Trekking Around Karakol
Immerse yourself in the Tian Shan mountains.
Karakol is surrounded by stunning natural scenery. The turquoise waters of alpine lakes give way to shimmering glaciers and lush mountain pastures, passes, and valleys. Snow-covered peaks in the Terskey-Ala-Too mountain range reach over 5,000 meters, giving adventurous trekkers a glimpse of the heavens.
Trekkers will discover that some of the finest trails in Kyrgyzstan leave from Karakol, and there's a bit of something for everyone — treks cover every skill level, every timeframe, and every season. From one-day jaunts in the coniferous forests near town to seven-day journeys to Peak Karakol (5,216 meters), you can find a trek to meet your every wish. Even better, if you’re planning a trek, it means you’re already ahead of the crowds: Karakol is still a an untapped market, and you will be among the first trekkers to experience the region's hundreds of kilometers of marked trails, some of which are only recently marked and open to tourist traffic.
You’ll cover less-trodden routes through the region; fewer visitors allow for a personalized experience that you will remember for years to come. From Karakol you can revel in vast, open landscape sometimes nearly devoid of others, save a few shepherds and their animals, of course. The mix of unspoiled beauty, gorgeous views, and sheer choice is just part of what makes trekking in this region so unique.
When choosing the perfect trekking route from Karakol, it’s important to consider what you'd like to see, but more crucially to honestly assess your energy, fitness level, and overall health. Ask guides and organizers about distances covered, altitude changes, and the average number of hours of hiking expected per day. If you’re up for the challenge, you can even trek solo on some well-marked treks, although guides are recommended for the longer and more difficult trails. A trek should be challenging, and sometimes even strenuous — always pushing you to new heights both geographically and physically — but it should still offer you an enjoyable, enlightening experience.
June to September is the high season for trekking in and around Karakol, but some lower-altitude routes are open earlier and later in the year, weather permitting. As always, the objective is to avoid inclement weather and harsh temperatures, and to make your trekking experience as smooth as possible.
You won't need to bring camping and trekking gear with you to Kyrgyzstan, which is especially fortunate if you’re a beginner and carry little gear to begin with. You can easily rent trekking and camping gear in Karakol, including sleeping bags, tents, cooking equipment, and trekking backpacks. Many tour companies also include gear as part of their guided treks. Where to rent trekking gear in Karakol: EcoTrek, Extreme Tour (Karasaev Street 154) and CBT Karakol all rent tents, sleeping bags, mats, backpacks, camper stoves, and more.
A small number of treks from Karakol require permits before you can trek within that region/territory. If you are planning a trek to Enylchek or Khan-Tengri, you must plan 5 to 12 days to secure your permits. If you have booked with a tour operator, they can help you secure your trekking permit before you arrive. If you are unsure about the trek that's best for you, or if you'd like to purchase trekking maps, stop by the Destination Karakol office at 22 Gagarin Street.
Ak-Suu Arboretum Trek
From the outskirts of Karakol, climb above the city for sweeping views of the entire valley before returning via the forest trails of Ak-Suu Arboretum. Options include carrying on towards Altyn Arashan, or returning by minibus to Karakol.
Altyn Arashan to Ala Kol
This is probably the most famous and popular trek out of Karakol as it offers incredible scenery and views — including alpine lakes, dramatic snow-covered peaks, green valley — in a relatively short time and distance. You also have the option of soaking your aching muscles at the natural hot springs in Altyn Arashan if you so choose. If you are really short on time, check out this guide on how to do this trek in just 28 hours.
Highlights of Ak-Suu (Jeti-Oguz — Arashan)
A multi-day alpine journey through some of the most colorful and varied landscape in the Ak-Suu trekking corridor. Alpine gorges, rock walls, Ala-Kol Lake, and the red rock canyons of Jeti-Oguz are just a few of the features which define this memorable trek.
Glacier Valleys (Jergez – Ak-Suu)
Ascend from Jergez, one of Kyrgyzstan’s most attractive yurt camps, through peak-ringed valleys and past two mountains lakes to the Ailanysh Pass. Top the experience off with views of Tashtambek Tör Bashi Peak (4,463 m), before returning along the Ak-Suu Almaluu valley and enjoying the sweeping glaciers of the Ak-Suu wall.
Kok-Jar — Altyn Arashan Trek
An easy-going overnight trek with views of everything from Karakol town and Issyk-Kul Lake to the Karakol Gorge. As you ascend, the drama increases with Przewalski Peak, views of the Tian Shan range, and an overnight near Altyn Arashan hot springs. This trek also makes for an excellent alternate exit from a hike to Ala-Kol Lake.
Nomad Valley Trek (Barskoon – Juku)
A mid-high alpine journey which involves navigating the Düngürömö Pass on the way to a cluster of remote mountain lakes at the head of the Juuku River. The trek continues with a gentle descent though a scenic valley dotted by nomadic yurt camps and surrounded by cliffs and pine forests.
Requires arranging a driver to meet for pickup/dropoff.
Archa Tor Pass Trek
An off-the-path experience which crosses the Archa-Tor Pass en route to the gorge at Jeti-Oguz. The trek showcases a range of natural landscapes, from meadows and juniper groves to snow-capped jagged peaks. This trek also features a suspension cable footbridge and, season-depending, offers snow cornice navigation and river fording opportunities.
It is highly recommended to pack cold-weather equipment such as snowshoes, and to be aware of the danger for avalanches and rockfalls on the day 2 stretch until mid-July. Requires arranging a driver for dropoff/pickup.
Other Recommended Treks in Kyrgyzstan
- To explore some of the newest trekking routes in Kyrgyzstan, head to Jyrgalan just 60km from Karakol. This village in Jyrgalan Valley is the starting point for several day and multi-day treks, as well as many options for horse treks and mountain bike tours.
- Close by along the South Shore of Lake Issyk-Kul you will also find day and mutli-day treks, horseback riding, and mountain biking that often include views of both the lake and the mountains.
- If you are traveling to the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, the day or multi-day treks in the Pamir-Alay Mountains are stunning with their alpine lakes, high desert mountain passes, views to 7,000+ meter snow-covered peaks, and undiscovered trails.
- Another great area for trekking in Kyrgyzstan is Naryn. While Song Kol Lake is quite popular, there are also many other fabulous treks not far from Naryn city that will take you to alpine lakes, high peaks and allow you to connect with local shepherds.