Ben Macdui from Braeriach

Cairngorm 4000s

Hillwalking route over the 4000ft plus mountains of the Cairngorms

The vast plateaux of the Cairngorms in Scotland's eastern highlands rise above huge cliffs and dark corries. On the plateaux are five of the UK's mountains over 4000ft including Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Cairngorm and these can be bagged in one circular route from Glenmore.

Route outline

  Map base ©OpenStreetMap


Ben Macdui

Cairn Toul

Sgor an Lochain Uaine


Ascent 2250m (7380ft)
Distance 28km (18m)
Time 10:45hr
Start Cairngorm Mountain car-park
Grid Ref : NH990059
Finish Sugar Bowl car-park
Grid Ref : NH985073
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

Terrain varies over the route, heather lower down leading to grass higher up and onto artic-like tundra on the plateaux. A fair amount of the route is on paths, though when away from paths, good navigation skills will be needed. Some of the route follows the rims of coires above huge drops down to hiddens lochans, beware cornices can extend well beyond the edges in winter.

Starting at a height above 600m, there's less ascent than expected, with the descent down Ben Macdui into the Lairig Ghru and Glen Dee followed by the climb up Cairn Toul being the most demanding part of the route. A good option for hillwalkers is to back-pack this route over 2 days, overnighting in Glen Dee.

Fellrunning will get these Munros bagged in one day. If you fancy having a go at beating the record around the Cairngorm 4000s, it currently stands at under 4 hours and it starts and finishes from Glenmore Lodge. Details are on the Scottish Hillrunners website.

Route map

Route description

1. Getting to Cairngorm Mountain car-park

Cairngorm Mountain car-park

On the south side of Aviemore, there is a roundabout, from where the road to Glenmore and Cairngorm Mountain begins. It's a journey of around 15km passing lovely Loch Morlich on the way. There is a bus service from Aviemore.

To park, Cairngorm Mountain asks for a donation, suggesting £2.

2. Cairngorm

Above the Ptarmigan Station on Cairngorm

Leave the car-park and head up to the buildings of the ski centre. Begin uphill on a track between the main buildings and immediately after passing under the funicular railway, take the path off left at where a a sign points up "Windy Ridge Path".

This is a well constructed path, quite steep to begin with and initially twisting and turning. The incline of the path easies as it crosses the M2 ski run and then heads directly towards the Top Station and Ptarmigan Restaurant .

Beyond the restaurant, another well constructed path, with posts (and in summer, rope) on either side, heads towards Cairngorm's summit. Once the last of the posts is passed, a series of cairns mark the route to the summit of Cairngorm where there is a large cairn and Cairngorm Automatic Weather Station just behind.

3. Ben Macdui

Heading up Ben Macdui from Lochan Buidhe

Leave Cairngorm's summit and weather station and head due west over bouldery ground. You should be able to pick up a faint path as you begin to head downhill (snow and ice take their toll on this path). The path drops down to a level area and by-passes under 'Point 1141' to reach a bealach above some airy drops into Coire an t-Sneachda below.

Uphill, a path can be traced onto the minor summit of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda , a superb spot for taking in views !

Continue walking south-west handrailing the rim of Coire an t-Sneachda and drop to the next bealach above Coire Domhain. There is an escape route northwards from here, often referred to as the 'Goat Track', beware it can be quite perilous in icy winter conditions ! To aim for Ben Macdui, turn left onto an obvious path and follow it south, then south-west for around 2km over grass-covered ground to Lochan Buidhe - a fine place to stop and take in the atmosphere.

Beyond the lochan, the path turns more southwards and begins to climb. Grassy ground is left behind for stony tundra with patches of boulderfield. A series for cairns aid navigation in mist, though the path is fairly clear most of the way. Ben Macdui's summit has a large cairn, ontop of which is a trig pillar and to the side is a viewfinder. Because Ben Macdui has such a large summit, you might have to walk away from the top for the best views, particularly for Cairn Toul and Braeriach.

4. Cairn Toul

On the north-east ridge of Cairn Toul

The descent off Ben Macdui will test your joints and there is no right or wrong way for this. I found that heading directly off from the summit ended up in boulderfield and then deep heather doing head-plants - direct and quick down to Glen Dee , but not the most enjoyable !

Instead, a better option would be to follow faint traces of path south-east to the top of the Allt Clach nan Taillear, then head south-west. A path can be picked up here-and-there, becoming more obvious lower down. As ground levels, the path turns to aim for Carn a'Mhaim, you'll need to leave it and bound over heather into Glen Dee.

Ahead there are route choices up Cairn Toul, all involving heathery ground lower down and boulderfield higher up :

  • The easiest line is to head up the north ridge , steep at first, it becomes wide and gives a lovely views back over Lochan Uaine to Braeriach (see the West of Lairig Ghru route for more info).
  • The most direct line is the north-east ridge which is pretty steep but without difficulty and climbs around the northern side of Coire an t-Sadhail aiming directly for Cairn Toul's northern top (and summit).
  • There is also the south-east ridge , around the southern side of Coire an t-Sadhail, which involves some Grade 1 and slightly exposed scrambling on the approach to Cairn Toul's southern top.
There are two cairns on Cairn Toul's summit crest , the northern one marks the top.

5. Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Angel's Peak)

Sgor an Lochan Uaine from the north-west

From Cairn Toul's northern cairn, aim west and handrail the rim above Coire an Lochain Uaine. A path can be followed most of the way, occasionally zig-zagging to avoid some boulders, down to the bealach between Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine.

A straightforward hike north-west up just over 100 metres gains the summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine (also known as The Angel's Peak), a fine viewpoint to Braeriach and Ben Macdui.

6. Braeriach (Am Braigh Riabhach)

Summit of Braeriach

Leaving Sgor an Lochain Uaine behind, hike south-west following the edge of the crags above Garbh Coire. Terrain underfoot is annoyingly bouldery in bits, but as height is lost, becomes more relaxed. From the next bealach, start uphill on a fine path cutting a route through the loose artic-like tundra. Carn na Criche is the high point of the next plateau, there's a small cairn on the summit, which can be by-passed if taking a direct route onwards.

Now on grass-covered ground, aim north-north-east for the Wells of Dee , an extraordinary place where two burns meet, then flow over the Falls of Dee.

Cross the burns, then over bouldery ground, it's north-east up gently rising ground. Braeriach's summit appears abruptly, the cairn perched above massive drops of Coire Bhrochain. Views are stunning, particulary over to Cairn Toul.

7. Return through the Chalamain Gap

Descending Braeriach toward the Lairig Ghru

In winter, beware the cornices that can form ! Follow the rim of Coire Bhrochain north-east, then east. A path quickly forms as terrain gets easier, then leads down to the bealach below Sron na Lairige (if you're here and need to get out of wild weather, there is an escape route directly down to the Lairig Ghru below).

The path leads around Sron na Lairige's summit over a delightful grass-covered crest as it approaches the top of the crags above the Lairig Ghru. Just when legs are starting to tire, more stony ground and boulderfield needs crossed as the descent to the Lairig Ghru begins. The path becomes more maintained as it enters heather and does its final drop into the Lairig Ghru .

Cross the burn in the Lairig Ghru, then steeply straight uphill on the granite steps of the path aiming to the Chalamain Gap . The path through the gap is fine, but can be hard work in winter if banked up in snow, in which case, there is another path traversing above the crags on the north side of the gap.

Beyond the gap, a well-maintained path travels downhill (and up a wee bit) to the Sugar Bowl car-park, which is around 1km north of the Cairngorm ski-centre. Instead of heading back up the road, which is around 3km, there is a direct path from the bridge before the car-park, but at time of writing, the path is closed as the wooden walk-way on this is needing replaced (errosion washed it away a few years ago).

Route profile »

Maps and GPX downloads »

Weather forecasts & webcams »

Guided hillwalking events in this area »


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