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Suggested things to do

13 things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms when you can’t ski (updated)

1. Mountain biking:

there are trails all round the area plus several centres with purpose-built tracks like Laggan Wolftrax and Glenlivet Bike Trails. Bikes can be hired from Mikes Bikes or Bothy Bikes in Aviemore.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

2. Enjoy the Zip Adventure Park 

with G2 on the Alvie Estate.

3. Go Ice Skating

Aviemore has a community ice skating rink again and you can also use the all weather rink at Loch Insh

4. Walk a section of the Speyside Way:

you could take the public bus to Boat of Garten (5 miles) or Nethybridge (8 miles) and walk back to Aviemore stopping in the Old Bridge Inn for a pint on your return.

5. Hire a Canadian canoe

and paddle the Spey;

canoe with the Moray Firth dolphins or kayak/canoe on Loch Ness.

what to do in Aviemore

Water based options might not be as appealing as you think, but water is surprisingly warm in the winter.

6. Take a tour to Loch Ness.

what to do from Aviemore

a tour to Loch Ness is a popular option for our guests at Fraoch Lodge

7. Head up to Findhorn

and check out the Findhorn Foundation or visit the Kimberley Inn for lunch and walk along the white sands of the beach.

8. Visit the ice rink in Inverness

and try out ice skating.

9. Take a swim at Inverness Aquadome.

unfortunately the Aviemore pool at the Macdonald’s resort is not currently available to the public for swimming.

10. Visit Speyside

and tour a distillery plus visit the Cooperage

what to do in Aviemore - whisky tasting

Always a wet or cold day option – a distillery visit or whisky tasting.


11. Take a detour to Knockando Wool Mill

or Johnston’s wool mill in Elgin if Knockando is closed. Tours are every hour until 3 or 4pm and are free of charge.

where you can experience the whole wool story from shorn fleece to completed material.

what to do in Aviemore

Get crafty if you’d like some time and space to knit, ask Rebecca for recommendations

12. Visit the reindeer centre at Glenmore.

reindeer in the Cairngorms

If you like to see reindeer, you should come to Aviemore, particularly in the winter which is their natural habitat.


13. Visit the Highland Wildlife Park

and/or the Highland Folk Museum

what to do in Aviemore

Traditional village which is part of the Newtonmore Highland Folk Museum


Useful links:

New website for the Cairngorms National park highlighting selected experiences within the park – cairngormsnationalpark.co.uk

Horse welfare: When we conceived the idea of our Highland Wilderness Glamping trips, our primary concern was the welfare of the ponies.

Our Ponies’ Welfare

This aspect should quite rightly be a consideration for anyone planning to book an adventure trip involving animals. There’ve been plenty of examples where animal welfare could have been better on adventure trips, both at home and aboard.

Putting aside our own personal wishes that they should be happy, pony welfare needs to be a top priority if you’re going to have a safe and sustainable business. A happy pony is a safe pony.

There is some confusion in terms of what constitutes good practical pony welfare. Our approach is a pragmatic practical one based on experience and not on any idealism.

Annual Vet Inspection

Firstly, our ponies are inspected by the Highland Council appointed Vet as part of a local riding centres yearly inspection. By law there is now a strong animal welfare element to this inspection which is connected to the granting of the licence to operate as a pony trekking centre.

When we started to put these trips together we approached Highland Council to make sure we were on their radar, that they were happy with our plans and comfortable with us being inspected as part of a local riding centre.

We use native breeds.

We use both the Highland and Fell Ponies. Both are British mountain/moorland breeds and are noted for their hardiness, strength and surefootedness. With their relatively short backs both breeds are well adapted to carrying loads. In fact the Fell Pony has a long history of being used as a packhorse, possibly dating back as far back as Viking times. They are good fast walkers.

Highland pony - horse welfare

The Highland Pony has been developed in the Scottish Highlands as a work horse. They are stocky and very strong and are quite able to live outside throughout the harsh Highland winters. Their thick winter coats are so well insulated that it’s not unusual for snow to lie on their backs! They are still regularly used to bring culled deer down off the mountains.

They are well adapted to surviving on particularly rough grazing. With this in mind, what they eat does need to be monitored and managed. Leaving them to their own devices in a field of lush grass can be a recipe for disaster. It can quickly lead to them becoming obese and being prone to insulin resistance and laminitis. They do need regular exercise.

Fell pony - horse welfare

Valuable exercise and mental stimulation

In fact, one of the biggest welfare issues at the moment is overweight ponies due to inadequate exercise. Whether carrying riders or packs, this offers valuable exercise and mental stimulation for the ponies. As with humans, an overweight pony puts added wear and tear on their joints as well as potentially developing other health issues.

Horse welfare: The finest pack saddles that money can buy.

 We use Custom Pack Rigging saddles imported from Canada. They are regarded by many in the horse packing world as the finest pack saddles on the market. They differ from the more traditional pack saddle styles in as much the bars pivot on the end of the arches. It means the bars automatically conform much more closely the ponies back shape.  The bars are also ergonomically shaped as well as having the option of altering the width of the arches so as to ensure the perfect fit.

The pack saddle sits on top of a pack saddle pad. It’s a 1 inch (2.5cm) thick dense felted wool pad to provide protection for the pony. Its width is 82 cm, the same dimension of the bags we use. The bags are padded out with foam inserts to provide additional protection.

horse welfare - pack saddle

The pad is lined with a wool cover which can be easily removed and cleaned.

horse welfare - pack saddle

Horse welfare: The weight our ponies carry

The long established golden rule of horse packing is that the ponies carry no more than 15% of the pony’s own body weight. By comparison for riding, the figure is 20% is a human is generally a more dynamic load.

Taking the lower end of the Highland Pony weight range to be 500 kg this gives a weight of 75kg (just under 12 stone). Excluding the weight of the pack saddle my Highland Pony carries 64kg (10 stone – the weight of a light human)

Horse welfare: Finely Balanced loads.

It is very important for pony comfort that the loads on either side of the pony are finely balanced. They need to be within 100 grams of each other i.e. just over 0.15 % of what they can carry. 2 people are involved in securing the bags to the pack saddle to make sure the pony isn’t uncomfortably unbalanced whilst being loaded. The main bags are a maximum of 20Kg each to both be manageable and to fit in with lifting regulations.

The top load and pannier bags are stabilised using a length of rope and a triple diamond hitch and a second girth.

horse welfare - loading foxy

Ponies intelligence!

Common to British mountain/moorland pony breeds, Fell and Highland ponies are intelligent. They have a good sense of self preservation that comes from their ability to survive the harsh upland climate. They are able to convey their feelings and as owners we are able to interpret their behaviour. Highland and Fell ponies are not dumb!

And finally….

If a pony doesn’t take well to the pack saddles, we don’t use them. It’s as simple as that. Goldie is a case in point. We also always take 2 ponies so they have each others company, they are after all a herd animal.

horse welfare - no pack goldie

Family adventure vacations: A truly wild & natural adventure

Family adventure vacations mean different things to different families. Our definition is possibly a wee bit on the wild side for some people – but some of our friends have adventures even more out on the wild side than ours. At least if some one else arranges your adventure for you, you have some peace of mind in knowing that they have checked out some of the potential hazards for you. They have probably minimised the risks so you can relax and enjoy the vacation.

Imagine living on the 69th floor of a skyscrapper – what do you think your ideal vacation would be?
A family from Hong Kong contacted us about our Walking, Whisky and Wildlife itinerary. They were looking for something authentic and unique. From there we developed a tailor-made itinerary for them to take account of their 6 year old son and the fact that in Hong Kong they have few if any opportunities to hike. They also wanted to see a wee bit of the Highlands, sample whisky, visit Loch Ness and dip under the surface of a typical touring itinerary.
We put together the following itinerary for them. How much would you have included in your tour? How much did you know about before reading on?
  • family adventure vacations
    Enjoying the summit on our first mountain climb in Scotland

Family adventure vacations: in the Cairngorms

Day of arrival: 

Arrival was out of our control and we kept the possibility of activities as free as possible. As it turned out the train from Edinburgh was delayed and no one had lunch before 4pm. There was plenty of time to explore the village and keep an uneducated eye out for wildlife. The kids had a lovely time discovering the trampoline in out garden and the hides/shelters which seem to decorate the entire forest here.

family walk Photo caption: Taken on a different day with different children, but you get the idea. Dens in the wood had a universal appeal.

Family adventure vacations: Day 1  

Short walk at Loch an Eilean followed by a transfer to Ruthven Barracks and Highland Folk Museum. Tour of Folk Museum.

 Our definition of a short walk was a bit of a shock for the uninitiated city dwellers as we didn’t just follow the dog walking, tourist route around the loch, but took everyone up to a wee viewpoint nearby and picked our first wild berries.
After the walk, we transferred the group over to the Highland Folk Museum where the kids had a great time going back in time to a strict classroom. The adults also remembered some of the games from their childhoods. It was a win/win situation all round.
family adventure vacations

Adventuring we will go – up hill, down dale and thru heather to the berries.

Family adventure vacations Day 2: 

Visit to Highland Wildlife Park to see the polar bears and Amur tigers, & sheepdog demonstrations

There’s a wildlife focus to our activities today. We’ll take a landrover safari of the wildlife park and visit all the animals. All the animals are cold climate dwellers. Many live in the Highlands today. There are currently new wildlife kittens and a young polar bear among others.
The kids had a great time seeing all the cold climate animals. I’m not sure what their favourites were but they all loved the sheepdog demonstrations which followed and remembered an awful lot of the information the farmer told them. I think it was particularly because they got to handle the puppies at the end.
family adventure vacations

Meeting the puppies after the sheepdog demonstrations here in the Cairngorms National Park

Family adventure vacations Day 3: 

Visit to Speyside Cooperage, Tomatin Distillery and the Whisky Castle

This was a day mainly for the adults as learning all about the making and drinking of whisky didn’t exactly thrill the kids but their day was made by an ice cream stop an a visit to the adventure play park in Tomintoul. For a full whisky explanation read up on our blog about how to choose a special whisky which you won’t find at home. We’ve also talked about all kinds of whisky related products.

family adventure vacations

Trying out the obstacles in the adventure play park at Tomintoul which entertains the kids while the whisky tasting goes on at the Whisky Castle.

Family adventure vacations Day 4: 

Bag a Munro – hike up Cairngorm

Climb your first mountain in the Highlands and enjoy stunning views across the whole valley.
This was a surprising highlight for the families. They loved hiking up to the summit of Cairngorm and reaching a snow patch. They played there to their hearts content and were perfectly content despite completely sodden footwear. The snow factor was a definite winner.

Family adventure vacations Day 5: 

Loch Ness

We’ll visit Culloden battlefield, the Loch Ness exhibition and if we have time Urquhart castle for a full quota of history today. See if you can spot the world famous monster. We’ll also fit in a small walk to stretch our legs and find a quiet picnic spot.
We made a wee bit of a different tour of Loch Ness this time and had lunch at the Dores Inn and did a wee bit of a walk. One of our families decided on alternative activities and rode the train on the Strathspey Steam Railway instead of a visit to Loch Ness. They were convinced that they wouldn’t see the monster!
Another alternative option for a Loch Ness visit with an older party is to park at Invermoriston, take the bus to Fort Augustus and walk the high route of the Great Glen Way back to Invermoriston for great views over Loch Ness and few if any crowds.
We also highly recommend a visit to Loch Ness Clayworks which is on the Great Glen Way but also at the foot of a wee hillwalk right by the side of Loch Ness – a fantastic alternative way to explore the area as lochside can be so busy it will be extremely difficult to get parked, particularly at the castle:
TOP TIP: walk to Urquhart castle from Drumnadrochit.

Day of depature: 

After breakfast we’ll run you through to Aviemore. We’ll be sorry to see you go but hope you’ll be back again before too long.
If you’re interested in a tailor made adventure vacation here in the Highlands of Scotland please don’t hesitate to contact us. We don’t really have a lot of availability in 2018 but if you’re thinking about coming over to Scotland in 2019, please get in touch as soon as you can as we’d hate to disappoint and holiday dates get booked up really quickly.

A natural adventure in the Cairngorms National park

family adventures in the Cairngorms aimed at kids aged 5 – 12

Hiking in the Cairngorms with a family

Ascending Meall a’Bhucaille with 2 x 7 year olds and 1 x 4 year old.

Family adventures in the Cairngorms might not have the sea and golden beaches (we’ve only the one at Loch Morlich), but there is such a lot you can do with your kids here in the Cairngorms National Park, that some families return year after year.

Have a look at the various options we suggest below. We’ve picked a variety at a range of price points.

Guided family adventures in the Cairngorms

Taking a guided family adventure with Scot Mountain Holidays

Cairngorm Discovery – explore Britain’s largest National Park with our guidance. Enjoy some fabulous activities including some biking, some hiking and some more gentle creative pursuits like “throwing a pot” and creating your own wool at a small traditional mill.

Highland Family Adventure – for a full on introduction to the great outdoors. Enjoy some family time on hikes and wee bike rides throughout the Highlands. Visit Loch Ness. Enjoy the remote but spectacular scenery in Torridon. A mix of guided and self-guided activities for all the family to enjoy. Itinerary adaptable – call for personal quote.

Under Your Own Steam – best suited for the younger end of the age group, but routes can be adapted and lengthened to provide more of a challenge if your kids are keen cyclists.

Tailor-made Active Highland Tour – this area, the Cairngorms National Park, is the UK’s greatest outdoor playground. There is a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment here – on foot, by bike, gliding or canoeing. There should be something to suit everyone except the least active. It’s a great opportunity to get the kids outside enjoying nature. We can select from a massive range of activities and experiences to put together a tour to appeal to all the family from flying through the trees on a zip wire to outdoor treasure hunting or indoor pottery – there should be something for all – especially nature and wildlife lovers.

Free family adventures in the Cairngorms – use Fraoch Lodge as your base for a magnificent family adventure, just exploring the great outdoors

MTB family routes

Family mountain biking in the Cairngorms

Low cost family adventures in the Cairngorms

Reindeer in the Cairngorms

Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer herd in the natural environment (Cairngorms)

Other Outdoor adventures in the area

Zip wire – Treezone – River tubing – Gorge walking – Pony trekking – Landmark Forest Adventure Park – feed the deer – feed the reindeer ……

Contact us for full details or to include on your tour.

family adventures in the Cairngorms

Chowing down in the Tentipi




How to make a family walk an adventure to remember

How to keep you kids interested in a family walk is often a problem faced by parents of young children. We’ve put together a range of activities we’ve introduced to “walks” which have successfully encouraged our son and our friends children. We hope you will also find them useful to encourage your kids to enjoy the outdoors.

walking adventure

Stick substitutes courtesy of Santa

Photo Caption: There are plenty of sticks around which serve the same purpose, but in this instant Santa delivered popguns which proved very popular for keeping the interest of all the wee ones up on the walk.

The majority of the activities described below are suitable for walks anywhere in the country and have probably been used by parents all over the world to prevent the eternal cries of:

“How much further?”

“Are we nearly there yet?”

“I don’t want to go for a walk.”

I don’t guarantee that any of these will work on stubborn teenagers though!


1. Hide and Seek

Always a popular way of livening up a walk, especially if you’re in the woods where the hiding places are almost limitless but probably worth setting some boundaries as you won’t want to lose the kids permanently.


2. Foraging

Wild foraging

Wild foraging in the Caledonian pine forest of Scotland

Photo caption: a wee exercise in foraging – for some reason if we do hunting for mushrooms there’s much more enthusiasm for an expedition than there is if we suggest a “walk”.

Once Spring starts, opportunities to enliven the “walk” with wild snacking just increase. Wild fruit are obvious targets but you can also forage for wild garlic and mushrooms but please respect the rights of the landowner. If you do intend to forage, make sure you only take enough for yourself. The landowners take a poor view of anyone who picks commercially and have been known to prosecute.


3. Geocaching

Geocaching is now a worldwide phenomenon. You can download an app and use it to find all the local caches. It combines orienteering with treasure hunting. Etiquette is though that if you take anything from the cache you should replace it with something of equal value. (Most stuff which is in caches is worth no more than 10p. They vary from pens, to wee toy cars, to erasers …) You also sign in to the book and can register your find in the app.


4. Sword/gun fights

Sticks seem to have an endless fascination for children. So much so that whole books have been written on the multiple uses of sticks when out for a walk. I’ve even seen a perfectly ordinary stick for sale on Ebay for loads of money for no obvious reason except that it originated inLondon.

Our son at 7 will still pick up virtually any stick along the path to be used as a sword, a gun or to help with the walk.

family walk

Photo Caption: Exploring a pre-built shelter in Deshar Woods (Boat of Garten) always a highlight when walking out in the woods.

5. Pooh sticks or stone skimming

A walk which includes any body of water or river/stream is always popular with kids and can extend the time it takes to complete the walk considerably. Always be wary though (having been frequently caught out myself) and take care to pack a towel if you’re going to encounter walking. Despite numerous warnings, your child is bound to get damp, if not soaked.

family walk

Pooh sticks – always a winner with boys of all ages! 3 generations of competitors here.


6. Hide sweets

A big bag of “bribes” is always a good thing to have with you. If you go on ahead of your family, just a short distance and hide wrapped sweets along the way, you’ll turn the walk into a treasure hunt.

7. Build a shelter

The activity of building a reasonable shelter could take over the original aim of completely a decent walk, so be wary if you start this and make sure you have allowed plenty of extra time.


8. Climb a tree/bouldering or weasling

Of course not every walk presents as spectacular a tree climbing opportunity as this one, but it always makes a “walk” more exciting if there are opportunities to explore along the way – a cave, a tree, a cliff – for kids they are all places filled with adventure. Weasling is just the technical term for climbing in and around rocks and through tunnels.

family walk

What fun teetering along the trunk of a fallen tree.


Photo caption: The high winds during the winter storms have felled a few trees in the woods. There have to be some pluses to that weather. These particular trees are proving a popular site to explore even for grown up kids.

9. Take a camera

You’d be amazed how much more of an adventure it will seem if you have a project of photos to take – how many different leaves can you record and take pictures to identify at home; who can get the best bird picture? Can you find a yellow flower? How many flowers can you find? Record them all and compare at home.

10. Shiny eyes walk

Take a torch on a night time walk. You’ll be amazed how many eyes you see in the woods. What animals do you think they belong to?

More formal ways of turning a walk into an adventure:

Trek with a donkey – if you have previously enjoyed hiking, all day or overnight adventures used to be your thing but now the kids have arrived on the scene and you’ve had to curtail your adventures or do them without your partner. We discovered a way you can “have your cake and eat it” – trek with a donkey in France. The donkey will transport your baggage and your children when they get bored or alternatively the donkey will serve as entertainment as your child leads it or feeds it. The presence of the donkey, really lifts the whole hiking experience and makes it an adventure for everyone – plus the food is amazing and the scenery glorious. How could you refuse? More details.

donkey trekking

Photo caption: Leading the donkey in the Cevennes

Also read:

A trekking adventure in France

Mission Adventure: New app in development to turn a walk into an adventure by creating your own treasure hunt/story.

Treasure trails: these trails are set up all over the country. You can stay at Fraoch Lodge and follow any one of the local trails. We plan to stock the trails which you can then follow when you’re staying here.

Mountain biking for families

Reindeer Centre to Jack Drake’s (Inshriach Nursery)

NB: 2018 update: The Potting Shed cafe at Jack Drake’s (Inshriach Nursery) has closed it’s doors for good.

Walking, whisky and wildlife

A close encounter with the wild Reindeer roaming the Cairngorms National Park


This route can be done in either direction or turned into a circuit for older riders.


If you have younger or less fit riders with you who only want to do the route in one direction, this route would be a good one to do with Scot Mountain Holidays who can offer the support/pick up for each end of the route.


We cycled this route on the Sunday of the Harley Davidson rally in Aviemore so we were treated to the splendid sight of the Harleys on their ride out to Cairngorm Mountain as we set out from the reindeer centre in Glenmore.



We parked along the side of the road opposite the reindeer centre then followed the path (with the treasure hunt signs) towards Loch Morlich. We kept to the mountain side of Loch Morlich heading away from the road but in the direction of Loch an Eilean. (If this is part of a mountain biking weekend with Scot Mountain Holidays we will provide the relevant map.)

The path from the reindeer centre to the main path around Loch Morlich is relatively flat and pretty good under the bike. Very little mud. It’s a well-maintained path with very few ruts or tree roots to negotiate. There is one wee uphill section just before you join the wide path which runs along the side of the Loch. This section may mean that one or two members of the party will get off their bikes for 10m or 20m, unless they can master their gears in time. Once on the main wide bridlepath going is extremely easy and virtually flat, or slightly downhill most of the way until the next junction. The views are great over Loch Morlich and back towards the beach.

You’ll pass the path junction locally known as Picadilly and also the path heading into the Lairig Ghru on the way to Loch an Eilean.

mountain biking for families

Even the youngest of riders can attempt this route. There are plenty of adaptations.



Once you reach Loch an Eilean, you’ll turn left through the gate and follow the path skirting the edge of the Loch. (If anyone needs the loo at this point you can make a detour to the right and head up to the loos by the information centre on Loch an Eilean where you can also pick up a coffee if you’re gasping.)

When you reach the end of the Loch, you’ll find a wee path heading to the left past Loch Gamna. You’ll need to take this path to go in the direction of Jack Drake’s but at this point the path deteriorates for a while and there are a lot of roots to cross. When the path gets too muddy, you’ll have to walk the bikes for a short section at the bottom of Loch G until you start to head up over the hill. It’s only for a wee while though and pushing the bikes here is not too much of a chore. You’ll soon pick up a forestry track which is easy to follow before a long downhill section leading almost directly to the cake shop where you’ll have a great stop. Jack Drake’s potting shed do an amazing array of cream cakes, teas and coffee. If you can bag a seat at the counter by the big glass window looking out over the bird/squirrel feeders time will fly past.

Phone for your pick up or nominate a designated cyclist to pick up your vehicle at the reindeer centre.

Vacations organised by Scot Mountain Holidays

Guided hiking vacations

Multi-activity adventures

Self-guided Mountain Biking breaks


Useful links for planning your trip to Scotland

Email us if you think we can help plan your vacation in Scotland – we can hit all the Highland hotspots and include some off the beaten track surprises you might not know about.

For inspiration check out our Pinterest board and our Flickr account.

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