You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen …

We really were playing reindeer games!  And it was one of our favorite experiences in Scotland! 

All of Scotland is like one giant national park (Josh quote), but within Cairngorm National Park, there is the Cairngorm Reindeer Center and an amazing, unique experience possible for visitors.  As stated on their website, “The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer found in the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland.”  The center offers a hike to go see the reindeer herd, and to interact with, pet, and feed the reindeer!

This was one of the experiences on our multi city trip’s itinerary that we kept a secret from the kids until that day, and it was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip! 

Even before we saw a single reindeer, this hike was gorgeous!  I was a little bit apprehensive about it at first because when we read about the experience online it sounded like a pretty tough hike, and I’m sure in winter weather it is a lot harder, but for our October day it was totally fine even for our little guy

Family hiking in Cairngorm
Gril on hike in Cairngorm National Park
Family in Scotland by waterfall

After walking a ways on this hike taking in the beautiful views and listening to the guides give some history of the place, finally you see the reindeer herd in the distance and kind of gasp.  I knew we were going to see a reindeer herd, but when you look out and actually see these magnificent creatures in this picture perfect mountainous scene … it was breathtaking.

Cairngorm National Park Reindeer Herd

One guide led the group of people (not a huge group; they limit these “hill trips”) to the side of the hill, and another one started walking toward the herd calling them.  I’m not exactly sure what she was calling out, but it sounded something like, “Heeeyyyy  Oooohhhhh.”  And sure enough, a couple of them start walking toward her, and I gasp again.  She sprinkles out some feed and more start coming.

While this is happening the other guide is giving us some facts about the reindeer, their thick fur coats and huge and elaborately and uniquely designed velvety antlers, and he also gave some tips about interacting with them and feeding them.  Then before you know it this group of reindeer (28 reindeer in this particular group according to our guide) is right in front of us.

Two Reindeer

I knew going into this experience that they said we would get to pet them and feed them, but I guess I was doubtful that it would actually happen until they put scoops of feed in our hands, and the reindeer came right up to us and really did eat out of our hands!  It was so amazing.  We got to stay as long as we wanted just watching the reindeer, interacting with them, taking pictures, and yes, even softly petting their backs. 

Petting Reindeer
Reindeer Close-up

I think this was our daughter Mia’s favorite experience of our whole trip.  She’s our biggest animal lover.  But playing reindeer games was definitely an unforgettable favorite for the whole family as well!

Playing Reindeer Games
Boy with Reindeer

Here are some fun reindeer facts taken from the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd website:

  • Reindeer and Caribou are the same species
  • Every reindeer regardless of sex or age grows a new set of antlers every year.
  • Ice and snow are no problem. Reindeer have thick Winter coats for Arctic life.
  • Nomadic tribes throughout Arctic Scandinavia and Russia have domesticated reindeer.
  • During May and June the calves are born. Very precocious, they grow quickly.
  • Edible mushrooms, lichens and Arctic vegetation are the favourite food of reindeer.
  • Extra wide, splayed hooves enable reindeer to spread weight on soft snow to prevent them sinking.
  • Reindeer have a short, dark Summer coat and thick, lighter coloured Winter coat.

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