Hiking in Mongolia

Hiking In Mongolia – The Ultimate Guide

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Hiking in Mongolia
Yurts, camping in Mongolia

Hiking In Mongolia – The Ultimate Guide

Hiking in Mongolia is an adventure for seekers looking to have an authentic experience. A civilization once ruled by the great founder of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan (Ching-gis Khan). WWB writer, Yusuf (also my brother!), has created an ultimate guide on hiking in Mongolia just for you!

Mongolia’s rich history will slowly begin to unfold and manifest as you immerse yourself in its people, land, and culture.

As it is still mostly unexplored and highly underrated, little is known about Mongolian tradition and customs. From the rugged mountain ranges of the Altai to the vast Steppes and harsh weather conditions in the Gobi Desert, it tells a story of what life used to be for the mighty civilization of the ancients.

Other Hiking Related Posts:

Hiking in Mongolia -Why?

Hiking in Mongolia is an amazing way to experience the country. The opportunity to meet with the locals and understand their rich culture gives an experience unique to itself. 

Mongolians have been herding livestock and living a nomadic way of life for thousands of years, with village settlers mostly scattered throughout the plains. 

Locals will admire you for your courage and love for the outdoors. Most often, passing by local nomads and herder villages could land you an invitation into their ‘Ger’(Yurt) presenting you with an offering of cheese, milk, and yogurt.

If you’re looking to have a Mongolia adventure, there is a strong culture of shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism in the Gobi Desert adding to its mysterious wonders. 

Every year, for the Annual Nadaam Celebration on the 11th of July, the whole country erupts into a sports celebration from archery, wrestling to long-range horse racing. 

How to get there

Hiking in Mongolia
Hiking in Mongolia

Mongolia shares its border with Russia and China and not with Khazakstan. Crossing from Khazakstan to Mongolia via bus or train requires you to pass through either Russia or China. 

Not all borders are open to international travelers and close for 5 days during the Nadaam Celebration.

Planning your visa ahead of time is a crucial step, before entering the country. No matter which transport you take, Mongolia carries out strict visa policies and is inclined to reject if required documentation isn’t provided. This includes a transit visa as well. 

This link will provide General Information for Visa, procedure, and documentation needed for your visa application.

Train

Entering via Russia

–  Russian train

1st  Class (Spalny Vagon) – Consists of 2 lower berths on the same level. Offers nothing fancy except privacy. 

Price: USD 630 (one way per person)

2nd  Class (Kupe) -Contains two sets of bunk-bed, an upper and lower berth with a lockable door and a small common table.

Price: USD 380 (one way per person)

3rd  Class (Platzkartny) – Two-bed compartments with two sets of bunk bed style benches facing each other and a window.

–  Safety

Traveling the Trans-Siberian trains are perfectly safe for families and solo female travelers. After all, it’s the way Russian families and women travel.

–  Booking Tickets

You won’t be able to book a direct train ticket to Mongolia on the designated Russian railways’ website “rzd.ru” as they don’t provide e-ticket bookings on international routes with no CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries.

Consider purchasing your train tickets either at the ticket office in Moscow or here.

–  Time & distance

Covering a distance of 6266km on the Trans – Siberian rail route and a duration of 4 days from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar using the Trans-Mongolian train.

–   Train information

Trains 005 &006 depart Yaroslavsky Train Station in Moscow bound for Ulaanbaatar. 

Generally operating 1 – 2 times per week and have 1st and 2nd class compartments with a restaurant car.

–  Price (one way per person)

1st class  – USD 630 

2nd class – USD 380 

Entering via China

–  Chinese train

1st  Class (Deluxe soft sleeper) – An upper and lower berth with an armchair on one corner, a small table, and access to an ensuite washroom with showerhead shared with the adjacent compartment. 

Price: USD 370 (one way per person)

1st  Class (Soft sleeper) – Consists of 4 berths. Two sets of bunk-bed, an upper and lower berth. Are virtually identical to 3rd class just slightly larger

Price: USD 240 (one way per person)

3rd  Class (Hard sleeper) – Consists of 4 berths. Two-bed compartments with two sets of bunk bed style benches facing each other and a window.

–  Booking tickets

Tickets can be purchased 30 days before departure at designated ticket offices or an agency.

–  Time & distance

Covers a distance of 1500km and a duration of 30 hours.

–  Train Information

Trains K003 & K023 depart from Beijing Zhan Railway Station in Beijing bound for Ulaanbaatar.

Operates on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

–  Price (one way per person)

1st class – USD 370

2nd class – USD 240

Bus 

Depending on where you depart from and which company you book with, your options may vary between catching a direct bus to Ulaanbaatar or a stop off at the border and switch to train transport.

Entering via Russia

–  Coach stations

Buses depart from Stary Avtovokzal (Old Bus Station) in Ulan-Ude.

Time and distance

Ulan-Ude to Ulaanbaatar is approximately 657 km with a duration of 11 hours.

Tickets and prices

Tickets can be purchased at the Avtovokzal bus station. Currently, two companies run buses between Ulan Ude – Ulaanbaatar, namely Legend Tour and Baikal Tour.

Ulan-Ude – Ulaanbaatar  : USD 22

Entering via China

–  Coach stations

Tickets can be purchased on the day of departure from Yongdingmen and Xinfadi Coach station. 

–  Time and distance

Beijing to Erlian/Erenhot is approximately 700km with a duration of 9-10 hours.

Departing from Erenhot International Bus Station to Ulaanbaatar is approximately 620km and 12 hours including a 2-hour delay required at the border.

–  Tickets and price

Beijing – Erlian/Erenhot : USD 25

Tickets can be purchased at Beijing Xinfadi Bus station or Yongdingmen Bus Station.

Erlian/Erenhot – Ulaanbaatar: USD 26

Tickets can be purchased at Erenhot International Bus Station

Flight

Mongolia has one international airport with almost all incoming flights landing in Chinggis Khaan International Airport, located 18 km from the city center.

Many flights will most likely stopover and transit a connecting flight through China, Khazakstan, Russia, Korea, or Turkey. Prices will vary significantly when traveling during peak season or offseason  

For best deals, consider checking out  Skyscanner, Expedia, Yatra, Kayak (Deals and discounts during winter)

There are 3 ways to get from the airport to the city center:

Public bus

  • Bus line number:  4:7    
  • Price: USD 0.20   
  • Time: 40 mins

Taxi

Price: USD 10

Time: 20 mins

Private transfer

Price: USD 15

Time: 20 mins

Best hikes in Mongolia

The Altai Mountains (Also spelled Altay)

Mongolia mountains
Altai, Mongolia mountains

Photo taken by Luis Villasmil from Unsplash

The Mongolia mountains are spread across several countries: Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan with the highest mountain range on the Western Mongolia side close to Olgii, Bayaan-Aimag Olgii. 

You will need to be physically fit for this hike as the long-rugged terrain and harsh weather combined can leave you in exhaustion. That being said, you will never fall short of hiking routes with great fishing and beautiful landscapes.

Depending on your route and speed, most hikers would usually set out on a 5 – 8-day hike stopping at key destinations along the way. I wouldn’t recommend doing a solo trip unless you are very well experienced and properly geared up.

How to get there

Depending on your transport vehicle, it’s a 30 to 60-hour journey from Ulaanbaatar on unpaved roads.

Taking a flight would land you in a town called Olgii located in the capital of Bayaan Olgii Province. Costs approximately USD 150.

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

The central park is 180km from Olgii and takes around 5 to 7 hours on a rough dirt road. Due to the lack of transport, you would need to arrange your own vehicle to the park entrance.

The Sacred Mountains of Tavan Bogd (5 saints) is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Guides, Park and border Permits

You aren’t supposed to enter the park without a guide and to hire a local guide would cost approximately USD 40/day, but some have done it independently using a GPS Tracker (Spot Messenger) costing around USD 200, which is possible to arrange but I will leave that option to you.

Park permits can be obtained from one of the park ranger stations on your way to the park or visitor information centers close to the central square in Olgii, which cost USD 1 / person.  You would need to have a copy of your passports as well as your route and duration of your journey

Border permits are a must and are available at the border patrol office in Olgii. Cost USD 1 / group.

Hiking Destination

Whether you choose to do a day or multi-day hike is solely up to you. Trekking in Mongolia is a popular activity for most hikers looking to divide their hiking routes into several day treks. This enables you to enjoy the scenery and landscapes without having to rush through.

Places to visit and explore: 

1. Khoton Lake

2. Dayan Lake

3. Takhiltyn Havtsal 

4. Ag Su River

5. Takalbai Pass

6. Shiveet Khairkhan Mountain – UNESCO World Heritage Site

7. Potanin Glacier Base Camp

8. Malchin Peak

9. White River Valley (Tsagaan Gol) – Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site

10. Khuiten Uul – The highest peak in Mongolia

11. Otgon Tenger Ull 

12. Kharkhiraa Ull and Turgen Ull

The Khangai Mountains 

Trekking in Mongolia
Trekking in Mongolia

Photo taken by Bolatbek Gabide from Unsplash

(Pronounced ‘Hangai’) Is an old mountain range located in Central Mongolia approximately 400km from Ulaanbaatar.

Two provinces named after the Khangai mountains namely Arkhangai (Northern Khangai) and Ovorkhangai (Southern Khangai). The area where the two provinces meet (Eastern Khangai) is known as the cradle of Mongolian and nomadic regions.

Hiking this region requires a moderate to an intermediary level of fitness depending on whether you’re going for a day or a multi-day hike. Most hikers do it in 5 – 8 days.

How to get there

 –  Bus station

Purchase your ticket at the Dragon Bus Terminal in Ulaanbaatar

–  Destination

Tsetserleg, located north of the Khangai Mountains 

(A great place to start hikes into the Khangai Mountains).

–  Alternative destinations

Kharkhorin (North East of Khangai Mountains) close to the Orkhon Valley

Arvaigkheer (South East of Khangai Mountains)

Time and duration

Bus leaves at 8 am and take approximately 7-8 hours from Ulaanbaatar to Tsetserleg

Price

USD 10 (one way per person)

Khangai Nuruu National Park

Not to be confused with Khaisan Nuruu National Park, it stretches in a west to the east band across the middle of the Khangai mountains with the eastern half following the upper Orkhon Valley.

Places to visit and explore:

1. 8 Lakes (Khuisiin Naiman Nurr)

2. Tuvkhun Khiid Hermitage – Spectacular monastery

Khorgo-Terkiin Tsagaan Nurr National Park

Located in the Arkhangai Province (Arkhangai Aimag Area). It covers the north-central Khangai mountains, situated in the valley of the Chuluut River and Suman River in the Tarvatagai Range of the Khangai mountains.

Places to visit and explore:

1. Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake) – Ideal place for camping and contains rare species of birds

2. Khorgo Uul – extinct volcano east of the lake

3. The Tamir River

4. Tsenkher Hot springs – 30km south of Tsetserleg

5. Tsatsiin Ereg – Archeological site treasuring house tombs, ancient monuments, and cave paintings.

Tarvagatai mountains

Places to visit and explore:

1. Otgontenger Uul (Tallest peak in khangai mountains) 

Easy for hiking and a popular spot for camping

Suvraga Khairkhan Mountain

Bogd Khaan Mountain

Best Mongolia Adventures

Mongolia adventure
Mongolia adventure

Aside from mountain hikes, you can have an adventure exploring Mongolia’s nature, historical places, and landscapes.

Listed below are places of interest:

Orkhon valley Natural and historical Reserve (A UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Places to visit and explore:

1. Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall

2. Karakorum – Ruins of the Mongol capital

3. Orkhon Waterfall 

4. Tuvkhun Khiid Hermitage – Spectacular monastery

5. Kharbalgas – Ruins of Ordu-Baliq, an 8th century capital of the Uyghur Empire

6. Kharkhorin – Monastery of Erdene Zuu (UNESCO World heritage site) First Buddhist monastery established in Mongolia.

The Gobi or Govi Desert

Hiking in Mongolia
Gobi Desert, hiking in Mongolia

Photo taken by Victor He from Unsplash

A vast region covering Southern Mongolia to Northern China. It’s the largest desert in Asia and 5th largest in the world. 

Places to visit and explore:

1. Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park

2. Khongoryn Els Sand dunes (Singing sands)

3. Flaming Cliffs

4. White Stupa

5. Yolyn Am (Eagle Valley) 

6. Bayanzag

Lake Khuvsgul

(Pronounced ‘Hovsgol’) is also known as Mother Ocean. It’s the largest lake in Mongolia and holds 2% of the world’s freshwater. It’s the main tourist attraction, located in the north near the Russian border. 

It isn’t easy to get there without a flight but you can take a 15-hour bus ride to Moron from Ulaanbaatar, and another 3-hour ride to the southern lakeside town of Khatgal.

Perfect for horse riding, hiking, trekking, canoeing, and fishing.

Terelj National Park

Close to the capital of Ulaanbaatar with a distance of about 37 km. It’s a popular holiday spot for locals and contains premier hiking and trekking routes as well as camping destinations. 

Choosing to travel with a tour agency is a great way to experience what the country has to offer. Different tour packages will save you time and energy spent on planning your route and amenities along the way. Keeping in mind it’s also a pricier option, not for those on a budget.

Mongolia Hiking tours are best to look at when you are in Ulaanbaatar as it can be significantly cheaper. Booking abroad is always more expensive. 

Steppe

Steppes are vast regions of flat grasslands spread about the entire country. It’s useful to know Mongolia’s 6 Steppes as you can do some research and make an adventure out of these areas. Each has its similarities and differences:

1. Altai Mountain Forest Steppe

2. Selenge – Orkhon Forest Steppe

3. Daurian Forest Steppe

4. Eastern Gobi Desert Steppe

5. Gobi Lakes Valley Desert Steppe

6. Great Lakes Basin Desert Steppe

Where to stay when hiking in Mongolia

Camping in Mongolia
Camping in Mongolia

Ger (Yurt)

Plotted along your route, you are bound to pass by many Traditional Gers which you can arrange independently or through a tour operator. A bed in a ger would cost around USD 8/night.

If you’re lucky enough, locals may even offer you to stay with them.

Camping

There aren’t any specified campsites. Pitching a tent anywhere in the wild can easily be an option.

Useful tips to hike in Mongolia

–  Taking advice from locals will be your best bet on getting yourself around the country efficiently, effectively, and possibly safely.

–  While hiking or solo trekking, expect some locals to curiously wander into your camp. Sometimes they may bring you offerings of cheese, yogurt, milk, or firewood. Try to bring something of a gift offering to give in return as well.

–  The unpredictable weather can make you feel four seasons in one day. Morning and evening are cold as winter and the afternoon is hot and sunny like summer. 

–  During winter, the freezing temperature can reach -40C and in summers, the temperature can reach 40C.

–  Be extra prepared for the type of journey and expedition you plan on going. As you can be in the remotest of places, last-minute preparation may be too late or nearly impossible,

–  Plan ahead and do your research before embarking on a route or journey. 

Things to watch out for hiking in Mongolia

–  Plan your hiking route with the help of local experts. As there are no marked trails, there are many country borders that you don’t want to accidentally cross over illegally.

–  Rains any time of the year, expect a lot of flies in June and July.

–  Be aware of visiting in winter as temperatures can reach a freezing -40C from November to February.

–  Water from the river may be spoiled from the nearby livestock. You might want to avoid drinking if you feel the water isn’t very clean

–  Consider the possibility of altitude sickness and cold weather disposition when hiking mountains with high altitudes.

–  Any severe accident requires a long journey to the nearest hospital. With this in mind, be extra careful when hiking treacherous routes.

Things to bring for hiking in Mongolia (Equipment)

Must have: Topographical Map, GPS, compass, sun cream, mosquito spray, hiking boots (water-resistant), raincoat, water filter.

Additional: Tent, sleeping bag (four seasons), stove, fishing rod, dehydrated/frozen meals, multi-tool knife, headlamp, medication kit.

Alternative activities in Mongolia

Hunting in Mongolia

Strict regulations are placed for hunting in Mongolia. Foreigners hunting in Mongolia will need to be issued a hunting permit from the Mongolian Ministry of Nature and Environment. 

Hunting season for specific wildlife is between June 1 – November 15. Requesting for a license sometimes needs to be made 2-3 years in advance. 

Camping in Mongolia

Camping in Mongolia shouldn’t be a problem. Campsites are available depending on where you go, but you can quite literally pitch a tent wherever you feel comfortable as the whole country is one huge campsite.

Plenty of tourist camps in White Lake, 8 lakes, Terelj National Park, Altai Tavan Bogd National park, Otgentenger Uul Area, the Gobi Desert, and many more provide you with the luxuries of shower and flushing toilets.

Horse Trekking Mongolia

Horse trekking Mongolia
Horse trekking Mongolia

Horses are a big part of the Mongolian tradition and culture, hiring or buying a horse to trek should give you plenty of options to choose from. Just make sure you choose the right one for a reasonable price.

You can join a solo trekking program, consisting of spending each week learning about horses, horse riding, and Mongolian customs. You can buy your own horse for around USD 300. (One for riding and one for bags and gear).

It’s worth noting that Mongolian saddles are hard with little padding and Russian saddles are softer with slightly more padding. Knowing which saddles will suit your comfort will save you the butt ache on long rides. 

8 Lakes Mongolia

Also known as Khuisyn Naiman Nurr, located in the Khangai mountains of Ovorkhangai (Southern Khangai) province. Formed from volcanic eruptions from the past centuries, it consists of 8 lakes named Shireet, Khaliut, Bugat, Khaya, Khuis, Onon, Doroo, Bayan-Uul. 

The route is only accessible to hikers and riders, enabling you to enjoy nature without the disturbance of noisy vehicles. Hiking this area requires a moderate level of fitness and is an excellent spot for camping.

See The khangai mountains for the best hiking routes and destinations

Conclusion

Whether you’re a veteran explorer or a novice backpacker, hiking in Mongolia can be for anyone and everyone looking to have an adventure.

Considering the vastness of the region, you will be left spoilt for choices with places to experience and visit in Mongolia. 

With most places being off the beaten path, Mongolia will encapsulate you with a picturesque image of a nomadic lifestyle and wild landscape leaving you with a story, to be told for generations to come.

Hiking in Mongolia – The Ultimate Guide

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