Photo: Hikers crossing snowy mountain peaks

Mountaineers cross the Cairngorm plateau, part of the largest national park in Great Britain.

Photograph by Roger Antrobus, Corbis

Name: Cairngorms

Location: Scotland

Date Established: 2003

Size: 1,748 square miles (4,528 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

Great Britain Goliath Cairngorms National Park is the largest in all of Great Britain. It is twice the size of the Lake District or Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

Highlands Cairngorms is a high country park. Not only are four of Scotland’s five highest peaks in the park but more than a third of its total area is above 2,625 feet (800 meters). The lands above 1,970 feet (600 meters) are part of an ecologically “Arctic” wilderness habitat filled with representative plant species.

Long Human History The park is rich with reminders of human history, including prehistoric burial mounds and stone circle remnants that date back nearly 6,000 years. From the 10th to the 18th centuries the clan system held sway in these lands and some of that era’s forts and castles still stand. The Victorian period brought nature-loving tourists, recreational endeavors like the Strathspey Steam Railway, and grand country retreats including Balmoral Castle—which was favored by Queen Victoria herself.

Unique Woods While much of the Cairngorm landscape is treeless hills and heather-covered moors, the park is also home to some forests of historical note. Rare remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forests still stand here, as does a rare pinewood that grows only in Scotland and Norway.

Species Sanctuary Wildlife lovers flock to the Cairngorms because of the many species that live in the park—including 25 percent of all the U.K.’s threatened birds, animals, and plants. Clear rivers teem with trout and salmon and feature endangered freshwater pearl mussels. Eagles, ospreys, and the famed Scottish crossbill take to the park’s skies.

Ski Hub Cairngorms is Scotland’s skiing center and includes three of the five areas found in the country: Cairngorm Mountain, Lecht, and Glenshee.

How to Get There

The park is connected to Scottish cities by railway and major roadways, which are plied by public and private bus lines. Inverness is only half an hour to the north. The urban centers of Edinburgh and Glasgow are each about two and a half hours from Cairngorms.

When to Visit

Scottish weather is notoriously variable and has given rise to the saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather here—only the wrong clothing. That said, winters in the park are generally quite cold and in winter months even the low-lying regions experience temperature ranges from well below freezing up to perhaps 43ºF (6ºC). Even in summer visitors should be prepared for cool weather.

How to Visit

Buses and trains conveniently link the communities on the parks’ west side, from Blair Atoll to Aviemore and beyond. Each of these towns and villages is a unique jumping-off point for local networks of walking or cycling trails within reach of the stations. Bicycles are available for hire in many villages.

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