Cairngorms National Park: Carn Aosta, The Cairnwell and Carn a Gheòidh

When I say this trio of Munros is the [easiest / quickest / insert superlative of your choice here] to bag, I mean it. They’re a hop, skip and a jump from the car park at Glenshee Ski Centre – which is only three hundred metres below the first two summits.

Setting off for Carn Aosda

After loading our rucksacks with water and snacks, we crossed the road and set off up the gravelly track behind Glenshee Ski Centre. Munro #1 for the day was Carn Aosta (917m): a gently sloping ridge covered in scree and crowned by a cairn. Although the path is moderately steep, it’s well-maintained and easy to follow, as it zig-zags up the hillside between the pistes.

Carn Aosda

We were at the summit of Carn Aosda within half an hour of leaving Glenshee Ski Centre, but sadly didn’t get much in the way of a view as the cloud had rolled in:

Carn Aosda

Next up: The Cairnwell (933m). We descended into the cloud, stopping to pull on fleeces when it became evident the clouds weren’t going to clear imminently. We followed the path in a rough south-westerly arc, keeping right each time it forked.

Just shy of the summit was the top of the ski lift, its chairlifts appearing through the cloud, swivelling round, and then disappearing once again. The Cairnwell isn’t the most attractive of summits: there’s a little wooden shed wedged into a pile of rocks, a Portacabin-esque building and a large pylon at the top.

The Cairnwell

Whilst there isn’t a conventionally beautiful view from the top, the novelty of being in and above the clouds isn’t going to wear off on me anytime soon.

View from The Cairnwell

We saved the best until last. Carn a Gheòidh (975m) is a wee bit out on a limb, but a very worthy addition to this route. We dropped down from the summit of The Cairnwell, and veered off onto a narrow track at GR 131779 on the OS map.

By the time we joined the more well-trodden path above Loch Vrotachan, the clouds were lifting.

Loch Vrotachan
Loch Vrotachan
Is there such thing as too many photos of Loch Vrotachan? I don’t think so

We enjoyed views across the glen towards The Cairnwell from Creag a’ Choire Dhirich (below). Allt a’ Choire Dhirich wiggled through the glen at the foot of The Cairnwell, while wisps of cloud encircled its summit.

The Cairnwell (taken on the way back, with a better view of Allt a’ Choire Dhirich, but minus the wisps of cloud)

A little further on, we passed three beautiful unnamed lochans, fringed with bog cotton.

Bog cotton

We skirted the edge of Carn nan Sac, and continued on to Carn a Gheòidh via The Coolah; it was a fairly easy-going stretch, as the bulk of the ascent was behind us. We stopped for lunch at the summit – it would’ve been a waste not to make the most of the expansive views from this one.

View from Carn a Gheòidh (north-west)
View from Carn a Gheòidh (south-east)

Laurence fancied venturing up Carn nan Sac (920m, but not a Munro), so we took it in on our way back; it added all of thirty metres to the route, and offered a good vantage point over the glen and across to Glas Maol and Creag Leacach which we’d climbed the previous day.

Carn nan Sac

We then retraced our footsteps towards the trail linking Carn Aosda and The Cairnwell, and dropped back down to Glenshee Ski Centre for some refreshments. And that’s a wrap on our first trip to the Cairngorms National Park. We had an absolute blast, and with it being so easily accessible from Edinburgh I know it won’t be our last!


  • Parking | There’s ample parking at Glenshee Ski Centre (£3/day). You can pay with cash or card at the café, or online – though for most it’s probably far more practical to pop across to the café to pay, as if you pay online you have to display a printed copy of your ticket on your dashboard… which makes that option slightly less practical for campers. (And even if you did have a portable printer with you, there was no 3G.)
  • Maps and guides | This is a straightforward route, but take a copy of OS Explorer OL52 with you – and know how to read it.
  • Distance | 14.6km/9.1 miles with 645m of elevation gain. If you’d like the views but lack the energy for all three peaks, there’s the option to catch the ski lift to the top of The Cairnwell (£10 for an adult return, in July 2021).
  • Misc. | Glenshee Ski Centre is located on the A93, which is prone to closure during the winter months. Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts if you’re planning to do this hike between October and March, and have a Plan B if the snow gates at Spittal of Glenshee are closed; this is a route that’s probably best saved for the summer months, simply for the ease of access at that time of year.

10 thoughts on “Cairngorms National Park: Carn Aosta, The Cairnwell and Carn a Gheòidh

  1. What a pleasant hike to end the last of your time in Cairngorms National Park! You spent plenty of time in the outdoors, with limited people, all the while to enjoy the natural beauty of this Earth. I can’t wait to see where else you head to during your time in Edinburgh!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a great introduction to the variety of landscapes the Cairngorms National Park has to offer, that’s for sure! And, as you say, hiking does lend itself well to keeping your distance from other households in these times 🙂 Plenty more adventures to come – I’ve got a bit of a backlog to work through! Thanks for reading, Rebecca.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. No such thing as too many photos! This looks like a fun day and I’m glad you got some good views from the third summit. I can completely relate to your statement about being above the clouds, it’s so neat! I’ve also never heard of bog cotton before but I can see where it got it’s name.

    Happy new year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We were so lucky with the weather on this trip – only the occasional cloudy summit is pretty good-going for Scotland. I wish I was better at identifying plants (and birds, for that matter)… often it involves a bit of post-trip Googling to figure out what’s in the picture (“fluffy white plant near water” got me there for this one). But then, learning new things is half the fun of these sorts of trips 🙂 Happy New Year to you too, Diana!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank goodness for Google when our plant/wildlife knowledge is lacking 🙂 Definitely something I’d like to get better at… if practice makes perfect, then I guess that means more hiking trips are needed!

        Liked by 1 person

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