Annapurna Trek Routes

by Alan Stock

The huge Annapurna mountains in Nepal make up part of the Himalayas, spanning over 55 kilometers and they are home to a host of world-famous treks. The most well-known of these is the epic Annapurna Circuit, a trek which circles the whole Annapurna massif and takes over two weeks.

Thousands of tourists every year visit the Annapurna region to hike the well established trails here in the mountains. They are attracted by the incredible scenery and atmosphere of these vast peaks, the wide variety of landscapes and the quaint mountain trekking tea house villages found many days away from civilisation. The region also has the benefit of much quieter treks than at Everest, with lower visitor numbers. Trekking here is unforgettable - I can personally vouch for it having done the ABC and Jomsom - Muktinath treks myself. In this article, we’re going to look at the main Annapurna routes to consider when planning a trek in the region.

Annapurna Circuit trek

15-21 Days - classic route

The daddy of them all. the annapurna circuit is the region’s most popular trek and world-renowned, but you need plenty of time and stamina to tackle it. The route circles the entire massif, crossing over the Thorong La pass at over 5400m high. It’s so popular due to its stunning scenery and the very diverse landscapes that it passes through. During this trek you’ll pass through green foothills, forests and farmland before reaching the Tibetan plateau in the north and the town of Jomsom, an extremely barren area with impressive cliffs and rock formations - all under the shadow of the great Annapurna mountains. The trail passes through villages and towns of different cultures and visits mountain temples and shrines. It’s a fantastic trek and one that is highly recommended if you have the time to spare.

The Annapurna Circuit usually starts at the town of Besisahar - a few hours from tourist hub Pokhara - and is usually done anti-clockwise to aid acclimatization, finishing at Nayapul or Phedi (also near Pokhara). There are many variants and price-points of the Annapurna circuit and side-trips which can be added to the trip - too many to cover in this article.

It’s possible to skip entire sections of the trek by using road transport (for example between Jomsom and Pokhara where there is now a rough road), or take the notorious short flights from Jomsom’s tiny mountain airfield to Pokhara or Kathmandu. This is a moderate to demanding circuit and you must take acclimatization into account once you reach the higher northern parts. Regular tea houses along the route offer lodging, food and drinks.

Annapurna has incredible scenery and mountain views

Annapurna has incredible scenery and mountain views

Jomsom Muktinath Trek

3-10 Days

Because the Annapurna Circuit route is so long, it’s possible to just do some parts of it - these are often offered as separate treks in tour packages. One popular section of the Annapurna Circuit is known as the Jomsom Muktinath Trek. The name is misleading, Jomsom and Muktinath are only a few days hike from each other in the north of the Circuit - but this route can be much longer than that.

The classic Jomsom Muktinath route starts down at Nayapul near Pokhara, seeing you ascend through Ghorepani (probably stopping to see Poon Hill - see below) and then up through Tatapani with its hot springs. Then you trek for days along the Kali Gandaki Gorge (one of the world’s deepest valleys) to reach Jomsom. However, a recent road built along the gorge has somewhat put people off trekking this section, with the trekking route diverted to the eastern side. It’s worth noting the road is still unsealed and not busy, but trekker feedback varies about whether it bothers them or not. Some tours now cut this section out altogether.

From the charming trekking town of Jomsom, in the otherworldly barren landscape of Mustang on the border with Tibet, you hike up via Kagbeni to the village of Muktinath, which has strong Tibetan influences and where a religiously significant mountain monastery lies. There are many trails around Jomsom and Muktinath, meaning it's possible to spend days or weeks just in this area. From Jomsom it’s possible to use the road for a bumpy ride south, or to take a short flight to back to Pokhara or Kathmandu to end your journey. It’s also possible, of course, to do this route in reverse.

Nar Phu Valley Trek

9-20 Days

This relatively new route (trekking-wise) follows part of the Annapurna Circuit, usually starting at Besisahar. How much of the Circuit you do depends on how long you want your trek to be. The route follows the Circuit northwards before diverting at Koto, to the remote northern Nar Phu valley - looping round to rejoin the Circuit at Manang. The Nar Phu valley was only opened to trekkers in 2002 and is home to a some very old and traditional Tibetan villages, retaining their ancient culture which you can see for yourself. The Nar Phu leg also offers fantastic scenery of the Annapurnas and a real sense of isolation. Conditions are rougher than the Nepal trekking standard on Nar Phu valley leg of the trek, with trekkers camping or staying in stone huts - there’s no tea house infrastructure here - yet. It’s a great way to see a part of Nepal few tourists have been to and to witness the remote lifestyle of this fascinating culture.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek / Annapurna Base Camp Trek

4-7 Days

This trek has multiple names and is often abbreviated to the ABC Trek. This is the next most popular route in the Annapurna region to the Circuit, and is a very impressive trail. It starts in the village of Nayapul near Pokhara, heading north and making a beeline for Annapurna Base Camp which lies around 3 days into the mountains, before returning. There is some variation in the start and end of the route as a number of trails loop around this area (see below). This trek is popular thanks to passing through a large variety of landscapes in a short space of time, amazing scenery, and incredible views up at the Annapurna Base Camp (it passes Machhapuchhre Base Camp too) - where you are completely surrounded by huge  Annapurnas towering above you.

Lake seen on the Annapurna trek

Lake seen on the Annapurna trek

The mostly paved and tea house studded route passes through terraced farming, forests of different types including bamboo and rhododendron, up and down steep valleys and over rivers, with plenty of great mountain views. Near the top the terrain becomes alpine-like, with long grass and rocky vistas up at Base Camp. A favourite stop on the way down is the natural hot springs at Jhinu village (complete with monkeys). It’s a moderately difficult trek with lots of steep ascents and descents throughout, but acclimatization isn’t usually an issue thanks to the steady climb of the trail.

Poon Hill - Short Annapurna Trek

3-5 Days

A popular addition to the Annapurna Base Camp trek is to include a diversion to Poon Hill - a famous viewpoint with a spectacular sunrise 360° panorama over the mountains, a short hike from the trekking village of Ghorepani. This usually adds two to three days to the Base Camp trek’s duration and doesn’t involve backtracking. It’s also possible to do treks directly to Poon Hill from Nayapul or Dhampus.

Another option is to do a short loop to Poon Hill from those towns via Jhinu, cutting out the leg up to Annapurna Base Camp. This loop is sometimes known as the Short Annapurna Trek, ghorepani-poon hill trek , or Annapurna Panorama Trek and is an easy option - both for those short on time, or without the fitness for the bigger climbs required to reach Base Camp. It’s recommended if you do the loop to go anti-clockwise to descend instead of climb the notorious Ulleri steps (I’ve done them, imagine a few hours of climbing endless steep steps in the sun - not fun!).

A less popular way to reach Poon Hill is to reach it from the north via the trail from Tatopani. This is part of the Annapurna Circuit route - then from Poon Hill you could descend to Nayapul through Ulleri, head across to tackle ABC, or come down via Jhinu. Coming to Poon Hill from this direction is only really worth it if you are already in the northern area, such as descending from Jomsom or following the Annapurna Circuit heading southwards.

Royal Trek

3-8 Days

This short lowland trek is so named because Britain’s Prince Charles hiked this route during his 1980 Nepal visit. It follows a fairly easy trail through the area looping around the tourist hub of Pokhara, passing along ridges and through terraced farmland, forests and villages. Most versions of this trek stop by at least one of the large and beautiful lakes in the region. Although you are not in the mountains on this trek, the views of the Annapurnas along this route are very impressive and the local villages and farmland are very attractive. Lodges provide food and accommodation along the way, although some tours camp instead. This is a quiet route ideal for the less fit or elderly who want to experience great Annapurna views and a taste of local culture without slogging up into the mountains.

Choose your Annapurna Route

The number of interconnecting trails and good trekking infrastructure in the Annapurna region means that there’s a lot of choice when planning a trek here. Although we have covered the most popular routes in this article, there are many others. Mixing and matching routes with each other is easy - allowing you to customise your trek based on the amount of time you have, what you’d like to see and your fitness level. Regardless of your choice, it’s a wonderful region with incredible scenery of the Annapurna mountains even in the lowlands. We hope you found this article inspiring and useful - and check out our other Annapurna articles for more trekking information like packing lists for Annapurna and the best time to go !

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