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Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm: The Ultimate Hiking Guide

Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm: The Ultimate Hiking Guide

The Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm walk is one of the best hiking routes in Scotland. Starting at the Cairngorm Ski Centre, you’ll bag two Munros (Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm) and a Munro Top (Stob Coire an t-Sneachda) during this epic adventure. Certainly, this is one of the best walks in the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands. You’ll feel a mighty sense of accomplishment by climbing Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm.

In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm walk. Not only will we provide informative trail specs and GPS-guided directions; but, we’ll recommend hiking essentials and logistical recommendations such as accommodation. Following this guide will ensure an enjoyable trip to the Cairngorms and an awesome ascent to Ben Macdui. Indeed, use this comprehensive guide to help you and your friends plan this epic hiking adventure.

Before you dive into this guide, check out our YouTube production below, to further fuel your hiking appetite for Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm.

Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm Walk

Being Scotland’s and Britain’s second-highest mountain (1,309m), Ben Macdui is well-known to British outdoor enthusiasts. Located in the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland, the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm (Cairngorm) route is a fantastic trail option for conquering Ben Macdui. You’ll be exhausted by the initial vertical gain of this hike; but, the trail is straightforward to navigate, making it a popular route. Unsurprisingly, this trail is the premier hike of the Cairngorms.

Hopefully, you’ll have great weather to complete the amazing Ben Macdui hiking trail and any other Cairngorm walks you can sink your teeth into. Keep in mind though, in winter, the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm trail can become difficult to distinguish when covered in snow. Only experienced hikers with snow trekking equipment should attempt walking this trail when it’s snow-covered.

Fun fact: The Ben Macdui Grey Man tale is one of the most famous in Scottish mountaineering folklore. The Grey Man is thought to be a terrifying figure that stalks the slopes of Ben Macdui!

Read our guide on how to find the incredible Green Lochan

Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm Walk Stats, Overview and Map

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 18.5km
  • Time: 5.25–7.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 950m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Cairngorm Mountain Upper Car Park (Cairngorm Ski Centre Car Park)

The Windy Ridge Path ascends to Cairn Gorm, before crossing the Cairngorm Plateau. You’ll then complete an out and back component to Ben Macdui. The wide ridge of Miadan Creag an Leth-choin forms the scenic outward route, providing impressive views of the northern carries. By the way, here’s the Ben Macdui route map.

Cairngorm Plateau

Your adventure begins at around 625 metres above sea level, from the Cairngorm Ski Centre Car Park. Almost immediately, you’ll be climbing Sròn an Aonaich ‘Windy Ridge’ Path after leaving the Cairngorm Ski Centre. The steep ascent is unsurprisingly windy, so don’t forget your windproof jacket!

After 2.5km, you’ll arrive at Ptarmigan Station, where a once-operating restaurant and funicular railway are now seemingly left unused. A table located outside the building provides a welcome rest spot and some reprieve from the wind. Following another 1km of climbing, you’ll reach Cairn Gorm (1,244m) – your first Munro of the day! It’s a large rocky cairn, so watch your step! On a clear day, you should have impressive views of the Rothiemurchus Forest and the superb northern corries.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

From Cairn Gorm, you’ll be able to see the next peak of this trail – Stob Coire an t-Sneachda (1,176m). After a rocky and uneven descent of Cairn Gorm, the trail flattens as you head towards Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and the glorious cliffs surrounding it. At this stage, you’ll be navigating the even windier Cairngorm Plateau. You’ll also see Loch Avon to your left in the distance.

Similar to Cairn Gorm, the peak of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda features a large rocky and uneven cairn; so, you’ll need to tone down the speed hiking to navigate this part of the trail.

FYI – Stob Coire an t-Sneachda is considered a Munro Top and the peak of Coire an t-Sneachda, which is the name given to the corrie itself. Coire an t-Sneachda is a corrie known for its grand cliffs, covered by snow for much of the year. That’s why Coire an t-Sneachda is a popular destination for rock and ice climbing.

To your right, you’ll have excellent views of Cairn Lochan and the northern corries. Once you descend Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, you won’t be too far from Ben Macdui. With Loch Etchachan to your left, you’ll reach the trailhead for the out and back component to Ben Macdui at around the 7.5km mark. The summit of Ben Macdui is only 2.5km away and is reached via a gradually ascending trail.

Mountain views near the peak of Ben Macdui.

Ben Macdui: Munro Peak and Second Highest Mountain in Scotland

Reaching Ben Macdui (AKA Ben Macdui Mountain) is a great accomplishment and another Munro you have now bagged! The summit of Ben Macdui (1,309m) is a huge cairn topped with a trig point. Given the large expanse of the cairn, the views are slightly underwhelming, particularly in misty conditions. But, don’t let that take away from the joy of getting to Scotland’s and Britain’s second-highest mountain! Indeed, this is one of the best walks in the Cairngorms, let alone Scotland!

If anything, your views of the surrounding landscape will improve once you descend Ben Macdui (the same way you came up), and pick up the outward wide ridge of Miadan Creag an Leth-choin (Miadan Path). From the flat and stony track, you’ll have fantastic views of Cairn Toul and Braeriach across the Lairig Ghru. 

Eventually, you’ll subtly veer right and begin to descend the Miadan Path. Not far into the descent, you’ll have more epic views of Cairn Lochan and the small loch below.

The resulting winding stone steps cross the moor, passing Lochan Buidhe and the streams of Allt Coirre an Lochan and some lovely cascades of Allt Coire an t-Sneachda.

Soon enough, you’ll arrive back at the Cairngorm Ski Centre. Needless to say, the return journey has sumptuous views of the Cairngorm mountain ranges!

Dan sits to admire Cairn Lochan, in between Ben Macdui and the Cairngorm Ski Centre.
Cairn Lochan

Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm Recap

The Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm walk is a magnificent trail to conquer Scotland’s and Britain’s second-highest mountain. Ben Macdui certainly isn’t as well-known as bigger brother Ben Nevis in the West Highlands; but, in our humble opinion, the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm route is a better one than the Ben Nevis Mountain Trail. Besides, the Cairngorms is a beautiful part of the world, with the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm hike one of its premier attractions. So, make sure to add Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm to your Cairngorms walks to-do list!

Check out our West Highlands, Loch Lomond and NC500 guides

Getting to Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm

Using public transport, it’s possible to get a bus (M10/M90) from Inverness to Aviemore and then the 37 bus from Aviemore to the Cairngorm Ski Centre, which is the trailhead for Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm. However, this would be a time-consuming way to get there and so, we recommend driving. The Cairngorm Mountain Upper Car Park at the Cairngorm Ski Centre only has a voluntary parking charge. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, consider renting a car.

Car Hire

If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.

To find out more about renting a car with Discover Cars, read our Discover Cars review and Discover Cars Insurance review.

Cairngorm Ski Centre (Cairngorm Ski Resort)

Parking at the Cairngorm Ski Centre, AKA the Cairngorm Ski Resort, is the best place to park for the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm walk.


After camping in the West Highlands for six nights, we decided to treat ourselves with a proper roof over our heads for a couple of nights.

When searching for accommodation in the Cairngorms National Park, you’ll find most options are located in Aviemore and are very expensive. Thankfully, OYO Braeriach Hotel in Newtonmore is a fantastic option for those wanting to stay in the Cairngorms without the ridiculous prices. For approx. £60/night (nearer to £90/night in peak season), you’ll be based opposite the magnificent Grampians mountain range and only 35–40 minutes from the Cairngorm Ski Centre.

At the OYO Braeriach Hotel, expect friendly and accommodating staff, who help with a seamless check-in. The rooms are warm and cosy with beautiful mountain views. Despite the rooms being small, they’ll have everything you need for a pleasant short stay. Conveniently, there’s a pub downstairs and free street parking.

Stay at OYO Braeriach Hotel
A hotel room
  • Budget-friendly option near Cairngorms National Park
  • Comfortable and cosy rooms
  • On-site bar, serving breakfast

Ben Macdui Route Alternatives

There are a few different ways to reach Ben Macdui. These other Cairngorm walks are considered more difficult routes. That’s because these other Caingorm walks explore other Munros in addition to Ben Macdui. For more information about these other Cairngorm walks, please click the links below, which will take you to the respective map.

Nearby Cairngorm Walks, Hills and Mountains

Hiking Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm will take, at the very least, 5 hours for speed hikers, and more likely, around 6–8 hours for other walkers. So, you’ll probably need a day dedicated to hiking the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm route. Of course, for the quick walkers, there’s always an option to add in a shorter hike in the afternoon if you’ve still got the energy. We recommend the straightforward Green Lochan Circular or the longer Meall A’Bhuachaille Circuit (8km; 4 hours), which also takes in the Green Lochan, to completely fill your day.

After hiking a ridiculous amount in the previous week in Loch Lomond and the West Highlands, we decided to conquer Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm would be our only hike of the day. Plus, being Beck’s birthday, we felt that we should take it easy in the afternoon to celebrate!


Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Ben Macdui.

Where Is Ben Macdui?

Ben Macdui is located in the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland.

How High Is Ben Macdui?

Ben Macdui is 1,309 metres above sea level. It’s the second highest mountain in Scotland and Britain!

How Long to Climb Ben Macdui?

If you’re following the Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm route described in this guide, the walk is around 18.5km. It takes approx. 5.25–7.5 hours to complete.

Getting to Scotland

To do this trip from abroad, fly to Inverness, as this is the closest airport to the Cairngorms. When booking flights, use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search.

Hiking Gear Essentials For Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm

These are some of our hiking gear essentials for exploring Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm.

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Trail Navigation

Hiking Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm isn’t too challenging when it comes to navigation. But, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it may be worth having GPS directions. Feel free to use our Wikiloc GPS-guided map.

Bonus Tips

  • Start early: although this trail isn’t as busy as the Ben Nevis Mountain Trail, being Scotland’s and Britain’s second highest mountain, the route does get crowded on the weekend, particularly during midday.
  • Check the Ben Macdui weather and trail conditions: is Ben Macdui dangerous? This route is unsafe to inexperienced hikers and/or those without specialist snow trekking equipment when the track is snow-covered. Also, the trail can get terribly windy, even on the nicest of days, so perhaps wait to do this trail when you’ve got decent weather.
  • Head to Newtonmore Grill: if you end up staying in Newtonmore, you must eat at Newtonmore Grill. Whether it’s a hearty Scottish breakfast or greasy fry-up of an evening, you’ll be pleased with a meal at this local institution.
  • Come back to ski in winter: if you like your winter sports, buy yourself a Cairngorm Ski Pass and give the slopes a whirl!
  • Ben Macdui pronunciation: impress the locals with your accurate pronunciation – been mac-doo-ee.

Who will you be hiking Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm with? Share this post on Facebook.

Daniel Piggott

Dan is a travel blogger, physiotherapist, hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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