Cairngorms Hidden Gems


Find your own space on a trip to the Cairngorms National Park (Léonie Lejon/Unsplash)

The vast open spaces of Britain's largest national park are what usually draw people to the Cairngorms, with the promise of some peaceful solitude as well as the chance to see spectacular scenery and wonderful wildlife. 

The Cairngorms may have twice as much land as any other national park, but there will always be hotspots where visitors tend to cluster – particularly in the area around Aviemore and along the route of the A9. If you'd like to find quieter experiences, have a look at our selection of hidden gems in the Cairngorms that will take you off the beaten path and give you a better insight into the park's heritage, wildlife and landscapes.

Secluded natural attractions

One of the real attractions of the Cairngorms is that it rarely gets very overcrowded. As the park is so big, you can usually find a quiet corner for a walk, some wildlife watching or just a peaceful rest. Here are a few of our favourite quiet natural spots to visit in the Cairngorms.

Loch Garten

The area around Loch Garten is the largest surviving patch of ancient Caledonian pine forest, and it's now become one of Scotland’s most important nature reserves because of its rare osprey nests. All sorts of wildlife thrives in this protected area, including red squirrels, woodpeckers and common lizards – and although you won't get up close to the ospreys, in nesting season you can follow them on a webcam feed streamed into the visitor centre (and on YouTube).

The visitor centre is open 10am-5pm most days, but the nature reserve can be visited at any time so you may like to opt for an evening visit for an even more peaceful experience.

Ryvoan Pass and An Lochan Uaine

In the shadow of Cairngorm mountain sits Glenmore Forest Park, a popular spot for visitors walking wooded trails, relaxing on Loch Morlich beach and trying out watersports. Away from the main action, a path heads along the Ryvoan Pass towards the gorgeous green waters of An Lochan Uaine, a small loch that's said to take its colour from fairies washing their clothes in the water.

This is a very pretty trail, and likely to be less busy than others in the area. The circular walk takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes, although you may like to leave more time for a dip in the lochan.

Linn of Dee

You'll be following in famous historic footsteps if you visit Linn of Dee, as this beautiful natural gorge was a favourite picnic spot of Queen Victoria. It’s easy to see why – this peaceful place has spectacular views of the river Dee as it flows through a narrow gap under an old stone bridge.

The short trail along the banks of the Dee can get busy at times, so if you'd like a bit more space follow the longer Glen Lui trail into the pinewoods for mountain, forest and waterfall views.

Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

The Cairngorms Reindeer Herd are the only free-roaming reindeer in the UK (Joe Green/Unsplash)

Did you know there were reindeer living wild in the UK? There are around 150 animals in the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, living a free-roaming life in the mountains since 1952. Visits to the herd (which need to be booked online) allow you to get up close, walk among them and even feed some of the friendly reindeer by hand.

Lesser-known historic sites

The Cairngorms National Park has several famous heritage sites – and some particularly well-known residents when members of the Royal Family are staying at Balmoral. If you'd like to steer clear of the crowds visiting major sites, try these lesser-known alternatives instead.

Corgarff Castle

This sturdy, isolated castle is no fairytale-like structure – Corgarff Castle’s square shape and stark white walls serve as a reminder that this building was intended as a working garrison in the days of the Jacobite risings. 

Corgarff Castle is a fantastic place to visit, with a dramatic mountain backdrop and an unusual star-shaped perimeter wall. Guided tours of the interior, parts of which are set up as they would have been in the 17th century, run in the summer months.

Aviemore Stone Circle

Aviemore is one of the busiest towns in the Cairngorms, but not many visitors make it to the ancient stone circle that's been here for around 4,000 years. There's a good reason for that – it's almost hiding in plain sight, in a housing estate accessed via a road next to the fire station.

The origins of the site are unknown, but it's believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes. It's only a small site (don’t come along expecting Stonehenge proportions) but it's certainly worth a visit if you're in the area.

Kindrochit Castle

The village of Braemar is well known among visitors for its grand castle and its Highland Games, but it's also home to another historic castle that was once as important as its village neighbour. Medieval Kindrochit Castle is in a ruined state these days, but it’s in an attractive riverside spot and is worth a wander when you're in the village. It's free to visit, and an information board will tell you want to look out for, and what it would once have looked like.

Hidden cultural spots

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the glorious landscapes of the Cairngorms have inspired many artists, and the remote unspoiled villages are still home to numerous people producing traditional crafts. Even if it’s the stunning scenery that's drawn you to the area, here are a selection of ways to get closer to the parks' heart through its culture and traditions.

The Iona Gallery

Occupying a small stone building just off the main road in Kingussie, the Iona Gallery is the only public art gallery in the Cairngorms. It’s run by a local arts society and mainly features the work of artists from around the area as well as running themed workshops and community events.

While you're in Kingussie you might also like to check out the glass art exhibitions and courses at Chapel House Arts and the beautiful photography at Eleven41.

The Speyside Cooperage

If you're interested in whisky and its production, you may like to take a trip a little way outside of the Cairngorms to visit the Speyside Cooperage near the village of Craigellachie. This is a rare example of a working cooperage, so you'll be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional industry as you watch the master craftsmen at work.

Tours run throughout the week and include a 4D cinema experience as well as the chance to sample a dram of Speyside single malt. You'll need to book online ahead of your arrival.

Badenoch The Storylands

This fascinating project was created to keep the traditions and tales of Badenoch (a historic area of the Cairngorms) alive. There are live events including an annual heritage festival and storytelling sessions, along with a website and app that are goldmines of resources including recordings of local stories, sheet music so you can practise your reels ahead of joining a folk music session and an interactive map to help you find interesting local attractions.

Off-the-beaten-path Cairngorms activities

Craigellachie National Nature Reserve

Despite its proximity to Aviemore, Craigellachie National Nature Reserve gets fewer visitors than some of its near neighbours. That's a bonus for those seeking some peace and quiet for their Cairngorms walks. There are four marked trails here ranging from half a mile to three miles, and you may find that you have them almost to yourselves at times.

As you wander through the woodlands and open glades to make your way to the lochs or the viewpoint, look out for some of the wildlife that lives here – red deer, slow worms and dragonflies are often among the residents, with buzzards, kestrels and peregrine falcons flying overhead.

Prince Albert Pyramid

Many visitors come to visit the Balmoral Estate each year, focusing their attention on the castle and the gardens just outside – but there are further treasures to be found if you delve a little deeper into the grounds. 

There are several ancient cairns around the Cairngorms, so it’s perhaps no surprise to find that these commemorative monuments are also present at Balmoral, marking members of the British Royal Family. A six-mile trail takes you round the complete set, or you can head straight to the biggest of them all – the 35-foot Prince Albert Pyramid, which looks rather like something that's been transported here from Egypt.

The stunning and remote setting of the Prince Albert Pyramid (Martin Bennie/Unsplash)

Landmark Forest Adventure Park

A little way south of Carrbridge, in the north of the Cairngorms, Landmark Forest Adventure Park is a place that's packed with family-friendly outdoor activities. Boardwalks and treetop trails run through the forest, with high ropes, a climbing wall, water rides and a 35-foot jumping platform for the daredevils and gentler activities like mini diggers and the puzzles of the Bamboozeleum at ground level. 

Welcoming dogs as well as kids of all ages and dogs, and with both indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy, this is a handy place to know about if you’re visiting the Cairngorms with children.


If you've got a bit of time on your hands and would like to see as much of the Cairngorms' scenery as you can, a trip along the SnowRoads route makes a wonderful adventure. This 90-mile route runs from Grantown-on-Spey in the north to Blairgowrie in the south, taking in the highest public roads in Britain and most likely catching glimpses of snow-capped peaks whatever time of year you travel. 

The narrow, winding nature of these roads means that you'll need to take it fairly slowly. It's recommended that you allow around three to five days to complete the route – this should give you plenty of time to take in all the scenery as well as making several stops for activities as diverse as llama trekking, golf and fishing plus visiting various castles, whisky distilleries and other attractions along the way.

Gin distilleries

Scottish whisky is of course famous the world over, but the country is also developing something of a reputation for its gin these days too. Artisan gin producers across Scotland are making the most of their surroundings, using native botanicals to produce drinks that are uniquely Scottish.

The Cairngorms National Park is no stranger to this new trend, as it's now home to several small-scale distilleries where visitors can take tours and tastings. If you're a gin enthusiast, take a look at these distilleries:

  • Cairngorm Gin –  Producers of several gin editions that are still hand labelled. Tastings are available on site, and there's a small outdoor bar where you can have a summer G&T in the sun.

  • Kinrara Distillery – A craft gin distillery in a former milking shed near Aviemore with several gin editions, some of which are in beautiful bottles featuring the work of local artists. Guided tastings can be booked online.

  • Balmenach Distillery– The home of Caorunn gin, fast becoming a favourite of gin drinkers around the country for its blend of hand-foraged botanicals. Book online for a tour that finishes with a G&T in the bothy.

Finding your space in the Cairngorms

Seeking out less well-known Cairngorms attractions is an excellent way to create memorable and personal experiences during your trip, and it also helps to boost the local economy as well as guarding against overtourism. Of course, the major attractions are popular for a reason – so if you're keen to visit these then you may like to think about travelling outside of the main summer season and/or going along early or late in the day to avoid crowds.

Are there any Cairngorms hidden gems that we’ve missed? Share your discoveries with us and other visitors through our social media channels – Twitter/X, Instagram and Facebook – and follow Pitchup for more travel inspiration.