We’re lucky in the Cairngorms National Park to have the most wonderful natural playground on our doorstep with something to do whatever the weather and whatever the time of year. If you’re thinking about heading this way for a break we’ve put together our top 18 free and purse friendly things to do with the kids.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, if you’ve still got the energy for more after working your way through this lot, take a look at our website for hundreds more activities and things to do.
Highland Folk Museum | Newtonmore | Free
Step back in time in Newtonmore at this open air museum and get a taste for how Highland Folk lived and worked from the 1700s up until the 1960s. Visit the many historical buildings and township which featured in the popular book and television epic ‘Outlander’.
Our Favourite bits: Exploring the township houses, feeding the chickens, Milking the cow, the real life sweetie shop.
Badenoch the Storylands | Throughout Badenoch | Free
Humans love to tell stories. It’s how we make sense of a place and forge a deeper connection with it.
The area of Badenoch in the Cairngorms National Park, in particular, is steeped in stories. For example, there’s tales of bygone battles, artists who’ve been inspired by its stunning scenery and colourful characters that have lived in its communities – all these influences have shaped the landscape over the years.
In a bid to bring this land of stories to life for visitors, a group of local historians, heritage enthusiasts, musicians and voice actors have got together to share these stories with you via a new app.
By downloading the ‘Badenoch The Storylands’ app, you have all these stories at your fingertips, told in a variety of ways including audio, augmented reality re-creations, music, maps and walks.
The Green Loch | An Lochan Uaine | Glenmore | Free
This amazing loch has a stunning colour and ethereal feel to the place. They say the fairies wash their clothes here and that is where the green colour comes from. Or maybe it is the trees which lie along the loch floor….. We like the fairy story and as you walk the approx 30 minutes to get here from Glenmore we like to look out for fairies and gruffalos as we go! Don’t feel tempted to have a dip here on a hot day though. The loch is full of leeches.
Uath Lochans | GlenFeshie | Free
Pronounced “wah lochans” – it means the hawthorn small lochs.
‘We are going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen is one of our favourite stories to read at bedtime. High above the forest floor in GlenFeshie sits Farleitter Crag. A viewpoint which overlooks the Uath Lochans, four small lochans which look like a bear print in shape! A bit of a climb but you are rewarded with stunning views. (Be careful of the drop from the top). On the way up look out for “houses” under the big pine trees, fun for some hide and seek. You can also take the easier option and follow the board walk around the lochans. Look out for red squirrels in the trees.
Channel your inner Railway Children | Boat of Garten | Free
Watch the steam train chug through Boat of Garten and stand on the bridge as it passes underneath. Little kids in particular will love watching the goings on here but beware for the nostalgic very loud noise of the train. You can hear it throughout Strathspey when it travels from Aviemore to Broomhill.
Follow in Queen Victoria’s Footsteps | Braemar | Free
Explore the beautiful surroundings of Braemar and imagine the olden days when the Queen would travel by horse and carriage. This 2.5 mile gentle route follows part of a carriage drive that was one of Queen Victoria’s favourites.
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail | Feshiebridge | Free
Frank Bruce was a sculptor and you can see his carvings in this tranquil walled garden which fill the woodland with spirits and stories. A great place to let the imagination run wild. This is a short 1 mile trail suitable for buggies and wheelchairs.
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shop | Aviemore | £
This is a huge treat for our kids whose eyes literally pop as they walk in! This old fashioned sweet shop has amazing staff who are super patient and friendly as our 5 year old points out the penny chews for her mix. Also good bribery material (not sure I should admit to that…) but if the weather is vile/challenging then we can still get out and have a walk or cycle with the promise of a visit to Mr Simms!
Bike Trails | Wolftrax @ Laggan | Bike Glenlivet | Badaguish | Free/£ (You need a bike or can hire one)
When you need the kids to burn off some energy introduce them to the hobby of a lifetime!
FREE. BikeGlenlivet has family friendly and challenging cross-country singletrack trails at their purpose built mountain bike centre with cafe facilities and bike hire.
FREE. Laggan Wolftrax has over 20 miles (35 km) of purpose-built trails which wind through Laggan Forest. There are routes from an easy-going green trail to a black run maybe best saved for a later date. In the bike park you or maybe the kids can ride big berms and tabletop jumps. There is a friendly cafe and bike hire available too.
£. There is a great little bike park and pump track at Badaguish which also links up to many other trails around the Glenmore area. Badaguish simply ask that you register with a form at reception and pay a donation of a £1pp.
Boat of Garten Pump Track | Free
This amazing facility opened in 2021 in the woods in Boat of Garten. Kids and adults of all ages can enjoy this track on bike and skateboard. Parking at the Boat of Garten Community Hall gives you access to the track.
Hit the beach | Loch Morlich, Glenmore | Free
Loch Morlich is a freshwater loch with a beautiful sandy beach at one end. It is the favourite place of so many people who visit the area and of course kids love it! They can play in the sand and at the waters edge where the ducks like to linger and Mums and Dads will be happy sitting in awe of the Cairngorm Mountains often covered in snow even on a sunny summer’s day! It is one place my kids will play happily for hours on end without the need for anything else and that for me is paradise. Happy kids and happy mum.
Picnic at Loch an Eilein | Rothiemurchus | Parking £
Loch an Eilein (loch of the island) is a magical place with its 13th century island castle. Stand opposite the castle and shout and your voice will echo right back to you! Great fun for the kids but try not to be too noisy and disturb the wildlife. You can see red squirrels here busy in the trees preparing for winter. Loch an Eilein was voted Britain’s Best Picnic Spot as part of the celebrations to highlight the 10th anniversary of Warburtons National Bread Week which took place in May 2010. Take a picnic and enjoy a walk. There is a good trail (3.3miles) around the walk suitable for off road buggies.
Small Parking Charge.
Search for treasure | Royal Deeside Geocaching | Free
On the official Geotour there are 20 caches in total running along the Deeside Way from Drumoak to Ballater continuing up to Braemar with a number of mini-trails leading you to some of Deeside’s historic landmarks. Some 70 new caches have been hidden throughout the valley so download an Explore Royal Deeside Geocaching Passport and get hunting!
Woodland Adventure Playground | Blair Castle, Blair Atholl | £
Blair Castle sits in stunning grounds with a walled garden, a peaceful wooded grove, a ruined kirk, red deer park, and a whimsical gothic folly. Look out for peacocks and their iridescent tails, highland coos, and red squirrels. Children will love the woodland adventure playground and running free in the gardens. Follow the sculpture trail throughout the grounds.
Garden Ticket £8/£4.50.
Ballindalloch Castle | £
Say hello to the friendly llamas and donkeys and run around the grass labyrinth. Our kids loved the assortment of tractors in the play park so would suggest avoiding this area until you have had a look around the beautifully kept grounds and walled garden or you won’t get the chance. We also found a little model railway house which the kids loved. Winners of ‘Best Loos’ category of the 2015 Hudson’s Heritage Awards means the “I need the toilet” moan need not be a dreaded affair!
Grounds Ticket £7/£4. Under 6 FREE.
Landmark Forest Adventure Park | Carrbridge | ££
This family favourite is like an old worldy theme park found in the Carrbridge woods. It is a brilliant day out with watercoasters, Networx (coming soon), the lost labyrinth, high ropes, skydive, climbing wall, bamboozeleum and a Butterfly House. Not a cheap day out but we think it deserves a mention as you can buy a season ticket and return as many times as you like for less than the price of two days entry. This also gets you a discount at many other attractions in the Cairngorms.
Highland Wildlife Park | Kincraig | ££
Home to the UK’s only female Polar Bear, Victoria, her new born cub (early 2022) and two males Walker and Arktos, Snow Leopards, Amur Tigers, Japanese Macaque Monkeys, Wolves, Wildcats and Wolverine to name just a few the Highland Wildlife Park is a firm favourite with the kids. You can drive through the reserve and see some of the animals up close. Beware of the camels who seem to come a little too close for comfort to the car! Again not a cheap visit but deserves a mention for the same reason as Landmark. Buy a season pass. Or if your child is a Blue Peter Badge Holder they get in for free.
Sleeping under the Stars | £
The Cairngorms is a great place to explore and there is nothing better than an adventure outdoors. My kids shriek with excitement at the mere mention of camping and we have campsites in nearly every village in the National Park. See our ‘Cairngorms on a Shoestring’ page.
Ranger Events | Free/£
Cairngorm Rangers run lots of fun events to get involved in throughout the Park. Kids can take part in a Woodland Art Attack at Mar Lodge, a Rocky Treasure Hunt at Blair Atholl, the Battle of Killiecrankie, a Minibeast Hunt and Pond Dipping to name just a few.
Events £2 or FREE.