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

Posted on Nov 23, 2017 by Rupert Shanks

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 best for hiking?

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

cairngorms or loch lomond

Views back down Loch Lomond on our guided West Highland Way walking trip.


There are some beautiful mountains to climb in this area of Scotland and plenty of lower-level shorter walks. Ben Lomond is Scotland’s most popular munro to climb. Its a beautiful hike and very accessible for those wishing to get out into the hills from Glasgow being Scotland’s most southerly munro. The West Highland Way, one of Scotland’s iconic long distance walks winds its way alongside Loch Lomond before heading north out of the park and all the way up to Fort William. There is a huge range of fantastic easy walks amongst the beautiful forests around Loch Lomond and the rolling hills of the Trossachs.

The Cairngorms

cairngorms or loch lomond

A couple of walkers on a track from the Lairig Ghru mountain pass (visible beyond) in the Cairngorms National Park. Picture Credit : PTomkins / VisitScotland


Since 4 out 5 of the UK’s highest mountains are in the Cairngorm range, this offers some of the most high-altitude hiking in the country. The Cairngorm plateau is also the most extensive range of arctic mountain plateau in the UK. This makes the Cairngorms one of Scotland’s most popular areas for walking in the summertime and can offer a real arctic experience in the winter. Besides reaching the high summits, the Cairngorms offers lovely low-level walking. The rivers Dee and Spey have created deep valleys of ancient forests teeming with wildlife.  The Speyside Way is another long-distance walking trail which runs through the Cairngorms and out to the north-east coast at Buckie.

Which national park is easiest to get to?


cairngorms or loch lomond

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


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.

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?


Mountain biking in the Cairngorms.


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.

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.

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


About 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.

Read more articles by Rupert

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