Cairngorm from Loch Avon

Cairngorm Darkside from the north

Hillwalking route up Ben Macdui and Beinn Mheadhoin from Cairngorm

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 !

Route outline


Ben Macdui, 

Beinn Mheadhoin, 

Derry Cairngorm, 

Cairn Gorm

Ascent 1480m (4850ft)
Distance 21km (13m)
Time 7:45hr
Start/finish Cairngorm Mountain car-park
Grid Ref : NH990059
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

The Munros on this route are all quite distinctly different. The dome of Cairngorm rests above the ski-centre and crags of the Northern Corries contrasting with the hulk of Ben Macdui, whereas Derry Cairngorm is boulder and scree covered and Beinn Mheadhoin is decorated with weird unusual granite summit tors (the 'Barns of Beinn Mheadhoin').

Unlike the route from the south to bag these Munros where fine estate tracks encourage use of a bike, this approach from Cairngorm ski centre is much rougher and all on foot. However, discovering hidden Loch Avon, investigating the nearby 'Shelter Stone' and getting up close to the crags and landslips below Carn Etchachan make for a more interesting and challenging route. If backpacking over a couple of days, the grass covered ground surrounding Loch Etchachan makes for an excellent camping spot, or there's the bothy of Hutchieson Memorial Hut just down from the loch.

Much of the high ground above 1000m is of vast plateaux, difficult to navigate on when visibility is reduced by rain, mist or snow.

Route map

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Route description

1. Getting to Cairngorm Mountain car-park

Cairngorm Ski Centre

Cairngorm Ski Centre

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. Corrie Raibert and Loch Avon

Beinn Mheadhoin from Coire Raibert

Beinn Mheadhoin from Coire Raibert

Leave the car-park and head up to the buildings of the ski centre. To the right of the Day Lodge, take a path dropping to a burn, cross this, then turn left on a path running uphill parallel to the funicular railway. After around 1km, the path meets up with the wide ski-run, which twists a couple of times as it climbs gently uphill. At the second twist, look for a path off-right (usually marked with a small cairn). This path, well-constructed in sections, climbs away from the ski-area onto Fiacaill a'Choire Chais and onto the minor summit marked 1141m (affectionately known as 'pt 1141').

You may want to head up Cairngorm on the way to Coire Raibert. If this is the case, rather than doing a detour from 'pt 1141', you could take the 'Windy Ridge' path up Cairngorm (see the Cairngorm and Ben Macdui route page for more info).

Beyond 'pt 1141', drop initially on stoney ground southwards towards Coire Raibert. The ground underfoot becomes grass-covered and a well-constructed path travels down into the coire, keeping to the east bank of the Allt Coire Raibert.

As Loch Avon comes into view below, the gradient steepens dramatically and although the path continues, care will be needed as bits of the path often suffer from winter errosion. At some point further down, the burn will need crossing - there are two points where paths head south-west beyond the burn (only one is marked on the OS 1:50000 map), but crossing will be tricky after rain or snow-melt. Once over, follow either of these paths to the beach at the western end of Loch Avon.

3. Beinn Mheadhoin

On Beinn Mheadhoin, via to Ben Macdui

On Beinn Mheadhoin, via to Ben Macdui

The path then climbs over some heathery ground to reach the Feith Buidhe , the main burn heading into Loch Avon, which will need crossing (and may need boots off to keep dry feet !). The path now climbs to an area with large fallen boulders, in which you should be able to find the 'Shelter Stone' , a place to hide out of the wind or camp (I'll stick to my tent thank you !).

Leaving the 'Shelter Stone' behind, follow the worn path south-eastwards uphill. As it levels out and meets up with some pools , leave the path and cross the Allt nan Stacan Dubha. Aim directly east over heathery ground (there's no path to follow). Fairly quickly, the heather gives way to grass and an easy ascent is made up slopes to Beinn Mheadhoin's westerly tor .

An obvious path can now be picked up which a route north-eastwards aiming for Beinn Mheadhoin's summit , passing some more tors on the way. There are severral tors spread across Beinn Mheadhoin's wide summit plateau, collectively referred to as the 'Barns of Beinn Mheadhoin'. There's no mistaking when Beinn Mheadhoin's summit is reached - two huge granite tors are separated by a narrow gap into which winds funnel through. To reach the top of Beinn Mheadhoin's huge summit tor, head around to its northern side and enjoy a bit of easy scrambling up rough granite.

4. Ben Macdui

Ben Macdui from Beinn Mheadhoin

Ben Macdui from Beinn Mheadhoin

Leave the Beinn Mheadhoin's summit tor and return to the westerly tor , from where a faint path can be traced heading south-west along the mountain's plateau. The path drops down to Loch Etchachan , twisting a route on loose gravelly ground on the way. Cross the outflow of Loch Etchachan and hike up a worn path to just west of Creagan a'Choire Etchachan and below a grassy bealach .

If you fancy a detour to Derry Cairngorm, then turn south away from the path and climb uphill on grassy ground to reach the top of the bealach, from where contour around Creagan a'Choire Etchachan. A path gradually forms heading south and drops to bealach below Derry Cairngorm. The path starts up the north-west shoulder of Derry Cairngorm and quickly disappears into boulderfield making the ascent a bit of a slog. At last Derry Cairngorm's summit is reached. Return to the grassy bealach .

The path steadily rises, meets up with the burn that flows to Loch Etchachan, then continues to higher ground where the gradient levels. Ground becomes more stone and bouldered covered as a turn is made to head westwards and hike the last 1km up to Ben Macdui's summit. 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 and broad summit, you might have to walk a slight distance from the top to grab the best views, particularly for Cairn Toul and Braeriach.

5. Return

On Ben Macdui's summit

On Ben Macdui's summit

From Ben Macdui's summit head slightly east of north and drop over bouldery ground. You should find a path heading northwards - to aid navigation there are a line of cairns to follow. As the gradient easies and Lochan Buidhe is approached, terrain underfoot becomes less bouldery. Just before reaching this lochan, a small cairn marks a split in the path. Take the left fork and gradually the path 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 well-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.

Alternatives for the return from Ben Macdui to the car-park include a rock-scramble over Fiacaill Ridge or heading into Coire an t-Sneachda via the 'Goat Track'. See the Cairngorm and Ben Macdui route page for these alternatives.

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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

West of Lairig Ghru from Glenmore

West of the Lairig Ghru, huge cliffs rise to vast plateaux and some of the highest peaks in the land, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine. Fine paths lead in from Glenmore and Coylumbridge and with the lowest point on the ridges between the Munro summits being above 1100m, the views are quite superb, particularly from Braeriach.

Peaks : 3 Munros

Ascent : 1850m (6070ft)
Distance : 28km (17m)
Time : 10hr

Cairngorm darkside from Linn of Dee

Between Braemar and Aviemore 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. Healthy forests surround the area with a diverse wildlife and, if you're lucky, you might come across a reindeer herd feeding on the arctic-like tundra.

Peaks : 4 Munros

Ascent : 1850m (6070ft)
Distance : 35km (22m)
Time : 10:15hr

Cairngorm and Ben Macdui

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.

Peaks : 2 Munros

Ascent : 1000m (3280ft)
Distance : 17km (11m)
Time : 6hr


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