The Himalayas

10 of the Best Himalayan Treks

Randonnée

, by Charlie Boscoe

Everest (the black, rocky peak) is seemingly smaller than its neighbor Nuptse, as seen from Kala Patthar. Photo: Daniel Prudek, Shutterstock

Everything about the Himalayas inspires superlatives: they're home to the world's highest mountain, the world's most beautiful mountain (which, by general consensus, is Ama Dablam), and every peak over 7000 meters (23,000 feet) on planet Earth. The Andes may cover a greater area, and the Alps might be more accessible, but no mountain range comes close to the Himalayas in terms of height or reputation. 

The sheer scale of the Himalayas and their lack of infrastructure means that seeing every part of them is virtually impossible. There are hundreds of Himalayan peaks still awaiting a first ascent, and many of the valleys surrounding them have never been explored. Suffice it to say that, even with time, money, and motivation, you will visit only some parts of the Himalayas in one lifetime. Today, I'll give you some suggestions about where to start. I've done about a dozen Himalayan expeditions, so although I've only seen about 0.0001% of them, it does mean that I've got a reasonable idea of what a good Himalayan trek entails! 

Huge views in the heart of the Khumbu region, Nepal. Photo: Boscoe Collection

Some treks listed here are super popular, which can be a negative for some people, but if you want to visit the highest peaks of all - most of which lie in Nepal's Khumbu region - then you have to deal with having a bit of company! As I'll explain, it's pretty easy to escape busy Himalayan trails and find some solitude, but regardless - sharing a trail is a small price to pay for watching the sunrise over Mount Everest. Speaking of which...

1. Everest Base Camp Trail, Nepal

The most famous Himalayan trek of all to the highest mountain on Earth, this list of must-do hikes wouldn't be complete without the trip to Everest Base Camp. The scenery defies description, but if you go expecting classic Himalayan views, with deep green valleys giving way to impossibly huge, snowy peaks - you won't be disappointed. There is definitely more traffic on this route than on any others on this list, but it's incredible how a tiny detour of a few hundred meters can provide some solitude. Wander off in the evenings after dinner, and you'll soon find some peace.

The trek begins at the legendary Lukla airstrip, passes through the bustling Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar and then leads you into the highest mountains on Earth. The combination of Sherpa culture, mind-altering vistas, and, of course, visiting the legendary spot from which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay launched their trip to Everest's summit make this one of the finest treks on the planet.

2. K2 Base Camp Trek, Pakistan

Everest is the world's highest mountain, but K2 might be its hardest. It's less than a thousand feet lower than Everest but far more technical, not to mention dangerous. Even looking at K2 is intimidating, and it dominates the view as you approach it in a way that Everest (which is, ironically, hidden for much of the approach to it) doesn't. The mountain looks HUGE, steep and - frankly - scary, and the jagged peaks of the Karakoram surrounding it are only marginally less so.

I haven't been lucky enough to visit every mountain range on Earth, but those who've been to more than me say that the Karakoram are the most aesthetic peaks they've ever seen. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there's no doubt that the trip up the Baltoro Glacier to the foot of K2 is one of the most incredible mountain journeys you could ever wish to experience. 

3. Markha Valley, India

India isn't home to any of the fourteen 8000-meter peaks, and as such, it slightly slips under the radar of most aspiring Himalayan trekkers. Having made two trips to the Indian Himalayas, I can attest that the area is massively underrated and much quieter than most of the locations listed in this article. Sure, you're unlikely to see any famous mountains, but if you want massive, lonely vistas and remote peaks (many of which are unclimbed), the northern Indian region of Ladakh is well worth a look. 

Stok Kangri is the most famous peak in Ladakh, sitting just over 6000 meters and easily accessed from Leh (the region's capital), but the 8-day trip through the Markha Valley is arguably the best trek in the area. It follows the Markha river for much of the trek and then climbs up to the Kongmaru La pass, at over 5000 meters, meaning that you get to experience the local flora and fauna in addition to seeing the barren high ground for which Ladakh is famous. In addition to the natural wonders, the Markha Valley is also a fascinating cultural region, with Buddhism infusing every part of life. Culture, views, flowers - what's not to like?!

4. Snowman Trek, Bhutan

One of the longest, most arduous, and most rewarding of the classic Himalayan treks, this is an epic journey through one of the world's least visited countries. This trek is so good that some veteran Himalayan trekkers describe it as "the best trail on Earth." I can't verify that one, but it's pretty exceptional!

The trek is over three weeks long and leads over eleven passes above 4500 meters, so it's not for the faint of heart! The reward for those with the fitness and motivation to complete it is to glimpse mountains that few people will ever see and visit areas like Lunana, which ranks as one of the least populated regions of the entire Himalayan chain.

5. Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal

After the Khumbu region, Annapurna is the second most-visited part of Nepal, mainly because of the peak after which the area is named. Annapurna is "only" the 10th highest mountain in the world, but it's notoriously difficult and dangerous to climb, making it a highly-valued prize for those with the skills - and bravery - required to climb it. The peak's legendary status was cemented in 1950 when it was the first 8000er to be climbed. Maurice Herzog's book, "Annapurna," telling the story of the first ascent, is a classic piece of mountaineering literature, and its final words, "There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men," is one of the most iconic lines ever written in the genre.

The Annapurna region has two classic treks - the Sanctuary trek and the Circuit trek. As you might have guessed from the names, the Sanctuary route goes right into the heart of the Annapurna Cirque and leads you to the foot of the mountain's feared south face, while the circuit goes all the way around the Annapurna range. For me, the Sanctuary route is the better option, if for no other reason than because it gets you so close to the most awe-inspiring side of the peak. The views of Machupachare (the so-called "fishtail peak") aren't too bad either...

6. Manaslu Circuit, Nepal

Even a couple of decades ago, the Manaslu Circuit wasn't a popular trek, but it's become more famous as increasing numbers of hikers experience its rugged beauty for themselves. The trip takes you through a relatively wild and remote part of Nepal, and the route has a bit of everything, from views of Manaslu (8,156 m) itself to peaceful stretches along the Budi Gandaki River. 

The Manaslu Circuit is also renowned for its exceptional cultural interest - the trek goes through areas that exhibit Nepali, Tibetan, and Hindu cultures and has - even by Nepalese standards - a LOT of prayer flags and mani stones (rocks or pebbles inscribed with the mantra of Avalokiteshvara - a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism). The combination of wilderness, fascinating culture, and truly epic Himalayan views have transformed this route into a classic.

7. Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, India

Understandably, most people travel to the Himalayas to see mountains, but on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, you also get - as you might have guessed - to see some fabulous lakes, too. The trek is relatively short at around a week, so this is one of the few Himalayan trips that doesn't require three or more weeks to complete.

The trip starts in Srinigar, one of India's most fascinating and unique towns, with its famous houseboats and remarkably diverse culture, mixing elements of many Central Asian traditions. Once on the trek, expect vast scenery, few people, and seven of the finest lakes you'll find anywhere on planet Earth! The trekking is strenuous at times, and despite the short length of the trip, it takes you high up - to 13,276ft/4191m to be exact - so take it seriously, and you're in for a treat.

8. Rakaposhi Base Camp Trek, Pakistan

Without question, the least known of the "base camp" treks on this list, the trip to Rakaposhi is ranked by those in the know as one of the best in Pakistan. The trip to Nanga Parbat base camp and the K2 base camp trip listed above are exceptional, but Rakaposhi is something entirely different. The mountain whose base camp you trek to is almost an 8000er - topping out at 7,788m/25,551 ft - but is virtually unknown to anyone beyond trekking connoisseurs due to those "missing" 112 meters. It's a beautiful peak that ought to be better known, but make the most of its relative obscurity and enjoy the solitude hiking towards it brings.

In addition to the epic scenery you'd expect on the trip, you'll also pass through lush meadows and deep valleys, making this a stunning and varied trek. Throw in the chance to experience the unique culture of the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and this is a trip with "can't miss" written all over it!

9. Mount Kailash Circuit, Tibet

Most people consider Himalayan trekking to be an almost spiritual experience, but for many of those attempting the Mount Kailash Circuit, it literally is. The mountain is considered holy by no less than four religions - Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon, and Jainism - and pilgrims come to trek this route all summer long.

The trek is relatively short, at 52km/32 miles, but it never passes below 4500 meters, so getting properly acclimatised before starting out is essential. As luck would have it, the trip is in Tibet, so you can spend a few days sightseeing in Lhasa (3,656 m/11,995 ft) before setting off for the mountains. Even the drive to the start of the trek is spectacular, and there's the option of stopping at the Rongbuk Monastery - the highest monastery in the world, which sits beneath the mighty north face of Everest - en route to the hike. Any trip that is considered a pilgrimage to billions of people and involves a side trip to Everest before you've even started hiking must be a good one!

10. The Great Himalayan Trail

I've saved the longest one 'til last! As it stands, the Great Himalayan Trail is 1,700 kilometers/1,100 miles long, which already makes it a beast of a trip, but there are plans afoot to extend it all the way from Nanga Parbat in Pakistan to Namche Barwa in Tibet, making it a mighty 4,500 kilometers/2,800 miles. Even in its current form, it's a monster of a trek and traverses the entire Nepalese Himalaya, with additional forays into India and Bhutan at each end of the hike. 

Trying to describe the trek in any detail would be a long article, but just take a look at the route on the route's official website to get a taste of what to expect! The entire route has only been completed a few times, so if you get this ticked, you should tell some news outlets about your achievement!

A trip to the Himalayas is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most trekkers, but as you've probably figured out by now - it really should be a ten-times-a-lifetime experience! Oh, to have endless time and money...

Here's a bit of inspiration until that lottery win comes along: