Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek | Your Ultimate Guide

If you’re searching for the ultimate guide to the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek, chances are you’ve already discovered this majestic and exhilarating trek to the base of the world’s third-tallest mountain and you’re hooked.

It took all of one description and a couple of images online for us to know that the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek was the one trek in Nepal we could not miss. And let me tell you, we are beyond glad we had the good fortune to experience the incomprehensible wonders that captivate you from the moment you step foot on the remote and rugged trail.

However, the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is certainly not for everyone. This is one of the most challenging higher-altitude teahouse treks in Nepal, made more difficult due to its remote nature. But if challenge is what you’re seeking then you’ve come to the right place!

Hiking at Okhordung during a beautiful sunrise while on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

We took on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek after completing the Annapurna Base Camp Trek and fell in love with the tiny authentic villages, the uncrowded rugged trails and the magnificent beauty of the monstrously mountainous landscape.

It quickly became our favourite adventure in Nepal and if you’re an experienced hiker, we couldn’t recommend this trek enough! However, with a more remote expedition comes extra planning and consideration. That’s why we’ve crafted a detailed guide to help you determine if this trek is suitable for you and prepare effectively for this ultimate adventure.

Our comprehensive guide on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek covers everything from finding the best trekking guide, managing insurance and other logistics, what to expect on the trail and valuable tips for an unforgettable experience in the stunning northeast Nepal region.

Standing on the top of Mirgehla Pass overlooking Talung Peak and Yalung Glacier

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An Overview Of The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Distance
152.6 km

Time
17 – 22 Days

Navigation Difficulty
Moderate

Trail Difficulty
Hard

Physical Effort
Hard (Harder with altitude)

Elevation Gain
9,876 m

Elevation Loss
9,437 m

Highest Elevation
5,100 m

Permits & Extra Costs
Trekking Permits
Showers at Ghunsa

Facilities
Lodgings, squat toilets, restaurants in all villages, showers and charging at Ghunsa

Note: These statistics are from our trek of the Kanchenjunga Circuit and can differ slightly depending on where you choose to start and end your trek – and whether you choose to do any additional side trips.

Map Of The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

The Kanchenjunga Region is a wonderfully remote area of Nepal that truly gives you a sense of life in the Himalayas. However, the remote nature also results in the need for extra preparation as there is no reliable internet connection or phone signal for the entire trek.

3D Map of the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek
3D Map of the Kanchenjunga Trek – created with Alltrails+

If you are like us and prefer to keep a GPS map of the area with you, we highly recommend signing up for an Alltrails+ Subscription. The paid version enables you to download maps to your phone via the Alltrails App and use them completely offline, along with various other features.

If you subscribe to Alltrails+, you can also download our maps and save them on your device to use offline. We’ve created an interactive map below that you can move around and analyse the area to get a feel for the terrain you will be hiking in.

For more detailed maps of each day, including GPS-marked images and points of interest, head to our comprehensive Kanchenjunga Itinerary.

View This Map on Alltrails

When you sign up for AllTrails+, you can download maps and activities from other users to your phone for offline use.

You can use either the AllTrails app on your phone or the website AllTrails.com.

How to download a ‘Map’:

  1. Open the AllTrails app
  2. Tap on ‘Profile’ on the bottom navigation bar
  3. Tap on ‘Following’
  4. Select Tracks Less Travelled if you are following us or tap the connect icon at the top right to search for our profile
  5. Select ‘Maps’ from their profile page
  6. Find the map you wish to download
  7. On the map details screen tap ‘Download for Offline Navigation’
  8. Pick the map type you want to download by tapping on the download arrow in the lower right-hand corner of each map type
  9. When the circle turns green, your map download for that specific layer has completed
  10. Swipe down on the grey bar to dismiss the pop-up

How to download an ‘Activity’:

  1. Open the AllTrails app
  2. Tap on ‘Profile’ on the bottom navigation bar
  3. Tap on ‘Following’ 
  4. Select Tracks Less Travelled if you are following us or tap the connect icon at the top right to search for our profile
  5. Select ‘Activities’ from our profile page
  6. Select the activity you wish to download
  7. On the activity details screen tap the download arrow next to ‘Your route’ (above the map preview)
  8. Pick the map type you want to download by tapping on the download arrow in the lower right-hand corner of each map type
  9. When the circle turns green your map download for that specific layer has been completed
  10. Swipe down on the grey bar to dismiss the pop-up

Note: Once you have successfully downloaded the map, you can find it in your ‘Downloads’ section of the Alltrails App (Saved > Downloads). You can also find a copy of the map in your ‘My maps’ section (Saved > Lists > My maps).

How to download a ‘Map’:

  1. Open the AllTrails Website
  2. Select the ‘Community’ tab on the navigation bar
  3. Select ‘Following’
  4. Select Tracks Less Travelled if you are following us or use the search bar in the top right to search for Tracks Less Travelled
  5. Select ‘Lists’ from our profile page
  6. Find the map you wish to download from the selected lists
  7. On the map details screen, save the map via selecting the little flag in the top right of the picture and add it to one of your own lists
  8. Open the mobile app and tap the ‘saved’ on the bottom navigation bar
  9. Open the list where you saved your map and find the map you wish to download
  10. Pick the map type you want to download by tapping on the download arrow in the lower right-hand corner of each map type
  11. When the circle turns green, your map download for that specific layer has completed
  12. Swipe down on the grey bar to dismiss the pop-up

How to download an ‘Activity’:

  1. Open the AllTrails app
  2. Select the ‘Community’ tab on the navigation bar
  3. Select ‘Following’ 
  4. Select Tracks Less Travelled if you are following us or use the search bar in the top right to search for Tracks Less Travelled
  5. Select ‘Activities’ from our profile page
  6. Select the activity you wish to download
  7. On the map details screen, save the map via selecting the little flag in the top right of the picture and add it to one of your own lists
  8. Open the mobile app and tap the ‘saved’ on the bottom navigation bar
  9. Open the list where you saved your map and find the map you wish to download
  10. Pick the map type you want to download by tapping on the download arrow in the lower right-hand corner of each map type
  11. When the circle turns green, your map download for that specific layer has completed
  12. Swipe down on the grey bar to dismiss the pop-up

Note: Once you have successfully downloaded the map, you can find it in your ‘Downloads’ section of the Alltrails App (Saved > Downloads). You can also find a copy of the map in your ‘My maps’ section (Saved > Lists > My maps).

Why Choose The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek will take you to the far reaches of Nepal, where you’ll witness some of the most mind-blowing scenery in the world and experience the warmest hospitality from the local Tibetan communities that reside within the Himalayan mountains.

Admiring the distant mountain peaks on the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek

But perhaps the best part about the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek – aside from the incomprehensible beauty – is the rugged and uncrowded nature of the trail. On treks like the Annapurna Base Camp Trek and the Everest Base Camp Trek, you’ll mostly encounter busy wide-groomed paths and stone steps. But in the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, the trails are delightfully untamed and uncrowded, allowing you to feel as if you’re truly in the wilds of the Himalayas.

Of course, this level of challenge – made even more so by the altitude – isn’t for everybody. But if you’re an experienced hiker who is looking for a comfortably challenging trek with far fewer crowds, then the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is the one for you.

How Hard Is The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

Hiking down the steep terrain on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek in Nepal

Compared to other more popular teahouse treks in Nepal, the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is far more challenging. You’ll encounter plenty of loose landslide-laden traverses, boulder gardens and steep rocky ascents.

We completed the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek without a porter, carrying all our own gear which weighed roughly 14 kg for me and 18 kg for Dylan. This made the altitude more of a challenge, but we found the track to be easier than many we’ve done in Tasmania and New Zealand – like the Western Arthurs Traverse and Gillespie Pass Circuit for example.

If you are an avid hiker with plenty of experience on multi-day treks while carrying your own backpack, then we believe you should have no trouble with the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. However, it’s important to remember that altitude affects everybody differently – no matter how fit you are – and can make a 10 kg backpack feel like 30 kg.

On the flip side, if you’re new to hiking or generally stick to groomed trails with little elevation, then you might find this trek to be very difficult. But as the Kanchenjunga Trek lies within a restricted area, you are required to trek with a guiding company. This makes the trek more doable for those with less experience, as long as you’re physically fit and determined.

Note: We recommend reading our Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek Itinerary for more information on each day, which will help you decide whether the trek is right for you.

Trekking on a frozen, rocky trail over Mirgehla Pass

On top of the physical challenge of the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek, you’ll also stay in very remote and basic villages. There is only one village where you’ll have a hot shower and there is no wifi or phone service for the majority of the trek. The toilets are all traditional squat toilets and the beds are mostly hard.

For us, the experiences we had in the remote villages only enhanced our love for the trek. But it’s important to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before signing up.

Altitude Awareness For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

On the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek, you’ll ascend to a maximum altitude of 5,100 m. The effects of altitude can begin to affect people above 2,500 m, though we only ever noticed it at altitudes above 3,500 m.

Once we ascended above 3,500 m, we felt more sluggish, out of breath and had some trouble sleeping. These are all normal reactions to altitude but it can affect everybody differently – no matter how fit you are.

Throughout the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek, you’ll spend roughly 9 – 10 days above 3,400 m. This is quite a lot, especially if it’s your first time at altitude. Below are our top tips for preventing altitude sickness and managing the effects.


Altitude Awareness Tips

  • Drink loads of water and electrolytes – staying hydrated is extremely important and you’ll often find yourself becoming dehydrated much quicker than usual.
  • Take it easy – walk at a slower pace than usual from the beginning so that you don’t overdo it, this will help you keep your energy for the higher altitude.
  • Walk at a slow, steady pace – When trekking at high altitudes, it is crucial to maintain a slow pace.
  • Don’t skip acclimatisation days – unless you’ve been at high altitude within a week or so of beginning your next trek, don’t skip the rest days at the altitudes your guide selected. These are meant to help your body adjust to the thinner air.
  • Avoid alcohol – alcohol will enhance dehydration and can make the effects of altitude feel much worse.
  • Take plenty of rest breaks – even if you’re feeling good, it’s important to stop regularly while you ascend to let your body acclimate properly.
  • Eat plenty of food – stuff as many calories in as you can to keep your energy levels up.

Your guide will help you acclimatise, generally scheduling two active rest days – one at 3,400 m and another at 4,080 m. We only took one rest day at Ghunsa at 3,400 m because we had just finished the Annapurna Base Camp Trek and felt perfectly able to continue. But honestly, the side trips that assist in acclimatisation that you can do on each rest day are worth the stop.

The most important thing to remember with altitude is to listen to your body and keep your guide in the loop. They have extensive experience with altitude and can help you process the different effects and determine if any become sinister.

Note: For more information about altitude awareness and how to avoid altitude sickness, take a look at this resource from The Longest Way Home.

Where Does The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek Start?

Sekathum Guesthouse in the Kanchenjunga Region, Nepal
Sekathum Guesthouse

You can complete the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek either clockwise or anti-clockwise, but the most common way is clockwise. A recently built road has created 4WD access all the way to Sekathum, which is where you will most likely start walking.

But if you book an all-inclusive tour like we did, the trek will officially begin in Kathmandu. It takes three days of travel to reach Sekathum from Kathmandu, which includes a 45-minute flight and two long, bumpy days in a local ‘Jeep’ (a beaten-up 4WD) – which is an adventure in itself!

Generally, the transit days will be included in the trip cost and number of days listed on the itinerary. If they’re not, that could potentially be a warning sign for the company you have chosen to book with.

Best Time To Hike The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Sunrise over Kanchenjunga Glacier and Merra Peak from Lhonak

The best time to complete the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is during spring or autumn. Thanks to its remote nature and fewer crowds, the official trekking seasons are shorter in the Kanchenjunga Region. The spring season spans from March to April and the autumn season runs from September to October. While the weather is still suitable at the beginning of May and the start of November, you might find some of the teahouses closed.

There’s no major benefit to choosing to book the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek in spring or autumn. Both seasons offer predominantly clear days and pleasant temperatures for the most part. We hiked the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek in April and had beautiful weather almost every day. However, remember that it is a mountainous region and wild weather can occur at any time of the year.

Hiking the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek in winter or summer is not advised – and often not possible. In winter, the snow can be too treacherous to walk through and many villages are deserted. In summer, the lower parts of the region are subject to monsoons leading to frequent landslides.

Planning Your Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Do I Need A Guide For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

The short answer is Yes, you do need a guide for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. This is because the Kanchenjunga Region is a restricted area, requiring visitors to hire a local guide to access these areas.

Kanchen and Candace enjoying a Tongba
Enjoying Tongba with our guide Kanchan

Kanchenjunga holds significant religious, cultural and environmental importance. For this reason, the number of visitors is controlled by permits, and guides are required to ensure that the landscape is somewhat preserved and the communities are treated with respect.

You can either hire a licensed private guide or book through a trekking company. Both have their positives and negatives, but we highly recommend choosing a trekking company, especially if it’s your first time in Nepal.

Guide Options For The Kanchenjunga Trek

Hiking The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek With A Trekking Company

This is the most common choice for trekkers who want to enter a restricted area in Nepal as it’s the easiest and least time-consuming option.

Reading a map of the Kanchenjunga Region with our trekking guide
Reading the Kanchenjunga Map with our guide

When you book through a trekking company, like Himalayan Masters who we booked with, all of the logistics are taken care of – including the trekking permits, transport and lodgings for each night. On almost all occasions, you’ll be given three meals and three beverages (non-alcoholic) a day as part of the package.

While the initial upfront cost can seem expensive compared to hiring a private guide, it generally works out to be a similar price – or sometimes cheaper. This is because many trekking companies form relationships with the teahouse owners and receive discounts on accommodation.

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of booking the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek with a trekking company:

Positives
  • All accommodation, trekking permits and transit are covered in the trip cost and managed by the trekking company
  • You can expect to receive three meals and three drinks (soft drink or coffee/tea) daily as part of your trip cost
  • You won’t need to carry much cash during the trek; only for showers, extra food or drinks, and possibly charging electronics
  • Most trekking companies will have sleeping bags and down jackets for rent free of charge or for a reasonable price
  • The trip cost generally includes your accommodation in Kathmandu before and after the trek as well
Negatives
  • On most occasions, you don’t have quite as much input in your itinerary compared to a private guide
  • You could end up trekking in a group with others – especially during the busy season (though Himalayan Masters avoid this as much as possible)
  • If you’re frugal with your food and accommodation budget, you could do it cheaper by not having these things included in your trip cost
  • Some larger companies only have set dates that you can book onto a trip – though the smaller companies tend to work around the clients more

Hiking The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek With A Licenced Private Guide

If you’re used to doing things on your own, you could consider hiring a private guide. This means that you’ll most likely need to organise your own transport, accommodation and permits – as well as pay for your lodgings and food throughout the trek.

Hiking with our guide Kanchan on the Kanchanjunga Circuit trek in Nepal

If this choice appeals to you, be wary of who you choose and ensure you check their trekking guide licence and reviews. We met several trekkers who got stuck with an unprofessional and/or unqualified guide – which obviously tainted their experience.

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of booking the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek with a licenced private guide:

Positives
  • The initial cost is cheaper and you could save money if you’re frugal with your accommodation and food budget
  • You will potentially have more freedom to create a customised itinerary
  • You’re guaranteed to trek exclusively with your own group
Negatives
  • You will need to organise accommodation each night and transit – although some private guides may help you with this
  • You need to organise, apply and pay for your trekking permits yourself (though your guide will need to apply for the Restricted Area permit)
  • You will have to carry substantially more cash with you on the trek as there are no ATMS or eftpos for the whole circuit
  • There’s a greater risk of being scammed by a private guide compared to a trekking company since it’s more challenging to assess an individual’s reputation

Note: We would always choose a trekking company over a guide unless we know the guide personally beforehand or a very trustworthy friend has trekked with them before. 

How To Book A Tour Or Guide For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

There is a mind-blowing amount of certified trekking companies – both Nepalese and Internationally owned – that run tours in the Himalayas. And even more ‘licensed’ private guides! This can cause a great deal of overwhelm when you’re trying to find the best company to book with.

Tips For Finding The Best Trekking Company In Nepal

Before beginning your search for the ideal trekking company, it’s helpful to write down your key priorities regarding what you expect from the company.

Our top priority was to book with a Nepalese company that is solely owned by Nepalese individuals. We aimed to ensure that our money directly contributes to the Nepalese economy.

Our second, equally important priority was to find a company that was as sustainable as possible. We heard horror stories of other trekking companies throwing rubbish and old shoes out of car windows and basically having a complete disregard for the magnificent environment.

And lastly, we scoured reviews to ensure that the company we chose was trustworthy, safe and professional. Many are under the impression that Nepalese-run trekking companies aren’t as trustworthy as international ones and don’t offer quite the same quality for their treks. But from our experience, this is not the case at all.

Hiking past large boulders on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Base Camp Trek

We discovered Himalayan Masters by word of mouth from a trusted friend and our experience with this company was fantastic! This is the simplest way to ensure you choose the right trekking company, but if you don’t have a friend to call upon, there are several other steps you can take to help in your search.

  • Ask a friend – As we just said, you may not have a friend who has done any trekking in Nepal. But if you throw the question out there, maybe a friend of a friend has!
  • Read reviews – this is obvious, I know, but it’s important to read reviews from at least three different sources to ensure you get a broader range of trekkers’ opinions. We sometimes find that various platforms, like Google, Trip Advisor and direct websites, can give different views.
  • Join Facebook groups – there are loads of groups on Facebook, like this one, dedicated to helping fellow adventurers with their Nepal questions. But just make sure you join a public group and not one run by a specific trekking company – which could be biased!
  • Research social media – jump onto Instagram and search for the company, using either hashtags or their handle. Read what other trekkers have written about their experience, if a company has quite a lot of positive exposure then that’s a good sign.
  • Ask the right questions – Don’t be afraid to email every trekking company you’re considering and inquire about anything you need to know. A company’s responses can reveal a lot about their nature.

Why Choose Himalayan Masters?

If you don’t want to waste time searching for a trekking company, we can wholeheartedly recommend Himalayan Masters. They were approachable, professional, fun, caring and environmentally conscientious. We successfully completed two treks with Himalayan Masters, but unfortunately fell ill on our third. This is where we learnt just how well-organised and caring Sandip (the owner of Himalayan Masters) was. Everything from orchestrating our rescue to sorting insurance was done seamlessly and he spent time out of his days coming to visit us in the hospital and continuously checking in with us once we left.

If you decide to take our advice, don’t forget to mention that Candace & Dylan from Tracks Less Travelled referred you and you will receive a 5% discount!

Tips For Finding The Best Private Guides In Nepal

Since we opted for a trekking company for our Nepal treks, we don’t have much experience in finding private guides. Nevertheless, the tips mentioned above can be relevant for hiring a private guide as well.

However, as we mentioned above, we would be very wary about who you choose as a guide if you don’t personally know them beforehand.

If you would still rather choose a private guide for your Kanchenjunga Trek, we highly recommend using The Longest Way Home’s resource to help you find a reputable guide.

Do I Need A Porter For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

Trerkking under Prayer Flags in the Kanchenjunga Region of Nepal

When you trek in Nepal, you have the opportunity to hire a porter to carry up to 10 kg of your gear for you. However, hiring a porter is not mandatory, it is 100% a personal preference based on your physical ability.

If you’re accustomed to backpacking and carrying all your gear back home, including your tent, food, and cooking equipment, you should be well-prepared to carry your own gear for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. The main difference here is the altitude and length of time, however, your pack will probably be lighter than what you’re used to.

We decided to carry our own backpacks and it was quite manageable. My backpack weighed 14 kg and Dylan’s 18 kg, which is around 4 – 6 kg lighter than what we typically carry. While ascending in altitude felt a bit more challenging than usual and progress was slow, we never felt that we made the wrong decision.

With that said, if you don’t have much experience carrying a full backpack for multiple days, then you may struggle. The track is technical at times and steep, which is made more difficult with a heavy pack. Not to mention, you will need to commit to carrying all your gear for at least 12 days.

It’s quite common to hire a porter and this can easily be arranged for you through your trekking company of choice – however, this service typically incurs an additional cost of roughly $15 – $20 USD a day, plus tips (including transit days). Private guides will usually have contacts for porters if needed as well.

Buying Insurance For Trekking In Nepal

Traversing the landslide above Kanchenjunga Glacier on the trail to Kanchenjunga Base Camp

Insurance is easily the biggest headache that you’ll need to deal with when booking the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. Your average insurance won’t cover hiking above 3,000 m elevation and some don’t include helicopter rescue.

After speaking to the owner of Himalayan Masters and the staff at the international hospital in Kathmandu (we actually had to use our insurance on the Everest Base Camp Trek), we have learnt that the best insurance company to deal with is Allianz, closely followed by Covermore.

We used our Commonwealth Bank credit card insurance, which partners with Covermore. Other than a little frustration with them continuously emailing us asking for the same information, they covered our evacuation from the trek and our hospital stay. Furthermore, Covermore has an agent in Nepal who can communicate easily with your trekking company, making things much easier.

When choosing your insurance, ensure that you add the adventure package that will generally cover trekking up to 6,000 m and include helicopter rescue. If you can’t find this information, then perhaps search for an alternate insurance that clearly has it stated in their Product Disclosure Statement.

What Permits Do I Need For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

Permit Checkpoint in Ghunsa
Permit Checkpoint in Ghunsa

There are two permits that you’re required to have for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. These are the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Permit (KCAP) and the Restricted Area Permit (RAP). As of 2024, the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Permit is $30 USD per person and the Restricted Area Permit is $20 USD per person per week.

In addition to these two permits, you are also required to pay the TIMS fee (trekkers information management system), which costs $20 USD.

If you book through a trekking company, all of these permits and fees are included in the cost and organised for you by the company. 

All we had to do was provide our company with the following documents:

  • a photo of our passport (with at least 6 months remaining before expiry)
  • travel insurance information
  • Nepal tourist visa that extends past your tour completion date
  • 2 passport-sized photos

If you choose to hike the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek with a private guide, you will need to organise the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Permit yourself – which you can obtain in Kathmandu at the Tourism Service Centre.  However, your guide will need to apply for the Restricted Area Permit online after you’ve provided them with all the necessary documents.

Navigating the process of permits in Nepal can be confusing, to say the least! The best course of action is to ask your guide to help you. If they’re unable to help, there’s a strong possibility that you’re not dealing with a legitimate licensed guide!

Note: It is not possible to get a Restricted Area Permit without a registered trekking company or guide. There are checkpoints along the way where you must show your documents.

How Much Does It Cost To Hike The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

The cost of the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek varies among trekking companies, typically ranging from $1,600 to $2,500 USD. This trek is pricier compared to others like Annapurna Base Camp due to higher travel costs and permit fees.

There are only a few international companies that offer the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. However, these companies typically charge significantly higher prices without offering noticeable differences in the trip.

Himalayan Masters is one of the cheapest options for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek while still including high-quality accommodation in Kathmandu. They don’t include the cost of hiring a porter, but you’ll find that most companies won’t.

Most trekking companies reduce the price per person as the group size grows. If possible, it’s very cost-effective to gather a group of 4 to 8 friends for the trek.

Below is a list of the costs that are covered by Himalayan Masters and that you should expect from other reputable companies. If you plan to trek Kanchenjunga with a private guide, you will need to factor in these additional prices.

Costs Generally Covered By Trekking Agencies

  • Airport transfers to and from Kathmandu: $5 – $10 USD one-way
  • Accommodation in Kathmandu: ranges from $20 – $200 USD depending on the quality
  • Flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur: $120 – $200 USD one-way
  • Transport from Bhadrapur to Illam: $50 USD for a private car, $2.50 – $5 USD for a public local bus
  • Transport from Illam to Sekathum (2 days): $15 – $20 USD per person, per day for a local jeep
  • Accommodation along the trek: $20 USD per couple in Illam and Taplejung (before the trek begins) and roughly $6 – $10 USD per couple for the teahouses (some of the nicer teahouses can cost up to $20 USD)
  • Food and drinks: $25 – $35 USD per day for three meals and tea/coffee
  • Professional English speaking guide: $20 – $30 USD per day, per group
  • Trekking permits and fees: roughly $100 USD

*All prices are approximate and based on research done in 2024

Extra Expenses To Expect For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

In addition to the list of included expenses, there are additional costs that you should be aware of, which are not covered in your tour price.

Additional Expenses Not Covered By Trekking Agencies

  • International flight: price dependent on your country of origin.
  • Nepal visa: $50 USD for 30 days, $125 USD for 90 days (cheapest to do on arrival).
  • Porter (optional): approximately $15 USD per day – a porter can carry up to two trekkers’ bags that weigh 25 kg total – some will take more but it’s not fair in our opinion.
  • Guide and porter tips: the customary tip for a guide is $10 – $15 USD per group, per day and $5 USD per group, per day for a porter (if you have more than one porter in your group, each should be given $5 USD per day).
  • Travel Insurance: price dependent on your length of stay and your country of origin

Extra Expenses To Expect Along The Trek

During the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek, additional expenses are lower compared to more popular routes due to limited facilities. With only one village providing showers and no wifi available, the main expense along this trek is snacks and drinks.

Coffee and Cake at Dzonga Family House in Ghunsa
Coffee and Cake at Dzonga Family House in Ghunsa

This is where you can save some money by foregoing as many of these extra expenses as possible.

  • Showers: Roughly $5 per person and only available in Ghunsa (where you’ll likely stay for a total of 3 nights).
  • Charging electronics: You can only charge your electronics at Sekathum and Ghunsa, it was free at the places we stayed but you should expect to pay roughly $3 USD per device just to be safe.
  • Extra snacks and drinks: A pot of tea averaged from $4 – $8 USD and snacks such as chocolate bars and dessert cost roughly $2 – $4 USD, sweet biscuits are generally cheaper.
  • Toilet paper: You need to supply your own toilet paper, which costs roughly $2 – $4 USD per roll along the trail

How Much Cash Do I Need To Take With Me On The Trek?

If you plan to do the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek through a trekking agency, then you will only need to bring enough cash for the above-mentioned extras. We budgeted $10 USD each per day, but we only spent half of that due to fewer facilities. However, as the region grows in popularity, there is a chance that extra facilities will be built in the future. We recommend checking with your guide beforehand and bringing more than you expect to be safe.

If you choose to hike the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek with a private guide, you will need to budget for food, accommodation and extra expenses along the trek. To be safe, we recommend budgeting for at least $50 USD each per day (not including transport costs).

What To Pack For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Hiking over boulders with snow capped mountgains in the backdrop

Deciding what to bring for a 17 to 22-day trek may seem overwhelming, but you might be surprised by how few items you actually need! The main priority is staying warm when you hit the higher altitudes.

To help you organise your trip, we’ve created a detailed packing list of all the necessities – including tips on where to rent certain items such as a sleeping bag. You can read the full Nepal Packing Guide here. Or if you simply want a quick list to help you tick off your items, then you can download the PDF below.

Downloadable Packing List For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

How To Dress Respectfully In Nepal

Traversing the mountainside near Jannu on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Nepal is a very religious country, with Hinduism and Buddhism as the predominant religions. The Nepalese people are generally traditional and conservative in the way they dress, and although there are no specific laws regarding attire for foreigners, it is considered respectful to adhere to their dress code.

The guidelines on what to wear in Nepal are easy to follow and don’t require too much change – especially for hiking. It’s recommended that both men and women cover their shoulders and wear pants or shorts that fall just above the knee at the very least. For women, you should also avoid low-cut or cropped tops that are too revealing.

When we were in Kathmandu – especially in Thamel, wearing the appropriate attire didn’t feel as necessary as some younger Nepalese people are starting to wear Western clothing. However, once we got to the remote northeast region of Nepal, we definitely felt more comfortable wearing conservative clothing.

I wore a lightweight pair of hiking pants and t-shirts or long sleeves for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek and felt completely comfortable. I also wore hiking leggings in colder temperatures, which technically doesn’t follow the dress code as they don’t wear form-fitting clothes, but it didn’t seem to bother the locals.


What To Expect On Your Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is an experience that will continuously leave you in wonder and awe. From the incomprehensible landscape to the lively villages full of welcoming Tibetan locals, every minute on this trek is an adventure.

With that said, the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is one of the most remote teahouse treks in Nepal and with that comes some extra challenges. For us, these extra challenges were welcomed with open arms. But if you’re not used to going days on end without a shower or phone service – among other things, then it’s best to weigh up the additional “discomforts” of the Kanchenjunga Trek and honestly decide whether this is the right trek for you.

Below, we’ve discussed each component of the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek so you can gain a deeper insight into what you can expect on your adventure. We’ve also included information on the variations of the route and optional side trips to consider.

Accommodation On The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

The White House Homestay in Khambachen on the Kanchenjunga Trek

For the most part, the accommodation you’ll find along the trek will be very basic. What we mean by this is drafty twin bedrooms with very hard beds and lots of cobwebs! The beds are covered with a bottom sheet and a pillow is provided. On some occasions, there will be a thick blanket as well, but it’s best not to rely on scoring one every night for this trek.

Generally, the linen is clean but stained. We found some of the pillows were a tad mouldy beneath the pillowcase, but the owners do their best. All of their linen is hand-washed and dried in very unpredictable weather conditions!

For this reason, you can’t always depend on having clean sheets. Therefore, we trekked with a sleeping bag liner to protect us from any potential bugs lurking in the sheets. We also brought inflatable pillows which we used when the ones provided were especially mouldy, but you can also simply bring your own pillowcase for extra protection.

Accommodation at Cherum

On most occasions, there will be a shared traditional squat toilet either inside or outside and a communal dining hall. The dining halls generally have a woodfire in the centre and an open-plan seating area that’s perfect for chatting with fellow trekkers after a long day of hiking.

The only teahouse that had shower facilities was in Ghunsa, where we also had an ensuite toilet! For all the other teahouses, there is an outdoor tap with cold water running from nearby streams where you can wash off the dirt from the day.

While there’s no denying that the accommodation is very basic, we loved the vibe that we got from almost every teahouse. They were all very authentic and full of warmth and laughter.

Food And Water On The Trek

What Food To Expect For Meals

Nothing beats a home-cooked meal, especially when most of the ingredients are fresh from the garden! While there isn’t much variety for food on the Kanchenjunga Trek, the local dishes are delicious and plentiful.

Some of the smaller teahouses don’t have a menu. Instead, they’ll tell you what they have on offer, which is usually Sherpa stew, chow mein (fried noodles with vegetables) and dal bhat – the famous local dish that the Nepalese eat at least once a day!

For breakfast, you can expect to find porridge, Tibetan bread, chapati and eggs at every teahouse. Some may only have Tibetan bread or chapati – but there was always at least one option for bread.

In the teahouses of slightly larger villages, you’ll find menus offering pasta, potatoes prepared in various ways, and soups. In Ghunsa and Khambachen, we could even enjoy a delicious homemade pizza! However, we mostly opted for local cuisine as it was the safest option and generally the largest meals.

For vegetarians and vegans, there are plenty of options including dal bhat, chow mein and sometimes the sherpa stew. We chose to eat vegetarian on our trek as the meat storage is not what we’re used to. We found that the nutrients we received from the dal bhat and sherpa stew were more than enough to keep us sustained.

Snacks & Desserts

The snack choice at the teahouses is limited and quite expensive compared to Kathmandu. You can almost always find Snickers bars and sweet biscuits at each teahouse, but you won’t find anything like muesli bars or healthy snacks.

We chose to pack muesli bars with us for backup food, though we barely needed anything extra thanks to the giant portions you’re given for lunch and dinner! However, they were a lifesaver for the few days there were no teahouses to stop at for lunch.

You’ll also find a few dessert options on the menu, one of their famous ones being a Snickers roll – which is a Snickers wrapped in dough and deep-fried! We generally just purchased a packet of cookies if we wanted dessert as it was much cheaper.

How To Ensure Your Water Is Safe To Drink

Filtering water at into our bottles from a natural water source at Selele
Filtering water from stream

The water in Nepal is not safe for Westerners to drink. Our stomachs aren’t used to the bacteria that are found in the water sources and there is a high risk of bacterial infections, viruses and parasites for us.

In Kathmandu, even the locals don’t drink the water and your only option is to buy bottled water or fill up from the dispensers found in the hotels. The water in the mountains is slightly cleaner than in Kathmandu and the locals find it safe enough to drink. However, for us, we still need to treat the water to avoid getting sick.

We filtered our water using the Sawyer Squeeze filtration system and also added a water purifier tablet. We did this because the filtration system doesn’t kill viruses, however, the water was sometimes dirty and the purifier tablets obviously can’t get dirt out of the water.

Water filter for backpacking and overnight hiking
Sawyer Squeeze
Micropur Tablets
Micropur Tablets

This was perhaps overkill as we met other trekkers who were only filtering their water and weren’t using purifier tablets. However, we stopped using the tablets halfway through the trek and got sick with bacterial infections and parasites after returning to Kathmandu. We don’t know whether that was the cause or if it was something in the food in Kathmandu, but we won’t be taking that chance again!

You can buy bottled water from some of the villages along the trek, but this is a very wasteful and expensive option that we don’t recommend. Every bottle of water costs roughly $1 – $2 USD. Instead, if you don’t have any means to treat the water, you can pay for boiled water which removes all bacteria and viruses.

Wifi, Phone Service And Charging Electronics On The Trek

There Is A Significant Lack Of Phone Service

Unlike many of the other popular treks in Nepal, the Kanchenjunga Region remains remote and disconnected. Phone service from either network provider, Ncell or NTC, is unavailable for most of the trek.

With that said, we managed to find scraps of service in some locations.

Area’s where we found service on the Kanchenjunga Trek

  • Fikkal and Taplejung – The two towns that we stayed in during the transit days had plenty of service for both Ncell and NTC.
  • Sekathum – The first teahouse we stayed at on the trek had patchy service for NTC, it was just enough to receive and slowly send messages on Messenger or WhatsApp.
  • Ghunsa – This is the largest village along the trekking route, where you will likely stay for a total of 3 nights. There is VERY unreliable service for NTC here, just enough to excruciatingly slowly send messages on Messenger or WhatsApp.
  • Between Selele Pass and Mirgehla Pass – On the hike between Selele and Cheram, we found patches of minimal service for NTC once we started the traverse between Selele Pass and Mirgehla Pass. It was still only enough for Messenger or WhatsApp, but it was slightly more reliable than in the town of Ghunsa.

We highly recommend purchasing an NTC SIM card for the Kanchenjunga Trek if you want to be able to communicate with family and friends at all. The best place to purchase this SIM card is at this store in Kathmandu, many others will rip you off.

Don’t Expect Wifi On The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Due to the lack of phone service, there are no wifi options at any of the teahouses along the trek. The last place that you will be able to use wifi is at Taplejung – the last ‘hotel’ before starting the trek.

There was a sign at the hospital in Ghunsa that stated there was free wifi, but it never worked when we were there.

Charging Electronics On The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Room facilities at the Dzonga Family House in Ghunsa
Charging in rooms at Dzonga Family House in Ghunsa

As you may have guessed, there are limited options to charge electronics along the Kanchenjunga Trek. Most teahouses run off solar or local hydro and have very minimal electricity. Therefore, they don’t offer charging for trekkers in most of the teahouses.

We carried two 20,000mAh power banks for the trek to charge our camera gear, phones, watches, head torches, and a Kindle (e-reader). Despite having two, we nearly depleted them on several occasions. Of course, you can be more frugal with your electronics, but if you have the means for one power bank per person, then we recommend doing so.

Note: Before traveling to Nepal, I strongly suggest purchasing a power bank from a reputable brand with a capacity of at least 10,000 mAh. Our favourite is the Belkin 20K BoostCharge. The quality of the power bank we bought in Nepal did not match the few dollars we saved and basically shut down when the temperature dropped.

When you come across a teahouse offering charging services, you usually pay per device. This is why power banks are essential – you can recharge them and then use them to recharge all your electronics.

Below is a list of places along the trek where you will find charging services and the distance between each location.

Locations of charging facilities

  • Fikkal – First night before starting the trek.
  • Taplejung – Second night before starting the trek.
  • Sekathum – The first teahouse along the trek has power points in each room free of charge.
  • Ghunsa – Dzonga Family Home, the teahouse we stayed at, had power points in each room that we could use free of charge, but this might not be the case for all teahouses in Ghunsa.

Distance between locations with charging facilities

  • Sekathum to Ghunsa – 2 – 3 days
  • Ghunsa to Lhonak to Ghunsa – 4 – 5 days
  • Ghunsa to Fikkal – 6 – 7 days

Note: There are multiple places to end the trek, with several teahouses in each village. Charging services may be available on the last night of your trek. However, we finished at Yamphudin and though our teahouse did have charging facilities, a storm caused a blackout of the entire area. As a result, we couldn’t charge our electronics until we returned to Fikkal after the first day of our return transit journey.

Money & ATMs On The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

There are no EFTPOS machines or ATMs throughout the entire Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. The last ATM that you’ll have access to is in Taplejung, but we recommend withdrawing the cash you need in Kathmandu before your trip.

We budgeted for $10 USD per day, per person. This ended up being way more than we needed, but it was nice not having to worry about limiting our pots of tea and splurging on cake and coffee in Ghunsa!

There was never a time that we felt unsafe carrying so much cash with us. We kept our money and passports in our backpacks in a waterproof bag, but if you’re nervous you can wear a money belt.

We found that the most cost-effective option for cash withdrawal is at Nabil ATMs, with a fee of 700 NRP ($5 USD) per transaction and a maximum withdrawal limit of 37,000 NRP ($277 USD).  Make sure that you visit an ATM that’s enclosed, it’s best to use one that’s attached to the bank where possible.

What Temperatures Can I Expect On The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

Cloud rolling into Lhonak on a cold day in the Kanchenjunga region

The climate ranges drastically on the Kanchenjunga Trek. You’ll start at low altitude in a hot and humid valley before making your way up to the crisp alpine region at the base of the mighty Kanchenjunga range. 

We did the trek in late spring and started with hot and humid days, with temperatures reaching the high 20s (℃), and cool nights perfect for sleeping. This continued until we reached Ghunsa at 3,400 m. From Ghunsa, the nights began to get cold and the days had a crisp and cool air to them. It was still warm enough to walk in a long-sleeve t-shirt when the sun was out, but the nights required bundling up in beanies and down jackets.

Once we reached an altitude above 4,000 m, the mornings required gloves and extra layers to begin walking. We would have been cold sleeping with just the blankets provided from 4,000 m and above, with the coldest night getting down to -7℃.

Watching sunrise over Kanchenjunga South from Okhordung
A very cold and misty sunrise at Okhordung (Kanchenjunga South)

We were very lucky and didn’t receive any rain while we were walking, though it sometimes started raining in the afternoons once we had reached our destination. This can be common for spring and autumn, so it’s best to start walking as early as possible to avoid potential rain!

For the majority of the walk, we were happy in a light Merino t-shirt or long-sleeve and breathable pants. We then had a lightweight fleece jacket and rain jacket to layer with when the sun wasn’t out or the frigid wind picked up.

Hopping over rocks wearing a shirt and pants on the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek

During the afternoon and night at camp, it got quite cold – especially above 4,000 m. None of the rooms are insulated and they only light the fire in the dining hall after 5 pm usually. Pack warm for sub-zero temperatures overnight and ensure you have a quality sleeping bag. We recommend a sleeping bag rated to a comfort of at least -5℃ and a warm pair of thermal base layers for sleeping.


Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek Itinerary

Looking up at Kanchenjunga from Pangpema Base Camp - the worlds 3rd tallest mountain
Kanchenjunga from Pangpema (North Base Camp)

The length and route of the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek can vary slightly depending on the number of rest days needed, how far you can walk in a day, and where your guide chooses to conclude the trek.

The most common duration for the trek is 19 days. It used to be 22, but they have recently built a road to Sekathum, eliminating two extra days of walking. Generally, most trekkers will start at Sekathum and complete the trek in a clockwise direction. You can walk anti-clockwise, but it is more challenging with no extra reward.

The Kanchenjunga Trek will almost always begin at Sekathum, but there are two possible destinations where you can end the trek.

We finished at Yamphudin, but you can also end at Sekathum to make a full loop. The trail from Tortong to Sekathum is longer but easier compared to the route from Tortong to Yamphudin. However, finishing at Yamphudin is the typical choice for trekking agencies.

Below you’ll find a brief summary of our planned itinerary with Himalayan Masters and what you can expect for your adventure. We deviated from the plan by joining the first two days of trekking together and skipping our acclimatisation day in Khambachen as we felt we didn’t need it after finishing the Annapurna Base Camp and Mardi Himal Trek the previous week.

Day By Day Itinerary For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Transit Day: 45-minute flight, 2-hour drive in a private taxi

Your adventure starts with a flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur, where a private taxi awaits to drive you into the beautiful Ilam region that’s famous for its green and black tea. The destination for the first night varies, but we stayed in the cute hillside town of Fikkal, 2 hours north of Bhadrapur.

Transit Day: 8 hours in a public Jeep

Inside a local jeep tranisting between Fikkal and Taplejung

The first experience in a public local Jeep is one you won’t forget in a hurry! The drive from Fikkal to Taplejung is all on sealed roads, but don’t let that fool you – it’s still a wildly windy and bumpy ride.

If you’re not keen on being packed in like sardines with 4 to a row in the jeep, then you can opt to pay for a private jeep for your group or ask your guide if you can pay for an additional seat to have three in a row instead.

Transit Day: 5 hours in a public Jeep

Driving along rough dirt roads to Sekathum on the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek

The drive from Taplejung to Sekathum steps it up a notch, with a bumpy dirt road full of hairpin corners and precipitous cliffs! But as you leave the towns behind, you’ll begin to experience the magic of the mountainous northeast landscape.

You’ll end the final day of transit at Sekathum and get ready to start trekking the following day. Some tours might stay at nearby Lelep instead, where there are more teahouses to choose from. But even though the teahouse at Sekathum is very basic, we loved the welcoming and homely vibe.

Distance: 8.4 km
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 903 m
Elevation Loss: 109 m
Highest Elevation: 2,386 m

Hiking along the Ghunsa River on the trekking trail to Kanchenjunga Base Camp

The incredible trek begins by entering a lush valley filled with cardamom plants and following the vibrant turquoise river upstream. The trail provides a hint of challenge to keep your mind engaged while you wander through the stunning landscape.

After a steep burst up the hillside, you’ll reach Amjilosa situated in a clearing high above the river. This tiny little village consists of a single teahouse, where you’ll taste one of the best dal bhats of the trek! We were stoked to find pumpkin in the curry – something we hadn’t had for a long time.

We chose to continue on rather than spend the night at Amjilosa as we found ourselves arriving too early. This did result in a rather big first day and some sore legs once we reached Gyabla!

Distance: 8.1 km
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 731 m
Elevation Loss: 407 m
Highest Elevation: 2,710 m

Hiking on the mountainside near Gyabla on the Kanchenjunga Trek

Continuing to gradually ascend through the valley, following the natural contours of the Ghunsa River, your second day on the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is much the same as the first. However, as you continue to gain altitude, the trail becomes increasingly rough and rugged and a final agonisingly steep ascent will leave you beyond stoked to arrive in Gyabla.

Distance: 10.7 km
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 890 m
Elevation Loss: 200 m
Highest Elevation: 3,400 m

Hiking up a rocky trail heading into Ghunsa on the Kanchenjunga Trek

After a tough end to the second day, you’ll welcome a much more relaxed walk as you make your way to the beautiful Ghunsa village. The undulating trail is less rugged compared to the previous day and you’ll spend part of the morning in a bamboo forest, where you have a slim chance of spotting the elusive red panda!

On the other side of the bamboo forest, the landscape begins to open up to reveal the monstrous snow-capped peaks that surround the lush valley. Eventually, after an enjoyable walk, you’ll arrive at Ghunsa, a wonderful traditional Tibetan village.

Enjoy a much-earned rest in Ghunsa while you acclimatise to the higher altitude. Take a walk in the morning to help acclimatise further before exploring the traditional village for the afternoon.

If you stay at Dzonga Family Home, you can even indulge in some homemade cakes and espresso coffee!!

Optional Day Walk To The Prayer Flag Viewpoint

Distance: 3.8 km
Time: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 500 m
Elevation Loss: 500 m
Highest Elevation: 3,936 m

Ghunsa viewpoint during sunrise with prayer flags on the peak

There are two walks to choose from for your active rest day in Ghunsa. Both have their attributes but for the best views, we recommend the hike we did to the prayer flags on the ridgeline across the river. This is a slightly shorter walk compared to the other option, which takes you behind Ghunsa and through a dense pine and rhododendron forest.

Distance: 11.2 km
Time: 4.5 – 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 941 m
Elevation Loss: 261 m
Highest Elevation: 4,112 m

Crossing Landslides on our way to Khambachen

If you haven’t already fallen in love with the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, then you surely will after today. This is easily one of the best days in regards to landscape and the trail steps it up a notch, adding some fun challenges to the trek. The challenges include loose landslide-ridden slopes, vast boulder fields and steep pinches as you tackle the higher altitude.

If this is the first trek you have done at higher altitude, then you may begin to feel the effects today. Remember to take it slow, drink lots of water and keep your calorie intake high.

Khambachen is our second favourite village, tucked into the folds of the enormous mountains that flank the Ghunsa River. From the village, you’re afforded a spectacular view of Jannu – one of the most impressive peaks we’ve witnessed.

If you stay at Khambachen for a rest day, you have two options for a day hike. The first – and easiest – is to follow the marked track towards Jannu Base Camp, where you’ll gain even better vistas of the imposing 7,000 m peak from atop the giant moraine wall. 

Jannu covered in clouds from the Moraine Wall near Khambachen

The second option is a very challenging walk up the Nupchu River to the west of Khambachen to an alpine lake. This apparently takes approximately 8 hours return and requires you to navigate a massive landslide. We would only recommend this option if your guide has completed the walk before or if you’re highly experienced and have a tracking device with you – such as Alltrails or a Garmin Inreach.

Because we had just finished the Annapurna Base Camp and Mardi Himal Trek the previous week and our guide felt that we were well acclimatised, we didn’t need to stay in Khambachen for a rest day. Therefore, we didn’t complete either of these day walks.

Instead, we scrambled up the moraine wall on our return to Ghunsa to view the incredible glacial lakes scattered throughout the enormous Kumbhakarna Glacier that sits at the base of Jannu Peak.

Distance: 9.6 km
Time: 4 – 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 786 m
Elevation Loss: 116 m
Highest Elevation: 4,750 m

Crossing a small bridge over a small stream on the Kanchenjunga Trek near Lhonak

Get ready for another day of mind-blowing views as you move closer to the magnificent Kanchenjunga. Today, the stand-out features include the sprawling Kanchenjunga Glacier that has replaced the Ghunsa River and the jagged peaks slicing the horizon.

The track consists of more landslides, rock gardens and skinny traverses along loose and steep slopes. You might even see your first herd of blue sheep grazing in the distant alpine fields!

Distance: 16.7 km
Time: 6.5 – 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 870 m
Elevation Loss: 870 m
Highest Elevation: 5,100 m

Crossing large landslides on the trek to Pangpema Base Camp

You’ll wake bright and early after your first night at Lhonak, ready to make the trek to Kanchenjunga North Base Camp (aka Pangpema Base Camp) and return before the afternoon winds whip through the valley.

Today is slow going, with altitude playing its part as you make your way to the highest elevation of the trek. We were very grateful to have only a daypack for this walk, which was more tiring than we expected. You’ll encounter plenty of landslides that cause longer diversions in the steep and loose trail.

Admiring the beautiful peaks of the Kanchenjunga Range from the trail

But all is worth it once you round the final corner and stand beneath the third-tallest mountain in the world! Stop in at the little teashop on your return to warm up with some noodle soup and a tea.

Distance: 21.6 km
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 504 m
Elevation Loss: 1,854 m
Highest Elevation: 4,750 m

Today you’ll say goodbye to the magnificent mountainous valley and begin the return journey down to Ghunsa, stopping in for an early lunch at Khambachen on the way back. This is the first 20 km + day of the trek, but the descent is far easier than the ascent and you’ll be back to Ghunsa before you know it.

Distance: 7.5 km
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 943 m
Elevation Loss: 143 m
Highest Elevation: 4,200 m

Epic sunset over Selele on the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek
Sunset in Selele

After catching your breath at lower altitude for a night, it’s time to return above 4,000 m. Today, you’ll cross over the mountain range that separates the north and south Kanchenjunga Base Camps.

You’ll be pleased to find a far less technical trail compared to the previous few days, but it’s not without its challenges. You’ll begin with a long and steep ascent through an enchanting rhododendron and pine forest before popping out of the trees and enjoying views back down the valley for the remainder of the walk.

The tiny little seasonal village of Selele provided our favourite campsite views. We even got to experience our first colourful sunset of the trek. 

Distance: 10.5 km
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 690 m
Elevation Loss: 1,010 m
Highest Elevation: 4,700 m

Hiking up to Selele Pass from Selele on the Kanchenjunga Trek

Cross all your fingers and toes for a clear day today as you’ll be trekking over Selele Pass and Mirgehla Pass. This was our favourite day overall, which might surprise you, but the landscape was simply breathtaking and the lack of human infrastructure truly made us feel as if we were alone in the wild.

However, this was also one of the most challenging days, with several giant boulder gardens, scree fields and a seriously slippery descent down to Cheram. But the new scenery will take your mind off the technical descent, allowing you to gaze over Yalung Glacier and gawk at the formidable southern mountain range. You might even be lucky enough to get a small glimpse of Kanchenjunga as you begin the descent.

Distance: 7 km
Time: 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 668 m
Elevation Loss: 78 m
Highest Elevation: 4,470 m

Rocky Trail from Cherum to Ramche

You’ll warmly welcome the short and easy walk from Cheram to Ramche, which follows alongside the Yalung Glacier and gently ascends through grassy alpine fields full of grazing yaks.

Some guides will suggest a day trip to the Kanchenjunga South Base Camp Viewpoint (aka Oktang) and return to avoid staying at Ramche. 

Ramche is the most basic teahouse on the trek, with one tent for the dining hall and another for the kitchen. There is no fireplace here and the toilet is just a dug-out hole with some planks of wood to stand on. The room was large and the beds surprisingly more comfortable than the ones in Cheram, but it was mightily cold up there and we would not have had a good night’s sleep without our warm sleeping bags.

With that said, we enjoyed our time at Ramche and would recommend staying there in order to get to the South Base Camp Viewpoint for sunrise the following morning. Just be prepared for the cold and don’t expect anything remotely fancy!

Distance: 24.7 km
Time: 7 – 9 hours
Elevation Gain:
681 m
Elevation Loss: 2,150 m
Highest Elevation: 4,780 m

Panoramam of impressive mountain peaks at kanchenjunga South Base Camp

Layer up in every piece of clothing you brought with you and start the trek to the viewpoint in the wee hours of the morning. We left at 3:30 am and would have arrived at the perfect time to watch the first colours of sunrise light up the sky. However, we were completely enclosed in a dense fog. Luckily, the fog lifted for a brief moment to allow us to witness a dramatic landscape of swirling clouds, snow-capped peaks and grumbling glaciers.

After admiring the southern view of the mighty Kanchenjunga, return to Ramche for breakfast before making the long trek down to Tortong. The majority of the walk weaves through a dense pine and rhododendron forest, following alongside the Simbuwa River.

This is the longest day and even though it’s relatively straightforward, there are several root-filled sections that can slip you up if you’re not paying attention! You’ll be relieved to arrive at Tortong and sleep at a mere 3,000 m elevation and enjoy a warmer climate once more.

Distance: 12.8 km
Time: 5 – 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 769 m
Elevation Loss: 1,739 m
Highest Elevation: 3,540 m

Following the beautiful forest trail near Tortong

The final day of trekking can vary depending on where your guide chooses to end the trek and which trail they choose to take. We walked to Yamphudin, which is the most common route, and took the old track that is apparently faster – though we did have to cross an enormous landslide which was quite challenging.

The trail that we took was seemingly unkept and we found today one of the more challenging ones – especially on tired legs. But finally, after crossing several rivers and navigating dense bamboo forests, you’ll make it to the final village of the trek.

Transit Day: 13.5 hours in a public Jeep

Sadly, there isn’t likely to be any sleep-in after you complete the trek as you’ve got a long drive back to FIkkal (or a nearby town that your guide chooses). This drive was even more tiring than walking and we were extremely glad to fall into our hotel bed at Fikkal and 13.5 hours!

Transit Day: 1.5-hour drive in a private taxi, 45-minute flight

Your final day in northeast Nepal is far more relaxing, with a short 1.5-hour drive to the airport in Bhadrapur. Try to get a seat on the right-hand side for your return flight to Kathmandu for a chance to see the 8,000 m peaks scattered along the Himalayan Range.


For further insights into each day of the trek and an absurd amount of photos to show you what to expect, check out our comprehensive Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek Itinerary next.


Other Important Information For Trekking To Kanchenjunga Base Camp

Being Sustainable On The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Limit Your Plastic Usage

Even though I knew what to expect, I was taken back by just how bad the waste situation is in Nepal. Rubbish lines the trails throughout the Himalayas, even making its way to the more remote Kanchenjunga Region.

While much of the rubbish is from locals – who have no waste management system to lean on and are forced to burn or bury their rubbish – we were alarmed by how many tourists we saw littering.

Even though it’s not perfect, there are rubbish bins at each teahouse. We also tried our best to limit the amount of plastic we were using. This was easily done by filtering our water into our reusable water bottles and trying to only eat food that wasn’t wrapped in plastic – this wasn’t foolproof as the teahouses don’t have many snack options other than Snickers bars and packets of cookies.

Furthermore, if you have any gear that has come to the end of its life, wait until you’re back in a larger town or city to dispose of them so the remote mountain villages don’t have to deal with it.

Respect The Wildlife And Keep To The Trails

The Kanchenjunga Region is protected by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Foundation and is classed as a conservation area. The region is home to some truly unique mountain ecosystems and endangered and vulnerable species such as the red panda and the snow leopard.

It’s essential that we respect the landscape we’re walking in and stick to the trails to avoid causing unnecessary harm. If you’re lucky enough to spot some local wildlife, keep your distance and don’t leave food for the animals.

Preparing For The Physical Challenge Of The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

Trekking up the steep pass before Selele

The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek demands a good level of fitness to tackle the high elevation gain and the technical trails. While you can shorten the bigger days by staying an extra night or two at the villages in between, we still recommend taking the time to physically prepare for the trek.

The best way to train for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is to get out on as many technical hikes as you can – picking ones with lots of elevation gain and loss. If you don’t have time or easy access to mountains, we suggest doing workouts at home or the gym. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or something similar is super beneficial for hikers as you can increase your strength and cardio simultaneously.

For home workouts, we love Centr Fit. There is a huge range of classes for all levels and the short-term training programs are epic for getting you ready for trekking in Nepal.

Unfortunately, there is no real way to prepare for altitude. You can’t really create the same environment and even the fittest hikers can fall victim to altitude sickness. But you can lower your risk of altitude sickness by increasing your fitness.


FAQs For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

How Difficult Is The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek is one of the hardest teahouse treks in Nepal. You’ll encounter rough and rugged ascents, giant boulder fields and steep landslide-ridden traverses – all while spending over 10 days above 3,000 m elevation!

With that said, if you’re an experienced hiker with plenty of multi-day hikes under your belt, you should manage this trek easily. We found the Kanchenjunga Trek to be comparable in difficulty to trails like the Tongariro Northern Circuit in New Zealand or the Frenchmans Cap Track in Tasmania, but with significantly more elevation changes and lasting double or triple the time!


How Long Does It Take To Hike Kanchenjunga Base Camp?

The Kanchenjunga Trek usually takes 17 to 22 days to finish, covering both the north and south viewpoints of Kanchenjunga. If you prefer a shorter hike, you can opt for either the north or south route and backtrack the same way.


Can Beginners Do The Kanchenjunga Trek?

We would not recommend the Kanchenjunga Trek for beginners. Not only is the trail more challenging compared to more popular treks such as the Annapurna Base Camp Trek or Everest Base Camp Trek, but the remote region can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with camping in the mountains or trekking in Nepal.


Is Kanchenjunga Base Camp Harder Than Everest Base Camp?

Yes, the Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek is far more challenging than the Everest Base Camp Trek. The Everest Base Camp Trek is well-groomed in most places and the villages are more developed offering more services.


Can You Sleep At Kanchenjunga Base Camp?

No, you cannot camp at either the north or south Kanchenjunga Base Camps. The north base camp (aka Pangpema Base Camp) has a dilapidated lodging that was once used by climbers, but it is not used anymore. The south base camp is inaccessible by trekkers and instead, you’ll trek to a viewpoint at Oktang.


Which Month Is Best For The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek?

There are four months of the year that are the best for the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek. These are March, April, September and October. Of the four suitable months, one doesn’t particularly shine over the others. However, March and April are the best time to witness the flowering rhododendron trees.


Is The Kanchenjunga Trek Worth It?

The short answer is…YES!!

The Kanchenjunga Trek stole our hearts from the moment we stepped into the mountainous northeast region of Nepal. If you want to escape the crowds and experience the true wonders of the Himalayas and its local inhabitants, then you must book the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek!


How Fit Do You Need To Be For The Kanchenjunga Trek?

The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek requires a good level of fitness. You’ll ascend a total of roughly 9,876 m and descend almost as much. The trail is challenging in parts when compared to treks like the Langtang Valley Trek and Everest Base Camp Trek, causing you to expend more energy.


Can I Do The Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek Alone?

The Kanchenjunga Region is classed as a restricted area in Nepal, which means that you cannot do this trek alone. You must hire a local guide or book through a trekking agency. We recommend booking through a trekking agency for the best value for money and the most seamless experience.


Where To Stay Before And After Your Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek

If you choose to book the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek through a trekking company, it will most likely include two nights of accommodation in Kathmandu before your trek and one night when you return.

However, if you’d like to spend more time in Kathmandu, here is a list of our favourite places that we stayed in while exploring the capital city.

Thamel

Master Bed in the penthouse sweet at the Daali Hotel in Kathmandu
Daali Hotel

If you’ve only got a couple of days to spare, staying closer to the city centre is beneficial to avoid a congested taxi ride to the main attractions. We stayed in Thamel between our treks and enjoyed these two hotels the best.

  • Daali Hotel & Apartment – This hotel in Kathmandu was the best we stayed at, with the best buffet breakfast and a prime location.
  • Himalayan Ghar – For the budget-conscious, you can’t beat the quality of the Himalayan Ghar. The buffet breakfast wasn’t as good as the Daali, but the hidden location was nice and quiet.

Boudhanath

Ananda Treehouse Cafe, one of the best restaurants in Boudha
Ananada Treehouse

If you plan to stay in Kathmandu for several days after or before your trek, we highly recommend moving further out of the bustling city and enjoying the quieter and more authentic streets of Boudhanath. We spent three weeks here before our treks and loved the local vibe and delicious restaurants.

  • Ananda Tree House Eco Stay – Ananda’s is a cosy and welcoming homestay with an incredibly delicious vegetarian cafe on the ground floor. The rooms are spacious and the location is very central for exploring Boudhanath.

Final Thoughts

Woah, that was a mammoth guide to write! Trekking in Nepal is an experience that will last with you forever, but it does keep with some additional planning and consideration compared to trekking in your own country.

We hope that this comprehensive guide to hiking the Kanchenjunga Circuit Trek has helped you decide whether it is the right choice for you. If it is, then we hope you’ve gained all the information that you need to confidently take on this epic adventure.

Just remember to do your homework before choosing a trekking agency – or go with Himalayan Masters, who we can wholeheartedly recommend! If you have any further questions or tips of your own about Kanchenjunga, please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to us via Instagram.

Happy Hiking 🙂