10 Best Long Distance Treks in Nepal


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10 Best Long Distance Treks in Nepal

Nepal is more than just Everest!

As you will see in this article, it offers trekkers of all kinds an unforgettable experience.

A region of the world created as a buffer between China and the British-influenced Indian subcontinent, it is a fiercely independent nation in its own right where Hinduism and Buddhism have sat side by side for many, many centuries.

Thanks to the fact that it is partially home to the highest mountain range in the world – the Karakoram Range of the Himalayas – the country has become famous for its high altitude trekking.

If you want to really stretch your lungs and body then this is to be recommended.

Just remember that you need to be fit enough in mind and spirit to run a half marathon with a decent weight backpack to manage some of these treks!

If you’re a seasoned countryside walker with the ability to put in the miles day in, day out, Nepal also has something for you.

As ever we only rank our treks in terms of distance covered.

You may be someone who likes a smoke and is quite walking fit, so could probably manage one or two of these expeditions.

There are others that you simply couldn’t survive in that condition.

A word on our content here – in many of the 10 Best pieces we cover the ascent you will climb over the whole trek.

Being Nepal we only hint at the ascent you will do with reference to the ‘Greatest elevation’ that in one case is just 500 metres lower than the Death Zone (8000 metres) of mountaineering infamy.

Regarding estimated times for the treks, we have solely focused on the time you will take on foot. In almost every case you will spend a day or two driving or flying from Kathmandu to the start point. It can take a couple of days to get back to civilisation at the end too.

Once more, due to the altitude you won’t be walking every day on these treks – in many of them you will spend a day or two staying in camp or a tea house getting used to the lack of oxygen at that altitude.

This is a very necessary part of high altitude trekking and can prevent serious health problems occurring (that can happen to anyone – fit or fat) such as your lungs bleeding (pulmonary embolism) and other issues.

When you arrive in Kathmandu, particularly from a sea level country like the UK, take your time to acclimatise before you do any serious trekking.

Even the main city is thousands of metres higher in the atmosphere than London, and that may make you feel a little queasy and lightheaded at first with mild altitude sickness.

That’s to be expected.

Anyway, onto the expeditions!

Great Himalayan Trail (High Route)

  • Distance: 1056 miles
  • Time: 150 days
  • Greatest elevation: 6,146 metres
  • Start: Kanchenjunga base camp
  • End: Hilsa
  • Best for: Doing a walk that few to date have ever managed

The Great Himalaya Trail passes through the closed kingdom of Bhutan and the somewhat more open kingdom of Nepal.

This 1056 mile section is the bit that passes through Nepal.

Trekking east to west across some of the highest mountain passes on the planet, it is no surprise that just one expedition to date has actually managed it – and that over two seasons.

Robin Boustead, Pema Tsiring Sherpa, Lakpa Sherpa and Karma Sherpa first mapped and completed this epic route between 2008-09.

Few have since managed – or even tried – to do the high route since.

Starting at the base camp of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world on the border with Tibet, you head west across some of the most challenging and inhospitable terrain in the world.

You then head through Makalu Barun, home of Mt Makalu, the 5th highest mountain in the world before heading into Rolwaling, the region where Mt Everest is, before (presumably with rather tired legs) crossing the region of Rara and Jumla where the journey ends at the Tibetan border at Hilsa.

If you’ve two years to spare and the phenomenal financial firepower to arrange such a trek – and have been inspired to do this trek by Trek Addict, remember us to the public when it’s time for tea and medals!

Annapurna Circuit

  • Distance: 105-149 miles
  • Time: 16-20 days
  • Greatest elevation: 5,146 metres
  • Start: Besisahar
  • End: Kagbeni
  • Best for: Appreciating the raw beauty of the Annapurna Range of mountains

From lush agricultural and pasture land to high alpine forests, as well as crossing one of the legendary high passes of Nepal, this is a relatively less challenging yet breathtaking exploration of the foothills of the Annapurna Range.

Mt Annapurna itself is no pussycat as mountains go – more of a cornered mountain lion with the greatest death rate among those attempting to summit it of any mountain.

For those taking in the mountain from afar, this is a long trek as Nepalese treks go too at up to 149 miles of trekking, day in day out.

The high point of the trek is the pass at Thorong La, but the low point certainly won’t be seeing the deepest gorge in the world at Kali Gandaki.

This leads to a genuine weakness of the route – it is a very popular trek and you will almost always run into crowds of fellow westerners on much of the trek.

That said you will see some jaw droppingly  beautiful countryside as you go.

Manaslu Circuit

  • Distance: 109 miles
  • Time: 12 days
  • Greatest elevation: 5,115 metres
  • Start: Arughat
  • End: Besisahar
  • Best for: Exploring how Hindu and Tibetan cultures have mingled and gelled in these borderlands

This is one of the toughest yet many say outright best treks in Nepal.

The lowest elevation you reach is just over 600 metres above sea level yet the highest is over 5,000 so be prepared for some hard days on the trek – and quite some time in rarified air.

This means you need to be fit as a fiddle to do the walk, both from a strength and cardiovascular point of view.

That said, you will get to see a part of the world that was only given a formal border in living memory, between Nepal and Tibet.

This in a region where the two dominant cultures of Hinduism and Buddhism have sat side by side for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Now that’s something you won’t see in your part of the world – as if Druidism and Celtic Paganism had lived on in Britain without Christianity eradicating them!

You will get to see Nepal in different lights too, with its lowland and its highland agricultural cultures, as well as its uninhabitable high wastelands all in one mind blowing, 12 day hike.

Its weakness?

Though nothing as popular as the Everest Base Camp trek it’s becoming better known, so if you’ve ideas of being the only white face in a temple or monastery, perhaps you’re a bit late…

Gokyo Lakes

  • Distance: 84.5 miles
  • Time: 14 days
  • Greatest elevation: 5,483 metres
  • Start and End: Lukla
  • Best for: The Gokyo Lakes, views of Mt Everest

At over 5,000 metres above sea level, the Gokyo Lakes are some of the highest lakes in the world.

They are also some of the most stunning to see too.

From the lakes you can ascend Gokyo Ri, a rocky outcrop that has some of the best views of Mt Everest.

You will have to trek a fair distance of the Mount Everest Base Camp walk but just when you’ve about had it with all the other tourists on the route, your guide will take you off the over-beaten track and over a high mountain pass to the lakes.

As such you will get the feel of some of the most overrun parts of Nepal’s trekking meccas and some of the quietest as you go.

Isn’t that why you came to the Himalayas, for a bit of time alone with the mountain gods?

Langtang Valley

  • Distance: 74 miles
  • Time: 5 days
  • Greatest elevation: 3,800 metres
  • Start / End: Syabru Besi
  • Best for: Appreciating the unique Tamang culture

Many trekkers fly into Kathmandu, have a blast around the city and acclimatise to the height and then jump on a plane or jeep to go far out to see one of the more far-flung parts of Nepal.

Not so this route – beginning with a six hour jeep ride, you stay in the Kathmandu Valley for this one and in return you will get a bit of a culture fix while seeing the snowcapped high Himalayas from afar.

In terms of daily mileage this is one of the hardest walks we look at, but here you aren’t getting into ridiculous elevations where oxygen is almost an afterthought.

As such, though you’ll always be higher than the high Alps in Europe, you should be able to trot off the miles every day at a much harder pace than one of the higher walks we cover here.

Nepal is a borderland country where Buddhism and Hinduism meet in a delightful explosion of colour and culture.

It has its problems such as the low-level civil war and the clash between China and the West on a macro scale but here you will see what the country’s lowlands have to offer over a five day trekking expedition.

Tibetan culture dominates here, something beautifully alien to the western traveller and as five day treks go you won’t be short changed.

Upper Mustang Circuit

  • Distance: 77 miles
  • Time: 10 days
  • Greatest elevation: 4,280 metres
  • Start/End: Jomsom
  • Best for: An arid, desert mountain range in the rain shadow of the Himalayas

 When you think of Nepal you imagine high peaks and so much snow that will take decades of climate change to destroy, right?

Wrong.

The Himalayas catch all the precipitation from the Monsoon and the weather can’t get past them.

That’s why you have the arid deserts of the Mustang Range.

The Dhaulagiri range in the Himalayas capture all the precipitation from the Indian subcontinent Monsoon, and unlike much of the rest of Nepal it is possible to explore this hidden jewel during the monsoon season.

Even while towering to 7,000 metres plus, these mountains are dry as a bone!

You will see the contrast of the dry, sandy peaks with the snowcapped mountains beyond.

To add to that you will take in the prayer flags so beloved of Buddhists, as well as cave dwellings and monasteries as you go.

If you want to see a very different part of the country to the more stereotypical alpine regions, this is a definite to-do.

Everest 3 Passes Trek

  • Distance: 67 miles
  • Time: 14 days (15 days including a visit to Everest Base Camp)
  • Greatest elevation: 7,445 metres
  • Start/End: Lukla
  • Best for: Everest region without the babbling masses

Crossing the three high passes of Renjo La, Cho La and Kongma La, short of climbing Everest itself this is one of the best ways to enjoy Nepal.

Consistently ranked in the top 2-3 treks in the country, it really isn’t for everyone though. Why? You have to be as fit as a mountain goat to do it.

Your highest point on this trek is just 500 metres below the so-called Death Zone where oxygen levels are so low you permanently need bottled oxygen to survive.

With three ascents coming close to that height you can’t do this if you run out of puff chasing a bus!

The reward for all that is you get to visit the Everest region with only parts of the walk feeling like Oxford Circus in January Sales.

Since you’re in the vicinity, if you haven’t seen Everest Base Camp before, then it will be worth the extra day to have a gander while you’re at it.

That said, many serious trekkers want to take on this route just for the sake of doing it – it really is that good!

Dhaulagiri Circuit via French Pass

  • Distance: 61 miles
  • Time: 11 days
  • Greatest elevation: 5,370 metres
  • Start: Dharapani
  • End: Marpha
  • Best for: A Nepalese classic of a trek – a high altitude wonderland with a visit to the Hidden Valley

Dhaulagiri is the 7th highest mountain in the world and one of the ‘Eight thousanders’ at 8,167 metres. This is widely regarded as a classic as Nepalese treks go, and you need to be extremely fit to manage it.

Why?

For three straight days of the trek you will be at altitudes of 5,000 metres and more with all the issues that come from rarified air.

You won’t travel huge distances on those days (it’s impossible to physically) but for that you will experience some of the best high altitude trekking in the world.

Yes, you won’t get to the dizzying heights of the 3 Passes Trek above but you will spend more time at higher altitudes and have a hard slog while at it.

During this high phase of the walk you will briefly descend into the Hidden Valley, a real world Shangri La that was only opened to trekkers in 1990 and a place where its people have hardly been touched by so-called ‘Western progress’.

They live as they did Centuries ago in a lifestyle dictated to them by being cut off by the high peaks surrounding them.

That said, after seeing this ancient and untouched land you’ll be heading high again and via the French Pass, back to the real world.

Kanchenjunga Base Camp

  • Distance: 55 miles
  • Time: 8 days
  • Greatest elevation: 5,200 metres
  • Start/End: Yuksom
  • Best for: Exploring eastern Nepal, a still-unspoiled region of the country

You must have at least one guide per two trekkers for this journey through a relatively un-travelled part of the country.

As such, the trek to the base camp of the third highest mountain in the world is going to be quite special if on the expensive end of the treks we cover here.

On the route you will pass through coniferous forests, alpine shrub-land, meadows, and grasslands and may well encounter red pandas, black bear, pheasant and if you’re very lucky, traces or glimpses of the apex predator in the region, the snow leopard.

Eastern Nepal is heavily protected by central government and thanks to trekkers needing such a high number of guides per party, you will get to experience their culture at a depth that you may only get brief sights of in the more touristy parts of the country.

The middle of the trek is the base camp of Kanchenjunga, the second highest mountain in Nepal and the third highest in the world.

After appreciating that you head back, perhaps to ask questions of local people you met in the days before you’d not quite managed as you headed out.

Everest Base Camp

  • Distance: 39 miles
  • Time: 14 days
  • Greatest elevation: 5,600 metres
  • Start/End: Lukla
  • Best for: A linear walk to Everest Base Camp

Let’s be positive about this trek: on arriving at the clifftop airstrip of Lukla (an experience in its own right) you get to follow in the footsteps of some of the giants of mountaineering as well as those of people who wouldn’t come home thanks to the dangers of the mountain.

It is a 14 day trek yet is the shortest in physical distance we detail in this article.

That’s because you need to spend time acclimatising as you go.

You will spend a couple of days trekking and a day chilling out in a village, teaching your body to breathe thin air.

At the Spring (pre-monsoon season) you will arrive at Everest Base Camp to see people making the dangerous ascent.

There are two seasons for visiting the Camp – pre monsoon: February, March, April and May; and post monsoon: late September, October, November and December.

January is blizzard prone and while weather delays may come at any time of year, they are very likely.

For all that, well over 100,000 people make this trek every year.

That means you won’t get a moment to yourself and may be a little overwhelmed at the sausage machine nature of the walk.

If you want to see the highest mountain on the planet there are better ways.

This is the most accessible of all though, so if you’re not as fit as a mountain goat (perhaps like the odd cigarette too) but have the time to visit, then perhaps this is the trek for you.

The Takeaway

Nepal has far more to offer than a 14 day stroll to the base camp of the highest mountain in the world!

It has a riot of cultures and peoples, some of whom haven’t really been touched by the world you and I live in.

If you can get on a less overrun trek then leap at the opportunity as so-called ‘progress’ is not always to the benefit of those experiencing it.

It is generally at the expense of cultures and communities that are more valuable to humanity as a species than the craving for money and electronic gadgets that we in the west have seemingly thrown our cultures in the waste bin for.

Nepal has millions of tourists annually and hundreds of thousands of trekkers but every so often you will see and feel something authentic – grab it and cherish it in your soul should you find it.

Happy trekking!

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