Aviemore is justifiably one of the most popular destinations for outdoor recreation in the Scottish Highlands. As the de facto ‘capital’ of the Cairngorms National Park, it is a busy and bustling place for much of the year, but it is hard to beat as somewhere to base yourself for a weekend in the outdoors. There really is something for everyone here.
Main image: A chilly day on Fiacaill Ridge. | Credit: James Roddie
You barely have to leave the town before entering Rothiemurchus Forest – one of the largest areas of ancient Caledonian woodland remaining in Scotland. The forest here really is special, and it is common to spot red squirrels amongst the pine trees, or ospreys flying overhead. There is an extensive network of footpaths and cycling trails throughout Rothiemurchus and neighbouring Abernethy Forest. You can easily find solitude only a few minutes from the town centre.
A cycle or drive of 7 miles from Aviemore brings you to Loch Morlich, a popular spot for sailing, kayaking and swimming. Looming over the loch beyond is the main event – the Cairngorm plateau. The summits and corries here are a much-loved area for hill walking, skiing and winter climbing. Several of the highest Munros can be ‘bagged’ in a weekend, thanks to the ski centre car park at 600m altitude at Cairngorm Mountain Resort. The ski centre has divided opinion for years, but love it or hate it, the approach road allows some of the most easily accessible hillwalking and climbing anywhere in Scotland. Whilst it can get very busy around the ski centre, you don’t have to walk far until you are in quiet, serious mountain backcountry.
Only a few miles south of Aviemore lies Glen Feshie. This is easily one of the most beautiful of all Scottish glens. Extensive rewilding efforts have allowed the forest to flourish and extend up the hillsides once more. Several Munros are reached via walks from Glen Feshie, and energetic mountain bikers will find challenging routes to keep them entertained. If you just want some quiet and solitude, then the glen itself is a fine place to enjoy a wild camp amongst the pine trees.
If the weekend weather ends up being unkind then there is plenty to do away from the hills. The RSPB Loch Garten Nature Centre is well worth a visit in the summer months – most years there are nesting ospreys visible from the centre. The Highland Folk Museum and the Highland Wildlife Park are also close by, and both are great options for a family day out.
Your weekend in Aviemore, sorted
- Your itinerary
- More great walks in the North Lakes
- Food and drink
- Guides and activity providers
- Getting there
Climb Ben Macdui, the UK’s second highest mountain, via a classic Grade 1 scramble, or take an easier route over Cairngorm and the Northern Corries.
As luck would have it, Britain’s second highest mountain can be approached by one of the best beginner’s scrambling routes in the country – Fiacaill Ridge. This grade 1 scramble is brilliant fun. You can walk around the difficulties if you want, or follow the crest directly for an exciting and much more technical route. You will arrive abruptly onto easy ground at the top, and then it is several kilometres of big skies and open plateau to reach the summit of Ben Macdui and an exceptional viewpoint. Keep an eye out for ptarmigan or mountain hares hiding amongst the rocks, and if you are lucky you may be approached by a cheeky snow bunting at the summit cairn.
For a slightly less adventurous day, you could climb Cairngorm itself via the round of the Northern Corries. This route follows the corrie rims of Coire an Lochain and Coire an-t Sneachda, with grand rock scenery and fine views throughout. Fit hill walkers will be able to complete this quite quickly, so if you get down in time, treat yourself to a coffee and cake in the ski centre café. If the weather is unsuitable for the high hills, then a day walking or cycling out to Loch Eanaich through Rothiemurchus forest is time very well spent.
Visit the beautiful Ryvoan Pass and climb an easy hill in the morning, and then visit an abandoned castle on an island in a loch amongst an ancient forest.
For a relatively relaxed Sunday of walking, you could climb Meall a’Bhuachaille (Corbett) via Ryvoan Pass. You are starting quite high at Glenmore, so there is relatively little ascent for a hill of 810m altitude. Take an easy gravel track through the forest into Ryvoan Pass and stop for photos at An Lochan Uaine (The Green Lochan). From here an easy hill-path takes you to the summit, where there are great views over to the Cairngorm plateau.
If you still have energy, then you could spend the afternoon exploring the ancient Caledonian pine forest in Rothiemurchus. A well-trodden route visits Loch an Eilein, which has the remains of an old castle perched on an island surrounded by trees. This is a popular short walk so don’t expect solitude!
If you have brought your mountain bike with you, the forests around Aviemore have miles of tracks perfect for cycling. The OId Logging Way trail is a lot of fun, particularly if you take it downhill starting from Glenmore.
Other walks near Aviemore
Sgòr Gaoith and Carn Ban Mor
Distance: 17.6km/10.9 miles | Ascent: 925m/3035ft | Duration: 6-8hrs
A walk which encapsulates the best of the Cairngorms – ancient forest, tumbling rivers, and mountain plateau walking. The view from the summit of Sgòr Gaoith (Munro) is one of the best in the Cairngorms, with a dizzying drop of over 600m straight down to Loch Eanaich below. This route takes you over Carn Ban Mor and descends through the forest, where a short detour takes you to the cascading waterfalls at Badan Mosach.
‘The Braeriach Four’
Distance: 36.4km/22.3 miles | Ascent: 2100m/6890ft | Duration: 13hrs or 2 days
A classic and strenuous mountain walk over four Munros, including the third highest mountain the UK – Braeriach. This route takes you into the heart of some of Scotland’s wildest and most impressive mountain terrain. Snow lingers here longer than anywhere else, and full winter conditions can be experienced well into May some years. You will need to be very fit in order to comfortably complete this route in a day, so many walkers split it over two days with either a wild camp or a stay in Corrour bothy. Either way, it is a route to be savoured – this is as good as it gets.
Accommodation in Aviemore
There are numerous options for accommodation around Aviemore. The Hostelling Scotland Aviemore hostel and Aviemore Bunkhouse are both close to the train station and the centre of town, and there are multiple hotels, B&B’s and guest-houses. Self-catering chalets, cabins and caravans are available at Aviemore Holiday Park on the edge of town. There are campsites with good facilities at Rothiemurchus and Glenmore.
For a wilder experience, there are well-known bothies at Ryvoan and Ruigh Aiteachain (often busy). There are countless places to wild camp in Rothiemurchus and Glenmore forests, though please pitch away from paths and roads, and follow leave no trace principles. Please do not light fires! The forests here are protected habitats containing some of our most endangered wildlife.
Food and drink
Aviemore has plenty of choice for a good meal after a long day of walking. If you like pizza, then Cheese and Tomatin is well worth a visit (and there is an outdoor gear shop downstairs…). The Cairngorm Hotel and the Old Bridge Inn both serve hearty meals, and you will find a variety of local ales, whiskies and gins. There are also a number of takeaways and cafés open throughout the year. For a well-earned coffee and cake, The Barn and The Druie cafés at Rothiemurchus are highly recommended. If you base yourself in Glenmore for the weekend, then The Pine Marten bar serves breakfast, lunch and evening meals.
Guides and activity providers
- Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s outdoor training centre. Numerous guided courses and trips available, and outdoor qualification training and assessment provision
- Cairngorm Adventure Guides – a small guiding company based in Aviemore, offering hill walking, climbing, skiing and canoeing trips
- Talisman Mountaineering – a long established mountain guiding company based in Aviemore. Local guiding and international trips available, as well as bespoke guiding
- Full On Adventure – ideal for water-based activities for groups. Guided trips include white water rafting, river tubing, canyoneering and kayaking
- Walking in the Cairngorms – Ronald Turnbull (Cicerone, £14.95)
- Day Walks in the Cairngorms – Helen Webster and Paul Webster (Vertebrate Publishing, £14.95)
Getting to Aviemore
Aviemore train station is conveniently placed in the centre of town. There are regular trains from Edinburgh, and up to 12 trains a day from Inverness. A Megabus connects Edinburgh to Aviemore with up to 3 services a day. A regular bus runs from Aviemore to the Cairngorm ski centre, where several of the main hill walking routes onto the Cairngorm plateau start.
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