From the bird-filled wetlands and the planet’s tallest mountain to glorious high-altitude lakes and lowland forests that teem with wildlife, Nepal encompasses an incredible range of landscapes.
It looks after much of it too with a dozen national parks and an assortment of other wildlife reserves and conservation areas. These spots are havens for trekkers, mountain bikers, white-water rafters, and wildlife enthusiasts. Here are the eight best national parks in Nepal to check out.
Chitwan National Park
Nepal’s most famous national park is one of the last remaining habitats of the one-horned Asiatic rhino, which was brought back from the brink of extinction by pioneering conservation efforts. Located in the Terai, a lowland belt running the length of southern Nepal, it currently has a 694-strong rhino population. Whilst rhinos take top billing at Chitwan, travelers on jeep, walking or canoe safaris can also spot a host of other creatures, including monkeys, sloth bears, deer, gharial crocodiles, and – with a spot of good fortune – tigers.
Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park
Spanning the northern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, within striking distance of the capital, the forests, hills, and mountains of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park are lined with tracks, paths, and trails ideal for mountain bikers. They include the twisting Scar Road route, which cuts through the park and features a mix of challenging ascents and descents, several water crossings, and varied terrain.
Starting and finishing in Kathmandu, the trail can be hard to navigate in places, so it’s worth going with a guide. It’s a physically taxing cycle, but there are plenty of reasons to stop for a break here including Himalayan views, Buddhist shrines, rare orchids, and 177 species of birds.
Sagarmatha National Park
Spread across 1148-sq-km (443-sq-mi) of the Khumbu region in northeastern Nepal, Sagarmatha National Park encompasses a series of mountains over 6000m (19,685ft), thriving Sherpa communities, and some beautiful Buddhist monasteries, shrines, and temples. But by far, the biggest attraction is Sagarmatha, the Nepali name for Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth.
Thousands come each year to trek the legendary Everest Base Camp trail, which offers sublime views of the 8848.80m-high (29,030ft) peak, while hundreds more attempt to climb to the summit.
Annapurna Conservation Area
The Annapurna region draws more trekkers than any other part of Nepal, and for a good reason. Easily accessible from the city of Pokhara, it has two of the country’s finest and most popular trails – the Annapurna Circuit and the Annapurna Sanctuary – both of which provide awe-inspiring mountain views. But there are plenty of other options, too – from short, self-guided hikes to extended expeditions.
Beyond the views of the eponymous Annapurna range – which are reason enough to visit the region – you can expect a mix of dense forests, terraced hills, ridge-top villages, breathlessly high passes, looming glaciers, Buddhist monasteries, and Hindu temples.
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
In the eastern Terai, Koshi Tappu is an oasis for birdwatchers. It covers wetlands, grasslands, paddies, islands, ponds, and rivers which are home to a staggering 527 species, including the red-necked falcon, the swamp francolin, and the Bengal florican. On a 90-minute hike through the reserve, you can expect to see dozens of different birds, thanks in part to the thin foliage, which increases the likelihood of sightings. You may also encounter an arna, an endangered wild water buffalo with a pair of magnificent horns.
Bardia National Park
The largest national park in the Terai, Bardia is wilder and less commercialized than Chitwan but equally rich in wildlife. A vast expanse of forest, savannah, hills, and river systems, the reserve’s size and relative lack of visitors means you can explore its pristine ecosystems without being disturbed by other travelers on safaris.
Bardia has around 38 one-horned rhinos and you have a good chance of spotting them, though you may need to dedicate a little more time to it than in Chitwan. It also boasts significant populations of wild elephants, tigers, leopards, Gangetic dolphins, gharial and marsh mugger crocodiles, plus more than 250 species of birds.
Kanchenjunga Conservation Area
Tucked away in the far northeastern corner of Nepal, bordering Tibet and the Indian state of Sikkim, the remote Kanchenjunga Conservation Area receives only a tiny fraction of the thousands of travelers who visit the Himalayas each year. As a result, you can explore its trails in peace, in contrast with the well-trodden routes that wind through the Annapurna and Sagarmatha regions.
Focused on the towering 8586m-high (28,169ft) peak of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third tallest mountain, it offers excellent trekking, as well as challenging whitewater rafting and kayaking on the churning rapids of the Tamur river.
Langtang National Park
The centerpiece of Langtang National Park, one of Nepal’s key trekking areas, is a stunning group of high-altitude lakes surrounded by soaring peaks. The beautiful Gosainkunda lakes are an essential pilgrimage site for Hindus due to their associations with the god Shiva and goddess Gauri. As many as 20,000 devotees arrive during the Janai Purnima festival in August.
Set at 4380m above sea level (14,370ft), these limpid, ice-cold bodies of water often draw non-religious travelers too, who arrive here following a dramatic week-long trek from the trailhead at Dhunche, a village at the edge of the park.