The Druk Path Trek in Bhutan

Thanks to its huge range of beautiful scenery and relatively compact distance – around 54km – the Druk Path trek between Paro and the capital Thimphu is perhaps Bhutan’s most popular walking route. Popular, though, should not be confused with busy. Unlike in Nepal, trekking in Bhutan is relatively new, so you won’t be joining a conga line of fellow walkers when you’re on it. Aside from the odd yak herder, the Druk Path is wonderfully peaceful.
The route follows a large horseshoe ridge, winding through blue pine forests and dwarf rhododendrons, up to rocky landscapes, passes and high altitude lakes where super sized trout swim. Its highest point, at 4,235m, is the Labana Pass and on a clear day Gangar Punsum, the highest peak in the country, and much of the Bhutan Himalayas are visible from here, with the Thimphu Valley stretching away below. There’s a chance to see rural Bhutanese life as you pass quiet villages and admire cultural sites along the way, including Phadjoding Monastery, where there are several temples and a monastic school.

The trek takes anything from four to six days, depending on your fitness. This means that rather than being the sole focus of a holiday to Bhutan, it's something you can slot into a longer stay, perhaps adding in a few festivals, too, with time to explore the ancient sites and museums of Thimphu and Paro. You'll need a good level of fitness to tackle the odd steep ascent, but any uphill effort is rewarded by sweeping Himalayan views and a taste of rural Bhutan that only trekkers experience. After all, you can drive this route in about an hour, but frankly, you'd be missing out on the natural beauty and limitless fresh air that the Druk Path offers in abundance.

What does the trek entail?

Druk path practicalities

There’s no accommodation along the trek route, so both tailor made and small group treks rely on wild camping. ‘Campsites’ are typically pretty clearings, overlooking monasteries or by a lake. Spend the night alongside Lake Janetsho, a nomad grazing area where you may also see herds of yaks drinking and cooling off in the clear water.

Treks are fully catered, and as the Bhutanese don’t work as porters, all the food and kit is carried by donkeys or, at higher altitudes, yaks. There’s typically a small team of local staff running the trek, comprising a guide, a cook and one or two other assistants. They’re well practised at rustling up hearty meals while out on the trail, so you won’t go hungry. Often, dining tents, toilet tents, chairs and tables are included, too, so any down time in the camp is relaxed and comfortable.

How fit should I be?

The actual trekking on the Druk Path is considered moderate. The Druk Path was used by pack animals for generations, but as it’s rarely used now, some parts are neglected and there are also some narrow and rocky sections. There’s no need for technical equipment or specialist skills, but walking poles are helpful, especially as the trails can be slippery after rain. The distances between camping locations are not too long, either. A six day trek, for instance, tackles sections of no more than 11km a day.

If you’re a fairly seasoned trekker and can handle hiking longer distances each day, it’s worth considering a shorter trek of four or five days. This extends daily trekking times, and so avoids too much time sitting around in camp sites which, if you’re travelling in the trekking shoulder seasons when the weather can be chilly, is sensible.

Although distances are not taxing, there are some challenging, steep ascents – the first day of walking involves a climb of more than 1,000m elevation. You will be reaching altitudes of over 4,000m, too, and while you don’t linger at this elevation, the altitude can feel taxing. Treks are deliberately kept to a safe pace, so your body has time to adjust gradually, and local staff usually carry a first aid kit and oxygen.

Some organised Bhutan holidays include a trek up to the famous Taktsang Monastery, or Tiger’s Nest, before setting off on the Druk Path. The monastery is perched on the ledge of a cliff high above the Paro Valley. This is a great way to acclimatise. Paro itself is at about 2,100m and the Tiger’s Nest is 3,200m above the valley, making it a perfect warm up hike, which helps your body adjust to hiking altitudes and conditions.
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Best time to trek the Druk Path

Holidays that include trekking the Druk Path run all year, but the best time to tackle it is March to May, with temperatures climbing after winter and rainfall easing off. This is also the quieter period in terms of visitor numbers and is markedly less busy than September, October and early November, which are popular months in Bhutan. With trekking still in its infancy here, you won’t meet lots of other people on the trails, but key attractions such as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery are busy in the autumn.

The monsoon hits Bhutan in June, July and August, which means heavy rainfall most days. Paths become incredibly slippery and muddy, and leeches appear in huge quantities, making trekking unpleasant. It’s possible to trek in winter, but snow can block paths or hinder progress and temperatures can tumble to -10°C at night.

Trekking & more

Making the most of your trip

If you’ve travelled all the way to Bhutan, and braved the white knuckle landing at Paro Airport – involving banking through a chicane of mountain ridges at only 500m before levelling off for landing just metres above the ground – then it’s worth staying a while. Some organised holidays focus solely on trekking the Druk Path – great if you only have eight days or so to spare – but most combine other activities and sights. Spend time exploring Paro, home to the National Museum and the beautiful Paro Dzong. Hike up to Takstang, the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Enjoy shopping in the markets of Thimphu and take a day trip out from here to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan.

You might also be able to catch one of Bhutan’s riotously colourful festivals. They are known as tshechus which means ‘tenth day’ and all monasteries, temples and dzongs hold one tshechu every calendar year, on the tenth of the month. Each temple focuses on a different month, so whenever you visit Bhutan there is probably a festival going on. Both Paro and Thimphu have fantastic festivals, and many trekking itineraries are timed so you can hike the Druk Path and experience them, too.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Faris Mohammed] [Top box: Richard Mortel] [What does the trek entail?: Ron Knight] [Best time to trek: Christopher J. Fynn] [Trekking & more: Arian Zwegers]