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      Cairngorms or Loch Lomond & the Trossachs? Scotland’s Best National Park?

      9 min read

      By Rupert Shanks, Chief Storyteller
      More by Rupert

      Cairngorms or Loch Lomond & the Trossachs? Scotland’s two majestic national parks offer a huge amount to the outdoor lover.

      However, if you were forced to choose between them how would you go about it? We decided to look at a few comparisons between these two beautiful protected areas of Scotland.

      Founded in 2002 and 2003, Scotland’s two national parks, Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs both offer wilderness, wildlife and adventures in abundance. Loch Lomond is the more southern of the two. Centred around Britain’s largest inland loch or lake, the Loch Lomond park boundary is just 25 miles north of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city.

      Cairngorms National Park is further north on the eastern side of the Scottish Highlands and 140 miles north of Glasgow. The Cairngorms is the UK’s largest national park and boasts 4 of the UK’s highest peaks. Both parks are also home to a number of communities living inside park boundaries alongside the wildlife.

      Key Facts and Figures for each national park

      Cairngorms National Park Loch Lomond & the Trossachs
      Name origin Cairngorm means ‘blue mountain’ Lomond means blaze or ‘beacon’
      Size 4,528 km² 1,865 km²
      Highest peak Ben Macdui 4,295 ft (1309m) Ben More 3,852 ft (1,174m)
      Number of Munros 55 21
      Number of Lochs 60 22
      Park Population 18, 000 people 15, 000 people
      Age Established in 2002 Established in 2003

      What wildlife experiences can you expect?

      Both Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs offer fantastic opportunities to witness Scotland’s wildlife.

      Red Deer herds can often be found on the slopes of Ben Vorlich within the northern end of Loch Lomond. Up in the Cairngorms the red deer herds roam extensively across higher moorland. Smaller Roe deer can also be spotted here and on lower hills all year round.

      Golden Eagles are rare with just a few breeding pairs but can be spotted amongst the crags and higher peaks around Loch Lomond. In the Cairngorms, Golden Eagle numbers are on the rise and one of 8 Special Protection Areas in the UK is now in place within the national park.

      Osprey migrate each year from Africa back to the UK to breed, usually returning to the same nests! A few pairs return to one of the islands in the middle of Loch Lomond. Visit the Lodge Forest Visitor centre in Aberfoyle to see live camera feeds and a nearby hide to view the nests. Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms has been home to returning Ospreys since 1959 and also offers live nest cams. The Rothiemurchus estate also offers Osprey spotting hides. If you re willing to head there in the early morning you can often see them fishing.

      cairngorms or loch lomond

      Osprey fishing in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Spotted in the Rothiemurchus estate.


      Reindeer might not be the first creature that springs to mind in Scotland. However, a free-roaming reindeer herd 150 strong have been living in the Cairngorms since 1952. Strangely enough you can also visit the tiny island of Inchconnachan in the middle of Loch Lomond to find wallabies. These marsupials were brought to the island by its owner, Lady Colquhoun in the 1940s.

      Red Squirrels, one of Scotland’s most popular animals, can be spotted throughout the Cairngorms. Invasive grey Squirrels (which have been reducing native red numbers) have not made it north into the Scottish Highlands. So you can expect to see a mixture of grey and red squirrels in the southern half of Loch Lomond & the Trossachs national park.



      Which national park is easiest to get to?

      Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

      Most people access the park from nearby Glasgow as it is only a 45 minute drive from the city centre. It’s also very easy to catch a train from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Balloch which is inside the park boundaries at the southern end of Loch Lomond.


      cairngorms or loch lomond

      The Caledonian Sleeper train in the Pass of Drumochter at night, heading into the Cairngorms. Credit VisitScotland


      The Cairngorms

      If travelling from Glasgow or Edinburgh you can expect a 2.5 hour drive from the city centre. The journey is similar by train to reach one of the villages inside the park on the southern side, such as Newtonmore, Kingussie or Aviemore. Inverness is also only 35 minutes away by train and the airport here is approximately 50 minutes by car to Aviemore. If travelling from London, a great option is the Caledonian Sleeper train. Leave London in the evening, spend a night in a cosy bed in the sleeper carriage and wake up in the heart of the Cairngorms at stations such as Newtonmore, Kingussie or Aviemore.

      What activities are available in each national park?

      Both national parks offer some incredible hiking and low-level walking as we have touched on above. Here are some other options to think about.


      Skiing – The ski area on Cairngorm mountain is one of Scotland’s most popular resorts. With the country’s only funicular train and 10 drag tows for uplift you can expect lots of options for terrain.



      Mountain biking in the Cairngorms


      Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

      Watersports – there are a tonne of watery activities on offer here. Check out the park website for the full rundown.

      Our Guided Adventures – Take on some of the epic activities available in both national parks but with our qualified guides. You’ll get a piercing insight into the landscapes, history, wildlife and culture of the places you journey through. All luggage, food, equipment and accommodation is taken care of.

      See our holidays in both national parks below!

      Activity Our Guided Adventure
      Hiking Loch Lomond & the Trossachs – Guided West Highland Way

      Cairngorms – Guided Hiking Cairngorms & Royal Deesside

      Cairngorms – Guided Hiking High Points of the Cairngorms

      Canoeing Cairngorms – Guided Canoeing – River Spey Descent
      Road Cycling Cairngorms – Road Cycling – The Grand Tour
      Mountain Biking Cairngorms – Mountain Biking – Coast to Coast

      Check Out Our Cairngorms and Central Highlands page here

      Meet the Author: Rupert Shanks

      “After a spell in the corporate world in London Rupert decided to find a more rewarding way of life involving a closer connection to the outdoors and to his camera! Rupert produces a lot of the photography and video for Wilderness Scotland and works within the Marketing team.”

      View profileMore by Rupert

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