The peak tourist seasons in Nepal are March-May and September-November, as this is when the weather tends to be best for outdoor activities. However, winter trekking shouldn’t be overlooked. The temperatures may be colder, but the views are often at their best. Plus, you won’t be competing for space along the trails or in the lodges by trekking in winter. Here are some suggestions for the best winter treks in Nepal.
Short treks in the Annapurna region
Poon Hill: During the peak seasons, this trek is very popular, and can get quite crowded. But not in the winter. The trek passes through local villages and forests, and the climax is enjoying the spectacular sunrise views at Poon Hill (3210 metres). The trek is easily accessible from Pokhara, has well-developed tourism infrastructure (like teahouses for food and accommodation) and offers close-up views of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri (as well as other Himalayan peaks) without needing to ascend too high (meaning, it doesn’t get too cold in winter).
Annapurna Community Homestay trek: This is a great alternative to the Poon Hill trek at any time of year, because it is less crowded (when I did this trek in April, my friend and I were the only trekkers there!) It follows a similar route to the Poon Hill trek, just along a different Ridgeline, and peaks at Mohare Danda (3300 metres), with incredible close-up mountain views. As well as the spectacular views and noticeable lack of other travellers, you get the chance to experience local life in a Homestay. The trail starts and ends a few kilometres from Beni, a three-hour drive from Pokhara. Again, because it doesn’t go too high, this is one of the best winter treks in Nepal.
Although Kathmandu gets a bit chilly in the winter, it never gets very cold, so short treks (including day hikes) around the Valley are ideal in the winter. You won’t have to get too high (thus, too cold) and can look forward to retreating to a warm hotel at the end! There are almost endless options for winter treks in Nepal, in and around the Valley, but some highlights include:
Sanga to Panauti: This newly developed, ten kilometre route passes through Tamang villages that haven’t before seen tourism. It’s generally a gentle hike, but with beautiful views of farmland and the high Himalayas in the distance. The hike ends at Panauti, a well-preserved Newari town, where you can enjoy local hospitality at the Panauti Community Homestay.
Nagarkot-Dhulikhel-Bhaktapur: A great 2-3 day starts in Nagarkot, then travels on to Dhulikhel and Bhaktapur. Nagarkot and Dhulikhel are old Newari towns just outside the Valley, so you will experience plenty of culture on this short hike. The Himalayan views from Nagarkot and Dhulikhel are spectacular in winter.
The Chitwan area may be better known for its steamy jungles and rhino safaris, but there are also some low-altitude hiking options here, too. Winter on Nepal’s plains can get quite cold, but not like the snowy high Himalayas. The Chitwan Hills Trail goes to Siraichuli Hill, one of the highest hills in the Mahabharat range (1945 metres), from which there are great sunrise and sunset views, with the high Himalayan peaks in the distance.
Although the Everest region does get very cold–and a full Everest Base Camp trek in the winter wouldn’t be a good option for most trekkers–the variety and accessibility of the area make it a good option for winter trekking. Lukla is just a short flight from Kathmandu, and while flights are often cancelled or delayed in the cloudier, wetter months, this should be less of a concern in the winter. From Lukla, you can trek to Namche Bazaar in two days, and use the lively Sherpa town as a base. You can hike to Thame, which has a monastery perched high on a cliff. You could even continue on to Tengboche, famous for its important monastery where blessings are sought by would-be Everest summitteers.
The Langtang Valley fared badly in the 2015 earthquake, but tourism is picking up again along some of the routes. The Langtang area is easily accessible from Kathmandu, as it lies just north, bordering Tibet. As well as the classic Langtang Valley trek, you can join the Tamang Heritage Trail or the Ruby Ridge Trail, which falls between the Manaslu Conservation Area and the Langtang National Park. Both treks start from Syabrubesi, where the road stops, and neither climb to much more than 3000 metres, making the temperatures tolerable in the winter. The culture in the area is as much of a draw as the landscape–the Tamang people who dominate the area are descended from Tibetans, so have a distinct form of dress, and practice Tibetan Buddhism.