The Gokyo Lakes Trek itinerary: The ultimate guide
The Gokyo Lakes trek in Nepal is a wonderful trek that brings you to a chain of six turquoise, glacial-fed lakes in the Everest region. At around 5000 meters it is the highest freshwater lake system in the world.
Despite the spectacular views of the deep blue lakes surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, the Gokyo Lakes trek attracts less people than the more famous Everest Base Camp trek.
Up till Namche bazaar the Gokyo Lakes trek follows the same itinerary following the Dudh Kosi river and the Khumbu valley. Before Tengboche the path branches off climbing over the Monjola pass entering the high altitude Gokyo valley.
Why choose the Gokyo Lakes Trek
The Gokyo Lakes trek is a great alternative to escape the crowds on the Everest Base Camp trek. For many tourists the idea of making it to Everest Base camp is something romantic. As a result, you will find hundreds of people on the trail in the high season.
But the Gokyo Lakes trek is not only a more quiet option if you want to escape the crowds. It also offers superb scenery. The sight of the turquoise lakes is mesmerizing and from the top of Gokyo Ri you can see 4 peaks above 8000 meters. First of all Everest, but also Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu.
On top of that you can also see the Ngozumpa glacier. This grey wasteland of rocky debris and ice is one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayas. Due to climate change it is shrinking, causing a lake that could flood Sherpa villages down the mountain if it spills over. Like the other glacial hikes I did, visiting the Chalaadi glacier and Shkhara glacier in Georgia, you can see the sad outcomes of climate change in action.
The Gokyo Lakes trek is not that difficult. The trails are easy to follow and do not include steep climbs. I am afraid of heights and the only scary part was a high hanging bridge on the way from Lukla to Namche bazaar.
The biggest challenge on the Gokyo Lakes trek is the altitude. After Namche bazaar you will reach altitudes around 4000 meters with Gokyo village at 4750 meters high. The advice is not to ascend more than 300 meters a day. This means the hiking days after Namche bazaar are relatively short, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
The Gokyo Lakes Trek itinerary
Day 1: Lukla to Phakding (2700 meters)
9 kilometers, 4 hours, – 100 meters
For most people this is the first day on the Gokyo Lakes trek if you decide to fly into Lukla. I decided to start my hiking adventure into the Everest region by doing the Jiri to Lukla trek. Few people still do this trek, but it’s a great way to see the hills and rural life of Nepal.
From Lukla onwards the trail became very busy compared with the days before. More trekkers, more villages, more restaurants and more lodges to choose from.
It was also clear that I was now in the Khumbu region where the Sherpa people live. The Sherpa follow Tibetan Buddhism and almost every village I passed by had prayer wheels, mani stones with tibetan inscriptions and white washed religious buildings.
All day I followed the Dudh Kosi river and decided to break up the journey to Namche bazaar in Phakding. A small village next to the river
Day 2: Phakding to Namche (3440 meters)
8 kilometers, 5 hours, +740 meters
On the second day I continued the hike along the Dudh Kosi river and through pine forests. The trail was busy with trekkers and caravans of donkeys and yaks on their way to Namche bazaar.
I had to cross several suspension bridges over the river. Some at a dizzying height. Soon I reached Jorsale, the last village before the long climb up to Namche bazaar.
Day 3: Namche bazaar
To give your body time to adjust to the altitude it is important to spend a day in Namche bazaar for acclimatization. In fact, if you fly into Lukla the advice is to spend at least three nights in or around Namche bazaar. It is one of the largest towns in the Khumbu region and there are plenty of things to see and do.
You can visit the nearby Sherpa villages of Khumjung, Kunde or Thame on a day hike or just relax at the town itself. After days on the Jiri to Lukla trek it was time for some laundry and indulging in delicious pastries at the Herman Helmers bakery.
Day 4: Namche to Kenjoma (3600 meters)
2 kilometers, 1.5 hours, +160 meters
Some people recommend even three days of acclimatization at Namche bazaar. I decided to stay only two nights in Namche, but hiking only a little bit further on the next day.
Kenjoma is only 2 kilometers from Namche, but it has a nice guesthouse with beautiful views. It is also very close to the Sherpa village of Khumjung that I wanted to explore.
After I dropped my luggage at the lodge in Kenjoma I took a little day bag and hiked up to Khumjung where I had lunch. Khumjung is a small mountain village worth a visit. The local monastery claims to have the scalp of a yeti. You can see it for a small donation and judge yourself.
Day 5: Kenjoma to Mong La (3900 meters)
6 kilometers, 3 hours, +300 meters
So far, the trail is the same as the Everest Base Camp trek, but today the paths will differ. Rather than continuing to Tengboche, the path to Gokyo Lakes branches off with a steep and dusty climb to the Mong La pass at 3900 meters.
With my fear of heights there were a few scary parts. Still I enjoyed this day very much. At the start of the trail I encountered a few yak caravans, but later on the day it was very quiet. The views on the Mong La Pass were a great reward for the effort.
Mong La was one of the few places on the Gokyo Lakes trek where I could still see damage from the earthquake in 2015. There were only two lodges open, but they both had wonderful views.
Day 6: Mong to Dole (4090 meters)
5 kilometers, 2.5 hours, +190 meters
Today was another short day from Mong to Dole. The path was relatively straight and easy. The fresh morning air was cold and crisp and I passed by several frozen waterfalls that were slowly melting in the rising sun. Probably to freeze over again overnight.
Way before lunch I already arrived in Dole. I could have hiked much further, but felt a slight headache reminding me to stick to the advice of not going too high too fast.
Day 7: Dole to Machermo (4410 meters)
5 kilometers, 1.5 hours, +320 meters
Today I would ascend more than yesterday, but it’s a gentle climb and the hike was very easy. The views on the mountains are simply wonderful and you can see and feel the altitude.
The landscape is more empty and arid with wonderful views all around you. Machermo is a small village. Even with a clear blue sky and a strong sun it was too cold to sit outside for too long.
I spent the afternoon reading books near the stove of the lodge’s dining room and went to the local health clinic for the free daily information session about altitude sickness.
Day 8: Machermo to Gokyo (4750 meters)
7 kilometers, 3 hours, +340 meters
I didn’t think the scenery could become more spectacular and moonlike than yesterday, but it could. The climb up to the first Gokyo lake was steep and difficult and I felt the altitude that forced me to take frequent breaks.
Both the altitude as well as the views took my breath away. It felt like I was on a completely different planet. Then finally the first lake came into view. A deep blue turquoise lake surrounded by rocky snow capped mountain peaks.
The lake was half frozen and I was surprised to see that this desolate icy place was still home to colorful Brahminy ducks and playful marmots. The lakes are in fact an important stopover for migratory birds.
Day 9: Gokyo Ri (5357 meters)
Climbing Gokyo Ri is one of the highlights of the Gokyo Lakes Trek. Unfortunately the mild headache that started the evening before got much worse overnight. At breakfast I didn’t feel like eating anything and all I wanted to do was lay down in my bed again.
These were symptoms of altitude sickness that I could not ignore. With pain in my heart I knew that climbing up to the top of Gokyo Ri would be foolish. Although I planned two full days in Gokyo I decided to head back to lower altitudes.
Day 10: Gokyo – Dole
12 kilometers, 5 hours
From Gokyo you have the choice to walk the same way back or cross the Renjo La pass (5435 meters) and walk back through the Sherpa villages of Lungde and Thame.
Already beforehand I decided not to do the challenging Renjo La Pass and with my symptoms of altitude sickness that was a wise choice. If you are an experienced hiker and well acclimatized it is certainly worth considering though.
Another option is to cross the Cho La Pass and combine the Gokyo Lakes trek with the Everest Base Camp trek or Three passes trek.
I walked the same way back. By the time I reached Machermo my symptoms of altitude sickness were gone. After a nice lunch of daal baat I continued till Dole.
Day 11: Dole – Namche
12 kilometers, 4.5 hours
Today was a lucky day on the trail. Because walking down is easier you have more time to look around you. That is maybe why today I spotted the rare monal pheasant bird and the Himalayan Tahr mountain goat.
Although I was walking the same way back as I came I noticed different things and enjoyed the trail just as much. Back in Namche it was time to treat myself to the comforts that Namche bazaar offers.
Day 12: Namche – Phakding
8 kilometers, 5 hours
It is possible to walk from Namche back to Lukla in one long day, but I decided to break up the journey in Phakding to give me one more day in the mountains.
I got a warm welcome in the guesthouse where I also stayed on my way to Gokyo. The lady still remembered me and I spent the evening in the kitchen watching how she made dal baat adding a local herb jimbu.
Day 13: Phakding – Lukla
9 kilometers, 4 hours
The last day on my one month hiking adventure. Arriving in Lukla I realized I made it and that I hiked all the way from Jiri to Lukla and then to the Gokyo Lakes.
From Lukla I would fly back to Kathmandu. The reason I did not fly into Lukla as well was partly because a friend of mine convinced me that the Jiri to Lukla trek was worthwhile, but also because I was a bit nervous about the flight to Lukla. Lukla airport is one of the most dangerous airports.
In the end it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I arrived safe and well in Kathmandu. My friend was right though that the Jiri to Lukla trek is certainly worth your time and effort .
The Gokyo Lakes trek Travel tips
The Gokyo Lakes trek permits
For the Gokyo lakes trek you need several permits.
Khumbu entrance permit: This permit is necessary once you enter the Khumbu region. You can not get this permit beforehand in Kathmandu. You must buy it in Lukla or Monjo (in case you walk in from Jiri) and it costs 2000 npr
Sagarmatha National Park Entrance Permit; The actual National Park entrance permit costs 3400 npr. You can get it at the Tourism Board office at Bhrikuti Mandap in Kathmandu or at the checkpoint in Monjo.
Note: In theory, trekkers need to get a TIMS card for every trek they make in Nepal. A Tims Card costs 2000 npr and you need to get this at the Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu. On Everest they felt that most money stayed in Kathmandu. Therefore they installed their own permit (The Khumbu entrance permit). From 2018 they will no longer check your TIMS card in the Everest region. A controversial topic and therefore this situation might change. Check before getting or not getting your TIMS card.
Independent or Guide
The Gokyo Lakes trek is moderately difficult, but easy to do without a guide. There is one trail to follow and it is hard to get lost and you will meet plenty of other trekkers on the trail
If you are alone and not that experienced you might want to consider joining a guided trek or hiring a guide, porter or porter guide.
In Nepal there is a clear distinction between a porter and a guide. A guide shows you the way and can tell you more about the history and the culture of the places you visit. A porter will only carry your luggage. Despite their heavy burden they often walk far in front of you and might have reached the lodge when you are only midway. A porterguide is less common, but does both.
The Gokyo Lakes trek accommodation
The lodges on the Gokyo Lakes trek and the Everest Basecamp trek are some of the best in Nepal. They are less basic than on the Annapurna Circuit trek or than those on off the beaten path hikes like the Langtang trek. If you entered the Everest Region by doing the Jiri to Lukla trek, you will also notice a great improvement.
In Namche you can now book a small number of guesthouses online, but most are still working on a first come, first serve basis. That said, there are enough lodges to choose from and even in high season it is unlikely you will not find a place. In the worst case they will let you sleep on a mattress in the dining room.
The prices of accomodation are incredibly cheap, sometimes even free. However, they do expect you to order dinner and breakfast at their establishment.
The Gokyo Lakes trek food
The good thing about tea house treks in Nepal is that however basic lodges might be, the food is often quite good if you stick to Nepali cuisine. Yes, many lodges try all kinds of international dishes to attract tourists, but in my opinion often not the best choice.
When trekking in Nepal I eat Dahl bath at least once a day. This national dish of rice with lentils knows a huge variety in how it is prepared. Different vegetable curries from fermented spinach to roasted cauliflower and different pickles to spice it up. Not one dahl bath is the same.
Other Nepali foods to try are Tibetan bread, Thukpa and Momo’s.
When to go
The best time to go trekking in Nepal is spring and autumn. January and February will be cold and foggy. March, April and May are the warmer months before the monsoon. As the rainy season approaches it can become hot, dusty and humid, but the blooming flowers are very beautiful.
June, July and August are the monsoon months bringing lots of rain and leeches at the lower altitudes.
September, October and November are the most popular months for trekking. Autumn brings clear blue skies and mild temperatures before the cold sets in in December. Autumn is also a festive season with the celebration of Dashain and Tihar. Nepal’s biggest festivals.
In October you can also witness the Mani Rimdu festival in Tengboche. Tengboche is actually on the Everest Base Camp trek, but it will only add two days if you include it in your Gokyo Lakes Trek itinerary.
Mani Rimdu is the biggest festival in Nepal for the Sherpa people in the Everest Region. The 3 day festivities include beautiful masked dances and offer a unique insight into Sherpa culture.
The Gokyo lakes trek has a high chance of altitude sickness. The highest point is Gokyo at 4750 meters high. Experts advise to not ascend more than 300 – 400 meters per day once you are above 3000 meters high.
Because of the short distances on the Gokyo Lakes trek it is very easy to go much further than this advice recommends. If you do follow this rule it means that your hiking days after Namche will be short. Unfortunately, places like Mong, Dole and Machermo are very small. There is not much else to do than to enjoy the spectacular views
Yet, it is important to take your time. The key to prevent altitude sickness is to take it slow, give your body enough time to adjust to the height and to drink enough water. Diamox is a medicine that might help your body to acclimatize, but will not cure altitude sickness once you have severe symptoms. In that case, the only remedy is to go down to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
Mild symptoms may include being tired and more easily out of breath. More severe symptoms of high altitude sickness are headache, dizziness, trouble sleeping, breathing problems, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
Severe symptoms indicate you are developing high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Both conditions are fatal if you do not get to a lower altitude on time.
Take these symptoms seriously and watch out for symptoms in others, even in your nepali guides or porters. It is a misconception that they cannot get altitude sickness.
With the Gokyo Lakes trek itinerary in this post, it is unlikely you will suffer altitude sickness as you will have an acclimatization day in Namche and ascend slowly. Yet, I did suffer mild symptoms of altitude sickness at Gokyo that prevented me from climbing Gokyo Ri.
Books and guides
Cicerone and trailblazer both have excellent and comprehensive guides about treks in Nepal with detailed guides about the Everest region. Another option is the Lonely Planet’s trekking in the Nepal Himalayas guide.
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