Cairn Toul

Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 57.05444°N / 3.71144°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Elevation: 4236 ft / 1291 m
Sign the Climber's Log



Pronounced – Carn Tool

Scottish Gaelic: Carn an t-sabhail

Summit height - 1,291 m (4,236 ft)

Meaning – Hill of the barn


The Cairngorm National Park was formed in 2003 to protect this unique area. It is the UK's largest national park with a large mountain range at its heart and with many diverse communities around it. The habitat offers a secure haven for many rare species and the forests include remnants of the original, ancient Caledonian pine forest. These contrast with large areas of heather moorland.

There is a well-developed ski and tourist area beneath Cairngorm mountain in the lower reaches of Coire Cas. Here, there are parking, toilet and eating facilities. In winter, it’s possible to get a bus from Aviemore to the ski area to ease the parking congestion.


Cairn Toul (1291m) and Sgor an Lochain Uaine (1258m), Cairngorms. Scotland
Cairn Toul (1291m) and Sgor an Lochain Uaine (1258m), Cairngorms. Scotland


Cairn Toul is the fourth-highest mountain in the UK after Ben Nevis (1344m), Ben Macdui (1309m) and Braeriach (1296m). It is a large, remote mountain lying deep in the Cairngorms range, behind the northern corries of Braeriach and protected to the west by the Moine Mhor an extensive area of mountain tundra and bog set at around 1000 metres in height. To the east, it looks down at the Larig Ghru – the deep pass that separates the western section of the Cairngorms from the central section containing Ben Macdui and Cairngorm. To the south is the summit of The Devil’s point (1004m) and then many miles of hills, moor and bog.



Climbing Cairn Toul


Originally, it is thought that farmers grazed cattle in Coire Odhar just south of Cairn Toul but by the 19th century these pastures were reserved for Deer and the sport of stalking alongside that of mountain exploration.

The Cairngorms Club journal of 1901 records a trip to explore the mountain. The climbers were hoping to find a lost treasure of gems.

Apparently, a hunter had discovered the gems and cached them under a boulder in Coire an t-Saighdeir (corrie of the soldier) hoping to return later to claim them. Unfortunately, he fell ill and died leaving the story with grieving relations who were unable to find the treasure.

The intrepid members of the Cairngorms club also failed to find the gems but explored the rocky ridges and corries of Coire an t-Saighdeir, Coire Odhar and An Garbh Choire. They searched in vain for White Dryas or Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) their main goal but in having the mountain to themselves, they left with a storehouse full of memories.

The modern-day explorer will have their sights set on other “treasures”.


Cairn Toul (1291m) Cairngorms, Scotland
Cairn Toul (1291m) Cairngorms, Scotland


The mountain itself is constructed of granite boulders and scree piled together as a result of the actions of ancient glaciers that covered this area. The rock tumbles down 700m from the summit into Garbh Choire Mor in the north and down to the Larig Ghru in the east. These cliffs offer a number of options to ascend or descend, particularly in Winter.

According to Adam Watson in “The Cairngorms” guidebook, it’s possible to ascend a gravel laden shute called The Slichit, set at the back of Coire an t-Saighdeir in the summer. Whilst the boulder ridge to the north of the summit into Coire an t-Sabhail makes a fine and quick descent if covered in snow during the winter.

However, most will use the path from Corrour bothy to the southeast of the mountain, traverse from Braeriach in the north and over Sgor an Lochain Uaine (Angels Peak) or reach the same path from Glen Eanaich in the west. The feint paths that now traverse the summit are often lost in the loose boulder fields before re-appearing farther on.


The west ridge of Cairn Toul (1291m) Cairngorms Scotland.
The west ridge of Cairn Toul (1291m) Cairngorms Scotland.


Cairn Toul is a fine mountain situated in a high and very remote area of Britain. It’s possible to see uncommon (to the UK) arctic plants on its slopes and corries as well as specialist birds such as Ptarmigan, Dotterels and Snow Buntings.

However, the rise in popularity in recent times of “Munro – bagging” means that on most days in summer you will not be alone in your day in the wilderness.






Getting There


Cairn Toul (1291m), Cairngorms, Scotland
Cairn Toul (1291m), Cairngorms, Scotland

Aviemore is the main town to use as a base for the northern Cairngorms. It has many hotels and shops and provides a good bus service to the area as well as a good train service to the wider country.

By road, Aviemore is easily accessed from the main A9 road which links Glasgow with Inverness. From Aviemore, there are several possible starting points, a minor road runs to Loch Morlich, and from there onwards to the Cairngorm ski development at Coire Cas. This road can be used to access the Sugar Bowl car park (Map ref. 985085) – a pay and display amenity - on the road leading from Aviemore to Cairn Gorm ski area beneath Coire Cas.

There is free parking at the end of the road at White well (Map ref. 916087) and it’s also possible to reach it from Glen Feshie by parking near Achlean (Map ref. 851985).

If approaching from the south (Glasgow), take the M9/A9 roads to Perth, then the A93 north through Glenshee to Braemar. This has a limited number of shops and services. The only Bus service is the Stagecoach service no 201, Aberdeen to Braemar. There is no nearby train service and at time of writing, no Taxi service in Braemar

The starting point from the south is the National Trust car park at Linn of Dee. This is a pay and display car park (free for NT members).




The geographical position of Cairn Toul means that it is unlikely any mountaineer would set out to climb this peak purely on its own. It is ideal to include at least one (or more) of the nearby peaks in a grand day out in the high Cairngorms.

Whichever route you choose, this will be a long day out in remote mountains so make sure you are fully prepared.


There are three obvious starting points:

Linn of Dee National Trust Car Park – OS Map reference 062898

Whitewell – OS Map reference 915087

Sugar Bowl Car Park – OS Map reference 985075




Blue route

Start at the road end at Whitewell. Head east to join the main track which heads up Glen Eanich. Continue on this almost to the loch then head up into Coire Dhondail by a stalkers path. Scramble up besides the waterfall to a cairn at the end of the path. Take a compass bearing for the summit of Sgor an Lochain Uaine and follow this across the open hillside. Follow the southwest ridge to the summit then continue along the edge down to the bealach. Ascend the rough path to the summit of Cairn Toul.

Orange route

Start at the Sugar bowl car park and cross the road to descend and cross the river then, follow the path up towards the Chalamain gap. Descend to the Larig Ghru and ascend the Sron na Larig ridge. Follow the route to the summit of Braeriach. From here, follow the edge of An Garbh Choire to the summit. Continue along the edge down to the bealach. Ascend the rough path to the summit of Cairn Toul.


Yellow route

From the Linn of Dee car park, follow the route to Derry lodge. From here cross the river and head west into Glen Lui (Glean Laoigh Bheag). Follow this path south of Carn a Mhaim, then north to Corrour Bothy. From here, head up towards The Devil’s point (another Munro) then northwest to Carin Toul.

Green route

From Whitewell, follow signs for the Larig Ghru. Continue on the path through the huge defile. It’s also possible to start this route at the Sugar Bowl car park. Continue southwards until you reach the Corrour bothy and pick up the yellow route from there.


This table shows the approximate distances from the start point to the summit of Cairn Toul by each route. These are all ONE WAY measurements. Therefore, you will need to either add two of the route distances together or double up on one (if returning the same way) to get the full route length.



Km (Approx)

Miles (Approx)

Linn of Dee – Cairn Toul (Yellow line)



Whitewell – Cairn Toul (Blue line + Orange line)



Whitewell – Cairn Toul via the Larig Ghru (Blue line + Green lines +yellow line)



Sugar bowl CP – Cairn Toul via Braeriach (Orange line)



Sugar Bowl CP – Cairn Toul via the Larig Ghru (Orange line + Green line + yellow line)





There are other places to start depending on how long you want to make your route and its possible to include other Cairngorm mountains on extended trips.




Red Tape


No red tape.

However, Scotland has an Outdoor Access code, see link:


When to Climb


Spring, Summer or Autumn (Fall) depending on conditions.

Warning: The above descriptions are for use in reasonable summer conditions. Winter conditions can occur at almost any time of the year. In winter condition, this mountain is a much more serious proposition. Any paths may be covered by snow and ice and gale force winds are common. Ice axe, Crampons, the knowledge of how to use them allied with excellent map reading and compass skills are essential.


The high peaks of the western Cairngorms, Scotland
The high peaks of the western Cairngorms, Scotland




Hotels and self-catering accommodation around Aviemore. Many campsites in Aviemore, Coylumbridge and Loch Morlich but it’s probably best to book a place in advance during high season.

There are a limited number of Hotels, guesthouses and B&B premises in Braemar and there are many self-catering cottages in the area.

There is a caravan and campsite in Braemar, see the Braemar information page for details of all of these.

It is possible to wild camp in Scotland. See the Outdoor access code for more details.



External Links


Walk highlands -




Cairngorms club -


Cairngorms National Park -


Braemar information -


The Cairngorms – Adam Watson (SMC guidebook)

The Munros – D. Bennet (SMC guidebook)

The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland – I. Butterfield

Map - OS Explorer OL57. Cairngorm and Aviemore


Glen Dee, Cairngorms.
Glen Dee, Cairngorms.