Fact: Mongolia is definitely a hiker’s paradise. With so many invitingly open and vast landscapes (both protected natural parks and untamed wild, wild wilderness) the only tricky part about pitching a tent is deciding how to angle it for the best views. What many may not realize, though, is that you can quickly escape the rugged cold capital city with its intense traffic, and carefully organized streets for a steep uphill walk among coniferous trees where you’ll likely bump into some Mongolian locals (of the rodent kind). Best part? It’s only 20 minutes away! Best part numero 2? It’s free! Best part numero 3 (that’s right, there’s even a 3)? You get a pretty fantastic view of the city, along with the bragging rights of having visited the oldest natural reserve in the world!
So, what’s so special about Bogd Khan Uul?
Bogd Khan Uul (translation: Saint Khan Mountain), was first made a protected area in 1778 after the Mongolian governor sent a letter to the Emperor of Qianlong asking for sacred ceremonies to continue on the mountain. These were done in worship of the history of the place: several nobility, governors and saints all saw it as a holy mountain. And, want to take a wild guess whether or not this landmark has any connection whatsoever to Genghis Khan? Yup, surprise surprise. It does. The former emperor had apparently lived here at one point (which probably intensified the mountain’s sacredness by roughly 1,000%, give or take). In 1996 Bogd Khan Uul was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in the cultural category. And hey, there’s even some evidence suggesting the so-called “marvelous mountain” even held protected status as early as in the 12th century!
How to get there
Bogd Khan is located a bit far outside Ulaanbaatar (UB) and is not really walking distance from the center. The easiest way to get there is to hop on a bus and get off by the Zaisan Center (this is the stop after Mongolian University of Life Sciences). For more specific directions, check out the UB Wikitravel page here.
Alternatively, you could also grab a taxi from the center which will amount to about ₮25,000. But beware, getting a taxi back from the park will definitely not be as easy (the area is not exactly jam packed).
Once you get to Zaisan Center, consider stopping by Root of Coffea for some cup of Joes from around the world (also doesn’t hurt to have a hefty amount of caffeine in your system before a hike, am I right or am I right?).
When walking South on Zaisan Toiruu you’ll soon come to a fork in the road. Follow the road to the left and keep walking until you come to the very warm, friendly-looking, lively welcome gate (yup, that is sarcasm, my friends). You know you’re on the right track if you pass Cozy Nomads.
You shouldn’t need to pay a fee, likely there won’t even be anyone there to take your cash even if you wanted to contribute. Keep walking downhill and you’ll pass a number of clay/ ceramic gers. These are set up specifically for Mongolian tourists who come during the high season.
Keep following the path to the southeast part of the area, which is where you’ll come across the actual mark for the trail head.
What to bring
The weather can fluctuate quite a bit (we went in April and the northern part of the trail was covered in snow), in particular as you are hiking at a steep elevation between 1,300 and 2,300 meters above sea level. Be sure to dress in layers, bring plenty of snacks and water as the park offers none of these. A nifty GPS would also be quite handy since the trail is not all that clearly marked out.
At the park entrance you’ll find a map that shows the trail (there’s really only the one trail to the top). It’s super helpful in that it shows trail length, elevation, difficulty level and marks good pit stops (aka pauses to refuel on Mongolian peanuts and other goodies),
The trail is a total of about 5km and a steep climb from an elevation of 1,457m to 1,980m. It ended up taking us about two hours to walk uphill and just under one hour to walk back.
The trail itself is a steep climb and as you keep meandering through the coniferous forestry, you’ll get a higher and higher glimpse of the Mongolian capital. Most locals you’ll bump into will be of the rodent family among with the occasional person strolling through the forestry looking to get away from the city.
As we kept pushing upwards we noticed that the color of the air and the forestry slowly started to change into warmer tones, giving the hike a very eerie atmosphere (which only got heightened later on as we reached a clearing with a gargoyle-looking statue set in the smack middle of it). Turns out, the entire city had been engulfed in a sand storm, which explained the funky colors – and awesome photos!
The next part of the trail is a bit more technical and requires more careful navigation. Before the clearing, the trail is fairly obviously stamped out but after, you’ll find markings on the trees to be your best friend. Look for slightly peeled off bark on the tree trunks to stay on the path.
Once at the top, you’ll find well enough space to cook and set up camp if needed. Be sure to bring plenty of warm clothes as even in April it reached below icicle-inducing temperatures!
“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost?”
Park entrance: free
Transportation both ways (taxi): ₮50,000
Transportation both ways (bus from Sükhbaatar Square): about ₮5,000 per person
Total: Between ₮5,000 and ₮50,000 per person