Everything You Need to Know About Trekking in Nepal with Kids

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If you are like us, you have probably spent years yearning to trek in one of the world’s best hiking regions: the Himalayas of Nepal.  We didn’t get around to doing it before we had kids, but we weren’t going to let something like 3 kids get in the way of pursuing this dream.  I am being cheeky, because we are actually very cautious in making sure each travel destination and experience we go on, is in fact appropriate with kids.

In April, we spent a month in Nepal, and the highlight for us was 10 days hiking in the Everest region.  Our kids were 7, 9, and 11 and before we left, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for information about families trekking in Nepal.  I wanted to read trip reports, understand the safety concerns, know what to expect, find out what to pack, know how to prepare and be reassured that it was possible.  In this post, I hope to answer the questions you might have about trekking with kids in Nepal.  If you have questions I didn’t cover, send me a message or comment below, and I will add them to the post.

For a detailed day-by-day account of our trek in Nepal, read this.

How Difficult is the Trekking?

There are a variety of treks in Nepal to suit families from the longer, classic routes like the Annapurna treks and Everest Base Camp, to shorter treks like Poon Hill or the newer Mohare Danda community trek.  The difficulty will depend on the altitude, remoteness,  and length of the trek.

Many backpackers in their 20s do treks in Nepal with almost no hiking experience.  While it may be doable, I wouldn’t suggest it for families.  Parents and kids should both have some experience hiking and be in good physical fitness.  We had never done a multi-day hike before Nepal, but our kids were used to hiking 10-16 km in a day. That being said, we hadn’t hiked much as a family in the 6-months leading up to our Nepal trek.

In our 10 days hiking, we covered 80 km and reached a max altitude of 4,400 m.  The kids did not slow us down and we walked at a similar pace to most groups we encountered.  There were definitely difficult stretches and times where we thought the uphills would never end.  At times like this, we resorted to “slowly, slowly” and just concentrated on keeping moving.  For us, it was a good hard.  I never felt like we couldn’t do it, but I did feel a sense of achievement at the end of each day.  Our legs were sore the first couple of days before we got used to the walking and we were definitely all wiped by evening.

What is the Minimum Age to Trek in Nepal with Kids?

I know families that have trekked with babies and toddlers in Nepal, so it really just depends on your level of comfort.  Porters can help carry younger children in a traditional Nepalese basket, the doko.

Your children’s age will determine the route, distance and speed you choose.  Our kids (7-11) were a great age because they were independent and could walk at the same speed (or usually quicker) than the adults.

What Safety Issues are There?

The three main safety issues are altitude, food borne illnesses and remoteness.  I discuss altitude issues in more detail below.

Being a developing country, food borne issues are a concern for all visitors.  All water on the trek needs to be treated with a filter or chlorine.  I think sticking with local foods, like dal bhat are safer choices than Western foods at the teahouses.  We are vegetarian, but I would recommend abstaining from meat on the trek, especially at higher altitude, where it needs to be brought up by porters.

Giardia is the most common parasite that travellers is Nepal encounter and is characterized by frequent diarrhea, cramping and sulfurous smelling gas.  However, there are many other bacteria that can also cause gastro illnesses.  We recommend travelling with antibiotics when trekking.  You can bring these from home or purchase them over the counter in Kathmandu.  Miles, our youngest did suffer from some type of gastro illness on the trek, which did make it harder for him.

The other huge safety concern with hiking with kids in Nepal is dealing with emergencies in remote locations.  Make sure you have insurance coverage that includes medical evacuation with emergency repatriation.  If you have a major medical issue, you want to get to Delhi or Bangkok for the best medical services.  We always recommend World Nomads as the most comprehensive world-wide travel insurance.

 

Altitude Issues

The mildest form of altitude sickness is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and needs to be taken very seriously.  While children are no more likely than adults to experience AMS, children below 8, may have difficulty communicating the symptoms of AMS.  Anyone can suffer from AMS; there is no correlation between physical fitness and likelihood to experience AMS.

Symptoms of AMS include headache, nausea, tiredness, dizziness, trouble sleeping and vomiting.  Since the range of symptoms are so wide, AMS should be considered if any of these symptoms present.

The slower you ascend, the less likely you are to suffer from AMS.  We followed traditional altitude advice, like “go high, sleep low” and never ascended more than 500 metres in a day, once we were above 3,000 m.   You will also need to have acclimatization days to allow your body to adjust to the reduced oxygen.  On the Everest Base Camp trek, most trekkers will have two acclimatization days, in Namche Bazaar and Dingboche.

You can take Diamox to prevent and reduce the symptoms of AMS.  It needs to be started before you reach 3,000 m.  The adults and children in our group took Diamox and it wasn’t until Dingboche at 4,400 m that we felt any altitude symptoms.  You can purchase Diamox before you leave home, or the pharmacies in Thamel sell the generic version (Acetazolamide).  

Our youngest son did experience vomiting and cramping our first day walking and while I was fairly certain it was gastro, we were very cautious, since those symptoms could in fact be AMS.

What is the Accommodation Like?

Accommodation on most of the Nepal treks is in tea houses, which was a huge part of the appeal of hiking in Nepal for me.  These tea houses are usually family-run places to eat and sleep.  The well trodden EBC and Annapurna routes have very comfortable tea houses, while more remote treks, will have more basic conditions.  It is expected that you will eat and sleep at the same tea house.

The tea houses we stayed at had simple unheated double or triple rooms with shared toilet facilities.  Our youngest slept with us, and the older kids shared rooms.  Beds came with a pillow, sheet and warm blanket, but you were expected to use your own sleeping bag.  Since the rooms were unheated, we spent most of our time in the common room, which was heated with a wood burning stove and where you ate your meals.  Toilets are basic and we encountered both squat and Western toilets.  Bring your own toilet paper, as this was never provided.  You can pay extra for warm showers, device charging and WIFI.

Can you spot the baby in the basket?

You do not need to book tea houses in advance and I wouldn’t recommend trying to.  Trekking in Nepal with kids requires some level of flexibility to account for weather and health.  We usually had a goal of which village we wanted to sleep in that night, but sometimes we adjusted that.

How to Prepare for Trekking in Nepal with Kids

In an ideal world, you would be doing long hikes as a family to train for your Nepal trek.  At a minimum, you want to be in good physical fitness.  You want to make sure that you have packed appropriately and are self sufficient.

There are lots of good Youtube videos that you can watch together as a family to prepare the kids for the hike.  We did lots of reading online to understand the route and what to bring to give us a good understanding of what to expect.

What is the Food Like?

We came expecting to eat dal bhat, the traditional food of Nepal, for most of our meals.  The kids were very happy that that was not the case and there were many other options available.  Since food has to be brought up by porters, it does get more expensive and have less variety, the higher you get.

For lunches and dinners, our kids enjoyed the fried potatoes with eggs, pasta, and noodle soups.  The food was more expensive than I  expected, but still very reasonable.  Dishes typically cost 400-800 rupees ($5-10 CAD) per person.  I thought dal bhat would be the cheapest option, but we found it to be the same price generally as other options.

For breakfast, we discovered Tibetan bread (fried bread with honey and jam), but also ate porridge, pancakes and eggs and toast.

You can purchase sodas, beer and packaged snacks, but you will have to pay for them.  We brought snacks from Kathmandu and abstained from bottled drinks.

What Do You Do About Water?

Paul filtering water in the morning

It is really important to stay hydrated while trekking.  You can either filter your water or use chlorine tablets and we used a mix of both.  We filtered water with our Grayl bottle and decanted into bladders and bottles.  The Steri Pen was another really popular choice that we saw many people using.  We also used chlorine tablets for convenience at times as well.  Our kids didn’t love the taste of chlorinated water, so we were really happy that we had brought packets of Tang from Kathmandu.

You can buy bottled water throughout the treks, but we don’t feel that this is a responsible choice.  Nepal has no recycling facilities, so those bottles contribute to their waste problem.  Additionally, those bottles of water have to be carried on the backs of porters.  This is completely unnecessary when there are much more sustainable and cheaper options, like filtering and chlorinating.

The tea houses have stream water that you can filter or chlorinate.  We had read that you could also buy boiled water, but the one time we did this we paid $4 CAD for our 1 L Nalgene to be filled.

Staying Connected Trekking

We almost always get local SIM cards when we travel.  We picked up Ncell SIM cards in Kathmandu and surprisingly found that we had service most of the time we were on the EBC trail.

We bought our SIM card at a shop in Thamel.  You need to bring your passport and a passport photo (which you can also easily get in Thamel).  The cost of the SIM was 200 rupees ($2 .50 CAD) and 1,200 rupees ($15 CAD) for 16GB of data.

Some of the tea houses have WIFI for purchase, but it was very unreliable and not very economical.

How Do I Book or Organize My Trek?

There are three possible ways to trek in Nepal with kids.  You can book through an organized tour and have it all organized for you.  Second, you can go completely independently and carry your own gear.  Third, you can do a hybrid version of those two, which is what we did.  We organized our trek in country and hired a guide and porters to support us.  Cost will vary depending on which option you chose.

If you are interested in a good adventure tour company with family trips, check out Intrepid Travel.

We wanted to make the trek as pleasant as possible for the kids, while still sticking to a budget.  The adults carried day packs, but our kids did not carry any packs at all.  We did see a few families doing the trek independently, carrying all their own gear, so it is entirely possible with older children.  You certainly don’t need a guide for the popular treks as the trail is very well posted and easy to follow.  However, we felt good about contributing to the trekking industry and providing employment for our guide and porters.

What is the best time of year to trek in Nepal?

There are two main trekking seasons in Nepal: spring and fall.  Fall (September to November) is the most popular with its clear skies and moderate temperatures.  The second most popular season is Spring (March to May) and offers warmer weather, blossoming fauna, although afternoon clouds are common.  We trekked EBC in April and loved the flowering trees and being there for climbing season.

Summer (June to August) is monsoon season and not recommended to trek with kids.  A better alternative at this time of year is the Indian Himalayas and Ladakh.  While some people do trek in Nepal in the winter season, it wouldn’t be very pleasant with children.

How Much Will It Cost?

It really depends on what style you do it in: independently, with a tour or just hiring guides and porters.  An independent tour will cost $2000 USD/person + international airfare.

We hired our guide and porters in country and the total cost for our family of 5 was $3,600 CAD, with half of that cost being our flights to Lukla.  See my detailed Everest trekking post for a breakdown of our costs.

We paid $20 USD/day for our guide and $18 USD/day for each porter (we had three between the 10 of us), plus generous tips at the end.  For our family that was less than $500 CAD for guides and porters.

How Much Time Do I Need?

For most of us, a trip to Nepal involves long haul flights.  I would recommend spending a minimum of 2 weeks in Nepal, 3 weeks is ideal and 4 was perfect for us.

The shorter treks like Poon Hill can be completed in a week (with travel time), but the treks in the Everest and Annapurna regions require 10-21 days.  Build in a buffer to your schedule to accommodate for flight cancellations, weather delays and illness.  If flying to Lukla, be aware that flights are often cancelled and delayed.  You do not want to make your trip more stressful by forcing yourself into a strict schedule.

There is a lot more to see and do in Nepal than just trekking.  We spent time in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan National Park and went on a sweet rafting trip.

Popular Nepal Treks

I will have a more detailed post coming on the most popular Nepal trekking routes with kids, but here is a summary of the most common choices.  These are the treks that we considered when planning our trip to Nepal.

Ghorepani Poon Hill – located in the Annapurna range, this is the most common trek families choose.  It takes about 5 days and will take you to 3,200 m.  We have friends who have taken young children on this trek, so it is a great entry hike in Nepal.  You will need to fly or take an 8-hour bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara.  It offers the traditional tea house trekking experience with great views of the Annapurnas.  For those thinking of trekking with a baby, read more here about Ghorepani Poon Hill trek with a baby.

Everest Base Camp – the most well-known trek in Nepal, you will need 14-18 days to go all the way and back.  We spent 10 days on the trail, going 2/3s the way up.  Due to the higher altitude, I would recommend EBC for children over 8.  You have to fly to Lukla to access the hike.  If you want to see the world’s tallest mountain and you don’t mind sharing the trail with others, this is a very epic hike with kids.  It is a very well established trail with tea houses.

Annapurna Circuit – this trek is a circuit around the Annapurna peaks and takes a minimum of 15-20 days to cover the 160-230 km circuit.  Over the last decade, a road has now been built along parts of the circuit, which some believe to have taken away from the experience.  However, trails have been developed to avoid the road, which has made life easier for people in the region.  The Annapurna Circuit requires passing through the 5,400 m Thorong La pass, making it better suited for older children.  It is possible to do sections of the circuit, to avoid the high passes.

Annapurna Base Camp – this trek gives you the closest views of the Annapurna peaks and is accessed from Pokhara.  It takes about 10 days to complete, as you reach 4,300 m.  It combines epic views with rich cultural interactions.

Mohare Danda – another trek accessed from Pokhara, Mohare Danda is different because instead of being a tea house trek, it is an eco community lodge hike.  It can be done in 4-14 days and allows for a deep cultural experience and more authentic contact with local people.  This is a great trek for families that really want to get away from the traditional trails and see how Nepalese people live.

What Gear Do I Need?

We didn’t have fancy shoes for hiking.

Read my full post on what to pack for trekking in Nepal, with or without kids.

The important thing to remember is that you can purchase almost anything you need in Kathmandu.  Many families that trek in Nepal are on extended trips and not able to bring gear from home.  The tourist area of Thamel features hundreds of North Fake shops where you can outfit your whole family at a very reasonable price.

However, there are some things I would recommend bringing from home: good mid-weight layers, good socks and hiking shoes or boots.  It definitely gets cold at altitude and the weather can change quickly.  Since you or your porter will be carrying your stuff, it is important to pack smartly.  We had one hiking outfit and one evening outfit and wore those every single day.

Here are some essential items:

  • hiking poles – only the adults had them, although the kids borrowed them.  Any will do, but Leki are considered the best.
  • Merino layers – we are big fans of Icebreaker merino layers.  We wore them every day and they didn’t smell!
  • Fleece – good mid-weight layer.
  • Buff – you need one of these! Can be a hat, neck warmer, and keeps the sun off your neck.  We each bought Everest map ones in Kathmandu as a great souvenir.
  • Hiking Shoes – you don’t need expensive boots to hike in Nepal.  The adults hiked in waterproof, solid sole hiking shoes.  The kids wore regular runners.
  • The best jacket ever – we wear this mid-weight layer year round and it is easily our favourite piece of clothing.
  • Rain jacket – these lightweight performance rain jackets keep us dry, while still being light and easy to pack.
  • Gloves – cheap fleece ones will do, only used these occasionally.
  • Good socks – we swear by Icebreaker merino socks; worth their weight in gold.
  • hydration bladders – we only had one, but would like to invest in one for each of us eventually.
  • Nalgene bottles
  • Grayl filter bottle
  • Slippers/flip flops for the evenings
  • Head lamp – don’t get a cheap one, invest in a good one.
  • sun hat
  • sleeping bag and/or liner – we rented our sleeping bags – at home we use MEC sleeping bags
  • down jacket – only the kids had these
  • daypack with hydration system – this is the new pack I bought for the trek, but in the 28L size.  Loved it!
  • larger hiking pack for adults or porters – we bought North Fake copies of this one in Kathmandu

How to Keep Kids Motivated and Engaged

Treat stop

The short answer to this is treats, friends, disguised educational chats and a competitive spirit.

We got asked numerous times on the trek, how we convinced our kids to do this trek.  We didn’t; we simply told them we were doing it.  Our kids were moderately interested in the trek before we left, but if I am being honest, it was our dream, not theirs.

We are not above bribing our kids with treats when we hike.  We always have a stash of gummies, biscuits and chocolate to dole out as we walk.  We brought these treats from home and also stocked up in Kathmandu.  As you can imagine, luxury items like this get more and more expensive the higher you go.  Occasionally we would come across a bakery to buy a treat as well.

Our kids do much better hiking when they have other kids to hike with.  When planning this trip, we knew it would be easier to get buy in, if we did it with friends.  We were two families with six kids and that went a long way to keeping the kids happy and walking.  They chatted about anything and everything, which helped the time and kilometers pass.

Another trick that we use when hiking to keep the kids distracted is to get into long educational discussions.  This often starts with the kids asking a question and we go deep into it.  For example, Ella learned all about Mueller investigation and the various political and economic systems on one day.  Who says a classroom needs four walls!

Lastly, the kids loved being out in front and away from the adults.  They liked finding the shortcuts on the way down and staying way ahead of the adults.

Do It!

I hope I have been able to answer some of the questions and address the concerns you might have about trekking with kids in Nepal.  It is a beautiful country to explore with kids and with careful planning and preparation, it is completely doable to trek with kids.

Don’t forget to read our other posts on Nepal including:

Do you have any other questions about trekking in Nepal.  Let me know in the comments below or send me an email and I will be happy to answer them.  

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