Trekking in Nepal with kids is not something many people have even considered doing. However, more and more families are beginning to balk the “norm” and are continuing to travel much as they did before kids. The Poon Hill Trek in the Annapurna Circuit offers great views, and the ability to safely trek the Himalayas with kids. Still skeptical? Read on my friend!!
If you’re not traveling with kids, you might be interested in one of these Nepal backpacking itineraries.
Challenges for Trekking with Kids; altitude and distance.
Kids are more susceptible to altitude sickness than adults. Combine this with the fact that the symptoms are more difficult to recognize in children, and you could have a life-threatening condition on your hands. The obvious way around altitude sickness is to remain at a lower altitude, or go very slowly and allow plenty of time for acclimatization. Because of the perils of altitude sickness, the Poon Hill trek has become a popular family trek in the Annapurna circuit. The max altitude is 3210m, well within the “safe zone” for even the youngest child. The time spent at this elevation is very minimal, with the highest overnight elevation being around 2800m in Ghorepani.
Many of the popular treks are time consuming. Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit are all more than 10 day treks. This is a long time to be trekking for a child. When you add the need to slowly acclimatize to the altitude, you could be looking at a 3 week trek. My goal is to get my kids to the point where this is feasible when they’re into the double-digit-ages, but at the younger ages they’re likely to end up bored (sadly).
Again, this is where the Poon Hill Trek is great. It can be done in anywhere from 4-6 days. Traditionally the trek starts and ends in Nayapul, however a jeep can be used to get quite a bit further up the trail both at the beginning and end. This saves some walking, and a good amount of time on those first and last days.
What to Expect when Trekking in Nepal with Kids:
The trekking really can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, depending on your pace! There are tons of teahouses scattered along the trek, providing many places to stop for a drink, snack and bathroom break. If you want to stop and you haven’t come across a teahouse, there’s lovely shaded “sacred trees” with big stone platforms to catch your breath and nibble on your own snacks and drinks.
We trekked with 3 generations, and multiple levels of fitness. My mom is in decent shape, and does a good amount of hiking at home, but the elevation gains were tough on her. We took it slow going up, stopped frequently, and had no issues. I don’t recommend doing this trek with zero fitness abilities, but you don’t have to be in super-shape either (although the better shape you’re in, the more enjoyable it’ll be!).
DO prepare yourself for the stairs. I seriously thought they were NEVER going to end!! The Tikhedhunga to Ulleri section is about 3500 stone stairs, but it doesn’t stop there. They just keep coming! Even as you enter Nayapul at the very end, there’s about a dozen stone stairs to go up…I’m pretty sure someone put them there just as a joke!
Hiring a Porter
I highly recommend hiring a porter at least for your bags. If you can arrange to have your porter walk with you (and you pack a lighter bag to make this reasonable), you don’t need to bring much in a day pack. The porters prefer to carry a back pack, and a reasonable-weight pack is the easiest thing for your porter to carry. My biggest suggestion is to rent a backpack in Pokhara. We packed everything in my personal backpack for our assistant to wear since she was about my height and weight. The back and straps smelled an awful lot (like body odour) by day 2. It’s going to take me months, and a lot of febreeze, to get the smell out of my pack!!
For your kids
You can hire a porter to carry your kids. It’s often relatively straight forward to get a child-carrier doka in Pokhara. If you expect your kids to be carried all the time, this is a reasonable solution. If you expect your kids to do a bit of walking, and a bit of being carried, then I’d suggest foregoing the doka. Your porter will likely be much more comfortable with a child either on his/her back or shoulders. The doka then just becomes something extra to be carried!
Our “child-assistant/porter” felt like his responsibility was taking care of the children, whether he was carrying them or not. I’ve spoken with a few other families and it sounds like this is pretty standard. When the kids weren’t in the doka he was holding their hands (or trying to hold their hands), telling them to slow down, and stressing about them jumping off of things! This was all much trickier to do when he had an empty doka to carry.
If your kids are little, and you expect them to be carried all the time, I strongly suggest bringing a hiking baby carrier from home. Your baby, and the porter, will be more comfortable. The dokas look fun, and authentic, but they’re not commonly used nowadays. A carrier with proper waist support is much healthier for the porter’s spine.
I really had no idea what to expect in terms of accommodation. It’s pretty rustic, so don’t go in expecting any sort of luxury! Room prices are set for the district, so a double room costs the same in all the tea houses in town. The quality does differs between tea houses, even if the price doesn’t. This is where a knowledgeable guide is incredibly helpful. They’ll know the best place to stay, and can book ahead during high season. The room price is typically based on the occupants eating dinner and breakfast at the teahouse, which helps keep the rates low. You’ll want to make sure your guide picks somewhere with decent food as well as decent rooms! The walls of each room are paper thin, however everyone seems to go to bed quite early. If you’re a light sleeper, I’d recommend bringing ear plugs.
The teahouses have either double or triple rooms, so for a family you’ll be split into multiple rooms. Family rooms with a private toilet were available in Ghorepani and Ghandruk. The beds are often quite hard, and come with a sheet and large comforter. There’s no heat in the rooms, so bundle yourselves up (or down) accordingly. In mid-October I found the rooms to be warm enough at night sleeping in underwear and a tank top. If you’re going later into the winter, you might want thermals for sleeping.
(The top left was our nicest room, in Tadapani. The top right was our sketchiest room, in Ghorepani, although it had amazing views and the food was really good!)
Most of the teahouses have a free cold shower, and a hot water shower available for a small fee (100 rupee). If you shower shortly after you finish hiking, the cold shower is quite refreshing. Whatever you do, make sure you shower every day! I got lazy one day and changed before showering. Then I cooled off and didn’t feel like showering. My skin got SO mad at me, and I ended up with prickly heat rash all over my back & abdomen (under my waist strap) and around my shoulder straps. It was incredibly itchy and uncomfortable. Don’t make my mistake…make sure you shower, especially if you have sensitive skin!
Bathrooms are almost exclusively shared with everyone (other than the family rooms in Ghorepani and Ghandruk mentioned above). I was pleasantly surprised that the toilets were all “Western style” sit-toilets. Honestly, I was dreading the thought of a squat toilet after thousands of stairs! They all had toilet paper (that you throw in the garbage can), but carry a roll of your own just in case they run out in the middle of the night, or for the teahouse toilet stops during the day. Some of the teahouse stops only have a squat toilet, with no toilet paper. With these you use a bucket to flush, and as always, throw the toilet paper in the waste basket. (Below: toilet on the left and shower room on the right. In Hille)
Food is basic, and pretty similar along the whole trek. Breakfast is a selection of Tibetan bread, toast with butter and jam (and peanut butter in Ghorepani!), Crepes, Omelets and Eggs. Lunch and dinner had a mix of Nepalese and Western food. The mainstays are dal bhat, veggie currie, veggie & noodle chow mein (basically like Nepalese spaghetti!), momos (dumplings) if you’re lucky, popcorn, French fries, pizza, basic pasta, and a few other options depending on where you are.
The food prices are set in each “district” along the trek, so there’s no point shopping around. There’s one menu for the entire town, with a small section for “specialties”. Some tea houses will offer a few select things that aren’t available elsewhere. The quality can differ, and your guide will know the best places to eat, and therefore the best places to sleep. We stayed at a specific teahouse in Ghandruk because the owner makes the best momo’s (according to our guide). I’d have to agree, they were really good! They were so good, we had them for lunch AND dinner!
The rooms were cheap, and the food a bit more expensive. Compared to Western prices food was still relatively cheap, but compared to Nepalese prices it was quite expensive. I thought about everything as a ‘package deal’ and the cheap accommodations with more expensive food balanced each other out.
Poon Hill Day
The “destination” of this trek is Poon Hill. There’s a lot of debate over whether it’s worth joining a few hundred friends on the top of Poon Hill for the sunrise, and I can’t make that decision for you! It’s an early morning, but the views are spectacular.
The recommended start for the 45min walk from Ghorepani to Poon hill is 4:30am. Initially it’s cold, but once you start walking and working up a sweat you’ll want layers to peel off.
There’s a small entrance fee (50 rupees) if you go for sunrise, so bring some cash if you’re not on a package tour. You can also get a milk tea, hot chocolate or coffee at the small teahouse beside the toilet (outhouse), so make sure you have a few hundred rupees for a hot drink. It’s cold, you’ll want a hot drink! Also, bring toilet paper as there’s none in the outhouse!
Our kids were whiny and downright awful until they’d been awake for about an hour. Neither were thrilled to be hauled out of bed at 4:15am, and it almost ruined the morning. If I were to do it again I’m not sure if I’d go for sunrise! I’d leave a bit later, around 6:15am, to be at the top when everyone is leaving. I’d watch the sun rise from Ghorepani, then make my way up when the throng of people wer coming down. Just make sure you’re staying in “upper Ghorepani”, because there really isn’t much of a view from lower Ghorepani.
(top left: The view from Upper Ghorepani. top right: One of the many amazing views during the Ghorepani – Tadapani portion of the trek)
I’d even consider stretching the trek from 5 days to 6, and spend a day in Ghorepani. There’s not much to do in town, but the views are pretty amazing. Then you could get up for the Poon Hill sunrise, and go back to bed! The next day would then be a relatively easy day mostly downhill to Tadapani. Plus, the first ridge on the Ghorepani to Tadapani day also offers amazing Himalayan views. You could leave Ghorepani early and have the ridge all to yourself while everyone else is fighting over a spot on Poon Hill.
Packing for your Nepal Trek
Depending on the way you’ve booked your porter, you may be limited with the amount of stuff you can bring. Even if the weight is not limited, do remember that someone needs to carry it on their head (typically) for long periods of the day and be consciencious when packing.
Everything you don’t bring can be left at your accommodation in Pokhara. We left our bags in a locker, and our valuables were written down on carbon copy paper, and kept in a safe in the “family house”.
If you’re looking for a great daypack for your Trek, check out these ones here. A few of them would be great for trekking.
We packed 2 pairs of clothes each, one to trek in, and one to wear in the evenings. This is my recommended packing list for trekking in Nepal with kids:
To wear each day
- lightweight hiking pants that convert to shorts/capris
- short-sleeve shirt (preferably merino wool or tech fibre)
- sports bra (made of moisture-wicking material)
- light weight socks
- underwear (ExOfficio is my absolute favourite)
- UV Buff to keep off the sun and to get wet and wear around your neck to stay cool.
- Waterproof trekking shoes (preferably, there’s plenty of small streams running across the trails, so your shoes will likely get wet)
We all wore the same thing trekking each day. We brought good quality technical clothing that stood up to the sweat! Everyone was pretty stinky by the time we got back to Pokhara. There are places to have your laundry done all over town, so I’m sure we’re not the only people to return smelly!
- Capris or leggings
- T-shirt or light-weight long sleeve shirt* (I recommend the long sleeve shirt as it cools down in the evenings)
- Hooded fleece zip-up (you may want this in your daypack depending on the season)
- Spare Underwear (bring a couple if yours aren’t quick drying)
- Extra socks
- Flip-flops or crocs (for the kids)
- Rain jacket (you might want this in your daypack depending on the forecast)
- Lightweight gloves (if it’s winter)
- Hair brush
- Powerbank & cord (there’s electricity everywhere, but there’s often a fee to charge your phone)
- Playing Cards for the evening
- Head lamp (most of the rooms are double or triple, so bring 2, one for each room)
We packed 5 people (3 adults and 2 kids) into about 8.5kg and 30L. My pack is 44L, and our assistant was allowed to take 10kg, including her stuff.
- Sunscreen & lip balm
- Mosquito repellant
- Snacks such as dried fruit, nuts, chickpeas, trail mix, energy bars
- Camera, spare batteries and memory card
- Simple first aid kit – bandages (plasters), blister pad, advil or ibuprofen for adults and kids (doubles as pain relief and anti-inflammatory), antibiotic ointment, rehydration salts. You could bring antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea, but I’ve actually never heard of anyone getting sick on the trek!
- Water bottles (we brought 3 collapsible platypus 1L bottles and 2 x 500mL Swell water bottles for when we did find cold water).
- Water purification tablets & individual iced tea mixes (to mask the yucky taste of the tablets for the kids). There was water available to purchase, but I like having these just in case.
- Cash – there are no ATM’s available on the mountain, so make sure you have enough cash for the entire trek, with some extra.
Trekking Poles – You’ll want these, especially for the downhill. Usually one is enough, and you can rent them for cheap from the trekking company or pretty much anywhere in Pokhara.
Poncho – the raincover that comes with your pack is okay, but it doesn’t keep the straps dry. The rain can be so hard it’ll soak right down the porter’s back and soak the pack from the inside (luckily we didn’t experience this!). Buy a big plastic poncho to carry around just in case you get stuck in the rain. It’ll keep both you, and your pack, dry. Make sure your porter has one too!
Knee brace or tape – This is a recommendation from Susanna at Our Tribe Travels. I didn’t use one, but if you have any issues with your knees, this may be your best friend on the way down.
SIM card – Rather than paying for the (very spotty) wifi, I recommend getting a SIM card before heading out on the trek. We got ours in Kathmandu at the airport. It was relatively painless but it did take about 30min. We handed over our passport, picked our package (Randy bought us each 10GB for 3400 rupee/$41.50 CAD, it was a bit excessive!) and waited for them to figure it all out. Nepal Telecom has the best coverage in the mountains, so make sure you get your SIM from them as opposed to NCell. It still won’t work everywhere, but it’ll be a heck of a lot better than the wifi.
How much does it Cost?
Visa & Permits
Everyone doing this trek will need the basics; A Nepalese Visa, TIMS Permit and Annapurna Conservation Area Permit.
- Nepal Visa: Available on arrival at the airport. Cost is $40 for a 30-day single entry, and increases for multi-entry and longer stays. You’ll need a passport photo, and the money in US cash (or Euro). Note: Nepalese Rupees are NOT accepted! There’s an ATM in the arrivals area, before passing through immigration, however it dispenses Rupees only. Bring foreign cash!
- TIMS Permit: $20 US (no permit required for kids under 10 years)
- Annapurna Conservation Area Permit: 2000 rupees ($20 US) (no permit required for kids under 10 years)
*you’ll need a passport photo for each permit, and likely one for the trekking agency. If you haven’t brought one with you, there are many places along Lakeside Dr. in Pokhara willing to do them in 5min, for about $2.
There are essentially three different ways you can do the trek: independent (with or without a porter-guide), guide & porter, full package.
You can hire a “porter-guide” to carry your stuff and generally stay with you during the trek. They do it enough to know the way, so you won’t get lost! They’ll also be available to help book accommodation, and will generally know the better places to stay, but won’t pre-book anything along the way. When you go through the checkpoint be very sure to state that they’re a “porter” only.
Porter-Guide: $16-20 US/day
Accommodation & Food: approximately $80-100 US/day per family of 4
Return transportation from Pokhara – Nayapul: 400 rupees ($4 US) per person (kids generally free, may charge more for backpack, takes anywhere from 1.5 – 2.5 hrs) for the local bus, all the way up to $70US for private van
Guide & Porter
We booked our guide & porter through Three Sisters Adventure Trekking because I like the premise behind the organization. Their pricing seemed to be on par with many of the other companies in town. When you hire a guide & porter you’re still responsible for all the incidental fees along the way, including accommodation, food & drinks. Most companies will arrange your TIMS and Annapurna permits for you, and coordinate return transportation from Pokhara to Nayapul. If you’d like to take public transportation be sure to let the company know.
Guide: $30 US/day
Porter: $20 US/day
Accommodation & Food: approximately $80-100 US/day per family of 4
Return transportation from Pokhara – Nayapul: $70 for private van
For a full package you pay one sum up front and it covers everything for the trek. This will typically come with a guide and one porter per 2 people. It will include transportation to Nayapul, accommodation, food, permits, and transportation back to Pokhara. Often drinks are not included in the cost.
Approximately $400+ US per person (min 2 people). If you want extra porters for your kids, or transportation beyond Nayapul, the price goes up.
Optional Extra Cost
It’s possible to drive past Nayapul and Binthanti to the “end of the road”. By doing this you can likely get all the way to Ulleri or even Birethanti on the first day. This gets those horribly awful stairs out of the way on day 1 while your legs are fresh. The road is terrible. I mean REALLY terrible! One of the families we met said their girls were playing the “would you rather game” and they were split 50/50 as to who would rather be walking up the hill, or riding in the jeep. Even with the bad road, it’s still faster than walking!
On the way back down, you can catch a jeep or bus about an hour from Ghandruk in Kimche. This saves 2-3 hours of walking.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the extra cost would be because we started and ended our trek in Nayapul. If I were to do it over again I’d probably get a jeep to the end of the road on Day 1 and get as far as Birethanti. This would make Day 2 significantly easier, and the early morning wake up to watch the sunrise on Day 3 wouldn’t be as painful!
When To Do The Poon Hill Trek Nepal
It’s possible to do the Poon Hill trek at any point during the year, but spring and fall are the nicest.
January – February are quite cold, and the teahouses aren’t heated, so if you’re going this time of year bring LOTS of layers. The path may also be icy or snow covered, so wear good hiking boots.
March – June is the “second” high season. The temperatures are a bit nicer, although it’s still quite cold at night and it rains more than in the fall. This is rhododendron season, and if you’re lucky the flowers will be blooming all over the mountainsides.
July – September is rainy season, and there are lots of leeches! If you stray off the path make sure to check your shoes after as the little brown nuisances can jump! They don’t do any damage, but they will bleed for a considerable amount of time. Bring salt (to get the leeches off) and lots of bandaids!
October – December is high season. The paths will be busy and the lodges will be full. Daytime is warm, significantly warmer than I was expecting. It does cool down at night, and the sunrise at Poon Hill will be downright cold. In October the rice is almost ready for harvest, and at lower elevations golden rice terraces will punctuate the hillsides.
A few final tips
- Hotel Gurung Cottage, in Ghandruk, makes a decent French pressed coffee. If you’re a coffee lover, this is a great change from the instant Nescafe you’ll get the rest of the trip.
- The apple pie at the Sunny Hotel in Ghorepani is delicious! Save some room with dinner and splurge on apple pie for dessert. If you’ve come all the way from Hille or Tikhedunga, it’s been a long day and you’ll deserve it!
- The mountains are at their best first thing in the morning, so go to bed early and get up early. The sun will be up, it’ll be bright (the window coverings are for privacy, not for blocking the light) and people will be rustling around making noise nice and early. Grab a cup of milk-tea and watch the sunrise over the rugged Himalayan peaks. That’s what you came for, isn’t it!!
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Check out the YouTube video to see what our own experience was like trekking in Nepal with kids!
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