but many consider the Loch Avon Basin and the surrounding Cairngorm Plateau as a top choice for its breathtaking scenery and challenging terrain.

What is the longest trail in Cairngorms National Park?

The longest trail in Cairngorms National Park is the Speyside Way, which extends from Spey Bay to Aviemore, covering various terrains and offering picturesque views of the valley and distilleries.

Where can I walk in the Cairngorms?

In the Cairngorms, you can walk at popular spots like Loch Morlich, the Lairig Ghru mountain pass, Uath Lochans, and Farleitter Crag, among many other trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes.

Final thoughts on best Cairngorms walks

From the best short walks in the Cairngorms to multi-day epic backpacking trips in the Cairngorms, this guide has shared my favorite Cairngorms hikes.

Whether you’re looking for circular walks in the Cairngorms, forest walks in the Cairngorms or have your eyes set on one of the epic multi day hikes Cairngorms National Park has to offer you’ll see your options are far from limited in this Scottish National Park.

As you travel in this part of Scotland, be sure to follow leave no trace principles and also pack appropriately for the weather conditions and the hike you’re doing.

If you enjoy hiking, be sure to check out my other hiking and walking guides too which cover hiking trails from all over the world! I’ve got details on the best walks in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, a gude to hiking Ben Ledi, the Goatfell trail on Isle of Arran, these awesome walks in Glencoe and so many more!

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