Here at Wilderness Scotland, we’re incredibly lucky to live and work in the Cairngorms National Park. To enjoy a quick humble brag, the Cairngorms is an area home to lush forests, adorable wee Highland villages, fantastic wildlife, wild open spaces and of course its very own arctic mountain plateau.
We’ve got plenty of adventurous inspiration all around us. Based in Aviemore, we leave our office doors and have the Abernethy Forest, Loch Morlich, Rothiemurchus, 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 favourite things to do in the Cairngorms National Park.
Blog Updated December 2022
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.
The Speyside Way, the local long distance route, starts in Spey Bay and finishes officially in our own Highland boom-town of Aviemore, although the route has been extended to Newtonmore via Kincraig. 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 into the experience. The Speyside Way passes disused rail stations, beautiful moorland, and a Highland coo or two. Route description here. There is also a more challenging off-shoot, linking Ballindalloch to Tomintoul, it’s harder than the rest of the Speyside Way due to its ascent and exposure, but it’s worth the effort as the views are incredible.
Tip: Not keen on dedicating several days and 80-100 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.
Alternatively – the SnowRoads offer an incredibly scenic 90-mile road trip through the east section of the Cairngorms National Park, linking up Grantown-on-Spey in the north and Blairgowrie in the south, outside of the park.
Adventure Inspiration: Take on a new challenge and paddle the length of 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 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
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 ten wild rabbits just walking out of the village. I also saw a deer calf scampering across the bicycle path and a mole once (exciting, my first time seeing one). My walk would often feature a bird of prey swooping overhead, and to finish things off, my favourite wildlife encounter was 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.
The benefit of the Cairngorms being a tourist destination and a beautiful place to live in 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 qualified to deliver a complete cafe review for the entire park (it’s rather big). Here are some favourites, though, to get you started.
If you are with kids or have seen enough of distilleries, why not try The Speyside Cooperage? I actually cannot stress enough how surprisingly interesting and fun the Cooperage is. The tour above the factory floor is noisy 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.
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