Europe > Britain and Ireland > United Kingdom > Scotland > Scottish Highlands > The Great Glen and Strathspey > Cairngorms National Park
Receiving its national park status in September 2003, the Cairngorms National Park is Britain's largest at 3,800 km2 (1,500 sq mi), and offers breathtaking beauty filled with a magnificent array of wildlife. In 2011, the area was selected by National Geographic magazine as one of the top 20 places in the world to visit.
Mountainous areas of wilderness, interspersed with lochs, rivers, woodland and moorland make the Cairngorms a spectacular place to explore.
Some of the highest mountains in the United Kingdom, Ben Macdui (1309m), Braeriach (1296m), Cairn Toul (1291m) and Cairn Gorm (1244m), are within this park, though Ben Nevis is further west near Fort William.
Flora and fauna
Scottish crossbills, ospreys, capercaillie, and golden eagles are just a few of the species you might see here. There are also reindeer, red deer, red squirrels, beavers, otters, mountain hare, and the extremely rare and elusive Scottish wildcat, known as the "Highland tiger".
The natural landscape of the Cairngorms, as in much of the Highlands, is Caledonian pine forest, however these have been severely depleted over the years, largely to make way for game hunting and sheep farming, so much of the landscape is barren and open, or else covered with commercial forestry blocks.
Check the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) for Scotland before going hiking in the mountains.
Stations in the west of the park are at Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore and Carrbridge. The train station in Aberdeen is to the east of the park, but about 50 km (31 mi) away from where it begins.
The Edinburgh-Inverness route operated by Scottish CityLink goes through the park along the A9.
The A9 from Perth to Inverness enters the park in the south and follows along the western side of it to the north east of the park.
Follow the A93 from Aberdeen to enter the park from the east.
Fees and permits
The national park has no entry fees or formalities. Permits may be required for activities like fishing, but most activities in the park are free (unless you pay for some commercial services like a guided walk).
The National Route 7 passes through the national park roughly following along the A9.
- 1 Balmoral Castle, Balmoral Estates, Ballater, AB35 5T. Apr - Jul daily 10:00 - 17:00. The Royal Family's summer holiday home. You can visit one room in the castle, an exhibition in the stables and the gardens. The queen is usually resident in Aug & Sep, and so there is no access in late summer. £11.
- 2 Dalwhinnie Distillery. Open all year. The highest whisky distillery in Scotland. You can visit the distillery by tour.
- 3 RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, ☎ . Safari park and zoo.
- Blair Atholl
- Boat of Garten
- Dulnain Bridge
- Grantown on Spey
Mountain biking, canoeing, climbing, walking, horse-riding, sailing, skiing, snowboarding, golf, clay pigeon shooting, canyoning, gorge walking, orienteering, yoga, shinty, wildlife and birdwatching, tennis, swimming, white water rafting, river tubing, archery, fishing.
- Cateran Trail. 103 km (64 mi) circular hiking route.
- 1 Abernethy Forest. A large forest (4,000 hectares) originating from the ancient Caledonian Forest. The forest is part of a larger National Nature Reserve and is great for wildlife spotting. The main entrance points are near Loch Garten in the west and near Nethy Bridge in the north.
- 2 Laggan Wolftrax (about 35km south west from Aviemore; on the A86, between Spean Bridge and Newtonmore), ☎ . A network of purpose-built mountain bike trails, with a café, shop and bike hire.
There are three downhill skiing facilities within the park:
- CairnGorm Mountain. A skiing area near Aviemore with a funicular railway that brings you to the top.
- 3 Glenshee Ski Centre, Cairnwell, Braemar, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5XU (on the A93, 15km south of Braemar), ☎ .
- 4 The Lecht 2090, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, AB36 8YP (on the A939, 30 km northeast of Ballater), ☎ .
There are plenty of guest houses, self-catering cottages and hotels throughout the park, and a couple of Caravan & Camping parks.
- 1 Glen Clova Hotel, Glenclova, ☎ . Offers dog-friendly hotel rooms, lodges, and shared sleeping spaces (bunkhouses). The bunkhouse has washrooms and a full kitchen; bring your own towels and soap. Some accommodation packages include breakfast, use the website's check availability feature to see what packages are available. Also has a restaurant and bar that has a pet friendly section. You can get a packed lunch here. Average prices are £20 per person per night for bunkhouse stays, £110 per night for hotel rooms, £550 for a few nights stay in a luxury lodge.
You can camp out in the wilderness if you are in a small group for a couple of nights, although you must stay away from houses and not disturb any livestock.