A rugged wilderness of mountains, moorlands, glens, and lochs, the sprawling Cairngorms National Park, established in 2003, takes in more than 1,700 square miles. Past Loch Morlich, at the high parking lot on the exposed shoulders of the Cairngorm Mountains, are dozens of trails for hiking and cycling. This is a massive park, encompassing small towns as well as countryside, but a good place to start exploring is the main visitor center in Aviemore. The staff can dispense maps, expert advice on the best trails, and also information on guided walks and other activities. (There are additional Cairngorms visitor centers in Braemar, Glenmore, Ballater, Tomintoul, Newtonmore and Grantown-on-Spey.) Because much of the best scenery in the park is off-road—including ancient pine forests and open moorland—a particularly good way to cover ground in the park is on a pony trek. The Rothiemurchus Estate leads guided hacks for riders of all levels of ability. The park is a haven for rare
wildlife: a full 25% of Britain's endangered species have habitats in the park. Birding enthusiasts come here to look (and listen) for the Scottish crossbill—the only bird completely unique to Britain. Weather conditions in the park change abruptly, so be sure to bring cold weather gear, particularly if you plan on hiking long-distance.