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

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • 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.

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  • 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!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    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?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    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 :) …

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    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!

  • http://www.bikepacking.com Logan Watts

    I think it was May of last year…