Rich in lush forests, spectacular mountain ranges and rugged coastline, there is little wonder that Scotland boasts some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery. Bikers from throughout the UK and abroad travel here every year to breathe in the fresh air and indulge in the unspoilt views.
Many travel to the western isles or the NC500, but those in the know head into the Cairngorms National Park to enjoy quieter roads, stunning scenery and world-class riding.
The big attraction here is the Snow Roads, running north to south through the heart of the park – but that’s just the start. There are plenty of routes to choose from, and endless offshoots from them. Whichever route you choose, you’re sure to have a good time. Enjoy!
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The Snow Roads
Blairgowrie to Grantown-On-Spey
80 miles | 2 hours 10 minutes
This route covers some of the most scenic points in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Moray Speyside and the Highlands. Depending on the time of year, you could be taking in snow-capped mountains (as we did during our visit in May), plus rugged glens, towering Munros and, of course, delicious food along the way. The route begins in the picturesque market town of Blairgowrie, and passes through Braemar, Ballater and Tomintoul before finishing in Grantown-on-Spey. Of course, you could always do it the other way, too!
The Snow Roads start from Blairgowrie as a pretty country road that cuts through some forests and farmland. At this point, the A93 is nice, but nothing out of this world. That’s until you reach the edge of the Cairngorms National Park – that’s when the scenery simply explodes into a gigantic amphitheatre of nature. You are surrounded by mountains, on the old Military Road that snakes its way up to the top of the Cairnwell Pass. At 670m (2199 ft), the pass is the highest main road in the UK, and at the summit is the Glenshee Ski Centre, Scotland’s largest and oldest ski centre.
The road up to the top is fast, fun and rewarding, but the views in all directions are so good that you might want to take it easy and enjoy the scenery. At this point it’s tempiting to turn back and do that run again, but resist the temptation and carry on down the other side towards Braemar. This section of the road is even faster, even more fun, and the views are even better.
Braemar is a good place for a little stop to let the adrenalin settle. There are nice cafes and restaurants that you can spot from the main road, so no need to hunt around.
From Braemar towards Balmoral and Ballater, you’re riding through a forest, following the rider Dee. This is still the A93, and it takes you Ballater, where you will take the A939 north.
Officially, the Snow Roads run 90 miles from Blairgowrie to Grantown-on-Spey, but our route takes a cheeky little shortcut, bypassing Ballater, which saves us about 10 miles and 15 minutes. Not that we do that because we were in a hurry. It adds a nice little section of narrow roads to the ride, but if you fancy popping into Ballater on your way, that works great too.
Whichever way you go, you will cross the beautiful Gairnshiel Bridge and continue towards Grantown-on-Spey on the A939.
You are now riding over the tops of the mountains, dipping down for a bit before heading up to the Lecht Ski Centre just before you reach Tomintoul.
The section from Tomintoul to Grantown-on-Spey, the road takes a different form again. There’s a mixture of forests, open moorland, and then a feeling that you have returned to civilisation as you get nearer to Grantown-on-Spey. The road is mostly the usual, fairly fast affair, but there are a couple of hairpins here for you to negotiate, so keep your wits about.
From Grantown-on-Spey you can continue towards Inverness and jump on the NC500, turn the other way and join the NE250, or take our ‘Not the A9’ route back down via Aviemore avoiding the A9 as much as possible.
Not the A9
Grantown-On-Spey to Crieff
130 miles | 3 hours 45 minutes
Once you have ridden the Snow Roads enough, here’s how you can do the north-south run through Cairngorms a different way.
The problem with finding alternative routes for this stretch is that the obvious option, the A9, may well have all the lovely scenery of the area, but when it comes to riding motorcycles, it’s not the most exciting with its average speed cameras, dual carriageway sections and lack of interesting corners.
So, if you want to pop into Aviemore, have a look at the mountains from the west, and maybe pop into a distillery on the way, but avoid the tedium of the A9, here’s how to do it.
Our route starts from Grantown-on-Spey, retracing the first part of the Snow Roads on the A939, before taking a right towards Nethy Bridge, Boat of Garten and finally Aviemore. The road is small, but pleasant, taking you through forests, farms and villages.
Reaching Aviemore doesn’t take too long, but it’s a nice place to stop for a break to do the touristy things (of which there are plenty here).
If you have the time, take a little detour to the Cairngorm Mountain ski resort. Our .gpx route includes this option, so if you don’t fancy it, just keep going south out of Aviemore on the B9152. But if you do that, you will miss some fabulous views from the top.
After the mountain, the B9152 will take you past Kincraig and Loch Insh along the side of the A9, before slipping to the west side of the main road, turning into the A86 and flowing through Kingussie and Newtonmore (which had a garage if you need to fill up).
Stay on the A86 until just after Laggan, where you turn left onto the A889 towards Dalwhinnie. This is a nice twisty bit of road, and at the end of it you find the Dalwhinnie distillery.
From the distillery, you need to get on the A9 for a bit (which is ok, it will make you realise how good it is to avoid it), then take a right a little while after the road turns into a dual carriageway. The turn is easy to miss, so be prepared. It’s signposted Trinafour.
The first part of this road is not in great condition, but don’t worry, the tarmac gets better soon. The road is a narrow forestry track that climbs high, then drops down towards south, offering great views in all directions.
From Trinafour, head towards Tummel Bridge, then carry on towards Crieff or swing a right at Aberfeldy if you want to aim for the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. There are plenty of options from here, so the next steps are up to you.
250 miles (duh!) | 7 hours
Whilst the NC500 with its winding roads is the big draw in northern Scotland for many bikers, it can get so busy that you will have to endure tailbacks of caravans and motorhomes, particularly during the summer. An alternative is on offer in the shape of the NE250, a route half in the National Park, half outside of it hugging the coastline.
The 250-mile (mostly) circular route covers a fair bit of the spectacular mountain passes of the Snow Roads (i.e. the tail section down from Ballater to the Devil’s Elbow viewpoint and back, and then from Ballater up to Tomintoul, but away from that stretch, there are plenty of new sections for seasoned Snow Roaders too.
From Tomintoul, if you are travelling clockwise, you enter the heart of the whisky distilleries of Speyside, and then reach the rugged North Sea coastline. There are picturesque seaside villages along the route to the Granite City of Aberdeen.
The route is not short of hotels, campsites and B&Bs, with plenty of eateries, from pub lunches to gourmet meals.
As with files given freely by any source, always check the journey before you leave, and use common sense when following. Happy travels…
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