Lochnagar from the east

Lochnagar and Loch Muick circuit

Hillwalking route up Lochnagar and neighbouring Munros

A group of five Munros surround Loch Muick in Royal Deeside. Including mighty Lochnagar, these peaks form a terrific high-level hiking circuit.

Route outline



Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach, 

Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, 

Cairn Bannoch, 

Broad Cairn



Ascent 1340m (4390ft)
Distance 28km (18m)
Time 9:15hr
Start/finish Spittal of Glen Muick
Grid Ref : N0310852
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

The highest peak in this circuit of five Munros is Cac Carn Beag on Lochnagar, which looks down over massive cliffs into dark coires below. The other summits are less characterful, but many discoveries are made when roaming over them, including wildlife, waterfalls and plane-wreckage.

Walking for some of the way is on fine paths, but be prepared for rough terrain heading up Lochnagar and on Broad Cairn and have your navigational wits about you when the mist is down.

Avoid doing this route in an anti-clockwise direction when a strong north-easterly is blowing as fighting against the wind funnelling up from Loch Muick can be soul-destroying !

Route map

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Route description

1. Getting to Glen Muick

Stag-ponies near Spittal of Glen Muick

Stag-ponies near Spittal of Glen Muick

Get to Ballater, which is on the A93, 60km west of Aberdeen and 75km north of Perth. From Ballater, head over the bridge on the River Dee, turn right and follow the road down Glen Muick for 13km to it's end. The road becomes narrower and single-track and at its end are a couple of large car-parks. You'll need to pay (£3 at time of last visit) - the money collected goes towards pathwork via the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust. In summer the car-parks can be full.

2. Lochnagar via the clifftop route part 1

Track on the way up to Clais Rathadan

Track on the way up to Clais Rathadan

From the car-park, head over the bridge, past the ranger's hut to a junction in the tracks - turn right. and continue to a group the houses ahead .

Leave the track, then on a marked path, head around the houses and into some woodland. Meet up with the track again, cross the Allt na Guibhsaich and follow it uphill to its highest point on the col between Glen Muick and Glen Gelder.

3. Detour to Conachcraig

Conachcraig from near the memorial

Conachcraig from near the memorial

Conachcraig is a little delightful heather clad hill and often bypassed in favour of larger prizes sought. It's a Corbett, so worthy of the very short detour from the Lochnagar route (around 165m of ascent over 1.5km there-and-back).

From the col between Glen Muick and Glen Gelder, pick up and follow one of the many faint paths heading off east through heather. The paths gradually all converge into one more obvious path which climbs directly through more heather and some boulders to the small cairn on one of the summit granite tors .

A further detour northwards following a path to the minor summit of Caisteal na Caillich is worth the extra effort for more fine views.

If not intending to continue further onwards to the Lochnagar Munros, a direct descent from the col between Conachcraig and Caisteal na Caillich can be made bounding down grass and heather to the Allt na Guibhsaich crossing .

4. Lochnagar via the clifftop route part 2

Aiming up to Lochnagar

Aiming up to Lochnagar

At the col between Glen Muick and Glen Gelder, a cairn marks the start of a fine path heading west towards Lochnagar. Around 1km up this path, there's a small memorial just off the path worth visiting . The path continues to the bealach between Lochnagar and Meikle Pap - if you're top-bagging, then a brief detour will take in this little Munro-Top with its fine views of Lochnagar's northern coire.

The constructed path continues from the bealach uphill onto Lochnagar's eastern crest above corries. Once on Lochnagar's crest, the bouldery ground briefly fades into grassy terrain and the route ahead on the path is obvious. Further on, the path veers off left - for views I'd recommend sticking to a fainter path on the edge of the coire - it heads up more directly and looks into the coire below.

Up some steep bouldery ground for a bit, then continue over fairly flat ground to the large cairn on Cac Carn Mor . In mist, this might be mistaken for Lochnagar's summit - Lochnagar's summit is marked by a small cairn on Cac Carn Beag, which is around 500m north. A well-worn path connects these two cairns and a there's short and easy rock-scramble needed to attain the top where there's viewfinder and excellent expansive views.

5. Lochnagar waterfall route

Waterfalls on the way up Lochnagar

Waterfalls on the way up Lochnagar

From the car-park, head over the bridge, past the ranger's hut to a junction in the tracks - keep straight on.

Around 1km further on, you'll come to a junction , take the track towards Loch Muick. Upon reaching the lochside, cross a bridge over the outflow and walk around the head of the loch to boathouse. Around the boathouse, join another track and follow it for the best part of 3km along the northern shore of Loch Muick to the imposing lodge at Glas-allt Shiel . On a path, go around the lodge, and begin to climb uphill. Ascent steepens and lovely waterfall is met with the path zig-zagging close by.

Above the waterfalls, simply follow the path as it gently climbs up to the large cairn on Cac Carn Mor . Lochnagar's summit, Cac Carn Beag , is 500m to the north.

6. Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach

Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach from Lochnagar

Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach from Lochnagar

From Lochnagar's summit, return towards the large cairn on Cac Carn Mor , but just before reaching it, look for a path heading off right (south-west). Ignore the cairns to the left they mark the start of the route to the waterfall and directly down to Loch Muick.

Keeping to the path heading south-west, descend to a wide, grass-covered (and sometimes wet) bealach.The path starts to climb uphill and heads towards steep ground dropping off to the right (north) , leave the path here and bear towards south-west onto more level ground.

A very faint path forms and can be traced to aim directly to the small cairn on Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach . After the drama of Lochnagar, this is a somewhat unimpressive Munro summit !

7. Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

On Carn an t-Sagairt Mor's summit crest

On Carn an t-Sagairt Mor's summit crest

Leave Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach's summit aiming westwards.After dropping down grassy slopes with occasional boulders, the gradient begins to ease and a path following a burn heading south-west is met.

Follow this path which crosses the burn a bit further on, then contours to meet a line of old iron fence-posts aiming up to the bealach between Carn an t-Sagairt Beag and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor.

In mist, these posts can be used as a guide to get up Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, but otherwise just head directly uphill over wet and heathery ground towards Carn an t-Sagairt Mor's summit .

On the way, you might encounter some scattered plane wreckage, including a large section of wing to the north-east of the summit. These pieces are the remains of a Canberra jet that crashed into the hill in 1956.

Carn an t-Sagairt Mor's summit has two cairns (the southern one indicates the highest point) from where excellent views are to be had on clear days.

8. Cairn Bannoch

Approaching Cairn Bannoch's summit

Approaching Cairn Bannoch's summit

Beyond Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, there's very little ascent left ! Having left Carn an t-Sagairt Mor's southern cairn and on a faint path, aim south-east downhill. The path becomes more obvious as it loses height. The bealach between Carn an t-Sagairt Mor and Cairn Bannoch is approached where terrain is more gentle and grass covered.

Cross the wide bealach, you may well meet up with folk coming in on the paths from Auchallater and Fafernie .

Cairn Bannoch comes into view and the last few metres of climb up to Cairn Bannoch's summit require a bit of clambering over some large boulders.

9. Broad Cairn

Broad Cairn from Cairn Bannoch

Broad Cairn from Cairn Bannoch

From Cairn Bannoch, head south-east and up the bump marked 991m . Nearby Cairn of Gowal can be bypassed as you hike downhill, south-east on a faint path over grassy ground to reach an unusual bealach with three summits of Cairn of Gowal, Creagan Dubh-loch and Broad Cairn radiating out from it.

A quick walk over more flat grass covered ground and one last clamber up bouldery ground gain's Broad Cairn's summit . Good views, particularly down Loch Muick and out to Mount Keen.

10. Return to Glen Muick

Walking back outtowards Loch Muick

Walking back outtowards Loch Muick

The OS maps don't hint at the boulderfield east of Broad Cairn's summit - the direct route is down this with a path appearing and disappearing - this could be tricky for tired legs ! An alternative would be to retrace steps west from Broad Cairn's summit and look left for faint path heading south - this then turns eastwards and by-passes most of the boulderfield and joins up with the path coming through it.

Beyond the boulderfield and now on an obvious track, head down to a pony shed 1km below.

Just beyond this, you've a choice - if the weather's poor, take the fine path that heads directly down to Loch Muick to get out of westerly winds.

If the weather is fine, I'd recommend keeping on the high track above Loch Muick for 3km and take in the views for longer.

Both of these options meet around half way along Loch Muick's southern shore , from where a walk of 4km will get you back to the car-park.

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Alternative and nearby routes »

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