Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

Written by Chris Thornton | 5th of December 2022
Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

Reindeer aren't the first animals you associate with Scotland, but the Cairngorm National Park has its own reindeer herd, not far from Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands.

Considering the number of times my family have visited Aviemore, we have never taken the time to check out the Cairngorm reindeer herd, but this changed in late November 2022!

In the past, we have seen the reindeer herd appear at many events, even in our home town of Buckie. The Macdonald Hotel in Aviemore regularly has visits from the reindeer at Christmas time, too, along with a lovely Santa's Grotto near Spey Valley Shopping. It was nice to see where they are based and talk to the herders themselves.

There is a lot of interest in the reindeer locally, and our visit in November was fascinating.

Cairngorm Reindeer Centre

The Cairngorm reindeer herd can be found a short distance from Loch Morlich on the B970, about 20 minutes away from Aviemore. We parked at the parking spots on either side of the B970, directly next to the reindeer centre, and walked over to the reception building to purchase tickets.

Signage for Glenmore Lodge and Cairngorm Reindeer.
Cairngorm Reindeer Centre welcome signage.
 
The car park at Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.
Parking near the Reindeer Centre.

We were greeted by a chap at the reception, which also doubles up as a shop selling interesting items, including reindeer skins, hats, antler keyrings and naked herder calendars!? We all received a little sticker which permitted us access to the main area of the reindeer centre. The paddock prices were very reasonable at £4 per adult and £3 per child.

View of the centre from the road.
View from the main road.
 
Lead up to the shop and exhibition for the reindeer.
Walking up to reception.
 
Steps to the reception.
Door to the reception and gift shop, once the home of the herd owners.

Following around to the left of the reception, we came to the door to access the reindeer centre properly. The handles of the door used a reindeer antler!

Entering the paddocks
Entrance to the paddocks.

Entering the paddock area, you will see a small field directly ahead where we caught our first glimpse of these beautiful animals. There are viewing platforms of different heights to observe the reindeer. It seems we were lucky on our visit as the two reindeer there had huge antlers... there were also many ducks capitalising on the free food available.

Natural environment.
Two beautiful reindeer at Cairngorm reindeer herd paddocks.

Information boards attached to the boundary fence give an insight into the herd, but there is a great deal more information in the central reindeer house/exhibition, including:

  • Many informational boards.

  • Photos of the herd and historic reindeer.

  • A collection of skulls from different deer species from around the world.

  • Ring binders full of photos and information.

  • An informational video.

  • Dioramas.

So relative level of fitness required.
My mam and youngest daughter reading about the reindeer.
 
Reading about the reindeer.
My family checking out the reindeer,
 
Arctic Shed.
Two of my daughters in the arctic shed, with it's diorama.
 
Deer skulls at Cairngorm reindeer centre.
Deer skulls!

Hill trip to see the free-ranging herd

We opted not to go for the hill trip this time, it was threatening rain, and it was quite cold in late November... I can see us coming back in the future! The specimens in the paddock were more than worth the price of entry. The guided hill trips look fantastic, though, and would be a great wee adventure with the kids in the Cairngorm mountains.

Hill trips run daily and can be booked 30 days in advance and cost £20 for adults, £15 for children and £17.50 for students and seniors. Under three's are free. Each trip lasts roughly 1.5 to 2 hours. Pre-booking essential.

The reindeer free ranging over the Cairngorm mountains.
It would be amazing to see these reindeer on the hills.
 
Irish elk antler.
Actual antler size of an extinct Irish elk.

History of the Cairngorm reindeer herd

The Cairngorm reindeer herd was established in 1952 by Mikel Utsi and his wife, Ethel Lindgren, after discovering the Cairngorms were the only place still suitable for reindeer in the United Kingdom.

Reindeer have been extinct in Scotland for around 800 years due to overhunting by the Earls of Orkney. Mikel transported Swedish reindeer to establish his colony in Scotland, initially with two bulls and five cows, firstly to Edinburgh Zoo for quarantine and then releasing them in the Cairngorms.

A further 18 reindeer would join the herd in the following years to diversify the gene pool.

The herd was purchased by Alan and Elizabeth Smith in 1988, and the centre was created from their home, with the shop being their old front room! The centre has now been operational for over 25 years and has more than 1000 supporters worldwide.

150 reindeer are now part of the herd, which has been split over the Cairngorms and Glenlivet Estate. In 2022 three beautiful white reindeer were born within the herd and are due to go on a UK tour for the Christmas season.

Viewing platforms and exhibition centre.
Paddoocks and exhibition area.
 
Reindeer paddocks.
The reindeer paddocks.
 
My dad and my youngest at the reindeer centre.
A fun day at the reindeer centre.

Cairngorm Reindeer FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.

How do you get to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre?

The reindeer centre is located directly on the B970, about a 20-minute drive east of Aviemore. The centre is on the left side of the road and is well-signposted with a large wooden welcome sign.

The car park.
Parking is available either side of the B970.

Is there a car park for the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre?

Yes, but it's more like a parking strip on either side of the B970 main road, directly next to the centre. It normally is quite busy as visitors to Glenmore Forest Park Visitor Centre, Glenmore Forest, Glenmore Campsite, and visitors to the Green Loch may also decide to park here. The parking zone does reach a fair distance down the road, so you should be able to park.

How much does it cost to visit the reindeer?

It's a very reasonable £4 for adults and £3 for children (under 3's are free), with concessions for £3.50. The hill trips are more expensive at £20 for adults, £15 for children and £17.50 for students and seniors.

How long is a visit to the Cairngorm reindeer herd?

I'm not sure if your visit has a time limit, but the enclosure is relatively small; you will probably be in and out in under an hour.

Are reindeer native to Scotland?

Yes, reindeer were once a native species in Scotland, but sadly hunted to extinction 800 years ago.

A reindeer at Cairngorm reindeer park.
An impressive specimen.

Can you feed the reindeer?

No, there didn't seem to be an option to do this.

Are there toilets at the reindeer centre?

No, the nearest toilets are at Loch Morlich beach nearby.

When were reindeer reintroduced to Scotland?

Reindeer were reintroduced to Scotland in 1952 by Swedish herder Mikel Utsi and roam within the Cairngorms National Park.

My kids at the reindeer park near Aviemore.
A fun seasonable photo op with the kids.
 
Elf House.
Elf house!.

What else can I see while in the area?

There is so much to do in this area of Scotland, but the main attraction you should visit before or after the Reindeer Centre is "An Lochan Uaine - The Green Loch". This loch is famed for its vibrant green colour, making it unique to many lochs in Scotland. The Green Loch has its own folklore, too and is a lovely place to walk to after visiting the reindeer.

Please see my dedicated article on the best things to do in Aviemore for more ideas. Here are a few top picks near the reindeer centre:

For accommodation, you can't go wrong with the Cairngorm Hotel or Scandinavian Village; you are also spoilt for choice when camping in Aviemore.

Reindeer on tour.
Reindeer loaded up for a visit to a Christmas event.
 
A friendly reindeer saying hello!
Saying hello!

Cairngorm Reindeer Herd videos

A few quick videos of our trip to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.

The reindeer and paddocks.
 
One of the reindeer at the centre.
 
We had a lovely visit.

Key takeaways

  • Visit Britain's only free-ranging herd of reindeer.

  • The herd was established in 1952 with reindeer from Sweden.

  • You can visit the reindeer at the centre or on the hill trip.

  • The centre has paddocks and an exhibition.

  • The herd is now more than 150 reindeer strong.

Amazing antlers!
Impressive antlers!

Conclusion

Our visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre was short but sweet. It's highly educational with the numerous information boards, and the reindeer in the enclosures had very impressive antlers. It's not expensive to visit; I would definitely check it out if you visit the area.

Cairngorm Reindeer Herd location map

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