Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Photo: GettyImages-1307407586
4.9
| 32 reviews

Summit to Sea Expedition in Scotland

4 nights
Challenging

An epic challenge through 115km of wild mountains and rivers on a self-powered journey through the stunning Cairngorms

What's Included?

Activities & Certified Guides

All itinerary activities with local, certified canoeing and hiking guides

Wild camping

4 nights wild camping

Meals

All your breakfasts, lunches and dinners

Transfers

Transfers from Inverness city centre to the expedition start point, and back again

Equipment

All your canoeing, camping and safety equipment

Small Like-minded Groups

Solo-friendly by design, join our small n’ sociable groups of up to 8 like-minded, active and outdoorsy people
From

excluding flights

What's it like?

4.9
| 32 reviews
The trip was superb. Alternatives were quic...
October 2021
Jeremy
Much better adventures did it again! What a...
October 2021
Hannah
Much better adventures did it again! What a...
October 2021
Hannah
Much better adventures did it again! What a...
October 2021
Hannah
Thoroughly recommend this trip,Chris our ho...
September 2021
Marcus
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
September 2021
Robert
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
September 2021
Robert
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
September 2021
Robert
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
September 2021
Robert
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
September 2021
Robert
The trip was quality from start to finish a...
September 2021
Jamie
100% recommend this trip, it is definitely...
September 2021
Josh
100% recommend this trip, it is definitely...
September 2021
Josh
Great trip, the hiking and kayaking were fa...
August 2021
James
Great trip, the hiking and kayaking were fa...
August 2021
James
Great trip, the hiking and kayaking were fa...
August 2021
James
LOVED THIS TRIP!! I would highly recommend...
July 2021
Jonathan
LOVED THIS TRIP!! I would highly recommend...
July 2021
Jonathan
Highly recommend this fantastic trip. Amazi...
July 2021
Lesley A.
Highly recommend this fantastic trip. Amazi...
July 2021
Lesley A.
Highly recommend this fantastic trip. Amazi...
July 2021
Lesley A.
Highly recommend this fantastic trip. Amazi...
July 2021
Lesley A.
Highly recommend this fantastic trip. Amazi...
July 2021
Lesley A.
This was an absolutely fantastic trip, I ha...
July 2021
Louise
This was an absolutely fantastic trip, I ha...
July 2021
Louise
This was an absolutely fantastic trip, I ha...
July 2021
Louise
Well organised, great itinerary...
July 2021
Suzanne
Well organised, great itinerary...
July 2021
Suzanne
Great challenge. Great adventure. Going fro...
July 2021
Jed
Great challenge. Great adventure. Going fro...
July 2021
Jed

Hike past iconic lochs, through old Caledonian forests and to the summit of Cairn Gorm (1244m), the legendary mountain at the heart of the UK’s largest National Park

Wild camp in remote, secluded spots in whisky country, sip a wee dram beside the campfire and wild swim in Loch A’an

Descend the River Spey by canoe, tackling the notorious ‘Washing Machine' rapids en route to the finish line at the North Sea

Key Information

Day 1

To the top of the Cairngorms

Lochnagar, Cairngorms, Scotland. Photo: GettyImages-157530184

Hiking

7-8hrs · 16km · 840m up · 690m down

Meet your host and fellow adventurers in Inverness, the bustling capital of the Highlands. Hop in the van and head for the Cairngorms to kickstart the expedition. Your objective today is to reach the 1244m summit of Cairn Gorm mountain itself – the very heart of the largest National Park in the UK. The trail is relatively straightforward for reasonably fit walkers, and no technical scrambling or climbing skills are required (that said, it's a hefty hike so we recommend that you don't carry anything in your pack that is not essential). Reaching the heights of the Cairngorm Plateau, you'll descend the far side then drop down to the remote and beautiful Loch A'an (AKA Loch Avon) for a rest and the chance for a stunning wild swim to cool down from your mountain climbing exertions. Continue hiking eastwards and then north along an undulating trail, circling round the back of the main Cairngorm massif – looking out for a sheltered spot for your first night of wild camping beneath Scottish skies.

Day 2

Abernethy Forest to the River Spey

Hiking

6hrs · 20km · 150m up · 650m down

Canoeing

1hr · 3km

Rise early to grab breakfast, break down camp and continue your push north. Hike out from the mountains, descending the last of the Cairngorm foothills and dropping down into the ancient pines of the Abernethy Forest National Nature Reserve. This is one of the biggest remnants of the ancient Caledonian pine forest that once covered 80% of Scotland and is a real haven for wildlife such as pine martens, wildcats and different species of deer. Gradually descend to the valley floor of Strathspey and on to the lovely little Highland village of Nethy Bridge, where a village shop awaits to replenish supplies before the final 2km to reach the River Spey – where your canoe will be waiting for you. Enjoy a short rest before switching your gear into drybags for the canoe, hitting the water and paddling to your first riverside wild camping spot. Time to kick back with a wee dram and do a spot of stargazing from the fireside.

Day 3

Paddle through whisky country

Canoeing the Washing Machine, Scotland

Canoeing

5-6hrs · 29km

After your short introduction to the river yesterday, things ramp up today as you begin to get a feel for the River Spey. Your guide will fill you in on the rich cultural and industrial heritage of the Spey Valley as you learn the art of 'reading the river' – navigating the safest channels whilst flanked by the dramatic backdrop of the North East Highlands. This section is easygoing, and the worst that can happen is some wet feet if you don't pick a good line! Having learnt a few skills to help you handle your canoe, later this afternoon you’ll hit the notorious ‘Washing Machine’ section, giving you the opportunity to shoot a Grade 2 rapid if you wish. All part of the fun! Your guides are highly trained to keep you safe, but there is always the option of carrying your canoe around the side if you aren’t feeling up for it. Tonight's wild camp is on an island just 1km further on from the rapids. As you are now right in the heart of whisky country, it may be fitting to sample some of the local nectar around the campfire on your idyllic little island paradise.

Day 4

Ballindalloch to Rothes

Canoeing

3hrs · 27km

Another big day today as you progress downriver through the heart of the famous Speyside whisky region. More fun Grade 1-2 rapids are on the menu as the river picks up speed on its race to the sea. There’s still time to relax on the calmer sections though, and soak up the vast wilderness of the Spey. Keep your eyes peeled for ospreys and otters, before setting up camp for the night near Craigellachie. Tonight is your final night of the expedition, so enjoy the campfire vibes with another meal prepared by your guides and a drop of Aberlour malt to toast the final stretch of the expedition.

Day 5

Final stretch to the North Sea

River Spey, Scotland. Photo: Canva - https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEFCtoFg7I-river-spey-grantown-scotland/

Canoeing

18km

Wake up in the wild one last time, ready for the final push – the end of the expedition is in sight. Follow the meandering river and start to smell the sea air as Spey Bay approaches. This beautiful coastal reserve on the north Scottish coast is home to dolphins year-round – with a stroke of luck, they might even be there for your finish line party as you reach Whale & Dolphin Conservation Centre at Spey Bay which marks the end of your summit to sea journey. Celebrate with some refreshments at the cafe here, before your host drives you back to Inverness Airport or central Inverness, depending on your choice.

Day 1

Wild camping · Twin tent

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 2 – Day 4

Wild camping · Twin tent

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 5

Departure day

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

What is the food like?

For breakfast, there'll be cereal, bread, tea and coffee. For lunch, you can expect wraps with a variety of fillings, soup, and some home-baked delights. Dinner will consist of three courses, including pâté and oatcakes, followed by a pasta or rice dish and some home-baked snacks for the canoeing section. Snacks and drinks will also be available between meals. The food will be a bit more basic for the first night in the hills as you will be carrying everything – but once into your canoes, there will be more variety.

Vegetarian, vegan and most dietary requirements can be catered for – please just request this on your passenger info form.

What is the accommodation like?

Wild Camping

You’ll wild camp in twin-share tents, pitched in remote, beautiful spots in the mountains and by the riverside. What's lacking in facilities is made up for in peace, wild nature and star-studded skies.

Upgrades

For solo travellers wanting their own personal space, you can request your own private tent on the trip (subject to availability). Just request this when booking.

This trip has been rated as Challenging

You need to have a good level of fitness for this trip – you will be walking for two days with your overnight kit, plus you will need to take a share of the food and camping equipment with you, so you can expect your rucksack to weigh around 12-15kg with water included. You will need to feel comfortable walking with this weight for several hours. No experience is needed for the canoeing, as your host will provide instruction as you go; however, it can be useful to have some previous experience on the water in a canoe or kayak. You must be able to swim a distance of at least 25 metres for safety reasons (although you will, of course, be given a buoyancy aid).

The Scottish summer is usually warm but you can expect some rain, even if it's just a little. Prepare for anything and think ‘layers.’ Conditions in April and May will be slightly cooler, with the potential for frost at night. Kit-wise, the main thing is a warm sleeping bag – bring an additional sleeping bag liner if you feel the cold more.

The Area

map

Logistics

Starts

Central Inverness

08:30 on Day 1

Ends

Central Inverness or Inverness Airport

15:00 on Day 5

Transfers

You’ll meet your host in the car park at the Tesco Metro on Tomnahurich Street in central Inverness at 08:30 on Day 1. You will then be transferred by minibus to the start point of the expedition, in the Cairngorms National Park. We recommend you arrive the night before to ensure you don't miss your transfer. It is also possible for your host to pick you up in Aviemore around 09:30; please request this with them directly after booking if you would like to do this (however please note this option is not available at the end of the trip, and you will be dropped in Inverness).

Your trip will end back in Inverness mid-afternoon. Your host will transfer you either to the town centre or to Inverness Airport depending on your requirements. Please don't book any onward travel before 17:00, in case of bad weather causing a delayed arrival into Inverness.

Travel options

Regular trains run to Inverness from across the UK. The nearest airport is Inverness. Please note if you are flying, you will need to arrive in Inverness the night before in order to make the start time on Day 1. There are buses available to Inverness from the central belt: Citylink and Megabus offer regular services. There is also the option of the Caledonia Sleeper Train.

For those driving, we recommend using the long-stay public car park in central Inverness which is within walking distance of the meeting point.

Enjoy 12.5% Off Outdoor Gear

In need of a few more items? All bookings receive a 12.5% discount to use at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock and Runner's Need.

What's included?

Your host will supply you with the following kit to carry and use.

For the hiking part of the trip:

  • Lightweight tent (20 litres)
  • Lightweight sleeping mat (5 litres)
  • Cutlery, mug, bowl, plate (2 litres)
  • Food (2 litres)
  • Stove, plus gas (5 litres)

For the canoeing part of the trip:

  • Bigger tent
  • Buoyancy aid (i.e. Life Jacket)
  • Canoe, paddles, helmet
  • 1 X 60 litre river storage barrel
  • More food!
  • Waterproofs (if requested)

Please let your host know an indication of size for the included waterproof clothing and helmet on your passenger information form. (Sizing is either extra-small, small, medium, large or extra-large; an approximate guess will do.)

WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING?

To pack for the hiking on Days 1 & 2:

  • 60 litre hiking rucksack with waistbelt (for kit below, plus the hiking list above)
  • A rucksack liner or dry bags, to keep your kit/sleeping bag dry in heavy rain
  • Sleeping bag (3-4 seasons, down to 0 degrees Celsius)
  • Waterproof, breathable jacket with hood
  • Waterproof trousers/overtrousers
  • Hiking boots (must be boots, not trainers or trail runners)
  • 2 pairs of good quality hiking socks
  • 1 set of hiking clothes to wear, quick drying and not cotton/denim
  • Spare socks and underwear for Day 2
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Sunglasses (ideally with a retainer for canoeing days)
  • Sun cream – because it’s always sunny in Scotland! (But seriously, please take some.)
  • Midge repellent spray/cream and midge net/hood - YOU WILL NEED THESE!
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, mini toiletries
  • Swimsuit and travel towel for a dip in the loch
  • Head torch
  • Small zip lock bags/dry bags for personal things like phones, wallets
  • 2 litres of water carrying capacity in bottle(s) and/or bladder(s)
  • A few of your favourite snacks
  • Personal medication

To pack separately for canoeing (this will be dropped off to you on Day 2):

  • 2 sets of paddling clothes (lightweight, quick drying trousers, socks, base layer top & fleece)
  • 1 set of warm evening clothes
  • Canoeing shoes/trainers (these will get wet everyday)
  • Dry, lightweight trainers for evenings around rugged campsites (no flip flops/sliders please)
  • Optional: a pair of neoprene socks would help keep your feet warm when paddling
  • Optional: a pair of grippy cycling gloves will protect your hands when paddling
  • Shorts, in case it’s sunny

Bear in mind when packing that all your personal kit, including sleeping bag and part of a tent, needs to fit into a 60-litre canoe barrel (about the size of the expedition rucksack you should bring).

*Requests for optional extras can be made after booking on your “My Bookings” page

Sleeping Bag Hire

Payable Before Departure

Sleeping Bag Hire

Per Person

Jeremy(October 2021)
The trip was superb. Alternatives were quic...

The trip was superb. Alternatives were quickly offered following reports of dangerous wind conditions. Outstanding guide and support throughout. Amazing food by our host, Scott, and all the kit was well specified and otherwise provided. The group was amazing, everyone mucked in and the achievement was one I will never forget. I will be booking with MBA again in the future!

Hannah(October 2021)
Much better adventures did it again! What a...
Much better adventures did it again! What a...
Much better adventures did it again! What a...

Much better adventures did it again! What a great trip, varied, challenging and fun and well supported by the local guide. I would highly recommend this trip through this company.

Aisla(October 2021)

What a fantastic week! The hiking section was wet and windy for us but still fun to be in the hills swimming and making friends with deer (and ticks!). Loved the canoeing, so relaxing yet a good chance to practice skills negotiating the rapids. Chris was a brilliant guide and we ate like kings and queens- food far exceeded my expectations! We had a super group and lots of laughs. Still daydreaming about campfires, jumping salmon and that haggis and whisky sauce...

Nicola(September 2021)

Great trip. Take an old school digital camera and leave your phone at home or in your rucksack after the hiking....you won't regret it. Great decompress from the real world.

Austin(September 2021)

Can't fault this trip! Our group leader Chris was amazing and very talented as a chef too. So many great memories, thank you!

Charlie(September 2021)

I had a wonderful experience on this trip. Our local guide Chris was brilliant, there was amazing camp food (never the same meal twice). All the equipment we were leant was in great condition. The wild camping was great, we had a couple of camp fires and the group got on really well.

This is a physically challenging trip as you have to carry all your gear up a mount and back down. Handling the canoes takes some skill but also some strength during the rapids to negotiate the turns.

Marcus(September 2021)
Thoroughly recommend this trip,Chris our ho...

Thoroughly recommend this trip,Chris our host was professional on every level and then some,amazing guy. Food was excellent, the camp locations where stunning, glad we got the mountain trek out of the way first was hard going but then that was what I wanted tbh and the canooing on the river was amazing especially when I he sun was shining.Got bit wet on the final part but that was all part of the fun. Feel nourished in everyway from the food to being out in nature this way to the guys I've spent time with and got to know,feel like a different person,many happy memories will stay with me x

Sophia(September 2021)

This trip is definitely for you if you want to get out of your comfort zone! The hike was full of dramatic scenery but tough at times, carrying a large, heavy rucksack really changes your fitness level I found out! After the hike we canoed down the River Spey, which is beautiful. We were all learning to canoe for the first time and Colin, our guide, gave clear instructions, was patient and really encouraging. I couldn’t fault his skills as a teacher. Colin looked after everyone really well, we had different dietary requirements and he made a huge effort to make sure we all had food we would enjoy.Overall it was fun and challenging and I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants a physical challenge and to experience the Scottish outdoors 😊

Robert(September 2021)
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
This trip was excellent from start to finis...
This trip was excellent from start to finis...

This trip was excellent from start to finish. What a great opportunity to get out into the wilderness and see some of the beauty of Scotland! We saw salmon being caught, an Osprey diving and catching fish and plenty of the local midge! Slightly tougher than I was expecting but you get fed so well that our energy levels remained high!

Jamie(September 2021)
The trip was quality from start to finish a...

The trip was quality from start to finish and surpassed my expectations and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it! The trip overall was challenging but was all worth it for the stunning views, experience and company! Colin our guide was fantastic and made the trip what it was, very knowledgeable, friendly and funny ! He also ensured we got the best out of our trip by asking each of the group what they wanted and expected and checked how everyone was throughout which was nice! The food was also great, I suffer from a dairy allergy and at no point did I feel like I was missing out and Colin made every effort to ensure I was catered for!

Josh(September 2021)
100% recommend this trip, it is definitely...
100% recommend this trip, it is definitely...

100% recommend this trip, it is definitely a challenge though! Found tough at times but so rewarding as an experience. Food was amazing, far exceeded my expectation on that front! Hike to summit was incredible and the scenes from the canoe stretch were great. Our guide was funny and knowledgable and ran the trip perfectly.

James(August 2021)