It is fitting that the Cairngorms lie at the heart of the Highlands. It is the sort of landscape which sets hearts aflutter and reminds us the beauty of nature. With forests laid out like ancient pews for quiet reflection and soaring mountains which rise like cathedral spires over all of Scotland. It feels like the centre of who we are and who we have always been. It is here that a hillwalker can come to worship and find the quiet satisfaction we all seek beneath an open sky.
Aviemore is rightfully a mecca for hikers and Munro baggers from all over Scotland, the UK and beyond. From here you can strike out to much of the best the Cairngorms have to offer. While having many modern conveniences that a traveller may expect and adore, Aviemore retains a certain charm. It has a quality of community and closeness to nature that’s not easily explained. It is the gateway to the best Munros in the Cairngorms.
However, it is the National Park itself which makes Aviemore so special. Nestled between the Cairngorms and the lesser-known Monadhliath Mountains, you’re spoiled for choice of mountains and glens. All around are Munros and Corbetts worth a day out, and a hillwalker could spend a lifetime here without getting bored. Many do.
We’ve selected just a handful of the best Munros in the Cairngorms to pique your interest, but it was a tough competition. With so many to choose from, these are just a few personal favourites.
I’m always reminded of a zoologist who went looking for aardvarks but never found any because he didn’t know what he was looking for. So before we speak about the best Munros in the Cairngorms, we ought to say what we’re looking for.
A Munro is a Scottish mountain which stands over 3,000 feet (914.3m) tall. That, unfortunately, excludes grand peaks such Helvellyn in the Lakes and Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Wales, which are both well worth a climb. Some hilltops which would otherwise qualify are subsidiary peaks of existing Munros, which excludes them from the list.
While Munros vary in scope and scale, some being an easy ascent and others more technical, treat all mountains seriously. For the walks listed below you must take proper wet and cold weather clothing as well as navigation tools you know how to use lest visibility drop. Many of these climbs are also physically demanding, so please ensure you have a comfortable level of fitness before undertaking them.
With 282 mountains officially listed as Munros, it’s a challenge to climb all of them. That said, it’s a challenge which many avid UK mountaineers take on each year. The record for climbing all 282 is just 31 days and 23 hours, but we think it’s far more enjoyable to take your time. There are plenty of views worth savouring along the way. Read more about Munro bagging (doing all of them) here.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
As the second highest peak in the UK, after Ben Nevis, Ben MacDui is an ascent any hillwalker wants in their logbook. With sweeping views out over Deeside and down into the Spey Valley, Ben MacDui is undoubtedly one of the best Munros in the Cairngorms.
The best approach is from Deeside, and there’s a car park at the Linn of Dee for easy access. Passing through ancient pinewoods and along Glen Lui, Ben MacDui comes into view ahead. It stands like a true monarch over the glen, inspiring and urging us onwards. From here, the traditional route up Ben MacDui goes via Sròn Riach. It’s a hardy climb, but the views down to Lochan Uaine are spectacular.
Upon summiting, you’ll meet a windswept plateau which leads to other considerable peaks. The view is well worth loitering here to take it in. If you’ve still got a little strength, you can sweep around through Creagan a Choire Etchan to Derry Cairngorm and bag another Munro.
With mists common across this mountain range, and the quiet which abides here, it’s easy to see why many a climber tells stories of Ben Macdui’s heights. One particular favourite is Am Fear Liath Mor – or the Tall Grey Man. While rarely seen, mountaineers have reported the crunching of footsteps and a sense of foreboding on the plateau. This myth is far from confirmed, but it’s certainly a spot of local colour, and there’s nothing better than a tall tale after a day on the hill.
For more details on the route up Ben MacDui, check out the route card at Walk Highlands.
Ben Avon is a favourite among both locals and visitors to Ballatar and Braemar. It is undoubtedly one of the best Munros in the Cairngorms if you’re only visiting for a short while. This is partly due to the paths up Ben Avon being well-maintained and obvious until you reach the plateau. The plateau itself can feel exposed in difficult weather, and navigation is tricky if cloud or mist has come down. It is, however, stacked with views on a clear day and a unique landscape which is unmissable.
Starting at Invercauld Estate, an easy to follow footpath takes you into a charming little secret of the Cairngorms. Known as the Fairy Glen, this little fold of the landscape is worth a visit in itself. Secluded and tranquil, it is a favourite of locals – and there’s tell of a secret bothy that you’ll have to find yourself. From here, the passage up Glen Quoich feels safe and comfortable as the hills crowd in little by little. The route up onto the bealach and to the summit of Ben Avon opens ahead.
On the plateau, the granite tors of Ben Avon seem simultaneously ancient and otherworldly. As though they’ve been carved from the natural world yet somehow stand separate from it. The tors litter the high plateau of Ben Avon’s summit, creating waypoints and intrigue every step of the way. As though placed there deliberately by unknowable hands thousands of years ago. Today we know that these form through volcanic activity, but for me, that makes them no less wondrous. One of these, Leabaidh an Dàimh Bhuidhe, crowns this grand peak and a short scramble is necessary to summit. I can’t overstate the feeling of standing on this crag after a long ascent. It feels as though the wind is rushing in in celebration, and every step has been worth it.
For a full route card, check out Walk Highlands.
The route from Cairn Toul to the summit of Breaerich is rightfully among the best hill days in the UK. As a classic route, it stands alongside the likes of CMD Arete to Ben Nevis and the Cuillin Ridge. It is also undoubtedly a challenging route, but it takes in a whopping 4 Munros! We’re not sure which is our favourite, but at least a couple of them qualify as some of the best Munros in the Cairngorms.
Rising from the Sugar Bowl Car Park, the route up to the top of the Cairngorm Corries is steep and prolonged. Once you’ve completed your zigzags ever upwards, you’ll feel like you’re in another world. Although you can see vehicles and buildings far below, you stand apart. Leaving behind Cairngorm Mountain resort, you traverse out to the wide expanse of the Lairig Ghru – Scotland’s best-known mountain pass. Iconic in aspect, it cuts through the heart of the Cairngorms at over 800 meters high. Following up the pass, you’ll see the Pools of Dee, which are the source of the River Dee that cradles the Cairngorms alongside the Spey.
While this is a view you’ll want to drink in for days, it is merely the pathway to our final destination. Passing the Corrour Bothy, which many use to make this a two day journey, the route to the top of the corries begins. More zigzags carry you ever upwards, little by little, until you abruptly step into the bealach atop the Cairngorm Plateau.
Suddenly you’re in an expansive boulder field with a gentle slope ahead, contrasting starkly with the edge behind you. It’s a liberating moment – although there is certainly still elevation to tackle and lose, you’re now close to the top of the Cairngorms.
From here, it’s an easy detour to claim Devil’s Point and then on to Cairn Toul. The corrie dropping away to one side gives way to impressive views. It feels as though the horizon is full of sky and yet there are mountains all around too. Sgòr an Lochain Uain is a partner peak to Cairn Toul, and a short scramble leads the way there. From here, you can see the final peak in this epic and prolonged endeavour – Braeriach. A slight descent into a mountain pass and some more scrambling is necessary before a straight line across the reasonably featureless plateau takes you to the last summit of the day.
With that final achievement of an exceptional day (or two) accomplished, all that remains is to follow Sròn na Lairig ridge back to the Lairig Ghru and down to the mountain. Although the hardest of the days is outlined here, it is the sort of mountaineering undertaking which lives long in your memory and is certainly best rewarded with a pint.
The full route can be found on Walk Highlands for those brave enough to undertake this epic.
Starting us off, Bynack More arguably sports the best views of Cairngorm National Park. A simple but extended walk in and ascent takes you to this wonderful viewpoint at the eastern edge of the Cairngorms.
Starting in Glenmore, the magnificent pines lend a freshness to the air. The path to Lochan Uaine winds through the forest as though to prepare you for the fabled Green Lochan. The waters of Lochan Uaine are a gorgeous turquoise green that is best viewed in rich sunlight. The entire route to Mynack More is best undertaken on a summer’s day, but especially this section.
From Lochan Uaine, the path to Bynack More is a steady climb onto the moor. This protracted section of uphill is long but manageable. You’ll know you’re drawing close by the slightly steeper uphill onto the plateau north of the Munro proper. This path is part of an old route which winds from Aviemore to Braemar. Less well known than the Lairig Ghru which features above, it still has a feeling of place and resonance. Before reaching the summit of the lairig, turn right on the clear towards Bynack More. The funnel-shaped mountain is unmissable.
Avoiding the rocky ridge upwards, the path to the summit is simple on either side of it. The summit lies at 1,090m, and there will be no impediments to your view. Bynack More’s prominence and position mean you have views for miles uninterrupted on a clear day. It’s easy to see why the Munro is often mistaken for the highest in the Cairngorms. With views sweeping all the way to Loch A’an and the Shelter Stone, all the way around to the backside of Cairngorm, the summit is a place easily etched into memory.
For the full walk report see Walk Highlands.
Glen Feshie is one of the best glens in Scotland, and a favourite amongst the Wilderness team. Among its other positive features it is the pathway to Sgor Gaoith, though the glen could be a highlight all of its own. Parking by the bridge over Allt Ruadh, the walk is immediately one through trees and woodland ever-changing. Clear plantation woodland gives way to a gorgeous and welcoming birch wood. As you follow the well established pathway, you’ll come to mature pinewood which seems to create a hush through the glen.
Continuing down towards the stream, the land gives way to younger, greener pines. A gentle crossing later and the next leg of the ascent continues beside the stream. The path eventually eases away as the climb continues. It’s a simple ascent into a light boulder field plateau that stretches for miles. To the east, there is a stark drop down to Loch Einich which is awe-inspiring in its scope. The world seems to open up as the dark loch yawns before you.
Following the plateau to its highest point, you’ll summit Sgor Gaoith. From here, the views of Loch Einich and across to Braeriach, with its expansive corries, are strikingly beautiful. The Feshie plateau spreads like a map before you, and the hard edge of the plateau gives a grand perspective. It is a place to take in the vastness of distant hills while being dwarfed by those aspects across the loch.
To see the full journey to these views, check out the Walk Highlands route card.
Sep 30, 2023
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