Forget the worlds of virtual gaming . . . whether it’s zipping along on bikes or flying through the air on a zip line, there’s an activity for all in Scotland’s finest scenery, finds Ailsa Sheldon

There’s far more to the Cairngorms than the ski centres and for a family break with active kids you can’t beat it. Year-round the forests, hills and rivers across the Cairngorms National Park make for a brilliant outdoor playground. Qualified outdoor instructors offer hundreds of different guided activities across the region in all seasons. In advance of the busy Easter holiday period, here are my top suggestions, road-tested by my family.

Cycling in Rothiemurchus 

For walkers and cyclists the wooded paths that wind across the Cairngorms are a wonderful resource: off-road, well-maintained and with good signage. In the area you can easily plan challenging multi-day trips, or just head out for a gentle scenic pedal. From In Your Element in Rothiemurchus we hire a trio of shiny new Marin mountain bikes and take to the trails. 
From here trails and bike-friendly routes descend in multiple directions with a loop around pretty Loch an Eilean a popular choice. We opt for the Old Loggers Way, which traces the route felled trees were once transported down the river Spey. 

Zipping along gravel paths through the woods is a giddy joy, made easier by the light bikes with chunky tyres and bouncy suspension. After Glenmore Lodge the route continues on a rougher track to turquoise An Lochan Uaine (the Green lochan) and Ryvoan bothy. 

We stop at Glenmore Lodge café for tea, cake and gorgeous views of Loch Morlich and the Cairngorms, before speeding back down the hill, pine needles flying.

The Herald:

Treezone at Rothiemurchus

A snowboard zipline, nets to scramble over, tight-ropes and balance beams: it’s safe to say a round of the obstacle courses at Treezone puts me right out of my comfort zone. The Treecreeper course takes you four metres off the ground over 11 obstacles. For who that feel up to it (and are over 1.3 metres tall), it’s followed by the lofty Buzzard course that reaches 15 metres above ground over 21 tricky obstacles. The longest crossing is 31 metres between platforms, and you feel a very long way up in the trees. 

I’m grateful it’s a clipped-in system so you’re attached to the wires the whole way around. My teens, as expected, monkey their way around fearlessly, though manage to be sweetly encouraging when I get stuck on a series of wobbly platforms and congratulate me as I emerge elated at the end.

Aviemore Ice Rink

This is a community-run ice rink in the grounds of Macdonald resort in Aviemore. Currently housed within a converted large marquee, this venue has brought ice skating and curling back to the area and enabled the creation of a new local ice hockey team. The hope is, in time, to fundraise for a full-size venue, here helps that skating progress. The alpine-themed community hub is perfect for a social skate, with skates and skate aids available to hire.

The Herald:

Quad biking

“This is so much fun!” my 13-year-old shouts, speeding past me on a quad bike. We’re splattered with mud, and he’s right: it’s brilliant fun. We’re in safe hands. The Norton family have 30 years of experience running quad biking treks in the area. Our guide Jamie makes sure we’re adequately kitted out and lends gloves and wellies to the group before giving us a lesson on driving the automatic bikes. Once he’s satisfied, we can safely control the powerful bikes we head into the Rothiemurchus Estate.

It’s a varied route: through farmland to meet the Highland cows, over heathery moorland with beautiful views of the mountains, along winding forest paths and, the final highlight, driving down a river (I’m glad we borrowed those wellies!).

Zip line adventure in the Alvie forest

G2 Adventure Hub is based on the Alvie estate, seven miles south of Aviemore. We try The Zip Trek, an aerial route zigzagging across the Alvie Gorge on zip lines. The course extends for a total of 2km of wires and our small group is accompanied by a guide throughout. Sending your kids off on a wire when you can’t even see the other end is nervy at first, but we all quickly get into the swing of it. After a bit of practise, we’re all confidently attaching ourselves to the wires and flying high above the pine forest and the rushing river below. The wires increase in length and height as the course progresses. The final wire is 550 metres long with top speeds of 40 mph. 

It’s an exhilarating end to an incredible few hours and we end up just a few minutes’ walk from the well located hot chocolate hut. G2 Outdoor also offers a lower zip line course and gorge walking and white water rafting in the summer months.

The Herald:

Landmark Forest Adventure Park

A family favourite for decades, Landmark is a great family day out. From Easter to October the three water coasters and the high ropes challenges are super-popular. In winter tickets are cheaper as the range of activities is smaller. We loved RopeWorx: high bouncy netting suspended in the trees, and the climbing wall. Year-round the Dinosaur Kingdom, Bamboozeleum illusion gallery and Wonderwood cabins are open, and a play area for younger visitors. 

Make sure to climb the fire tower for expansive views of the surrounding mountains and forest and follow the Tree Top Trail to learn about the Caledonian forest and the red squirrels that live here.

Where to Stay

Macdonald Aviemore Resort is ideal for families. Inter-connected rooms make it easy to give a little independence, and the swimming pool and flume is a great asset on a rainy day or to burn off any extra energy. During holiday periods there’s a schedule of kid’s activities for under-12s, including crafts and a disco. Generous buffet breakfasts satisfy even the hungriest teenagers, and in the evening the on-site restaurants (often included in a package deal) provide hearty fare: wood fired pizzas and pasta in Giovanni’s, and classic Scottish and European dishes at Aspects. At night the on-site conference centre becomes Spey Valley Cinema and there’s nightly live music in the Morlich Lounge.

The Herald:

Where to eat

Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore

This old game-keeper’s riverside cottage on the banks of the River Spey offers excellent elevated pub food and good craic.

KJs Bothy Bakery, Grantown on Spey

From the team who ran the much missed Mountain Cafe in Aviemore, this bakery sells incredible bread, packed lunches and sweet treats: the Millionaire’s Shortbread will fuel any adventure.

Highland Slice, various locations

From this converted horsebox you’ll find some of Scotland’s best pizza. Check social media for the week’s specials and where to track them down. Pop-up locations include Carrbridge, Nethy Bridge, Dulnain Bridge and Aviemore.

Alvie Forest Foods, Dalraddy Holiday Park, Aviemore

Street food flavours, using ingredients foraged, grown and reared on the Alvie and Dalraddy Estates are a must. Try the BBQ brisket, a ‘Smash’ burger or Alvie estate venison and mash.