If you’re looking to experience the raw wildness of Scotland, there’s no better place to start than in the Cairngorms. This area contains a quarter of Scotland’s native forest, and is also home to 25% of the UK’s rare and endangered animal species, including Scottish wildcats, pine martens and golden eagles! During our time in the Cairngorms we found a variety of activities and walks, all unique in their own way – here are our favourites!

Loch an Eilein

Ten minutes drive from Aviemore, through stunning scenery, you’ll find Loch An Eilein. The name means ‘Loch of the island’, as there is a small island with a castle in the middle of the loch. Though we arrived to a busy car park, the 5.5km loop around the loch was mostly quiet as there’s so much forest to deaden the sound, and so much space to explore! The walk took us just under 1.5 hours as we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the pine woods, admiring the mountains and spending some time sitting by the water’s edge to appreciate just how tranquil this place is. We made a couple of four-legged friends along the way as the trail is very dog-friendly, with well-maintained paths and spot for dogs to jump in the loch for a dip. We were lucky to spot some red squirrels high in the trees too!

What3Words location for the car park by the loch: ///since.carriage.visits

The Cairngorms Reindeer Herd

When we learned that the Cairngorms are home to Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd, we HAD to pay them a visit! We loved this experience so much that we’ve written an entire separate post about our experience. We highly recommend booking onto one of the daily hill trips to hike 30 minutes to the mountainside, where guides tell you lots of information about the history and daily habits of the herd, before allowing visitors to feed them their breakfast! All money from ticket sales is spent on the upkeep of the herd, and booking onto one of the hill trips is the only way to enter the enclosure, see the herd up close and get the opportunity to feed them. One of the most unique experiences in the Cairngorms, and a must for animal-lovers!

What3Words location: ///fidelity.jeering.dabble

Balmoral Castle and wider estate

Balmoral Castle has been the Royal family’s holiday home since 1852, so there is a lot of history to discover here! Another stop we loved so much that we had to write a separate review of our time there. Our top tip for visiting Balmoral is to lean into being a tourist and get the audio guide. We learned so much about the history and workings of Balmoral that we just wouldn’t have known without this guide. We wandered through the kitchen garden that the late Prince Philip planted, saw the garden cottage where Queen Victoria took her breakfast and wrote her diaries, and spent ages looking through more than 200 photographs of monarchs at Balmoral over the years, in the ballroom exhibition. It’s not possible for visitors to tour the rest of the Castle, so getting a sneak peek in the ballroom was amazing.

Once we’d wandered the wider estate we headed into the forest to find Prince Albert’s pyramid – a memorial cairn built by Queen Victoria in the wake of his death. The view beyond the pyramid took our breath away, as you can see the Balmoral estate below and across the Cairngorms National Park beyond. From the start of the trail at the main gates of Balmoral, and back, is around 5.5km and took us just over an hour. Be warned – the way up becomes steep quickly and you’ll need to allow some time to stop for a rest! There are 11 cairns to discover on the Balmoral estate if you wanted to plan a longer hike!

What3Words location for the main gate: ///streamers.broth.mandates

Highland Wildlife Park

If you’re keen to spot some of Scotland’s rare and endangered animal species, we highly recommend spending a day at the Highland Wildlife Park. Home to over 200 animals, the Park is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland whose aim is to educate the public about endangered animals. There are snow leopards, Scottish wildcats, Arctic foxes, European grey wolves and even polar bears, just to name a few! The real highlight for us is the drive-through reserve – here you’ll find red deer, elk and bison, all wandering freely! This is a fantastic way to see the animals up close. A real treat for visitors of all ages! Find out more on our Highland Wildlife Park blog post.

What3Words location for the Park entrance: ///mute.amaze.power

An Loch Uaine

An Loch Uaine a.k.a. The Green Loch is another pretty loch to visit just outside of Aviemore. We began walking the trail from the main road in Glenmore, winding through the pine forests until we reached the loch itself. When you see the colour of the water you’ll understand why it’s called the Green Loch! The deep green colour is hard to capture in photos – all the more reason to sit on one of the carved wooden benches and appreciate it in the moment. The walk is a relatively easy one as the path is clearly marked out. From start to finish the 10km walk took us 2 hours, as we added on a visit to Ryvoan Bothy at the top of the hill to take in the spectacular mountain views!

What3Words location for the loch: ///relay.collected.conveying

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