Run by the Zoological Society of Scotland, the Highland Wildlife Park is a two-hundred-acre safari park and zoo, with drive-through and walk-through sections. Splendidly set within the Cairngorms National Park, it offers stunning mountain and loch views and the chance to see a wide range of mountain and tundra wildlife – including the UK’s only polar bear.
It takes about half an hour to drive (slowly) around the Main Reserve, where you’ll see many hoofed animals, including elk, deer, reindeer, bison, yaks and Mongolian wild horses. Don’t worry if you miss something: you can go round as many times as you like. From the car park, trails lead to more exotic animals such as Amur tigers, snow monkeys, wolves, arctic foxes and the polar bear. Native Scottish wildlife is also represented, with red deer, wildcats, pine martens and red squirrels, among others. A recent addition is the excellent Go Wild adventure playground.
Blue Badge parking is available within a few yards of the accessible visitor centre, housing the ticket desk, café and shop. Trails through the site are pretty wheelchair friendly, particularly the wooden walkways to the tigers. Some are surfaced with compressed earth or hard-packed gravel; a few are steep in places, but navigable, though you may need assistance. Rest seats are provided at various points. The shop staff are very helpful and can provide a map and advice about trails and surfaces. There are three wheelchairs available to borrow, and there’s a disabled toilet in the shop. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can arrange to be driven round the Main Reserve in a park vehicle.
Food & drink: The on-site Antlers café serves hot and cold meals and snacks, and comes with great views of the snow monkeys and beyond to the Spey Valley. There’s also a picnic area next to the playground. For a good post-visit meal, head for the Old Bridge Inn on Dalfaber Road, on the outskirts of Aviemore (01479 811137, www.oldbridgeinn.co.uk), which serves excellent (if pricey) food by the banks of the River Spey. From the wildlife park, take the Coylumbridge/Glenmore Road and then the first turning on the left.