A wild landscape of granite mountains, heather-covered moors and gentle glens covering 1,500 square miles of the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park was named one of the world’s “Last Great Places” by National Geographic.
Formed 40 million years before the last ice age, the Cairngorms are especially popular among mountain bikers, snowboarders, sea kayakers and hikers. They’re also a hit with the Scottish Queen: she spends every summer there at Balmoral Castle and Estate.
More than 50 of the Cairngorms’ mountains reach over 2,953 feet, and the national park boasts five of the United Kingdom’s six highest mountain summits. Those looking for a challenge can hike up the summit of Cairngorm’s namesake mountain, while the more leisurely crowd can take the much-used mountain railway to the top. Once up there, remember that it’s a Scottish tradition to take a “wee nip” of whisky. Cheers!
The national park is home to 25 percent of the UK’s native woodland, which is vital for endangered birds like the Capercaillies and Scottish Crossbills who breed only in Scotland’s Caledonian Forest. The primeval-looking region contains dozens of rare animals and birds, including 50 reindeer that were reintroduced to the Cairngorms by a Swedish herdsman in the 1950s. Look out for wild cats, pine martens, red squirrels and ospreys, too.
There are regular bus and rail connections from Scotland’s major cities to Aviemore, a busy resort town in the heart of the Cairngorms. Inverness is just half an hour to the north by bus or car, while Edinburgh and Glasgow are about a 2.5-hour drive away. Aviemore is open all year-round, but visitors should check for road closures due to snow in winter.