winter walks in the Cairngorms


5 of the best winter walks in the Cairngorms (warming cafe included!)

There is no better place to walk in a winter wonderland than in the beautiful, feel-good landscapes of the breathtaking Cairngorms National Park. Here are 5 of our favourite winter walks, suitable for most, to enjoy some great adventures here.

1. Loch an Eilein Loop, Rothiemurchus

Walking by water is therapeutic and mood boosting (we’re not making it up! There’s science to prove it!), which is why 3 of these 5 top walks all have prominent water features.

This short, 5km walk over easy, gently undulating wide-tracks is regularly named on lists ranking the best short walks and picnic spots in Scotland. With good reason, it’s a stunning, mesmerising location which skirts the entire loch. In the middle sits a ruined castle, which makes a fantastic photo and kids love hearing made-up tales about all the battles that could have gone on there…

Indeed, it’s been a popular film location, setting the scene for hits like Monarch of the Glen and Outlaw King!

With a cloak of snow, or dusting of frost, this walk is even more atmospheric and breathtaking.

Afterwards, reward yourself with a warming stew or piping hot soup, or perhaps a bit of mouth-watering cake, at Rothiemurchus Estate’s fantastic new ‘Barn’; this large space gives you plenty of room to relax and enjoy your food. There’s even a section that’s dog friendly! Alternatively, if you prefer takeaway, this option is available too.

If you fancy a shorter walk near the Barn, too, you could park there, at Rothiemurchus, and stroll through the pine forest up to the charming ‘Lily Loch’ (official name: Lochan Mor) and back, which also has beautiful views the Cairngorm Mountain Range. For directions, see here.

2. Loch Morlich Loop, Glenmore, Aviemore

If you want to wow your loved ones with a view that opens up suddenly into breathtaking landscapes, then Loch Morlich is often the one that visitors say makes their jaws drop on sight.

Park in the car park and the first thing you’ll notice as you head towards the water is the soft, yellow sand sitting on the floor of the forest. Then the forest ends and immediately you’re plunged into a view of a huge expanse of water, enveloped by beach, then pine trees then mountains. It’s a picture perfect snap because of this unusual, unique trio.

There’s a clear path around the loch (about 5km) which can be done from either direction and encompasses clear tracks, cute bridges, pine forest trails and wide-open track with expansive loch views.

After blowing away the cobwebs, you’ll feel like some sustenance and a great place to eat and drink right next to Loch Morlich is the Pine Marten Bar. This cosy, cool, alpine wood-clad chalet is famous locally for its fun, friendly atmosphere and warm highland welcome. It is also fast gaining a reputation as somewhere that is particularly good at catering for special dietary requirements, such as vegan. Don’t be put off by the ‘bar’ tag either, kids are warmly welcomed.

What better way to warm up and chill out after your walk than a hot chocolate with all the works next to its wood-burner?

3. Loch Garten Stroll, Boat of Garten

Another gorgeous loch-side walk, but with its own unique charm distinct from both Morlich and Loch an Eilein. What marks this walk out most is the enclosed, cosy feeling of wandering through the beautiful, mature, dense Caledonian pine forest. It’s also a hub for wildlife – famous for its Ospreys in summer – but all year round you might see red squirrels and roe deer.

You can take walks here of up to 9km, but there are many options marked and you can find shorter options easily for little legs, too. Loch Mallachie, next to Garten, is definitely worth the extra walk. For more information on routes, see Walkhighlands here.

After your exertions, a wonderful cosy cafe to head to is Nethy House Cafe & Rooms in Nethybridge, just a short 10 minute drive away. This gem of a place is well known for its delicious and seductive home bakes! Breakfast rolls and light lunches are also available. The cafe is open over the winter period but the best place to keep up to date with developments is via its Facebook page here.

4. 7 Bridges and Knock Castle Walk, Ballater

This is a great route to take in the landscapes around Ballater and you can add a little extra on to explore the 16th Century Knock Castle. Starting off in the centre of Ballater you can take in the Railway Station which has been restored to its former glory.

The route passes through woodland above the River Dee and then crosses a footbridge over the River Gairn. Crossing the Polhollick suspension bridge onto a track heading into Dalliefour Wood. This very straight track offers great views of Craigendarroch the small hill (also worth a another walk for great views over the town).

You can then take in Knock Castle which has a dark history.  At one time seven sons of Alexander Gordon, the 3rd Laird of Knock, were murdered by a neighbouring rival clan the Forbes. Upon receiving the news of his sons’ deaths, the 3rd Laird also collapsed and died. The Forbes laird was subsequently executed, and all his lands forfeited.

After all that return to the village of Ballater and enjoy some lunch or coffee and cake in one of the many cafes.

5. Loch Callater, Braemar

Loch Callater makes for a beautiful walk just South of Braemar, with mountains all around.

At the start of the walk there is a sign for Clova as this path is also part of the historic route known as Jock’s Road. A big part in the history of Scottish access rights as Jock fought for the right to walk this old drove route where cattle were moved through the hills. The battle went all the way to the House of Lords and led to the passing of the Scottish Rights of Way Act which granted great access rights to walkers.

The path around the loch takes you to the Callater Loch Lodge used for shooting parties and a stables which is now a walkers bothy and maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association. The route returns along the same path but in dry times in Summer you can make a loop of the loch and wade through a river at the far end making for a much longer walk.

A great option for this refuelling after this walk is a visit to Braemar and a stop off in one of their cafes or for a bigger meal The Fife Arms. Alternatively a lovely drive South along the SnowRoads takes you to Glenshee Ski Resort where you can enjoy great cakes at the Tea at the Shee cafe.

Be safe, have fun!

Please be safe in the winter weather – dress appropriately and weigh up wintry weather conditions against your skills and equipment! Remember, too, if you do want some guidance, a great option would be to hire an expert walking guide – there are many brilliant operators in the Park which offer single day walks, multi day mountain trekking and even wild camping, if you want a true wilderness adventure!

The Cairngorms is a winter wonderland and we hope, here at VisitCairngorms, that you have a wonderful time.

Cameron McNeish takes you on some Cairngorms Walks…..

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