Bhutan is truly a trekker’s heaven.

For the rambler, there are numerous opportunities to walk in the valleys, visiting the local sights as an alternative to car travel, and appreciating the scenery and forests of the country, the most iconic of which is the hike to the Tiger’s nest.

However, for the serious hiker there are opportunities to get really out there on one of the awesomely spectacular official established Government approved guided trails available in the country.

It should be noted however that some of these treks require serious levels of fitness, with a few of the trails easily exceeding altitudes of 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) and two of the routes topping out at over 5,000 metres (16,400 feet).

The trails described here are listed according to trek duration, beginning with the shortest.

North of Thimpu, a two day trail, known as the Punakha Winter Trek, climbs through a section of the traditional route from Thimpu to Punakha, beginning at Chamina Village and passing through several villages to Sinchula Pass, reaching an elevation of 3,400 metres (11,154 feet), and descends to Chorten Ningpo.

The three day Gangte trek, traveling from Phobjika in Central Bhutan, via Zasa, Choerten Karpo, and culminating in Tikke Zampa, a fine birdwatching area. The trek covers a distance of 43 kilometres (26 miles), and through forests containing Magnolia, Rhododendron, Bamboo and Juniper and achieves a maximum altitude over Phephela Pass at 3,480 metres (11,417 feet) affording fine views over the landscape.

Another three day adventure is the Bumthang Cultural Trek which takes you 44 kilometres (27 miles), following the trout filled rivers and temples from Toktu Zampa through to Mesihtang reaching a maximum altitude 3,360 metres (11,024 feet).

Another three day Bumthang trail, known as the Owl Trek, after the owl calls which are often heard along its route, travels north from Manchugang through forests of Birch, Maple, Spruce, Bamboo, Juniper and Rhododendron to the upland world of Drangela Pass, which provides a fine view over the snow-capped mountains, including Mount Gangkarpunsum, Bhutan’s highest, at 7,541 metres (24,741 feet). The trek itself achieves a maximum altitude of 3,870 metres (12,697 feet).

The four day Samtengang Winter Trek is a 54 kilometre (33 mile) trail with a maximum and relatively low altitude peak of 1,980 metres / 6,496 feet), travelling from Punakha Dzong to Chhuzomsa, via Limukha, Chhungsakha and Samtengang, passing over Bhutan’s highest bridge and wandering through Oak and Rhododendron forest.

The six day Druk Path Trek, starting in Paro is a medium fitness trail, and the country’s most popular, traveling 57 kilometres (35 miles) and achieving a maximum altitude 4,210 metres (13,812 feet) and features several high altitude camps in upland nomadic Yak-herder country, visiting Jili Dzomg, Jimgelang lake, Janetso Lake, Simkotra Tsho Lake, taking in views of the country’s highest peaks, before descending to Phajoding Monastery and on to Thimpu.

In central Bhutan, another six day route is the distinctly less elevated Nabji Korphu Trek, with maximum height of only 1,500 metres (4,921 feet), but what it lacks in altitude is more than compensated for in the wildlife this trip regularly encounters, including Golden Langurs, Red Pandas, Clouded Leopards, Himalayan Black Bears and numerous birds in Black Mountain National Park. The trail is a 65 kilometre (40 mile) trail that is rewarding, easy and much warmer than its lofty cousins.

A six day medium difficulty trail, known as the Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek, travels in an area to the south of Thimpu, ascending to 4,720 metres (15,485 feet). The trail features a free day at Lambatama Lake, from where you can view the stunning mountain scenery all around, with views of iconic premier peaks such as Jomolhari, Kanchenjunga and Everest among a host of others possible.

A seven day moderate looping route in the far east of Bhutan, near Trashigang, known as the Merak Sakteng Trek, travels into Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, climbing up to the Nagchungla Pass, at 4,100 metres (13,451 feet), and visiting the semi nomadic villages of Gengu, Merak, Sakteng, Thakthi and Joenkhar.

In northwest Bhutan, the seven day 81 kilometre (50 mile) Jomolhari Loop Trail in Jigme Dorji National Park takes you up to Jomolhari Base Camp, whose majestic form is visible at several points on the route, of which the highest viewpoint is at Bonte La Pass at 4,890 metres (16,043 feet). Moderately difficult, largely due to the variations in altitude, a rest and acclimatisation day is included at the base camp.   

Another trail in Eastern Bhutan is the eight day Salt Trek, which follows the traditional silk and salt trade routes, visiting the villages and forests in this scenic area and visiting the Samdrupjonkhar Market at the border with India. Though the maximum altitude is only 2,218 (7,277 feet), the going can be fairly tough.

Close to Trongsa, one of Bhutan’s most challenging treks is a nine day adventure to the Duer Hot Springs, characterised by steep rises and falls between elevations of 3,000 – 4,700 metres (9,842 – 15,420 feet) over a distance of 126 kilometres (78 miles), passing through the Juniper, Maple and Spruce forests and, beyond the treeline, reaching the highpoint at Juli La, to enjoy its high altitude vantage point, another reward for the effort of which is found in the rest day at the hot springs.

Another nine day high altitude trail is the Jomolhari Trek, a longer 110 kilometre (68 miles) variant of the seven day Jomolhari Loop, exploring the area of Jigme Dorji National Park in greater depth, visiting Jomolhari Base Camp, with an acclimatisation day, and passing over the Yelila Pass, with the highest point of the trail at an awesome elevation of 4,930 metres (16,174 feet).

From Bumthang, the ten day 189 kilometre (118 miles) Wild East Rodung La trek winds its way eastward through the picturesque forested valleys, alpine meadows and mountain passes to Trashigang, via Nganglakhang, Ugyencholing, Phokpey, Pemi, Khaine Lakhang, Tangmachu, Menji and Taupang. While the lesser altitudes of this trail, with a high point of 3,680 metres (12,073 feet), make it more accessible to those sensitive to the heights, the going can nevertheless be occasionally steep and arduous.

The twelve day Jomolhari Laya Gasa Trek is another of the highly popular, though more challenging, of the Jigme Dorji National Park routes, leaving from Drukyel and combining the early sections of the Jomolhari Loop with a wander through the northwest section of the National Park under the visual spell of several of Bhutan’s most impressive peaks, some of which top 7,000 metres, and climbing over several high altitude passes, the highest of which is the Sinche La pass at 5,015 metres (16,453 feet). A highly scenic 217 kilometre (135 miles) high adventure which culminates at Gasa Tsachu Hot Springs, with a rewarding dip in its soothing waters.

The most challenging of all the Bhutanese trails is the 25 day high altitude snowman Trail, a 357 kilometre (222 miles) affair, which extends the Laya Gasa Trek, skipping the springs and explores beyond into the northernmost fringes of Jigme Dorji National Park, territory of the enigmatic Snow Leopard, spending much of the time at altitudes in excess of 4,000 metres, including during overnight camps, with several high passes including three at over 5,000 metres, Karchula Pass at 5,215 metres (17,109 feet), Jezela Pass at 5,050 metres (16,568 feet) and Rinchenzoe Pass at 5,140 (16,863 feet).

Another variant of this extraordinary trail, the Snowman II, takes 27 days of trekking diverging from Karchula Pass and extends beyond over the Gophula Pass at 5,230 metres (17,159 feet) with a camp at 5050 metres (16,568 feet), covering a trekking distance of 369 kilometres (229 miles) and ending at Tsachu Hot Springs.