How to time your trek in winter

How to time your trek in winter

Category Thursday Trek Talk Expert Opinion

By Swathi Chatrapathy

2023-10-07

Today, I want to talk to you about how to time your winter trek correctly. 

Talking to trekkers every day, I notice them making two wrong assumptions about trekking in winter: 

  • They believe that winter starts and ends in December 
  • They believe winter to be a uniform season from start to finish

Trekkers cannot be more wrong. 

Firstly, winter starts in early December and lasts all the way until mid-March. December is the mere beginning of winter. Real winter sets in only in January and February! 

Secondly, there is an incredible transition in the landscape from the beginning of winter to the end. So dramatic is the transition that you’ll not believe it is the same season! 

Here’s an example shot: Both of them were shot in the winter.

Kedarkantha - kedarkatha trek - campsite - camp - snow - ice - indiahikes - basecamp

The Pukhrola Campsite on the Kedarkantha trek, before and after snow. Picture by Nitesh Kumar.

So whether you want to see a dusting of snow or massive fields of snow, or you want to experience snowfall, or even if you want to see no snow, I’ll help you plan your trek correctly. 

Let’s get started. 

1. To experience the onset of snow, minus the difficulties of winter: Early December to mid-December

Many trekkers believe that winter starts late in December. But that’s not true. 

Our co-founder, Sandhya UC, says, “We start experiencing extremely cold winds in the mountains right from November. There’s a layer of frost every morning. This usually melts away within an hour. But post sundown, it gets as cold as winter, minus the snow. By the middle of November, we get the first dustings of snowfall. They melt quickly, but a bit sticks as well. The upper reaches of our treks start accumulating more snow.”

From early December to mid-December is when the mountains usually receive the first snow. It is usually a mild dusting of snow that melts away within a day or two, but it does not melt totally. A bit stays on the ground. But if you get to experience this first winter snow, it’s extremely special. You see a magical sight of white as well as golden. 

A few benefits of trekking from early December to mid-December: 
  • There are high chances of experiencing the first winter snow
  • You get terrific, clear skies and crisp mountain views. Following October and November, this is the best time for stargazing and astrophotography
  • This season has the highest trek-completion success rate compared to the rest of winter.
  • The temperatures are not as harsh as the rest of winter

A slight dusting of snow in early December at the Khorurai campsite of Brahmatal. Photo by Nitesh Kumar

2. A light layer of snow, with chances of 1-2 snowfalls - mid-December to end of December

This is by far the most popular winter trekking time. It's the holiday season when most trekkers in the country end up in the mountains. 

Frankly, if I were you, I would choose the seasons before and after this to trek. Unruly crowds often destroy the serenity of the mountains. Popular treks like Kedarkantha and Brahmatal see a footfall as high as 1000 trekkers per day.

If you ignore the crowd, though, there are some lovely things about trekking between mid-December and the end of December. 

Benefits of trekking from mid-December to the end of December: 
  • There are at least 1-2 Western disturbances bringing in snowfall this season.
  • With dropping temperatures, this snow doesn’t melt away easily. It forms a light layer of snow. 
  • Ankle deep snow makes for lovely snow-walks. 
  • The chances of completing the trek are still high, compared to January and February

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From mid-December to end of December, expect around ankle-deep snow, that is if India has a good snowfall in December. Picture by Praveen Kumar

3. The Big Snow Season - January, February, until mid-March 

Now this is when real winter sets in. Jan, Feb, and until mid-March are what we term the “Big Snow Season” at Indiahikes. This is when luxuriant blankets of snow cover most Himalayan treks. 

With at least 3-4 more Western disturbances and plummeting temperatures, the deposit of snow increases from ankle-deep to knee-deep to waist-deep and sometimes even chest-deep in sections! 

For trekkers who are craving to experience snow, this is the most delightful time of the winter to trek. Right from Day 1, when you’re in the forests, you see fairy-tale-like snowy settings. The boughs of trees are beautifully laden with snow. The treetops are drizzled with frost. As you climb higher, you see meadows and clearings covered in a vast white blanket. The ground below you is a soft, powdery carpet. Our camps are usually in the heart of this snow deposit.

Frankly, most winter photos of Himalayan treks that you see are taken in this Big Snow season and not in December.

There are many benefits to trekking in January, February, and mid-March: 
  • It has the maximum snow deposit compared to all of winter 
  • There are greater chances of experiencing snowfall 
  • It has the fewest crowds. You’ll have the mountains all to yourself  
  • Snow experiences like snow-slides, snowball fights, snow-caves come alive in this season

True, there are 10% chances that heavy snowfall may not allow you to complete the trek. But even that experience is worth it. The fact that you are covered by Indiahikes' Trek Again Policy is a good sweetner. It allows you to repeat your trek later without having to pay us for it. 

The snow deposit on all treks is the highest in the months of Jan and Feb, the Big Snow Season. Picture by Dhaval Jajal shot on the Dayara Bugyal trek

Which treks to choose in winter?

1. Dayara Bugyal 

The forests of Dayara Bugyal in winter. Picture by Dhaval Jajal

View Dayara Bugyal Trek

2. Brahmatal 

The frozen Brahmatal Lake in peak winter. Picture by Ashish Bhatt

View Bramhatal Trek

3. Deoriatal-Chandrashila 

The Deoriatal Lake in winter, surrounded by snow, with the Chaukhamba massif hiding behind the clouds. Photo from Indiahikes archive.

View Deoriatal Chandrashila Trek

4. Kedarkantha 

Peak winter in Kedarkantha is a challenging experience. But every bit of effort rewards you manifold. Picture by Bappaditya Chandra.

View Kedarkantha Trek

5. Kuari Pass 

The oak forests of Kuari Pass covered in snow. Picture by Sandhya UC

View Kuari Pass Trek

6. Sandakphu-Phalut

Sandakphu is one of those few trails where you have the luxury of staying in a warm tea house despite the chilly weather outside. Picture of the Molley camp by Dwaipayan Purkait.

View Sandakphu-Phalut Trek

Bonus: The Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek in Winter

Finally, I have a very special winter trek for you. Every trekker who has been here has come out loving the experience! I'm talking about the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek. 

This is among those rare treks that you'll come across only once in your lifetime. Everything about it is unique — dense forests reminiscent of The Jungle Book, an entire day's walk through a beachy river, caves with inscriptions that date back thousands of years... 

If you're looking for an exotic experience this winter, then plan a trek to Chhattisgarh. This deep-dive video (an interview with our founder) on the trek will give you some rare inside information about this trek.

That brings me to the end of this email. It’s already October, and most of our popular winter treks are getting full quickly. So plan soon. 

View Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek

If you have any doubts, please feel free to comment below. I’m here to personally help you out. 

Swathi Chatrapathy

Chief Editor

About the author

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers.

A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content.

Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters's in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact on a person's mind, body and spirit.