The Cairngorms is genuinely a year-round destination, for which every season has its own unique charm. That’s why, for example, BBC television’s Flagship nature ‘Watch’ programmes have filmed SpringWatch, AutumnWatch and WinterWatch here in the last year.
Read on to find out what highlights to expect with each season.
Spring is the season of new beginnings and the Park bursts to life and bright colour at this time of year, with the fields full of cute lambs and baby highland cows. Migrating birds like the mighty Osprey come back to the Cairngorms to nest, too.
Head to Loch Garten Osprey Centre for a good chance of witnessing this marvel, or hire an expert wildlife guide, from local companies such as Speyside Wildlife, Glenesk Wildlife or Instinct Wildlife Guides. Alternatively, go on a Landrover Safari at one of the estates, such as Rothiemurchus or Atholl Estates.
It’s not just the wildlife that wakes up in Spring, so too do many of the Park’s most popular attractions! It’s a great time to visit them as the tourist season is only just beginning, so that means less queuing.
For instance, the Highland Folk Museum, Balmoral Castle, Loch Morlich Watersports Centre and Blair Castle all re-open in April. Favourite kids’ attraction, Landmark Forest Adventure Park, resumes full operations too, until the end of October (in the winter months, it operates a reduced service).
Hiking & Biking
If you are not confident hiking in the snow or icy conditions, then you’ll love Spring in the Cairngorms because the milder, drier weather and longer evenings make walking much easier. It’s the perfect time to don those hiking boots again.
Similarly, if you’re cautious biking in snowy, wintry conditions then you’ll also be able to bike with confidence again and enjoy the Cairngorms’ many on and off road routes. See these blogs for ideas for biking, both on road and mountain, in the Cairngorms.
Feeding the Reindeer
Spring is a good time to make the memorable trip up Cairngorm Mountain to feed the reindeer. According to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, the females tend to be more relaxed at this time of year, relishing the grass they’re able to now graze on.
With the warmer temperatures, Summer is the best time to enjoy watersports and make use of the Park’s two centres, Loch Morlich and Loch Insh. On a sunny day, lounging on a canoe or paddle board at the beach, you will feel like you’re in the south of France, not the highlands of Scotland! Another fantastic summer activity is a day-long canoe or paddle boarding adventure down the River Spey. Strathspey SUP runs coaching and guided trips and also have SUP boards available for day & multi day hire. Loch Insh runs trips, for instance, from Kingussie to Insh and Craggan Outdoors takes you paddling down the Spey around Grantown, as does Spirit of the Spey.
Whilst the basics can be mastered quickly there are some things to keep you, and the environment you are exploring, safe covered on a blog on Stand Up Paddle boarding in the Cairngorms here.
Or, if you’re an adrenaline junkie, then the Cairngorms has some amazing high octane activities, like whitewater kayaking, gorge walking and river tubing, through activity providers like Ace Adventures in Forres, In Your Element in Aviemore and G2 Outdoor in Aviemore. (For all providers, use the search facility on our homepage).
Munro bagging (especially with the family)
The longer hours of light give you that much needed time to complete longer walks, or ‘bag’ those Munro’s that require a long walk in (see this blog to find out more about ‘Munro bagging’ and for some ideas to get you started). It’s also the best season to attempt longer walks with children or slower-walking group members.
Warmer temperatures make wild camping more comfortable, check out this blog for information and inspiration. Alternatively, if you don’t want to go wild but want an outdoor experience, then there are plenty of high quality campsites, such as Braemar Caravan Park and Camping Pods, Oakwood Caravan and Camping Park Aviemore and Blair Castle Caravan Park and Camping Pods.
There’s also many unusual, off-grid accommodation options, too, such as camping pods, huts and repurposed wagons/vehicles. Check out Glenshee Glamping and the Lazy Duck and this blog for some quirky, memorable, open-air places to stay.
With the sun (hopefully) shining and your picnic packed, fishing on the River Spey or Dee is an idyllic past-time to while away a summer afternoon. You can fish on estates including Alvie and Dalraddy, Atholl, Invercauld and Rothiemurchus.
Away from the crowds (and midges)
Autumn in the Cairngorms sees less tourists and, often, reduced rates. Not only that, but the colder, windier weather means goodbye to midges as well as the fact, often, we get treated to a late, warm ‘Indian summer’. All this, combined with all the reasons below, makes Autumn a brilliant time to visit the National Park.
Taking beautiful photos
In Autumn, the Cairngorms basks in a beautiful orangey, gold glow that is stunning to see and extremely satisfying to capture on camera. Photographers often say this is their favourite time in the Park.
Drawing the Autumn colours
Artists locally also often say Autumn is their preferred time to paint/draw the landscape and wildlife.
Hear/See the Stag Rut
Autumn is the time of the red deer stag rut; when a stag fights other males to win over the females. This is a truly unique experience to witness/hear, with the stags making a roaring noise which is like nothing else you will ever hear and will always remember!
The rut can be heard from miles away but the best thing to do, if you have your heart set on experiencing it, is to hire a wildlife guide or join a ranger-led walk (check out our online calendar of events – companies like Wild Alba Tours will take you). A favourite place to catch a sighting is Glen Muick, near Ballater.
Autumn also sees the restaurants and shops stocked with sumptuous local produce. The harvest reaps beautiful fruit and game is bountiful. Mushroom picking is a popular activity, too, in September (though make sure you know what you are picking!).
Restaurants and shops that pride themselves on using local produce include the Rothiemurchus Farm Shop, Andersons Restaurant in Boat of Garten, and the Fife Arms in Braemar. For a full list of local delicacies, see this list.
Winter warming whisky
A terrific indoor winter activity is visiting a whisky distillery, which is sure to give you a lovely warm feeling inside while its cold outside! If you like to pair your whisky with chocolate, head for Dalwinnie Distillery. Or, if you’re more a fan of gin, take a tour of Caorunn or Persie. Alternatively, if beer is more your tipple, take a tour of Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore. For a full list of breweries and distilleries in the Cairngorms, see this listing.
Take the Strathspey Railway
Taking the steam train as it chugs through frost-glazed, wintry landscapes is one of the best ways to take in the view. Couple this experience with the railway’s ‘mince pie’ special journeys to add a festive twist.
Earn your cake
Everyone knows that cake and hot chocolate are essential to warm you up after a bracing winter walk or bike ride. Winter is the perfect time to have your cake and eat it, without feeling guilty! And the Cairngorms has many wonderful places in which you can do this. For a full list of cafes, see this listing here.
Cosying up in front of a log fire
Another essential winter activity after you have been out in the Cairngorms playground is to snuggle up in front of a roaring fire with a good book or, perhaps, a good Scotch whisky – or both! For the best ways to cosy up, see this blog. There are plenty of fabulous cosy cottages to rent in the area, as well as pubs and hotels renowned for their warm fire-powered welcomes. See this blog on the best cosy cottages to stay in.
The Cairngorms National Park boasts 3 of Scotland’s 5 ski resorts: Cairngorm Mountain, The Lecht and Glenshee. So, wherever you are staying, you won’t be far from snowsports if the snow makes an appearance.
If you visit the Cairngorms before Christmas and are looking for presents for loved ones, you’ll find a large range of different shops from big chains and stores, such as Spey Valley Shopping Centre, to small independent stores selling locally-made gifts. As well as the main shopping hub in Aviemore, there are also lots of markets that take place in November and December all over the Park (check the listings for details).