Mountain Biking

Best Mountain Bike Rides In Cairngorms National Park | 10 Mapped Routes

Aviemore local Rob McCreath selects his favourite bike trails from the heart of the Scottish Highlands

For the best mountain bike routes in Scotland – or indeed anywhere in the UK – the Cairngorms National Park is surely the ultimate place to start. The only difficulty in choosing ten trails is narrowing down the near endless options that span this vast wilderness of ancient forest, rugged mountain ranges, lochs and rivers.

Aviemore local and Whitelines Snowboard Magazine writer Rob McCreath spends most of his free time exploring around the Highlands and has ridden just about every inch of singletrack the UK’s largest National Park has to offer. 

“For the best mountain bike routes… anywhere in the UK – the Cairngorms National Park is surely the ultimate place to start”

As part of our latest collaboration with route planning app Komoot, Rob has handpicked his favourite routes in and around the Cairngorms. Most are easily accessible via Aviemore train station (just 30 minutes south of Inverness Airport) and usually start at or pass by one of the area’s fantastic mountain bike shops: Bothy Bikes, Base Camp Bikes, and Ride Cairngorm. Be sure to call in for expert advice on what kit you’ll need for the day or directions to some of the secret local trails.

Whether you’re just looking to pedal for a couple of hours between coffee and cake stops, or seeking a multi-day bikepacking adventure deep in the mountains, the list below caters for every ability and fitness level. 


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Best Bikes Rides In The Cairngorms: The Top 10

  1. Loch Morlich and Loch An Eilein Loop
  2. The Ryvoan Pass
  3. Loch Einich
  4. The Burma Road
  5. Laggan Wolftrax Red Loop
  6. Glenlivet Red and Blue Loop
  7. Piccadilly Singletrack
  8. Meall a’ Bhuachaille Circuit
  9. Càrn Bàn Mòr and Sgòr Gaoith Circuit
  10. The Cairngorms Loop

Route 1: Biking, Beaches and Baked Goods

A fantastic loop anyone will enjoy, but especially families or less experienced mountain bikers. You can choose your start / end point depending on the kind of reward you’re after at the end – either a great cup of coffee and some cake at the Druie Cafe or a dip in water by the sandy shores of Loch Morlich. The track is wide, flowing and suitable for fully rigid, hardtail or full suspension bikes. 

Rob says: “This is my go to route after I’ve been off the bike for a while and need to get the legs spinning again. It’s such a fun, flowing circuit in beautiful surroundings. There’s nothing particularly technical, nor are there any demanding climbs. That said, there are some excellent routes you can tag on to it (see the Lairig Ghru singletrack or Loch Einich circuit, below).”

Route 2: An Ancient Forest, A Green Loch and a Bothy

A stunning loop passing through the villages of Aviemore, Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge, but with almost 90% of the route completed off road. The Ryvoan Pass is best started from either Glenmore Lodge or Aviemore and ridden in a clockwise direction. From Nethy Bridge, you begin the gradual climb up into Abernethy Forest – one of the largest remnants of the ancient Caledonian pinewoods – before ascending above the treeline and towards Ryvoan Bothy. After a quick pitstop here you can enjoy a fast, flowy descent back to the start point. Just make sure you don’t zoom past An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch). It’s easy to see where it gets its name from.  

Rob says: “I always used to begin this route from my family home in Nethy Bridge, but if you prefer to delay the climb until the legs are properly warmed up then Aviemore makes a better starting point for sure. There’s something so magical about Abernethy Forest, there are few places in Scotland that feel so natural and unspoiled. Keep an eye out for a Capercaillie. These days, they’re extremely rare, but if you’re going to spot one anywhere in Scotland, it’ll be here.”

Route 3: Into The Heart Of The Cairngorms

There are few routes in the Cairngorms National Park that give such a feeling of remoteness in such a short distance. The track is in good condition as it’s often used by 4×4’s during stalking season, but it’s still a pretty sustained climb up to the head of the Loch. There’s a short split in the track about halfway along, so make sure you take the high road on at least one leg of the journey as it provides stunning views of the “raised beaches” that were shaped during the last ice age.

Rob says: “Reaching Loch Einich feels like standing in a granite Cathedral. There’s these towering chutes flanking the water’s edge and you get a real sense that you’re standing in the very centre of the Cairngorms. It still blows me away every time I ride up here. Always take a spare layer and a waterproof jacket. I once went up there in July and caught in a snow shower.”

Route 4: The Aviemore Classic

Have you really mountain biked in Aviemore if you haven’t ridden the Burma Road? Regarded by many as one of the best routes in the area, this circuit features one almighty climb, flowing descents, panoramic views and a chance to escape some of the busier trails around town level. Start from Bothy Bikes in Aviemore and pick up all the relevant supplies for the day (i.e energy bars and spare inner tubes). The route passes by two of Aviemore’s neighbouring towns, Carrbidge and Boat of Garten, so you’re never too far from civilisation despite the incredibly remote feeling along this stretch of General Wade’s road.

Rob says: “Fuel up! The first few miles of this ride are undoubtedly the toughest with a fireroad climb that never seems to end. Once you leave Aviemore and cross the A9 you quickly gain height before reaching the top of the pass at nearly 700 metres.From here you’ll be rewarded with more or less 30km of rolling descent back to Aviemore, not to mention one of the best picnic spots and panoramic views the Cairngorms National Park has to offer.” 

Route 5: Riding With Your Wolfpack

There’s more than enough natural singletrack and forest paths to keep even the locals busy year round, but Cairngorms National Park also has some fantastic man made trail centres on offer, too. Laggan Wolftrax is located about half way between Aviemore and Fort William.

It has everything from family friendly trails to technical black lines, and even some secret trails on the other side of the road if you know where to look. The red is probably the fan favourite here, with fun, flowing switchbacks and some brilliant rocky slab sections – including the infamous Ayres Rock.

Rob says: “I’m always amazed at how easy the climb feels relative to the descent. I suppose that’s the beauty of man made trail centres though and, for my mind, Wolftrax has to be one of the best in Scotland. There’s a perfect blend of intermediate and more technical lines to keep me happily riding here all day here. The upper and lower red circuits are definitely the highlight though. You’ll get a good look at Ayers Rock on the way up, and you’ll then have the next half hour or so to psych yourself up for it. Ease off on the brakes before you roll into it, put your arse over the back wheel, and the rest will take care of itself!”

Route 6: The Alternative Whisky Trail

Glenlivet is possibly better known for its single malts than its singletrack, but since the trail centre was built here in 2013 it has become a staple on every mountain biker’s visit to the Cairngorms National Park. The terrain is pretty kind on the climbs and rolling on the descents. The blue loop is especially family friendly, so if you’re looking for trails for the groms to build confidence on, this is a great place to check out.

Rob says: “Truth be told, I’ve only ridden here a handful of times as I had moved away from the area by the time the trail centre was completed. That said, every time I’ve biked at Glenlivet I tell myself afterwards to not leave it so long before the next time. It’s such a fun trail centre, away from the busier scene out west towards Wolftrax and Nevis Range. It’s maybe not the most adrenaline packed trail centre on offer, but head here after dark with your bike lights and I guarantee you and your mates will be whooping and hollering through the woods for hours.”

Route 7: Scotland’s Iconic Mountain Pass

Without a doubt, the defining feature of Cairngorms Mountain Range is the Lairig Ghru. Carved out from ancient glaciers, this mountain pass reaches a height of over 800 metres and connects Aviemore and Deeside directly through the heart of the mountains. Flanked on either side by some of Scotland’s highest Munros – Ben Macdui and Braeriach – the backdrop to this trail is truly stunning.

Fortunately, there’s also some of the best natural singletrack in the area to accompany it. Set off from Loch Morlich and climb towards Rothiemurchus Lodge. The track becomes a little patchy (and often very boggy) before eventually connecting to the main footpath of the Lairig Ghru. You don’t need to go much further than here, the best part of the trail awaits below you.

Rob says: “This has been my favourite section of natural singletrack in the whole of the National Park since the first time I rode it. There’s nothing quite like standing at the mouth of the Lairig Ghru to give you some perspective on the size of the mountains surrounding you, and you can feel them looming over your shoulder as you weave and wind your way back down through the trees, along the river and headed for Aviemore. Please, please, be wary of hillwalkers on this trail. Some of the corners are blind and, although most hikers will move aside and give you a smile as you pass by, there’s no need to push your luck. Just use it as a chance to catch your breath back!”

Route 8: Hike-A-Bike Heaven / Hell

Depending on whether or not you’re a glutton for punishment, this unconventional circuit is, at best, some classic type two fun and, at worst, the last trip you ever do on a mountain bike. From Ryvoan Bothy you begin the arduous task of pushing, carrying, dragging (but certainly not pedalling) your bike to the 810 metre summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

You’ll be rewarded with a stunning panoramic over the Cairngorms and a pretty fun, loose ‘freeridey’ descent down to the saddle. From here, press on to the other two summits of Creagan Gorm and Craigowrie before freewheeling all the way back down into Badaguish and then along to the start point at Glenmore Lodge.

Rob says: “A tough route for sure, with only around 50% of the time spent in the saddle. But if, like me, you enjoy the more punishing side of adventure this is a great circuit to tackle at least once in your life. Have a good backpack with some decent shoulder straps to make the hike-a-bike easier. After the first summit there is a direct route (read: cop-out) back to Glenmore Lodge but, for those going the distance, make sure you save some energy to enjoy the final descent  back to the start line. There are some brilliant technical singletrack trails all around Badaguish, so keep your eyes peeled off to the side of the fire road for some tyre tracks heading into the woods.”

Route 9: Munro Bagging

It wouldn’t be a proper Scotish mountain bike trip without bagging at least one Munro, now, would it? This route skirts around the western edge of the Cairngorms in the beautiful Glenfeshie. The area is undergoing a massive rewilding and forestry restoration project and it’s easy to see the impact of this already.

There is plenty of wildlife to be found along the track that contours the river before heading up for the plateau. It’s a mighty climb/push, but you’ll make quick progress along the top towards the summit of Sgor Gaoith (translated as the Windy Peak). From here, you’ll get stunning views down to Loch Einich (see Route 3) and across to the Cairngorms massif. The real fun begins from here, with a long, traversing, alpine-style descent off the shoulder of this giant right back to the carpark.

Rob says: “A long standing favourite among the local mountain bike scene and one of the few plateau routes that is relatively flowing and rideable compared to some of the other walker’s paths around the Cairngorms. Save this one for a clear and calm day (yes, even Scotland has them occasionally) as the views from the summit are a real highlight of the route. More importantly, though, once the weather rolls in it’s extremely easy to get lost on the featureless plateau and things can quickly turn dangerous without appropriate equipment or experience.”

Route 10: The Big One

This one’s pretty special. For the seasoned mountain bikers, bikepackers and adventurous spirits out there, the Cairngorms Loop must surely be one of Scotland’s best off road adventures. Allow yourself either 4 or 5 days to complete this epic route and ensure you are carrying sufficient overnight supplies to wild camp or sleep in a bothy.

The loop is built up of two rings (often referred to as the ‘inner’ and an ‘outer’) that circumnavigate and pass directly through the mountain range. Most of the trail is very rideable, but there are still some tough segments of hike-a-bike, long gravel road climbs, and extremely remote singletrack. Don’t attempt this with anything less than a high level of fitness, navigation and bike repair know-how.

Rob says: “What to do when you’re struggling to select the final route for a top ten list of mountain bike trails when you have over 4,500 sq. km to choose from? Easy. Pick a route that covers the entire thing. The Cairngorms Loop obviously needs to be treated with a healthy dose of respect, regardless of your ability levels. However, if you have sufficient experience in bikepacking and mountain biking in “Scottish conditions”, put this one right up at the top of your bucket list. It’s absolutely breathtaking.”


New to komoot? For a free regional bundle (worth £8.99) simply follow this link to and create your account today.

Voucher Code: MPORA2020


Mountain Biking is a dangerous activity, even more so when undertaken in wild, remote and exposed locations such as the ones listed above. Always check the weather ahead of going into the Cairngorms and remember to notify someone of where you are headed for the day. Lastly, ensure you always carry the relevant safety, navigation and protective equipment for the day and know how to use it.

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