So you think you might want to go trekking in Nepal? Good choice. Whether you’re an experienced high-altitude trekker or not, there are fun and challenging options throughout the country, with some of the best mountain views in the world.
But while Nepal is a popular destination in many ways, it’s also quite rugged, and it certainly helps to be clear on all your options before committing to a particular hiking holiday. Here’s a guide to all you need to know about trekking in Nepal: when, where, and how to go, and what you need to bring.
When to go
Nepal, like all popular travel destinations, has distinct high and low seasons:
- Autumn: September to November. First peak season. Weather is warm but not too hot. Skies are generally clear after the monsoon.
- Winter: December to February. Low season. Temperatures cool in the cities and cold in the mountains. Skies generally very clear.
- Spring: March to May. Second peak season. Temperatures warm again. Can be a lot of dust and wind, in lead up to monsoon.
- Summer: June to August. Rains almost every day. Visibility low. Some areas are best at this time of year, however.
There are real advantages in going during the high seasons of autumn and spring, good temperatures and clearer skies (and thus good chance of mountain views on treks) being perhaps the most important. But, there are also drawbacks. The trekking trails are busier, your first choice of hotels/lodges will sometimes be booked out, and international and domestic flights are more expensive.
While winter and monsoon are not the most popular seasons to come trekking in Nepal, there are some good reasons to consider these times of year. During winter, the skies are generally at their clearest—both in the cities and the mountain areas—because humidity is low. If you come prepared for cold weather up in the mountains by bringing warm clothes and sleeping bags, then trekking in the winter can actually be a very good idea.
Most of Nepal’s experiences the heavy rains of monsoon for around three months, making roads and trails slippery, increasing the risk of landslides, and rainclouds and humidity all but eliminating the chance of mountain views. But, there are parts of Nepal that sit in the rain-shadow of the Himalayas—that is, over the other side. Mustang and Dolpo, in particular, do not experience the monsoon, so the months of June to August are excellent times to trek in these regions.
Essentially, whichever time of year you want to travel to Nepal (or are able to take time off work!) there will be trekking adventures awaiting. It’s just important to know which region is best at which time of year.
Where to go
Choosing where to go trekking in Nepal is a hard choice, but a good problem to have! There are trails to suit varying levels of fitness, time requirements, interests, experience, and season. Check out our more comprehensive guide to the trekking regions of Nepal here [link to the other article I’m writing], but here’s a quick overview of the regions, and what kind of traveller they best suit.
Solukhumbu (Everest) district
This is Nepal’s most popular trekking region, so while you won’t have many of the trails to yourself, there is good infrastructure along the way, such as more comfortable lodges and a variety of food. While the Everest Base Camp trek is ever-popular (and sometimes crowded), there are numerous side-trails in the region that aren’t as busy.
This region is a very close second to the Everest region in terms of popularity. A major advantage of this region over Everest is that most trails won’t require that you retrace your steps on the way out. The Annapurna Circuit is a classic trail, and there are numerous other options to/around the Annapurna Conservation Area and to Annapurna Base Camp.
The Mustang region is in the rain-shadow of the Himalaya, meaning it has a very dry landscape and no monsoon. The culture here is distinct from the rest of Nepal, being strongly Tibetan Buddhist in character. Lower Mustang is accessible by road or short flight from Pokhara, and can be visited independently; Upper Mustang requires an expensive permit and cannot be visited without a guide.
Like Mustang, Dolpo sits in the rain-shadow of the Himalaya. The population here is also predominantly Tibetan Buddhist. While Lower Dolpo is more easily accessible, Upper Dolpo is very remote and requires a special permit. Dolpo is in Far Western Nepal, which is a very under-visited and under-developed region of Nepal.
Eastern Nepal is characterised by its tea fields (much like the more famous Darjeerling region of India, just over the border). Trekking here largely involves more gentle routes through the hills, but there is also the mighty Kanchenjunga—third-highest peak in the world—looming over Far Eastern Nepal, for more of a trekking challenge.
These areas are within a day’s travel from Kathmandu. The Langtang Valley was especially hard hit during the 2015 earthquake, but is recovering and needs trekkers to come back to help it rebuild. Highlights of this area include cultural treks throughout ethnic Tamang territory, deep river valleys, and expansive views of the Langtang Himalaya and mountains just over the border in Tibet.
With the Annapurna region to its West, the Gorkha district of Central Nepal is sometimes overlooked by trekkers. Manang is to the west of Gorkha, and is sometimes passed through on Annapurna treks. The trails of Gorkha in particular are less busy and less developed than some other places, but still not too far off the beaten path and easily accessible. Mount Manaslu, the eight highest peak in the world, is in Gorkha district.
Kathmandu Valley and around
There’s nothing especially ‘easy’ about any treks in Nepal. But if you’re seeking something shorter or a bit less strenuous, the trails around the Kathmandu Valley and just beyond—such as Balthali, Namo Buddha, Panauti, Dhulikhel—are an excellent option.
Pokhara Valley and around
Like the Kathmandu Valley, treks around the Pokhara Valley are a good choice for travellers with less time, experience, or who don’t want to ascend too high in altitude. Numerous two-five day treks are possible around Pokhara, and the views of the Annapurna Himalaya must be some of the best views in the whole country.
How to go
While it is possible to trek independently throughout much of Nepal (with the notable exceptions of a few areas where you must travel with a guide and/or a group), this isn’t necessarily recommended. Trekking guides make the logistics of trekking so much easier. In peak season, it may be difficult to find decent places to sleep on some of the busier trails (such as the Everest Base Camp trek) without a guide arranging your lodging. The same goes for transportation on planes and buses.
But, by far the most important reason to trek with a guide is that they are more likely to be able to keep you safe in the event of an emergency or disaster. Such emergencies might be personal—such as a sprained ankle or altitude sickness – or conditional – such as unexpected snowfall, avalanches, or earthquakes. Good guides will know what to do in worst case scenarios and get you to safety as quickly as possible.
Some travellers also consider trekking without porters, as a way of saving money. However, this can be a very false economy. Trekking along uneven trails and at high altitude is much more comfortable without heavy bags, and having ease of movement allows for quick detours such as up peaks for panoramic views. Everyone responds differently to high altitude, too. Having a porter carrying your luggage can mean the difference between coping with the effects of altitude and becoming sick from it.
What to bring
The beauty of trekking in Nepal (or, one of the beauties!) is that because of the good infrastructure in many places, there’s no need to travel with everything but the kitchen sink. It’s not even necessary to sleep in a tent in most of the popular areas. But, while it’s possible to get practically everything you might need or want for a trek in the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara, using your own, broken in, tried and tested trekking gear is much safer than buying a pair of boots just days before your trek, tempting the trip-ruining scourge of blisters. Here are some things you should bring from home:
- Hiking boots—never buy these immediately before your trek! Wear them in first
- A daypack for your camera, wallet, water bottle, small snacks, jumper, raincoat, and other daily essentials
- Lightweight jacket, such as down or microfleece
- Waterproof jacket
- Good-quality merino base layer
- Sunscreen—the variety and quality available in Nepal is not as high as most Western countries
And here are a few things you could pick up in Kathmandu or Pokhara if you don’t already have them, or want to save a bit of money by buying them in Nepal.
- A duffel bag for your porter to carry
- Disposable rain ponchos
- Quick-dry shirts in synthetic fabrics (cotton is comfortable until it gets wet, then it can be dangerous)
- Thick socks
- Sun hat, woollen hat, gloves
- Trekking poles, which can save your joints on steep up/downhill sections
- Comfortable hut clothes, such as a tracksuit and warm pyjamas
- Basic toiletries
- Water purification system, such as chlorine drops or tablets
- Head torch, for evenings