With front-row seats for the world’s highest mountains, Nepal is a country-sized adventure playground for lovers of the great outdoors. In the Nepal Himalaya, trekkers can clamber over creaking glaciers and tie prayer flags atop knife-edge mountain passes, before stopping for the night in ancient stone villages, sharing the camaraderie of the trail with a legion of like-minded trekkers over salted butter tea.
With the world's highest mountain range and a network of superb trails, hikers are spoilt for choice in Nepal © Fahad Mohammed / 500px
With Nepal’s fantastic trekking infrastructure, you don’t need to do much more than fly in, arrange a trekking permit, and start walking, but you do need to decide where to go – no easy task in a country with this many mountains. Towering snowy peaks trace the northern reaches of Nepal in a mighty sweep from 7132m Mount Api in the west to 8586m Kanchenjunga in the east. Most trekkers make a beeline for Everest Base Camp, or the looping trek encircling the Annapurna Range near Pokhara, but there are dozens of other treks, some starting within walking distance of the capital, Kathmandu, and others only accessible on challenging camping expeditions with packhorses and guides. Here’s an overview of what to expect from Nepal’s top trekking regions.
Tengboche Monastery in Nepal's Everest region © Kitti Boonnitrod / Getty Images
- Buddhist Culture
- Ease of Trekking
The high-altitude valleys of Solukhumbu form the main approach route for ascents of Mt Everest (8848m), and Everest Base Camp (EBC), the tent city used by mountaineers attempting the summit, is one of the most famous trekking destinations in the world. This does mean crowds. Up to 1000 trekkers arrive at the tiny mountain airstrip at Lukla every day during the peak trekking months from October to November and March to April, putting sleeping bag space at a premium.
The flip side of popularity is excellent infrastructure. Comfortable trekking lodges flank the entire route from Lukla, and modern-world luxuries such as Snickers bars, hot showers and Wi-Fi internet are available all the way to Base Camp. Factor in ancient Buddhist monasteries, yeti relics and awe-inspiring views of Everest, Ama Dablam and other landmark summits and it’s easy to see the appeal.
- Everest Base Camp (16 days) – the definitive Nepal trek, climbing right onto the flanks of Everest, with grandstand views of the world’s highest mountain.
- Three Passes Trek (20 days) – the Everest Extension, linking the Gokyo, Kumbhu, and Imja valleys over three of the world’s highest navigable passes.
Trekkers descend from Thorung La to Muktinath on the Annapurna Circuit © Feng Wei Photography / Getty Images
- High Passes
- Comfortable lodges
- Apple pie
North of Pokhara, the Annapurna Massif includes 14 peaks that exceed 7000m, including Annapurna I (8091m), the tenth highest summit. Even better, this vast mass of rock and ice can be completely circumnavigated on the Annapurna Circuit trek, with impressive infrastructure all along the route (not for nothing is this known as the Apple Pie trail). Every year, road building nibbles away at the ends of the trek, but the current route from Besi Sahar to Jomsom ranks as one of the world’s most epic trekking trails.
The circuit is just one path through the Annapurnas. Almost as popular is the ten-day tramp to the Annapurna Sanctuary, base camp for attempts on Annapurna South, and dozens of smaller trails link the mountain villages north of Pokhara for less ambitious trekkers. At the other end of the spectrum, remote Mustang and Nar-Phu offer expedition-style detours off the Annapurna Circuit for trekkers with special permits, visiting parched high-altitude deserts that are havens for Tibetan Buddhist culture.
- Annapurna Circuit (18 days) – The definitive Annapurna trek, circling the massif and crossing the breathless Thorung La (5416m).
- Annapurna Sanctuary (10 days) – A journey to the heart of the Annapurnas, through valleys iced by mighty glaciers.
Gosaikunda trekking route in Langtang National Park © Subbotsky / Getty Images
Langtang, Helambu and Manaslu
- Mountains and monasteries
- Proximity to Kathmandu
- Traveller camaraderie
- Low elevation
Langtang and Helambu were hit badly by the earthquakes of 2015, but nothing keeps Nepal down for long, and trekkers are returning to the forested valleys for some of the most rewarding short treks close to Kathmandu. In place of a hair-raising mountain flight, a simple bus ride will whisk you to the trailheads for exploring the Langtang Valley and a spiderweb of side-trails through the surrounding uplands. As another bonus, few trails exceed 3870m, reducing the need for rest-days to acclimatise to the altitude.
East of Langtang, epic Manaslu was starting to rival Everest and Annapurna before the 2015 quake, and trekkers are slowly drifting back to its spectacular high-altitude valleys on guided camping treks. Peaking at the 5100m Larkya La, the Around Manaslu Trek is a magnificent transect through an ever-changing palette of Himalayan scenery, as dramatic as Everest and Annapurna but without the crowds.
- Langtang Valley Trek (7-9 days) – Restored after the 2015 earthquake, the trail to Kyanjin Gompa is back on the map as a classic short trek, within easy reach of Kathmandu.
- Around Manaslu Trek (16-18 days) – A high-altitude epic, through valleys well off the beaten path, in the shadow of mountain giants such as Himlung Himal (7126m) and Manaslu (8163m).
Kangchenjunga straddles the border between Nepal and Sikkim, India © Dovapi / Getty Images
- Peace and quiet
- Empty trails
- Close up views of Kangchenjunga
Compared to the established trekking routes around Everest, Annapurna and Langtang, Nepal’s rugged east is uncharted territory. Crude teahouses dot the lower slopes in summer, but the high altitude valleys are only accessible on camping expeditions, with special permits and guides. In exchange for foregoing Wi-Fi and apple pie, you get unparalleled vistas of Kangchenjunga (8586m), the third highest peak on earth.
If Kanchenjunga feels too ambitious, consider the world’s fifth highest peak, Makalu (8463m). Just a trickle of independent trekkers attempt the trail, which links widely-spaced teahouses and camping grounds en route to the mountaineers’ base camp at 4870m. An added plus of trekking anywhere in eastern Nepal is tongba, traditional millet beer served warm in wooden tankards to stave off the mountain chill.
- Kangchenjunga North (18-20 days) – The most spectacular approach to Kangchenjunga, a camping climb through remote alpine valleys you may have entirely to yourself.
- Makalu Base Camp (13 days) – A remote ramble to the base camp for climbers attempting Makalu (8463m), through untamed country with a scattering of rustic teahouses.
Nepalese porters at Sangda Pass in Shey Phoksundo National Park, Upper Dolpo © Zzvet / Getty Images
- Mountain lakes
- Remote monasteries
- Trekking off the map
Trekkers who venture to the west of Nepal enter a world of pristine wild scenery, icicle-clear mountain lakes and ancient Buddhist kingdoms edging onto the roof of the world. There’s little support for trekkers here; most routes are only accessible by mountain flights, and you’ll need a trekking company to arrange restricted-area permits, guides, packhorses, camping equipment and food. The reward for all this planning, organising and expense is the chance to trek far beyond the familiar Nepal, meeting remote communities who have been touched only lightly by the modern world.
Most visitors drop in via the airstrips at Dunai and Jumla, but a few hardy souls trek into Dolpo overland from Beni, following a route made famous by Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. The placid lakes of Phoksumdo and Rara are impossible pools of blue-ringed by unknown mountains, while Shey gompa and Humla offer glimpses of ancient Buddhist civilisations that cling on only in the remotest valleys in the Himalaya. Best of all, you can trek for days without seeing a glimpse of Gore-Tex, beyond your own small trekking group.
- Beni to Dolpo (12 days) – A legendary camping trek through the high valleys of Dolpo, home to elusive snow leopards, and more Himalayan blue sheep than people.
- Jumla to Rara Lake (9 days) – Short and strenuous, but perfectly formed, the trek to millpond-calm Rara Lake passes through scented forests that teem with Himalayan wildlife.
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