Kyrgyzstan may well be one of the best off-the-radar travel destinations in the world. Gorgeous landscapes dot the countryside, criss-crossed by epic hiking trails. While many adventurers opt for longer treks through the Tian Shan mountains, you can easily and independently access some amazing hiking in Ala Archa National Park.
Getting to Ala Archa from Bishkek
Ala Archa National Park is just a short one hour drive from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. The easiest way to access the park is via a private driver. I linked up with a fellow hiker and we paid 2500 Som ($36) for a round trip pickup and drop off, including the 80 Som entrance fee. If you are on a budget, it is also possible to take a marshrutka (shared taxi), but you may have to wait quite awhile for it to fill up. Ask your driver to drop you at the uppermost entrance within the park, so that you don’t have to hike up along the road from the lower entry station.
The hike can be done either as a day trip, or in the summer you can bring your own camping gear and spend the night. We passed several hikers planning to camp out at the hill station at the top of the main hiking trail. If you do this, be sure you are prepared for inclement weather. The station sits at about 3400 m in elevation and even on a hot day at the base it can see severely cold weather and snow at the top.
Hiking in Ala Archa
The main hiking trails starts near the Ala Archa Hotel. They have a small restaurant if you need to grab a bit before the hike. You can also stay there overnight (they even have a couple yurts out front that appear to be for rent).
There are two trails from the entrance:
First, a shorter and easier trail turns to the right. We saw several school groups of small children taking the trail. We did not take this route, but you can find a report on it here.
Second, for the more challenging hike, stay to the left when the trail forks 100 meters from the entrance.
This hike takes around 8-9 hours round-trip and involves around 1,100 meters in elevation gain. The path is well marked — although we somehow still managed to lose the trail for an hour!
The route begins with a quick ascent to a ridge, where you follow a trail above a river for a couple kilometers. After about 4 kilometers you will reach a small waterfall. Pop over to the stream for a relaxing break if you like before continuing to ascent towards the hill station (or returning to the entrance if you prefer).
Past the waterfall, the remainder of the hike involves some steep ascents. In May, parts of the trail were washed out, muddy, slippery, or covered in snow. Not a problem at all if you have the proper gear, but do be aware that this part can be challenging for the casual hiker. Also, as always, stay aware of the avalanche and rock slide risk – we hear more than a few rocks dropping from the neighboring peaks!
The hike concludes at a hill station at around 3400 meters. We didn’t make it quite this far, as the last 100 meters was blocked by heavy snow. But other trekkers with better gear and trekking poles pushed through (with plans to stay the night).
Otherwise, it’s an out-and-back to the entrance, where you should have arranged for your driver to meet you. After a 45 minute drive, you’ll be back to Bishkek in time to grab some samsas for dinner.
You don’t have to spend weeks in Kyrgyzstan to experience the country’s beautiful landscapes. Ala Archa National Park sits just an hour away from Bishkek and offers one of the best day hikes I have ever done.