When to come to the Cairngorms?
You may not have much freedom of choice when it comes to picking the dates for your holiday. However, if you are retired, or if you have a flexible job, or if you don’t have any kids – you may be able to choose freely. We’ve lived in the Cairngorms for nearly 20 years now. Over the last 20 years, we’ve noticed highlights in every season. We’ve picked a few out for you, which might help you decide when to come and visit.
Jan & Feb
February is perceived to be the best of all the winter months to come to the Cairngorms. This perception is helped by the fact that the schools have a break in mid-February. Many families utilise this time to go on a ski holiday. In Scotland, February is not always the best time to catch the snow conditions. There is usually skiing available. Some years conditions can be pretty thin in February but March and April have phenomenal snow cover. January & February can also be affected by winter storms bringing winds well in excess of 100 mph. However, when the weather does play ball, you can have the most glorious winter day out with views of over 50 miles in crystal clear air.
If you do plan to visit the area with your family during the half-term weeks in February, we would strongly advise that you prebook your accommodation
If you think it would be advisable to join a guide at this time of year, check out these options:
Classic Winter Cairngorms – a guided winter walking holiday
5 day winter skills course – to improve your own techniques and safety in the hills
It’s definitely still winter in March but the daylight hours have already extended. You don’t have to make an early retreat from your hike, but neither do you have to rise unsociably early. In mid-winter, early rising is necessary to get to the start of your route so that you can finish it before dark.
It’s often a good time to go out for a Snow Hole Expedition as the snow cover will have accumulated significantly at this point, most seasons. We do run other winter expeditions between January and March. These expeditions require a high level of fitness. They are the most strenuous and rewarding of the trips we do.
April & May
Prime time for birdwatchers as you may have seen on BBC Springwatch. This is when the Ospreys return to Loch Garten along with the beginning of the Spring migrations for most of our summer visitors. It’s also your best opportunity to see a Capercaillie or Black Grouse lec. The RSPB open up the Osprey hide at Loch Garten at 5.30am to help keen birdwatchers see the Capercaillie.
April and May can be quite cold months here. It is still common to have snow fall down to village level in April. Fortunately the sun is that bit stronger than mid winter. So when you’re in a sunny spot it will feel pretty warm. It’s a great time to be out in the hills as the air is often clear, the daylight hours are a wee bit longer and the sun can be out for long periods Watch out for the April showers which often fall as snow or sleet rather than rain.
April/Easter often mark the start of the tour season here in the Highlands. Pre-booking for accommodation, especially during the school Easter holidays is highly recommended.
When the weather is right in April, you can get very warm when out hiking in the Cairngorms.
Snow patches remaining on the high hills can mean that sun burn is a serious risk due to the reflection of sunlight on the snow.
The weather can change incredibly in April – you always need to be prepared for any season. It can go from this:
To this within 24 hours:
April is generally when the caravans start to visit the area. The campsites open up again. There are more possibilities to get outdoors without worrying about too much snow everywhere.
We’re going to run our first Outlander Adventure Experience in April. How about it? A chance to get out in the outdoors – try a piece of the experience Clare and Jamie would have lived here in the Highlands.
You’re also more likely to be able to find tourist sites open once April starts. You can visit places like:
- the Highland Folk Museum,
- Ballindalloch Castle,
- Cawdor Castle,
- Culloden Battlefield,
- Glenlivet distillery or
- Urquhart castle
– all without travelling more than 1hr from Fraoch Lodge.
This is a fantastic time for the wildflowers and also a good time to spot birds such as eagles and Scottish crossbills. We’ve had families of crossbills visiting the garden in June. It’s not quite such a good time for going to the wildlife hide to spot the nocturnal night life as dusk is so late in the day, if it arrives at all!
Weather can be variable in June. It has been known to snow on the high mountain tops. Some people have skied on Cairngorm on mid-summer’s day – more for publicity than good quality skiing though.
Don’t forget June 21st is mid-summer’s day – in the Highlands, including the Cairngorms, this means the sun hardly sets. June is a great time to get all those Munros with long walk-ins done. Watch our for the June Monsoon though.
July & August
We have in the past couple of years had glorious weather in July. We often have a week of clear skies and warm weather with temperatures in the high 20s or low 30s. It is by no means guaranteed. The better weather is usually earlier in the month, before most of the English schools are out for their holidays.
August is a great month to catch the Highland Games but is the busiest for all accommodation businesses across the Highlands. Pre-booking is almost essential at this time of year unless you want to be trawling round the country at 9pm still looking for beds. August can also be very showery with the highest chance of thunderstorms
Bonus: glorious colours of the heather out in full bloom turning the hills purple.
Top tip: Most of our local Highland Games take place between mid- July and mid-August. Check the dates: Abernethy Highland Games (2nd Saturday in August), Newtonmore Highland Games (1st Saturday in August) etc and make sure if your visit coincides with the Games that you pre-book your accommodation.
Some of our most reliable warm, dry weather happens in September. In addition, the end of the Highland Games season can be experienced by attending the Braemar Gathering at the beginning of the month.
Some of the best edible mushrooms start to appear in September. If you’re not familiar with the area, join one of the guided ranger walks with an expert to start to get your eye in. Make sure you follow the mushroom picking code.
Blairgowrie Walking Festival
Cairngorm Adventure Triathlon
Grantown Try Tri
Glenmore 24 Trail Race
Loch Insh Highland Splash-In – first waterplane event to be organised by the model flying club in Scotland, now on the 31st consecutive event.
Check out the colours and light in October. It is the perfect time for a photography extravaganza.
November and December
Quieter times and shorter days but with the right weather conditions. It is the perfect time to get those early morning and later evening quality light shots with a touch of winter, if the first of the snow showers have arrived.