Planning Your Trek
Welcome to Bhutan! Get ready to hike along quiet mountain paths, past rural villages, and along crystal-clear lakes full of trout.
No matter what kind of multi-day trekking you hope to do, you won't go it alone: you'll be coordinating with a local guide. You can get highly involved in the planning process, or leave it up to the guide's expertise. If you prefer the latter, you only need to state your fitness level and general preferences, and the rest will be taken care of for you.
If you're up for a challenging high-altitude trek of a lifetime, try the 27-day Snowman Trek, which crosses numerous high-altitude passes and requires camping in the snow. If you'd prefer a shorter challenge, the Laya Gasa and Dagala Thousand Lakes treks come with many of the benefits but fewer of the hardships of the Snowman trek. If you're short on time, or just prefer to stretch your legs more gently, check out the Jumolhari, Druk Path, and Owl Treks.
Read on for recommended treks. Each is categorized by its difficulty level: easy, moderate, or advanced. Keep in mind that these ratings are defined by the standards of travelers who are accustomed to trekking. Generally speaking, "easy" treks are easy for those who are in good shape for walking or hiking several miles a day while carrying a light backpack or daypack. "Moderate" treks may involve hiking between six and nine hours per day. "Advanced" means longer and steeper inclines, rockier terrain, and weather conditions like snow. All categories require some experience with hiking and camping. Depending on your arrangement with your guide, setting up camp and preparing meals won't necessarily be your responsibility.
Snowman Trek - 27 Days (Challenging)
The Snowman Trek has been called "the hardest trek in the world." Only a few people attempt it each season. But for fit, determined, and experienced trekkers, there's hardly another Himalayan trek to match it. It's best to try this trek from mid-June to mid-November.
The Snowman Trek is an extension of the Laya Gasa Trek (see below). Along the way, you will catch glimpses of Mt. Jumolhari (23,999 feet), Jichu Drake (21,856 feet), and other mountains in Bhutan, Tibet, and India. The trail leads you through river valleys, alpine meadows, pastures, orchards, and rhododendron forests. You'll pass impressive waterfalls and lakes, and spot animals such as blue sheep, yaks, and griffon vultures. The landscape is very remote, so you won't pass many settlements, except at the start and end points.
The Snowman Trek has its reputation for a reason. Several high passes of around 16,000 feet must be crossed along the way. It's also necessary to camp above 16,400 feet more than once. And depending on seasonal conditions, tents may need to be pitched in the snow.
Acclimatization days are built into the itinerary. High in the mountains, many people feel the effects of altitude, such as difficulty breathing and sleeping normally. While the effects of altitude are quite random and don't necessarily correspond with fitness levels, it's important to be an experienced high-altitude trekker if you're going to attempt the Snowman Trek.
Laya Gasa Trek - 12 Days (Moderate to Challenging)
The Laya Gasa Trek covers the first twelve days of the Snowman Trek. It includes many of the same experiences, but is less than half the length, doesn't require camping so high, and doesn't cross as many high passes. In short, it's a bit easier!
But, the Laya Gasa Trek is still a good challenge. Crossing several high passes, camping at 13,000 feet, and scrambling up to 16,000 feet for views of Mt. Jumolhari are exhilarating challenges that will satisfy experienced trekkers.
A cultural highlight of the Laya Gasa Trek is visiting the Lingshi Dzong, a hilltop fortress that has been a Buddhist sanctuary and protection against invading Tibetans and Mongols for centuries.
March to May and September to November are the best times to do the Laya Gasa Trek.
Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek - 6 Days (Easy)
Although a bit of a misnomer (there are a lot of lakes on this trek, if not quite a thousand), this trek is a stunner.
On the Dagala Thousand Lakes trek, you'll walk through rhododendron forests that bloom brilliantly in spring, and you'll camp in yak pastures, in meadows of mountain flowers, and beside lakes. From Pagalabtsa Pass, you can catch incredible views of Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world, sitting on the border of Sikkim (India) and Nepal. Other mountains that you can view along the way include Everest, Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Tshering Gang, Khangbum, Masang Gang, Tshenda Gang, and Gangche Ta.
On the final night, you'll camp at Tsheregang, where there are beautiful views of the town of Thimphu below.
The best times of year to try the Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek are from April to June and from September to October.
Check out this twelve-day itinerary for inspiration on how to combine the Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek with a cultural tour of Bhutan.
Jumolhari Trek - 6 Days (Easy)
The six-day Jumolhari Trek is the best choice if you want to combine mountain scenery with cultural highlights.
Starting at the Drugyal Dzong ruins, pass by the village of Shana (where the trek ends) and follow the Paro River Valley to Jangothang Base Camp. From there, enjoy spectacular views of Mt. Jumolhari, which is the second-highest unclimbed peak in the world. There are also views of Jichu Drake and Tshrim Khang (22,273 feet) on this trek.
The best months in which to do this trek are April to May and September to November.
For a seventeen-day tour that includes the Jumolhari Trek with a cultural tour of Bhutan, check out this itinerary.
Druk Path Trek - 4-6 Days (Easy)
The Druk Path Trek can be customized to last between four and six days, and can easily be added to most Bhutan travel itineraries. It goes between the two towns of Paro and Thimphu, which are both on most travelers' itineraries.
The mountain views on the Druk Path Trek are quite distant, but include Gangar Puensum (the highest unclimbed peak in the world, at 24,840 feet). What the route lacks in close-up views, it makes up for in beautiful lakes. Jimiling Lake is a highlight, with large trout swimming in its clear waters. The trail passes through pine and rhododendron forests, villages, and some ancient dzongs (fortresses).
This is a fairly easy trek. While it reaches altitudes as high as 13,779 feet, the distances between rest stops aren't long, so there are plenty of chances to take a break.
The best times to do the Druk Path Trek are March to June or September to November.
For a recommended itinerary centered around nature and culture in Bhutan, see this article.
Owl Trek - 3 Days (Easy)
The three-day Owl Trek is a good short one for travelers without much time in Bhutan — or those who don't wish to attempt a more strenuous trek.
The trail follows the hills around Bumthang, passing through forests of rhododendron, blue pine, birch, maple, spruce, juniper, and bamboo. The beautiful red-breasted Himalayan Tragopan (a type of horned pheasant) are a common sight in April and May.
Unlike many of the longer trekking routes, which are more about the natural wilderness, the Owl Trek passes through some lovely authentic Bhutanese villages, including places inhabited by the nomadic Khep and Brokpa people. You can also visit the monasteries at Zambhalha, Chuedak, and Tharpaling.
The best time to do the Owl Trek is April to June. As there are many villages en route, it is particularly interesting to schedule this trek to coincide with a colorful local Buddhist festival.
Traveling onward in Bhutan? Check out our recommended list of highlights not to miss when traveling in the kingdom.
Accommodation & Food
First, a few words about logistics. All treks in Bhutan are camping treks: there are no lodges or teahouses along the way, such as those you'd find in neighboring Nepal. Depending on the season, altitude, and routes followed, trekking in Bhutan sometimes means camping in the snow. Campsites are often strategically placed in beautiful surroundings beside lakes and waterfalls. As long as you're prepared with warm equipment and clothing, this can be a wonderful experience.
There are very few villages along these treks. All food supplies must be carried in and prepared in camp. But you don't necessarily have to figure out the details yourself: you'll be traveling with a guide, who often handles food shopping and preparation. When in doubt, just ask about the meal arrangements.