Margherita Ragg is a mountain junkie and the creator of adventure travel blog The Crowded Planet. Coffee, hiking and sleeping in are some of the things she loves best.
Mark my words: within a few years, Kyrgyzstan will become Asia’s newest adventure and hiking hot spot. The country has everything it takes to become an adventurer’s favorite – wild, unspoiled nature; undiscovered mountains; affordable prices; and friendly locals.
The development of tourism in Kyrgyzstan is relatively recent, and it seems to favor ecotourism and community-based tourism over large-scale tourism. As a result, locals are seeing the benefits of tourism first hand. Families in remote communities are supporting themselves by opening their houses or yurts to tourists, cooking food for hikers, or leading visitors on hikes or horse treks through the mountains.
5 Scenic Hikes and Horse Rides in Kyrgyzstan
We selected five hikes and horse rides that showcase the spectacular country of Kyrgyzstan.
Turgen Ak Suu Hike
If you plan to visit the Tien Shan mountains, one of two mountain ranges crossing Kyrgyzstan, the 4-day, 3-night, 30-mile Turgen Ak Suu hike is a good option. You’ll experience the best of Kyrgyz nature and camp in the mountains. Only mapped recently, this hike should only be attempted with a local guide: inquire in Karakol, the closest town. The hike starts in the Turgen valley, about an hour’s drive from Karakol. Cross three mountain passes and experience pristine, high-altitude lakes before descending into the Almalu valley, where the trek ends. We saw no one the entire time we hiked, save for shepherds in the jailoo (high pastures) with their cattle or flocks.
Another recently opened trail, the 39-mile Keskenkija Loop starts and ends in the mountain village of Jyrgalan. The trek can be done on foot or horseback and takes four to five days to complete. The trail travels past a yurt settlement not far from Jyrgalan before climbing to a series of mountain passes (some yet unnamed). The route crosses wildflower-covered meadows and pine forests before taking you back to Jyrgalan. We highly recommend taking horses, even if you don’t plan to ride the entire time, because the trail crosses the Tup River, which can be hard to ford on foot early in the season.
Son Kol Horse Trek
The 3-day, 2-night trek to Son Kol Lake can be done on foot or by horse; however, opting for horseback makes for faster travel and allows more time to explore Son Kol, a spectacular lake surrounded by mountains. This trek is more popular and better established compared to newer routes. There are yurt camps that offer home-cooked meals and overnight accomodations, eliminating the need to carry cooking and camping equipment. The flip side is that you’ll see far more people along the way, especially when you reach Son Kol.
95% of Kyrgyzstan is covered in mountains, and there are serious peaks, including some exceeding 7000 meters (22,000 feet). If you’re seeking a true Himalayan experience – without the risks – consider climbing Peak Lenin, one of the easiest 7000-meter peaks in the world. The hike to the top of Peak Lenin should only be attempted with an official tour guide. It may be one of the easiest high-altitude peaks in the world, but it’s still a very serious climb. Plan for two weeks from start to finish.
Ala Archa National Park
If you’re only in Kyrgyzstan for a short time, Ala Archa National Park is an excellent option for a day hike from the capital, Bishkek. The national park is only about 40 minutes away from Bishkek, and it includes several trekking options, including a spectacular trail to a waterfall. It’s also one of few places in the country where you can hike in winter without backcountry skis.
What to Pack for a Hiking Trip in Kyrgyzstan
If you’re planning to head deep into the mountains, the hiking season in Kyrgyzstan is fairly short: June through September. The average altitude of the country is over 9000 feet. Snow is not uncommon even in summer, and the difference between day and night can be considerable. Winter adventures require skis and appropriate gear.
During our summer trip, layering worked best. I wore a lightweight, wicking t-shirt during the day and the MØVA HOODY when the wind started blowing. At night the temperatures dipped below freezing, and I added a woman’s fleece jacket, like the FLIGHT JACKET.
A pair of roll-up women’s travel pants were perfect both for hiking and horse riding. Long pants are essential when riding horses, and the soft yet strong material of my SPLASH ROLL-UP Pants made riding very comfortable.
We recommend taking a water filter or purifying tablets on your hike. There’s plenty of water in the mountains, but it may be may be contaminated from the sheep and cattle that roam freely.