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The Cairngorms – Top 7 Things to Do

Posted on Apr 06, 2016 by Meike van Krimpen

We Narrow Down the Best Things to do in the Cairngorms

Here at Wilderness Scotland we’re incredibly lucky to live and work in the Cairngorms National Park.

Not to brag or anything but the Cairngorms is an area home to lush forests, adorable wee Highland villages, fantastic wildlife, wild open spaces and of course it’s very own arctic mountain plateau!

We’ve got plenty of adventurous inspiration all around us. Leave our office doors and you have Loch Morlich, Rothiemurchus forest, Cairngorm Mountain and of course the mighty Spey within easy access.

As residents we’ve spent many weekends and lunch breaks exploring the local play spots. In this blog I’ve gathered our 7 favourite things to do in the Cairngorms National Park.

1. Go outside and play (obviously)

7 THINGS TO DO IN THE CAIRNGORMS

It’s not surprising that the population in the Cairngorms National Park swells in the summer months.

Tourists flock from all over to hike, bike, canoe, kayak and climb their way across the park. There is something here for every adventurer no matter what age, interest or level of experience.

  • Fancy a climb? There are several places to go summer climbing in the park but my favourite is the picturesque Kingussie Crag. It has panoramic views of the surrounding valley and the crag has routes ranging from difficult to E4.
  • In the mood for some whitewater kayaking? Who isn’t? The Cairngorms is home to over 25 sections of paddle-able river. The options range from grade 2-3 on the Feshie all the way to grade 5 on the Falls of Muick!
  • Wild Danny MacAskill sightings are not unheard of in the Cairngorms. Which is not surprising with the range of mountain biking trails in the area. Have a look at My Favourite 7 Biking Routes in the Cairngorms for some inspiration for your own biking adventures.
  • With a mix of mountain roads and quiet roads through forests and past fields there is great road cycling to be had as well. The Best Road Cycling Routes in the Highlands features 4 Cairngorm routes.
  • Prefer to keep your adventures a bit simpler and less adrenaline-fuelled? There is no point trying to list all of the amazing hikes here as they are endless. However, Wilderness guide Peter Grant, a native Highlander, has sussed out 5 great walking routes for all levels of fitness. Get the first in a series of 5 here. Each blog contains a route description and GPX file.
  • Explore The Cairngorms National Park with us and enjoy hiking the area with a knowledgable Wilderness Guide.


For the long distance walkers amongst us there is the 65 mile long Speyside Way, one of the four official long distance routes in Scotland.
7 THINGS TO DO IN THE CAIRNGORMS2. Go the distance

The route currently starts in Spey Bay and finishes in our own Highland boom-town of Aviemore. There are plans to extend the route to Newtonmore. Due to the relatively short distance and easy terrain, the Speyside Way is good for the trekker new to the sport and wanting to ease in to the experience. The Speyside Way passes disused rail stations, beautiful moorland and a Highland coo or two.

Tip: Not keen on dedicating several days and 65 miles to a hike? The route consists of 8 sections so you can pick and choose just one to do for a day. The section between Boat of Garten and Aviemore is a great 2 hour walk or short bike ride. It includes beautiful views across to the Cairngorms, heather heathland, photogenic Scots Pines and a birch tree forest.

Inspiring Cairngorms Blog Articles

 

3. Get familiar with the Spey

7 THINGS TO DO IN THE CAIRNGORMS

  • The Spey is the river famous for fuelling one of Scotland’s most beloved whisky regions, Speyside. However, there is a lot more to the Spey than it’s role in whisky production.
  • The river Spey runs for 107 miles from Loch Spey to the Moray Firth.
  • Due to its length and volume the Spey has a lot to offer to the passing-by waterbabies.
  • You can canoe, raft, kayak, and even tube your way down sections.
  • We prefer canoeing to be honest, it gives you plenty of time to admire the various sights on the river banks.

Adventure Inspiration: Take on a new challenge and paddle the length the Spey from Aviemore all the way to the sea on a true wilderness canoeing expedition. Along the way stop to taste the local whisky, admire the wildlife and to set up your own camp. Want to take on the rapids of the Spey in an open canoe but less keen on camping? We also have a Spey descent with evenings in comfortable Highland accommodation, find out more here.

4. Toast the taste of the region

7 THINGS TO DO IN THE CAIRNGORMS

  • Speyside is home to HALF of Scotland’s entire whisky production!
  • So for the lovers of whisky there are over 40 different distilleries in the Speyside area. A large number are open to visitors with daily tours and tastings.
  • 5 of these distilleries sit in the boundaries of the Cairngorms National Park, so a great wet weather alternative.
  • The park is also home to it’s own brewery, the Cairngorm Brewery. The brewery produces a small but award winning collection of beers and ales that you must try, especially in a steak & ale pie at the Winky in Aviemore;).

5. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife

7 THINGS TO DO IN THE CAIRNGORMS

This is something that I remember being amazed about when I first moved to the Cairngorms.

My walk to work would involve sightings of at least 10 wild rabbits just walking out of the village. A deer calf scampering across the bicycle path. A mole (exciting, my first time seeing one). A bird of prey swooping overhead (I don’t know which one but it had talons). And to finish things off, I saw two red squirrels having a violent spat between several trees.

Due to the variation of the landscape, the park is home to an abundance of interesting, rare and endangered species. Examples of this include the shy wildcat, pine martens, capercaillies, ospreys, deer and even reindeer!

  • Spotting wildlife here can be as easy as paying a little bit of attention on a hike, but you can also go on a full on dusk watch if it’s an absolute must-do activity.
  • Some quick ways to get a guaranteed wildlife encounter include a visit to the Osprey Centre for a wander in the beautiful reserve.
  • Alternatively, have a stroll along the Wild Cat Trail in Newtonmore, or even hand feed reindeers on a guided tour.
  • The Highland Wildlife Park is part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and plays an important part in the conservation of various species globally. Pay them a visit to meet a wolf pack, snow leopards and a host of other incredible animals.
  • Explore the mountain species of the Cairngorms on our incredible Scottish Highlands Wildlife Adventure.
7-Things-to-Do-in-the-Cairngorms

Wolf cub at the Highland Wildlife Park

6. Indulge in cafe cuisine

The benefit of being a tourist destination and beautiful place to live is the numerous high quality and boutique cafes popping up in the park. 

As I’ve not been to every cafe and tried every scone I don’t feel the confidence to deliver a complete cafe review for the entire park (it’s rather big). Here are my 3 favourites though to get you started.

  • Let me start with the absolute shining star of the cafe scene in the Cairngorms. It barely needs introduction but the cake display at the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore is what I imagine heaven may look like to a lot of people. I’m a little bit afraid to admit it in an office full of sweet toothed cake lovers, I’m not really that big a fan of cake. HOWEVER I think Mountain Cafe may have made me rethink my position on cake altogether. Threatening to spill over the sides of the counter, the cake selection is vast, colourful and very varied. Muffins, cakes, bakes, brownies, squares, cookies and home-baked breads aplenty. There are also various options for people with special dietary requirements so no one will leave disappointed.
  • The Druie is just across the road from our office and provides a reliable source of delicious scones and gluten-free brownies. More than anything, their savoury lunch options are of the more-ish kind that are perfect after a long hike out in the hills. The Druie embraces the best of the Scottish natural larder, frequently using locally sourced ingredients. The menu features venison, home-made bread and locally roasted coffee.
  • The Bothy in Ballater is one that I remember from one of my ventures into the Cairngorms National Park before I moved here. I clearly remember being squeezed in the corner seat with my group of giggling girls. Them all tucking away into their cakes and scones (with great delight) and me slurping away at my soup in cake-protest. The atmosphere was great, and the cafe cozy. This is definitely the place to go on a rainy morning whilst you are waiting for the weather to clear. The sister company the Bothy Braemar comes highly recommended as well (great views).

7. “How it’s Made” Highland Edition

Rain happens and it’s not always great to go out in it so here are some indoor things to do in the Cairngorms.

If you are with kids, or have seen enough of distilleries why not try the The Speyside Cooperage? I actually cannot stress enough how surprisingly interesting and fun the Cooperage is. The tour above the factory floor is noisy, so don’t come with a headache but it’s great being able to watch the skilled craftsmen at work. The tour also includes a 4D video presentation which is guaranteed to delight. Also be open-minded to a bruised ego when you are given a chance to put together a little barrel yourself.

  • Like the idea of a more hands-on experience? Wooden Tom offers wood-working courses. If you are willing to dedicate the time and money, you can learn how to carve your own spoons, or make your own rustic furniture or even your own quaich. 
  • Alternatively, the aforementioned Cairngorm Brewery offers tours during the week and some on the weekends. Although the tour is short (the brewery is small…) you do get to taste a lot of different beers, ales and ciders.

If you’re stuck for what to do in the Cairngorms National Park, let us help.

We run a range of guided walking tours across this stunning region, recently voted by National Geographic as one of the Top 20 Places to Visit in the World.

Inspired to explore the stunning Cairngorms region with Wilderness Scotland? Then, visit here to see a full range of adventure holidays we operate in the area.

About the author

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Meike van Krimpen

With my parents' work taking my family away to exotic countries meant that I grew up between Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands and have had the opportunity to visit some amazing countries along the way. This has left me with an unhealthy addiction to curry and all things spice, and also to travelling! When it was time to go to university I wandered off to Scotland for a new adventure and have somehow not managed to leave yet!

Read more articles by Meike


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