If you're going trekking in Nepal chances are you're already familiar with the big beasts; the world-famous Everest and Annapurna regions, and maybe the more accessible trails of the Langtang Valley. But as great as these regions are, there's no way I'd call them trekking off the beaten track.

Teahouse (lodge) trekking in Annapurna and Everest is a rite of passage and is most people's entry to hiking in the Himalaya. It's a lively, multinational, backpacker vibe, and is undeniably fun. But after you've made it to Everest Basecamp or seen the sunrise from Poon Hill, what's next?

Organised camping treks are a totally different experience to the standard teahouse trek. In my opinion, the biggest advantage of a guided camping trek is that it gets you away from the busy lodges and into huge swathes of upland Nepal that teahouse trekking simply cannot reach. You can explore for longer in the more remote and, dare I say it, more exciting areas of Nepal.

Here are a few of Nepal's quieter and lesser-known treks that will get you well and truly off the beaten track. They're all generally offered as organised camping expeditions, but it's worth shopping around with some specialist operators to get the best experience.

Off the beaten track treks in Nepal

Nepal's quieter & remote hiking routes

Gokyo Lakes trek (Everest/Khumbu region)

Difficulty: Moderate to hard

Trek duration: 12-14 days

Max. elevation: 5,360m

Accommodation: Trekking lodges

Start/end point: Lukla

With scenery every bit as spectacular as that on the Everest base camp trek but with far fewer crowds, this trek, which leads to a series of high glacial blue lakes, is arguably one of the best in Nepal. Note that altitude problems can be an issue. Go slowly and allow as many extra rest days as you can.

The trek follows the Everest base camp trail for the first couple of days to Sanasa, a half day walk beyond Namche Bazaar. From here, while the masses plod towards Everest, Gokyo trekkers skip up the Dudh Kosi valley. Forested at lower levels, the valley becomes increasingly forbidding as it passes herders’ camps and yak pastures and enters a realm of moraine and ice circled by looming peaks.

Nar phu trek nepal jpg Lcn

Trekking in the Nar Phu valley

Nar-Phu trek (Annapurna region)

Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Trek duration: Seven to nine days

Max. elevation: 5,320m

Accommodation: Camping and basic trekking lodges

Start/end point: Koto/Ngawal

Most Annapurna Circuit trekkers heading through the village of Koto won’t know that a trail off to the east leads to a magical, hidden world. The Nar and Phu valleys were closed to tourism until 2002 and when they finally opened up the first trekkers discovered a landscape of narrow gorges, 7km high mountains, timeless stone villages festooned with prayer flags, and a distinct local culture based on yak herding and trade with neighbouring Tibet.

Still rarely trekked (a restricted area permit and camping gear is required), the route follows a dark, deep and shady gorge up to the medieval village of Phu, which consists of around 40 or 50 mud and stone houses and red painted monasteries huddled together on the top of a hill. Entry to the village is via a spectacular old gateway.


Rara Lake, a true wilderness in Nepal's Far West

Rara Lake trek

Difficulty: Moderate

Trek duration: nine to 11 days

Max. elevation: 3,480m

Accommodation: Camping

Start/end point: Jumla

The focus on the trek to Rara Lake isn’t so much on the high mountains (though these are always the backdrop), but rather on unhurried village life and the variety of ethnic groups found along the way. The thick forests that surround the lake provide a home to musk deer, black bears and other wildlife. The area around the lake is a national park with few signs of human habitation and there are some delightful wild camping spots. This is a genuine wilderness trek.

Annapurna Range under sun light in Khopra Nepal

View of the Annapurna range from Khopra

Khopra Ridge trek (Annapurna region)

Difficulty: Moderate

Trek duration: Five to six days

Max. elevation: 3,660m

Accommodation: Camping and limited trekking lodges

Start/end point: Ghorepani/Tadapani

Also known as the Khopra Danda trek, this is well off the standard Annapurna trekking routes and offers a low-key, peaceful trek to lofty viewpoints on the flanks of Annapurna South. There are a number of different route variations.

The trails pass through charming villages with simple private and community lodges and lots of pretty forests. Khopra Ridge itself is an impressive dome with an exposed trail running along it that feels much higher than it really is (especially when covered in snow). The views across to Dhaulagiri I (8,167m) are unforgettable. From the ridge it’s possible to make a very long and challenging 10-hour day trip to the high altitude Khayer Lake (4,600m). Given the 1,000-metre height gain in a day, plus the beauty of the lake, it’s much more advisable to go on an organised camping trek and sleep on the lake shore.

Nepal Mustang lowres

Trekking in Upper Mustang

Upper Mustang Loop (Mustang region)

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

Trek duration: 12 days

Max. elevation: 4,380m

Accommodation: Homestays

Start/end point: Kagbeni/Kagbeni or Muktinath

A more rewarding but longer version of the standard Upper Mustang trek is the 12-day Upper Mustang loop. The first part of the trek to Lo Manthang follows the standard way up the western side of the Kali Gandaki. For the return though you follow a much wilder route down the eastern side of the Kali Gandaki.

There’s much less development on this side of the river and no road construction. Villages tend to be more traditional and there are fewer trekkers. The scenery is also more impressive than the western route, but the walking is tougher, fresh water harder to find, and villages more spaced out with some long days of walking.

Ganesh Himal and Manaslu Himal mountain range Himalayas Langtang Nepal

Ganesh Himal and Manaslu Himal mountain ranges, Langtang

Ganesh Himal trek (Langtang region)

Difficulty: Moderate

Trek duration: Two weeks

Max. elevation: 3,842m

Accommodation: Camping only

Start/end point: Syabrubesi/Tripura Sundari

Named after Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of fortune, Ganesh Himal lies directly between the Manaslu and Langtang ranges, and is one of the great unknowns of Nepalese trekking. With stunning mountain scenery, attractive and welcoming villages, hot springs, waterfalls and a genuine sense of being well off the beaten track, the Ganesh region really has a bit of everything — except crowds of other trekkers.

A handful of homestays and trekking lodges have started to open up, but for now the trails are still largely empty. Because formal accommodation is still so scarce, an organised camping trip is the best way to tackle this trek.


The Manaslu Circuit

Tsum Valley (Manaslu region)

Difficulty: Moderate

Trek duration: seven to 17 days

Max. elevation: 3,709m

Accommodation: Homestays, camping

Start/end point: Lokpa

Tucked up to the northeast off the main Manaslu Circuit, the Tsum Valley has only been open to trekkers for a decade. The views are wonderful but they are not the attraction here (although if you have camping gear then an overnight trip to the Ganesh base camp at about 4,000m rewards with a stunning view of mountains). Instead, this is all about venturing off the beaten path and discovering an older pace of life where the farming seasons and Tibetan Buddhism are all-important.

There is a set trail that takes about seven days but much of the delight of the Tsum Valley lies in making your own routes.


The high-altitude desert of the Dolpo region

Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang (Dolpo region)

Difficulty: Strenuous

Trek duration: 21-30 days

Max. elevation: 5,550m

Accommodation: Camping

Start/end point: Juphal/Jomsom

You want adventure? Here it is: The epic three to four-week long Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang trek. Starting from the airstrip at Juphal head north to Phoksundo Lake (you can also go via Do Tarap), over the Sehu La (5,160m) to Shey Gompa and then east, up and over several massive 5,000m-plus passes, through desolate high-altitude desert. The only other people you’ll meet will be the occasional herder with his flocks, or a yak caravan and trader returning from Tibet.


Hiking to Makalu Base Camp

Makalu Base Camp (Makalu region)

Difficulty: Difficult. Lots of steep up and down and the fast elevation gain means the risk of altitude sickness is high

Trek duration: 14 days

Max. elevation: 4,870m

Accommodation: Camping; very basic herders’ tea houses.

Start/end point: Num

There’s only one standard route to Makalu base camp and it’s a simple there and back along the same trail. But this is a real wilderness trek and there are only permanent villages for the first and last couple of days. Most of the time the only other people you’ll meet are herders with their yaks.

About the author

Trekking off the beaten track in Nepal

Stuart Butler

Stuart is an award-winning travel journalist and guidebook author who has been visiting and trekking in Nepal for over thirty years. One of the world's leading authorities on Nepal trekking, he is the author of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal, the Rough Guide to Nepal, the Tibet chapter of the Rough Guide to China and the Bradt guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. He is also regularly published in The Independent, BBC, Time Out, The Telegraph, among many other UK and international publications.

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