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
- Loch Morlich and Loch An Eilein Loop
- The Ryvoan Pass
- Loch Einich
- The Burma Road
- Laggan Wolftrax Red Loop
- Glenlivet Red and Blue Loop
- Piccadilly Singletrack
- Meall a’ Bhuachaille Circuit
- Càrn Bàn Mòr and Sgòr Gaoith Circuit
- 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.”