Cairngorm from Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Cairngorm and Ben Macdui

Hillwalking route up Ben Macdui and Cairngorm including a rock-scrambling option on Fiacaill Ridge

Ben Macdui and Cairngorm are two of the highest mountains in the country and rest in on the vast plateaux of the Cairngorms in Scotland's eastern highlands. Starting from a height of 650m and with gently rising slopes leading up to the Munro summits, this is a relatively easy route in clear summer conditions.

Route outline


Cairn Gorm, 

Ben Macdui

Ascent 1000m (3280ft)
Distance 17km (11m)
Time 6:00hr
Start/finish Cairngorm Mountain car-park
Grid Ref : NH990059
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

The slopes leading up to the Munro summits begin from a height of around 650m above sea-level and are never too steep, so in clear summer conditions this is a straightforward route. Winter conditions change the situation dramatically, with some parts of the route holding snow into late spring.

For the most part of the route, terrain underfoot is on fine, well-maintained paths striking a way through stoney and bouldery ground. There are some wide grass covered plains between Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Ben Macdui with arctic-like tundra higher up. 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.

The recommended return route follows a fine path, but an excellent rock-scrambling option is to descend Fiacaill Ridge. This is classed as a Grade 1 summer rock-scramble and there are easy escape lines for those not wanting to stick to the crest.

Snow-bunting can be seen all year round and often you'll spot reindeer ! If just aiming up Cairngorm, this is one of the easier Munro routes !

Route map

Show map

Route description

1. Getting to Cairngorm Mountain car-park

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

On Cairngorm's summit

On Cairngorm's summit

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.

If you're thinking of just heading up Cairngorm without continuing on to Ben Macdui, simply re-trace your steps back to the car-park. With only just over 600m of ascent and a fine path to follow, Cairngorm in summer on its own, is one of the easier Munros to bag !

3. Ben Macdui

On the summit of Ben Macdui

On the summit of Ben Macdui

To continue onwards to Ben Macdui, leave the weather station and head due west over the 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 bypasses '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. 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. Return to Cairngorm Mountain car-park

Looking down Fiacaill Ridge over to Meall a' Bhuachaille

Looking down Fiacaill Ridge over to Meall a' Bhuachaille

To return, begin by retracing your steps back towards Lochan Buidhe . Just before reaching the lochans, there are options for the route back :

  • The easiest line, a pleasant walk above Lurcher's Crag
    On the path, just before reaching Lochan Buidhe, a small cairn marks the start of another path running parallel. Take this and it gradually turns north-west and begins to climb. It levels out, contours around the mass of Cairn Lochan and then drops to a wide flat area at the source of the burns heading down into Coire an Lochain. The path now much more obvious and constructed, heads down the spur above the west side of Coire an Lochain to cross the Allt Coire an t-Sneachda and travel back to the ski centre.

  • A rock-scramble over Fiacaill Ridge
    Follow the route above and where the path levels out, leave it and continue uphill northwards. As the rise begins to level out, head north-east on the pathless wide crest and head for the cairn on Cairn Lochan , perched above huge drops into Coire an Lochain below. Follow the rim of the coire north-east to gain the top of Fiacaill Ridge . Descent down the ridge is a Grade 1 summer rock-scramble and is not particularly exposed with bypass routes on the west side on loose scree. Lower down a path leads through boulderfield and stony ground, joining the path in the above route just before meeting the crossing of the Allt Coire an t-Sneachda .

  • Most direct route, via the 'Goat Track'
    From Lochan Buidhe, retrace your steps back to the bealach above Coire an t-Sneachda , then descend steeply on an obvious path that twists down to the boulderfield surrounding the lochans in Coire an t-Sneachda. North of the lochans, terrain becomes easier underfoot and a well-contsructed path leads out of the coire and back to the ski centre.Note that the 'Goat Track' is only passable with technical gear in icy winter conditions !

Route profile »

Maps and GPX downloads »

GPX file(s) :
Download GPX
of route
Always carry a decent compass.

Information on maps and GPX files is on this page.

Weather forecasts »

Alternative and nearby routes »

Cairngorm 4000s

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.

Peaks : 5 Munros

Ascent : 2250m (7380ft)
Distance : 28km (17m)
Time : 10:45hr

Cairngorm Darkside from the north

Between Aviemore and Braemar and east of the Lairig Ghru are vast plateaus with several Munro peaks amongst the hidden lochans, long narrow crests, dark corries, huge cliffs and weird granite tors. This route heads in from Cairngorm ski centre heading as far south as Derry Cairngorm. The hidden gem of Loch Avon with its undisturbed beaches is visited en route, nearby a search will find the 'Shelter Stone' - a place to overnight out of wind !

Peaks : 4 Munros

Ascent : 1480m (4860ft)
Distance : 21km (13m)
Time : 7:45hr

Meall a' Bhuachaille from Glenmore

A lovely walk through Scots Pine woodlands and past the 'Green Lochan', leads to lonely little Ryvoan Bothy, from where a direct ascent of Meall a' Bhuachaille is made via a decent path.

Peaks : 1 Corbett

Ascent : 550m (1800ft)
Distance : 9km (6m)
Time : 3:15hr

Bynack More and Creag Mhor from Glenmore

Bynack More is a very accessible mountain with weird granite tors sitting at the north-eastern edge of the Cairngorms. The Corbett peak of Creag Mhor is a short distance away and the much of the route from Glenmore to access these hills can be done on bike !

Peaks : 1 Munro, 1 Corbett

Ascent : 860m (2820ft)
Distance : 22km (14m)
Time : 5:30hr


Contact me