For most people a holiday to Nepal means a trekking trip into the heart of the greatest mountain range on Earth. For families a trekking holiday in Nepal is both inspiring, educational, a wonderful bonding experience and a huge challenge for child and adult alike. If you feel that you are up to the challenge of trekking in Nepal with a family then there are a few important points to keep in mind before you set out.
In this blog post we take a look at some of the things you need to think about and decide on and give a run-down on our six favourite places to trek in Nepal with a family.
Before you and your family grab your trekking poles and set off in search of yetis you need to think carefully about the kind of trek you can all realistically do. Embarking on something too ambitious with children in tow is not just setting yourself up for a disastrous holiday but it could potentially be dangerous. Most trekking trails in Nepal are measured in days and weeks, not in hours.
This means that the majority of treks in Nepal are going to be too long for any children below the age of about 12-14, so straight away forget any ambitions you might have of you and your family posing for a snap at Everest Base Camp (that’s a long, hard and high two week trek. However, on the Everest Panorama trek, which is ideal for kids, you can ogle the big mamma herself). Instead, stick to shorter and lower trails (see our trek route suggestions later in this article).
If you’re trekking in Nepal with a family with younger children then you should largely forget about getting up into the high Himalaya and instead focus on the area known as the Middle Hills (or, more correctly, the Mahabharat Range). Coming all the way to Nepal and not walking in the shadows of Himalayan giants might sound like a bit of a cop out, but the Middle Hills are no mere ‘hills’. Reaching elevations way above 4000m these are serious mountains in their own right and can better be understood if you consider them more as the foothills of the Himalaya.
The scenery is ravishing and from many places there are stupendous views of the Himalaya themselves. In fact, many of Nepal’s more popular treks are actually completely confined to the Middle Hills.
Even fairly easy treks in Nepal can take you high enough to suffer from altitude sickness. With younger children it’s better to stick to lower level treks. The walk to Poon Hill is a good example of a walk that’s not too high or long (3 days; 3210m) and so is a good family walk.
Before you set out it’s important to drill the basics of altitude sickness knowledge into children who are old enough to understand. Don’t scare them, but make sure that they understand that the altitude will affect their bodies.
Explain how if they try running or moving too quickly at higher altitudes (anything over around 3000m) then they will quickly feel light headed and breathless. Running around can easily cause a person to feel so light of breath that they can actually struggle to breath fast enough for a minute or two. This could be very scary for children (and adults as well for that matter!) if you haven’t explained to them beforehand that this might happen.
It’s also important to make your children understand the importance of drinking plenty of water (adding a bit of syrup or sugar will help to motivate them to drink and will replace the lost body sugars). You should also drill it into them that if they get even a mild headache or other altitude sickness symptom that they should let you know immediately, even if it’s the middle of the night.
As a parent you should keep a beady eye on your kids for strange behaviour (yes, even stranger than normal) such as slurred speech and loss of appetite. If problems start to arise get them to lower altitudes immediately. Even a descent of a few hundred metres can be enough. And do it straight away even if it’s 3am. And remember altitude sickness is totally random. It can strike people of any age, at any time even if you have a lot of high altitude experience.
Trekking with younger children or babies is even more dangerous as they might not be able to tell you when something is wrong. The crying emitting from your baby might not indicate tiredness, hunger or the need for a nappy change. It could be a headache caused by the altitude. This is one of the big reason why we do not recommend trekking with babies and the very young.
In Nepal treks come in two different flavoured packets. Fully organised or independent trekking.
Independent trekking can be as simple as slapping on a backpack and setting out on the mountain trails totally alone and with only the haziest idea of where to go and when you’ll get there. Or it can mean much the same, but also employing a porter or two to cart your gear.
Independent trekkers will almost invariably stay in trekking lodges (teahouses) every night and eat in them as well. Very few independent trekkers bring their own camping gear and set up a tent each night. Independent trekking basically means sticking to the most popular Nepalese routes.
Organised treks are a whole different kettle of yaks. Organised treks are arranged through a reputable tour agency and they will supply a suitable number of porters, plus a guide who speaks your language. They will organise all logistics such as permits, transport to and from trailheads, accommodation and food.
Normally on an organised trek you will camp most – if not every – night and a cook and kitchen staff will whip up varied and delicious feasts for you and the little ones at every meal time (and quite a lot of snack stops too!).
Organised treks also guarantee you a certain level of security and comfort and, crucially, on an organised trek you can go to areas where independent trekkers cannot. If you’re not that keen on camping every night then on many trekking routes you can also mix it up with a few nights camping and a few nights of trekking lodges. You can even chose to use trekking lodges all the way (assuming they exist on your chosen route).
Some trekking regions are only open to people on organised treks.
But, organised or independent, which is better for a family travelling to Nepal to trek? Well, although this does depend somewhat on where in Nepal you and your family will be trekking and how old your children are, but, in general, it’s far safer, easier and more enjoyable to do an organised trek.
The only exceptions to this might be if you have older teens who are walk fit and you’re doing one of Nepal’s classic ‘teahouse’ (trekking lodge) trail such as Annapurna Basecamp or Langtang.
Even if you and your family do choose to trek independently we would strongly recommend that you at least hire a porter or two. You will be intensely grateful to have someone else easily shouldering the weight of your bags and porters will often be happy to carry smaller children when the going gets too tough for them.
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By their very nature most treks are fairy ‘rough and ready’. This is adventure in the high mountains after-all. You and your children will get alternatively cold and then hot. You might not sleep all that well (and at higher altitudes sleep is always difficult) and you almost certainly will not get to wash or shower for the duration of your trek. One bit of good news for parents is that screen-addicted teens (and others) will be on a digital cold turkey because wi-fi and phone signals are rare and device batteries drain fast at height.
However, if you do want to provide your family with a dose of comfort then there are a small but growing number of genuinely upmarket lodges in the Everest region. Spending at least a night or two in such places might re-inspire flagging children. Ask your agent to book such places.
So now we’ve given you a bit of background on what to think about when planning a family trek we’ll now give you our rundown of Nepal’s six best family trekking routes.
Upper Mustang might not be the most obvious of family trekking destinations in Nepal, but this very special corner of the country is in many ways an ideal place for you and your family to decamp too.
A small thumb of land north of the main Himalayan range and extending into Tibet itself, Upper Mustang is a rare slice of purely traditional Tibetan culture that today is perhaps more ‘Tibetan’ than Tibet itself. The scenery couldn’t be any different to that found on the southern slopes of the Himalaya.
Upper Mustang is a land of multi-coloured desert canyons and tiny oases villages, that’s surrounded by glaciated mountain peaks and dotted with ancient monasteries. The whole area is a high-altitude plateau ranging between 3000-4000m.
The reason why Upper Mustang could be a great family trekking destination is that you and your family could base yourself in the extraordinary walled ‘capital’ of Lo Manthang and use the tiny town as a basecamp for a number of fascinating day walks to remote monasteries, cave temples and nomad encampments. Another great pleasure of this area is that all accommodation is homestay style and full of Tibetan character. Your children are likely to make fast friends with local kids and can even arrange to visit the local schools. Most of the homestays have a degree of comfort, such as hot showers and room heaters, not always found in dedicated trekking lodges.
There are however some very significant disadvantages to Upper Mustang as a family trekking destination.
Firstly, anyone visiting the area needs a permit and at US$500 per person for ten days these are not cheap. Permits are also only issued to people using the services of a dedicated trekking company.
The second problem is actually getting to Upper Mustang. It’s a long way from anywhere. In the very recent past the only way to Lo Manthang was on foot. Today though you can fly to Jomsom and then either walk to Lo Manthang over the course of four days or, using the newly constructed dirt road, drive there in a jeep rented in Jomsom (or you could even drive all the way from Pokhara, but this takes two days).
The third potential problem is that if you fly and drive in then the sudden and significant altitude gain from Pokhara (the normal gateway) or Kathmandu can lead to altitude-related issues.
Nepal’s original ‘teahouse’ (trekking lodge) trek still lives up to the hype. The highlight is without question the views from Annapurna Base Camp itself. Rising up immediately in-front of you is a giant cirque of 7000-8000m peaks culminating in Annapurna I (8091m). If you want your children to stand face to face with the greatest mountain range on Earth then this is the place to do it. Quite simply this is one of the best viewpoints in the whole of the Himalaya.
Other reasons that this outstanding walk is so suitable to families is that, at ten days, it’s relatively short and altitude gains, which reach a maximum of 4130m, aren’t enormous (though the walk is longer and higher than any other the others on this list).
The Annapurna Base Camp Trek start points (there are actually a couple of places you could begin from) are all just a short drive from central Pokhara. Facilities all along this trek route are about as good as they get on any Himalayan trek. The lodges are comfortable and well-equipped (hot showers and wi-fi are often available, as is a varied and tasty array of meals) and finally the scenery, which takes in small villages on terraced hillsides, dense forests, shady gorges, orchids and bamboo woodlands, is diverse and always pleasing.
Being a longer trek and one that does go higher than any other on this list means that it’s really only suitable for children over the age of about ten.
This short and stunning walk is the easiest way of getting into the high mountains fast. The trek from the trailhead at Syabrubesi to Kyanjin Gompa takes a mere three days (one-way). Allow a week for a return trip which includes time to do a couple of the highly rewarding day trips from Kyanjin Gompa. The altitudes gained (Kyanjin Gompa sits at 3870m) is lower than almost any other trek into the heart of the Himalaya, but scenically this Alpine valley rewards with mixed forests, mountain pastures, and close-up views of the Langtang range – a giant wall of rock and ice.
Facilities are good and you can stay in trekking lodges all the way.
So, are there any negatives to Langtang as a family friendly trek? Well, unfortunately yes, but it’s not a game changing negative. The first problem is that the first two walking days are both fairly long (around 5-6 hours without stops) and each has around 1000m altitude gain.
For little legs this is a lot of uphill climbing to do in so short a period of time. This fast altitude gain also makes you more susceptible to altitude sickness. This means that this trek is probably only really suitable for walk fit children over the age of about ten.
Come on show us one child who wouldn’t want to go back to school and tell their friends that they’ve had a one on one encounter with the highest mountain on Earth? While the famed Everest Basecamp trek is too high, long and challenging for almost every child and most teens, a great alternative trek is the week long (nine days with travel time from Kathmandu) Everest Panorama Trek (also called Everest View Trek) which offers shorter days and considerably lower altitudes than almost any other Everest region trek.
Highlights of the trek are the exotic Tibetan monastery of Tengboche where the bells, butter lamps, statues and legends will be like a real life storybook for children, the rich Sherpa culture and, of course, stirring views of Everest and a host of other greats.
Most walking days are fairly short (around 4-5hrs) and the highest altitude gained is 3860m so altitude risks aren’t too great. The other advantage of this trek are the excellent trekking lodges and even some genuinely luxury hotels, plus a wide variety of meals.
The one real drawback is that you have to take a pricey flight to the airstrip in Lukla and, because this is a very popular trekking region, flights are often full and bad weather can result in long wait times for replacement flights.
A worthy contender to the title of Nepal’s best family trek. The relatively new Tamang Heritage Trail is a week-long trek that combines superlative mountain views with fascinating cultural interactions.
There’s a fair bit of up and down, but days aren’t too long and the highest elevation reached is 3300m which means minimal altitude issues. This trek is perhaps less about the mountains than the Tamang people who live in these valleys to the north of Kathmandu. Most accommodation is in authentic family homestays (play mates for your children!) in beautiful, traditional Tamang villages. This means you’ll learn more about day to day life in rural Nepal on this trek than any of the more commercial routes mentioned here.
Your hosts might even welcome you to their village with a song and dance. There are also some natural hot springs where you can ease away aches and pains. From our experience, although children are as bowled over by the views of high mountains as adults, they prefer – and gain more from – being in a village playing with local children, and this trek will give them exactly that.
The downsides are the long (8-9hr) drive from Kathmandu to the trailhead at Syabrubesi and the sometimes primitive facilities (though what do you expect in remote homestays?!).
Taking the number one spot on our list of best family treks in Nepal, Poon Hill (also called Annapurna Panorama Trek) is the classic family trek in Nepal and for good reason. It’s short (5-6 days in total) and the maximum altitude gain is just 3210m which means altitude-related problems are rare. The number of hours (3-5hrs) spent walking each day is achievable for many children. Facilities are superb with high quality lodges all along the trail. Access to the trail head is super easy. It’s just a short car ride out of Pokhara.
The drawbacks are that you don’t get deep into the high Himalaya. This is more a Middle Hills trek, but even so you and your kids are going to adore the scenery which culminates in a pre-dawn climb to Poon Hill (3210m) to watch the rising sun light up a panorama of Himalayan giants including much of the Annapurna range and Dhaulagiri I (8167m).
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A couple of other very short treks, all of which start close to Pokhara, that are well worth considering for a quick hit family view of the Himalaya and a taste of trekking are:
Ghandruk Loop – A three day walk through pretty countryside and to a view point with mountain vistas.
Ghachok Trek – A quick fire, two-day trek to the attractive hill village of Ghachok. On the way you will pass a Tibetan settlement with a monastery.
Panchase Trek – A three to four-day trek taking in gorgeous hill scenery and a stunning Himalayan lookout from which to catch the sunrise.