The Cairngorms Loop

  • Distance

    181 Mi.

    (291 KM)
  • Days

    4

  • % Unpaved

    85%

  • % Singletrack

    40%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • % Rideable (time)

    90%

  • Total Ascent

    11,325'

    (3,452 M)
  • High Point

    2,607'

    (795 M)

Contributed By

Przemek Duszynski

Przemek Duszynski

Guest Contributor

Hiker by nature, cyclist by heart. Przemek grew up in Central Poland getting repeatedly lost and found in local woodlands. Sometime in the 80s Przemek attempted his first longer cycling trip to the other side of town and ended up on house arrest. He is looking to expand the definition of “the other side of town” and thrives on places where cars fear to tread. Read more at inbetweenspokes.wordpress.com.

The Cairngorms Loop trail circumnavigates one of the most stunning areas in the Scottish Highlands, Cairngorms National Park. Dirt roads and singletracks climb valleys and twist their way back down through ancient Caledonian Forest. This route takes riders back to the roots of mountain biking and some sections will challenge even the experienced bikepacker.
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Inspired by similar endurance racing trails found in America, the Cairngorms Loop was originally organized as a self-supported ITT event by Steve Wilkinson with the first completions of the route registered back in 2012. Based on the classic Tour of the Cairngorms mountain biking route, the trail consists of two loops, inner and outer, encircling the Cairngorms National Park.

Going through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery, the Cairngorms Loop offers rider’s everything from long dirt road climbs through scenic strath, spine-chilling singletrack descents to epic hike-a-bikes. Bothies located along the route provide an option to wait out the worst of the Scottish weather and conveniently placed resupply points allow riders to plan ahead while still keep their load lightweight.

This route deviates from the original ITT route making it more ridable and more touring friendly. The start of the route is Aviemore allowing for a better resupply option before heading out. It also avoids a steep hike-a-bike to Blair Atholl through Fealar Lodge, instead continuing down to the city via Glen Tilt on singletrack and gravel roads. As of 2016 parts of the trail near Ruigh Aiteachain bothy have been washed out by violent storms and not restored – an alternative way to Feshie Bridge via Feshie Lodge road is part of this route.

Weather in the Scottish Highlands can be unpredictable and can go through all four seasons in just one day, be aware of that and plan your ride accordingly. Most of the towns en route offer public toilets, please help keep the Scottish wilderness pristine and make use of them whenever possible.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Resources

    link

  • Singletrack down to Glenn Derry is a stunning ride ending in one of the most beautiful areas along the whole trail,
  • The world’s biggest single malt whisky bottle can be seen in Tomintoul’s Whisky Castle,
  • The Caledonian Forest is a prime example of ancient Scottish landscape and is home to some globally unique specimens,
  • Route section between Bynack Lodge ruins and Glen Tilt offers a superb and challenging trail ride along the valley’s steep hillsides,
  • Ruigh Aiteachain bothy, surrounded by old pine trees is a great place to wait out bad weather,
  • Traversing exposed Highlands terrain near Fords of Avon,
  • Lush green landscape around the Gaick Pass is a great opportunity for a last wild camp before returning to Aviemore.
  • Glenlivet distillery is just 8 miles away from where the route crosses Tomintoul, and offers free tours. Rejoining the route can be made by connecting parts of the Speyside Way and Glenlivet Estate mountainbiking trails.
  • Best time to visit Scotland is early in the season. May is historically the driest month of the year and numbers of midges are low. Weather may be too volatile after late September/early October.
  • The Cairngorm National Park can be easily reached via ScotRail services from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
  • Having a no-see-ums approved head net will keep one sane when facing swarms of midges.
  • Red Deer stalking season runs from July 1st to 15th February reaching its peak between August and October. Riding the trail in this period should be avoided.
  • Wild camping is very popular in Scotland and finding a suitable place in the Highlands is rarely a problem.
  • There are five bothies along the trail, although two of them (Fords of Avon and Inshriach) offer nothing but emergency shelter. These are quite popular amongst Scotsman and can get busy during weekends and bank holidays.
  • Drinking water is generally not a problem and water purification not necessary. Use common sense i.e. drink from fast flowing mountain stream, be wary of animal carcases upstream.
  • Major resupply points can be found in Aviemore, Blair Atholl and Braemar. There are small shops in Tomintoul and Glenmore but don’t expect them to be open late.
  • This route is not signposted nor otherwise marked. Some sections can be difficult to navigate in bad weather a reliable GPS unit is highly recommended.
  • There are two notable hika-a-bike sections, one through the marshland between White Bridge and Feshie Lodge, second leading through the Fords of Avon to the Lairig an Laoigh pass. Anticipate slower progress.
  • Expect one major river crossing near Fords of Avon, which is generally easy, but water levels can rise dramatically after prolonged periods of rain or out of summer season.
  • Ryvoan bothy is a great stopping point before crossing the most exposed section of the route going through Fords of Avon.

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Andre

    I did sections of this loop this past August. The midges are terrible but I thought it was going to be worse. I’m not sure why you should avoid this route during deer stalking season (most of the year) if you take the necessary precautions of following paths. I can see how it’s more of a problem for hill walkers. Here’s what I wrote about my trip bikepacking across Scotland in the search of craft breweries: http://bkubr.in/Highlands16

  • mikeetheviking

    This is excellent! Kick ass photos!!!

  • Jon

    This is a great photo essay of a ‘bucket list’ Scottish bikepacking route.
    If folks are planning on riding it this autumn (fall), it’s worth bearing in mind that one of the bothies – Ruigh Aiteachain – has been (and may continue to be) closed for renovation. More info here: http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/bothy-details.asp?bothy_id=57

  • Jutta Roggen

    I see a diffulty rating, but I can’t find what these numbers mean exactly. Is that possible? Where can I read it? Thank you!

  • We are in the process of adding a little blip about these ratings. Essentially they are based on the contributors opinion, but we encourage them to consider the following when making the decision: technical level, planning, physical difficulty, weather, and resupply.

  • Jutta Roggen

    Ok, that would be useful! Thankyou!

  • Barry Harrison

    Can it be done without a tent?

  • Jack Whorton

    Could this be done without a suspension fork?

  • I toured, trail-rided, and bikepacked exclusively on a rigid Krampus for years, so IMO, anything can be done without suspension. It really depends on your tolerance for suffering :) …

  • Probably, but it would be a risk; especially in the popular months…

  • Mark Chambers

    Hi , myself and 2 other are planning on doing this in middle of May , can you advise if there is suitable place to leave a car for the 5 days at the beginning please ?

  • Jodie

    Hi, we’re looking at tackling this route later in the year, I’d be interested to know how you broke up the ride (ie. how many miles in were your stopping/sleeping points)? Just to know which days we can expect to do the most riding etc.

  • Alasdair McLean

    I’ve written the race loop a couple of times, and it really depends on your expected mileage and fitness. Starting from Blair Atholl, you’ll hit Glenmore at mile 50, which has shops and a campsite. At this point, you can then decide whether to push over Bynack More depending on the prevailing weather conditions, as this next bit of the ride out to Linn of Dee is by far the most remote. Once you’ve done the remote bit, you’re at Aviemore at mile 100. A racer will do this in a day, but two good days split is fine. The third day for you should therefore be Aviemore to Blair Atholl. If you ignore the Fealar Lodge part, the Glen Tilt descent after the break really is just long and boring, but it’s free miles. Aviemore to Braemar was about six hours for me, and then maybe 4 down Glen Tilt if you’re going the direct route.

    Both times I’ve done this, I’ve stopped near or in the Ruigh Aiteachain bothy from a Blair Atholl start, with a particularly long day to reach the finish (up to 14hrs). Depending on your tolerance for suffering, the 3 day option is probably preferable.

  • Callum Bucknall

    Let us know how it goes :) if you did it, im thinking about doing it next weekend :D

  • Ross

    I’m heading out tomorrow for this. I must say the photographer looked like they had some seriously fine weather (I see some snow on the peaks – when was the photog there?) – hopefully I’m at least half as lucky!

  • I think it was May of last year…

  • Ross

    This route was great! If you don’t fancy the hikeabike sections avoid the inner-loop, although you’d miss some pretty awesome scenery. I did it in late June and had mostly dry weather and the midges were manageable but it was quite cold and cloudy. The scenery is as good as it looks in the photos. I wildcamped everywhere and no one bothered me. For someone who mostly does gravel road stuff I found this route quite challenging and I wished I had gone much lighter. As noted resupply isn’t an issue at all and ground water is very easy to come by.

  • Stephen Thorns

    We set out prepared and intending to do the whole ride over 4 days last month (Sept-17). Day one to Braemar was OK, we could have done with an earlier start i.e. before 9am, we pitched at the campsite at 8pm. We had very heavy rain and by the second day the rivers in Glen Feshie were thigh deep crossings, and about 5 miles is hike-a-bike, finally at a deep crossing (where we now know the path has been diverted) one of our group was swept off his feet in the river at 70.4 miles into this route shown above. I stood next to him in the river as he scrambled to regain his footing and watched as his bike, fully laden with bikepacking drybags, was washed downstream for 500m before snagging on a fallen tree. We ran out of daylight and cut up back to Aviemore end of day two to dry out. Our Strava read a score of 252 with the word EPIC for day one alone. I would rate this higher than 7/10…I’ve been riding for 20 years, Wales, Scotland, Lakes and this was tough but awesome.

  • Just to update, Ruigh Aiteachain is open again :-)

  • bjorn Rietbroek

    Superrrrrr! Planning to stay there next week

  • uriplena

    How you done it how it was ?….from Barcelona…

  • uriplena

    Bjorn how was it ?, can I get some info about the route , terrain situacion, is very Muddy ?, rocky ?…..etc… We are planning in a 4 day route, Blair Atholl- Aviemore, Aviemore braemar, Braemar Glennmore, Glenmore Blair Atholl, any, sugesions or advice ??

  • uriplena

    Hi Stephen, It looks that was really dificult: We will be heading the adventure end May, Hope we will get better weather. My question is about the terrain itself, It was very muddy, Rocky? . Do you think that with out luggage in 4 days should be fine ?
    THanks !

  • bjorn Rietbroek

    Hi Uriplena, although a lot of snow had fallen in the last priod, we could do quite a few sections of the loop and the bothies we’ve stayed in were ecxellent. Still we were forced to do some parts(Tomintoul-Breamar) on tarmac as the snow was to deep. But, as my glass is allways half full, I enjoyed the road quite well as there is little traffic in this time of year. In regular conditions I would say the surface is rocky and can be boggy in some places. The advantage we had was that the bog was generally frozen so we could easily ride over it. I didn’t mind taking the bike for a walk now and then, if you do mind, it’s better to wait a while for the snow to go away. Conclusion of my adventure; I fell in love wit this wonderfull area and people will see me again!

  • uriplena

    Thanks a lot I hope by end of may little snow …. all comenta loook excellent !

  • Stephen Thorns

    4 days should be absolutely fine. As the other threads say depending on fitness etc. We were unlucky with very full rivers but, hey that made it great fun.

  • uriplena

    Hello I don´t get your splitting of the trail, I looked on the original tracl and starting at Blair Atholl going through external loop,
    day 1 Blair ATHOLL- Aviemore (about 47 miles),
    Day 2 Aviemore Braemar (47 miles also),
    Day 3 Braemar – Glenmore (50 miles) going to inner loop
    4 Glenmore to Blair Atholl (50 miles too)

    Hope this can be done …..could some one precise te hike a bike sections ??
    Thanks

  • uriplena

    Thank you Stephen, do you recall the exact places of hike a bike ?

  • Stephen Thorns

    From just after where the track splits off after Geldie Lodge to where single track becomes track again at head of glen feshie, this section is very broken and technical riding with a lot of unplanned and planned dismounting but it was very very wet when we rode it…

  • uriplena

    On what part of the route ?…..more of a bigger reference to locate please….

  • Alasdair McLean

    You ride the inner loop first, then the outer. The trail crosses over at Feshiebridge and you ride towards Glenmore first. Aviemore is reached after mile 100. Personally I prefer it this way instead of outer first as the inner is much tougher and therefore best done first.

    The vast majority of the hike a bike is from Glenmore to Feshiebridge in the inner loop, with a couple of other pushes elsewhere. Depending on weather you may find snow on any part of the trail

  • uriplena

    OK Alasdair , I will look at your recomendations ….looks logical….may be also weather like situation
    THanks.

  • Stephen Thorns

    960870

  • ballibeg

    Is there a difference between the route here and the route on the Cairngorm loop website? http://www.cairngormsloop.net/ doesn’t come down Glen Tilt, it heads off east before Tarf falls.

    Anyone else seeing the difference?

    Dave

  • Check out the third paragraph in the description…

  • ballibeg

    AHH….

    Seems I’m better at reading maps than descriptions….!