The 100 highest mountains in Asia also happen to be the 100 highest mountains in the world. So it’s no exaggeration to say that the mountains in Asia are more immense, iconic and humbling than any others on our planet. Most of the highest mountains in Asia, from Mount Everest and K2 to Kanchenjunga, Nanda Devi and the Annapurna range are in either Nepal, China, Pakistan, or India. Most are along the Indian-Eurasian plate, but famously, at 8,848m, Mount Everest is hardly the most accessible climb. So, where to start?
Well, Asia is a pretty big place. At 17.2 million square miles, it’s by far the biggest continent in terms of both size and population. Our point here is that while, yes, the Himalayas are beautiful, they're not the only beautiful mountains in Asia, and once you glimpse outside that top 100 highest list, you'll find a continent full of vibrant greenery and an enormous diversity of terrain. You've got the dry, dramatic peaks of the Altai Range in Mongolia and Jebel Shams in Oman and, on the other hand, the vibrant jungle terrain of Sri Lanka and Thailand, for example.
Here, we’re going to give just 10 great examples of some of the best mountains in Asia to climb or walk though - working on the assumption that you’re an avid hiker, rather than an experienced mountaineer. Obviously, picking out 10 mountain hikes from the entire continent of Asia ain't easy, but we reckon these give a pretty good introduction to the different landscapes of the continent...
1. Yala Peak (5,500m), Nepal
It’s no secret that the highest, and arguably the most remarkable mountains in Asia are in Nepal. That’s where you’ll find the Himalayas, but as we mentioned previously, not everyone can (or wants to) climb Mount Everest, so what other options are there? Well, you’ve got the famous long-distance routes, of course. There’s the Everest Base Camp hike, and the Annapurna Circuit, both of which are iconic for good reason and take numerous days to hike. If you’re looking for something a little more… quiet, though, look no further than Yala Peak.
This is one of the few non-technical peaks in Nepal that still has a mighty Himalayan feel. You'll trek through the Langtang Valley, near the border with Tibet and see all the sights you'd expect in Nepal - hiking past yaks, over suspension bridges clad with prayer flags and staying in teahouses or camping under skies far from the light pollution of the cities. You'll summit the 5,520m Yala Peak by torchlight, sticking on crampons, clipping into ropes and navigating the ridgeline. This may not be Everest, but it’ll certainly make you feel like a proper mountaineer - and there are big mountain views too, not least of Mt Shishapangma (8,027m) and Gangchempo (6,387m).
2. Doi Inthanon (2,565m), Thailand
The highest mountain in Thailand is only 100km or so from the buzzing city of Chiang Mai. There are two ways to get yourself up the mountain - via the Ang Ka Luang trail or the Kew Mae Pan trail. What’s great about this mountain is that, while the Kew Mae Pae trail is definitely more challenging, neither route is particularly hard - regardless of your previous hiking experience.
The Ang Ka Luang trail is the most trodden. It’s literally a short boardwalk hike that will take you around 30 minutes. All things considered? It’s not the most exciting, despite the ultimately fantastic views. We much prefer the Kew Mae Pan trail. Take it, and you'll walk around 2.5km (approx 2-4 hours) through deep forest. It's compulsory that if you take this route, you hire a Hmong tribe person as your trail guide, though the price won't break the bank. The bonus of this is also, well... the same bonus you get with every good guide: stories, history and insight into the local area and biodiversity around you.
You'll quickly reach wide-spanning views of rolling hills and forest on your hike. You'll look out on green valleys and (with any luck) blue skies on the ridge, and then the picturesque summit and a descent full of waterfalls and streams awaits.
3. Mt Yarigatake (3,180m) and Mt Okuhotaka (3190m), Japan
The Hida, Kiso and Akaishi Mountains are known collectively as the Japanese Alps - a mountain range that stretches across Honshu, the largest Japanese island (and home to major cities including Tokyo). The alpine title translates into the scenery, where steep, grey, rugged mountain walls rise to rolling ridgelines and dramatic, spiky peaks. One such peak is Mt Yarigatake - named for its spear-like summit.
Hike through beautiful, green forests and past vibrant rivers and you’ll eventually make it to the juxtaposing, rugged peak of Yarigatake - and be able to look out over the 15 other mountains that make up the Japanese Alps. The big treat comes next though - crossing the famous Daikiretto Gap, a trail with steep drops which will lead you over to the summit of Okuhotaka. This is not only the third highest mountain in Japan, it’s one of the best hikes in Japan, finishing with a climb up some iron ladders to reach the summit of the Japanese Alps.
4. Mount Tochal (3,964m), Iran
Iran is one of the most mountainous countries in the world, but for various reasons, it’s often overlooked by adventurers. Mount Tochal is situated in the Alborz mountain range right by the capital city, Tehran. It’s the highest peak in the range and is often used as acclimatisation or training for a hike up Mount Damavand (5,609m), the highest mountain in Iran. Tochal is a fantastic hike in its own right, though - and the accessibility from Tehran is simply fantastic.
The Darband trail offers the most direct route to the summit. You can access this from Saband Square in northern Tehran. The trail passes through the village of Pase Ghale, then follows a mountain stream lined with trees, where you'll also find an abundance of street vendors and cafes. You'll get out of the crowds fast and reach rocky areas, where ladders and cables help you climb. You'll go by waterfalls, cliffs and shelters, and even pass a few (final) cafes above the 2700m mark. Many stop at the Shir Pala shelter, while the dedicated continue on up on the trail, following a ridge and steep hill to the summit. Watch out for cliff drops!
Now for the spoiler. There’s actually a gondola - the Tochal Telecabin - that you can take from the outskirts of Tehran to almost the very top of the mountain in 45 minutes, with one change along the way. That’s great if you don’t fancy hiking down (or you’re there in winter and are going up for the skiing instead), but come on now... we all know that those views taste better when you've hiked all the way!
5. The Jukka Pass (3,640m), Kyrgyzstan
The Tian Shan mountains are enormous, untarnished and largely still unexplored by the world of outdoor tourism. At their peak there is a cluster, on the boundaries of China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, where they reach up to 7,439m. On this hike you’ll stay a lot lower than that, but you'll still get the same feel of immensity that, in honesty, is hard to get away from in Kyrgyzstan.
Stay in yurts and cross the beautiful “jailoo”, the summer pasturelands home to wild horses, far-reaching green fields, and Tien Shan pine forests that line the foothills of the snowy mountains beyond. You'll follow in the footsteps of explorers who used these paths in the 1930s en route to Chinese Turkestan, pass hot springs, wild camp amongst it all and eventually reach the Jukka Valley.
From here, it’s a demanding climb up to the Jukku Pass, but the mountain lakes and rugged, naked land - and peaks you can see from the top - make it well worth the effort. These lands are home to ibex, foxes, bearded vultures and wolves, so keep your eyes open and you might just get a lucky sighting, too.
6. The Knuckles Mountains (2,000m), Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a tourist circuit. Join it for a week or 10 days, and you'll probably have a great time. But you'll also miss out on some of the most beautiful spots in the country. The Knuckles range is the perfect example of that.
Named for their resemblance to a clenched fist, the Knuckles are lush, and home to dense forest, cascading waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife - so much so that the range is actually a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. You could come across anything from a purple-faced langur to a toque macaque, Sri Lankan leopard or grey slender loris or elephant, and that’s without even touching on the fish, amphibians or birdlife vibrant in the area.
This hike takes you through the heart of the Knuckles Mountains and up to some of the picture-perfect panoramic views from high above the treeline in the range. Ruvinda Bernard has been a local guide in Sri Lanka for over 10 years and often walks the route. He told us, “Even Sri Lankans don’t really know the trail that we’re hiking on. There are waterfalls, stunning viewpoints. This hike is amazing.”
7. Jebel Shams (3,009m), Oman
A couple of hours southwest from Muscat you’ll find the arid ridgelines and cliffs of Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman. It’s a mountain renowned for its camping spots and stargazing, as well as the rugged terrain, cut into the late Triassic limestone. The place isn't known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia for no reason.
The hike up to the summit is an all-day effort. We’re talking 9-12 hours - so make sure you leave early. You’ll go straight up the steep main plateau of Jebel Shams, passing some adrenaline-junkie goats hanging out by the cliff edges. From the summit, you’ll be able to look out over Wadi Al Sahtan and the rest of Oman, and then descend to the remarkable mountain mud village of Misfat Al Abriyeen - a place of true wonder and history in abundance.
8. Kala Patthar (5,550m) and Everest Base Camp (5,364m), Nepal
The Cho La Pass is famous for being one of the most spectacular spots on the Everest Base Camp hike, but the high point on many base camp treks is actually Kala Patthar. It's a mountain peak that comes complete with the stunning view of Ama Dablam you can see above, and an exceptional viewpoint for Mt Everest.
Take the Everest and Gokyo Lakes Circuit and you'll hike the Hillary Suspension Bridge, visit Namche Bazaar and glimpse Everest, and then hike on to higher ground where the world's highest mountain becomes a regular feature on the horizon. There are few hikes in the world packed with more big mountain views.
You'll continue on up to the Mong La Pass, over the Dudh Koshi River, and reach Machhermo, a valley with views of the 8,201m peak of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world. Enter the Gokyo valley and get those famous views of the Ngozumpa Glacier and the Khantega Gorge. You'll reach the Cho La Pass after acclimatising, and then in the days that follow, climb the inimitable Kala Patthar.
9. Khüiten Peak (4,356m), Mongolia
Most people think of Mongolia as the home of Ghengis Khan, or perhaps the place where eagle-hunters still thrive in remote locations and nomadic herders live off the land, sleeping in gers (often called yurts). Fewer people know about the beauty of the many mountains you can find in Mongolia, the largest of which is Khüiten Peak.
Sitting on the border between Mongolia and China (close to the point where Mongolia, China and Russia all meet), Khüiten Peak translates as "Mount Cold". It's well named. The slopes of the mountain are the source of the 14km Potanin, the longest glacier in Mongolia.
The climb itself is not hugely technical, but you will need mountaineering experience. Also, expect snow! Due to the cold conditions, you'll likely need to rope up on the glacier and have appropriate expertise, gear and of course - a good guide.
10. Mt Hua (2,154m), China
Often dubbed the “deadliest hike in the world”, there’s no doubt that the Hua Shan hike and plank walk are not for the faint of heart. Hua is one of China's five sacred mountains, and since the addition of a cable car, it's actually now one of the most popular tourist attractions and pilgrimage sites in the country. So, if you're heading to the mountains to seek solace... well, best go elsewhere.
The notorious plank walk is on the highest peak of the mountain, on the southern face. You’ll have to shimmy along some planks to reach the peak, but the views and shrine at the top - and the rush of it - are well worth it. You’re also harnessed in, via ferrata style, so the danger is limited. The ancient Taoist temple on the southern peak is also now a teahouse - so it’s perfect for those folk who get annoyed that there isn't a coffee shop on top of Ben Nevis or Scafell Pike.
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