Zavkhan Classic Horse Trek

Ride the steppes of Central Mongolia

Do you dream of galloping across open steppe with the wind in your hair? This is the place to live that dream. Zavkhan province has never been easy to get to, but for those who do make the effort, beautiful untouched landscapes, fascinating local culture, and perfect riding country awaits.

Trip Length:
Trip Length:
17 days

Daily plan

$4,995 NZD

What's included?

Time in the Saddle:
Time in the Saddle:
9 Days

Scheduled Departures

Including current availability

6 June - 22 June 2024
12 July - 28 July 2024
30 July - 15 Aug 2024
17 Aug - 2 Sept 2024
4 Sept - 20 Sept 2024
When would YOU like to travel?
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This is where it all started

Zavkhan aimag (province) is a difficult region of Mongolia to get to, with erratic flights and challenging roads, which is why tourism has barely reached here. This is where we first started arranging treks, and after 16 years it really hasn't changed at all. Nomadic herders still go about their daily lives much as they have for hundreds of years, and it's incredibly beautiful.

We start off by riding across open steppe, continue on through forested valleys, and up into the mountains of Tarvagatai Uul National Park. There are various routes we can take, some we know well but others we are keen to try out. We are really only limited by the need to meet the support vehicle at the end of each day. There is a lot of new country still to explore.

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Who is this trip aimed at?

Our Zavkhan Classic trek is for people who would like to immerse themselves in Mongolia's landscape and culture, travelling like the locals, away from the tourist hot-spots. Don't expect any luxury - this is wilderness camping, with a river for a wash at the end of the day's ride, and a simple meal around the campfire.

This trek has everything from tricky forest trails and sand dunes, through to wide open steppe ideal for a faster pace, and not a fence or gate to be seen. Experienced riders have the chance to gallop to their heart's content. However we structure the trek so that those with less experience are able to ride at a pace they are comfortable with. Read more about the pace of our rides here.

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The Zavkhan horses

We have been working with local horsemen Dondov, Tsoj and Adiya, and their wonderfully tough Mongolian horses, since 2004. During that time we have grown to love and respect these sturdy steeds.

For most of the year the horses roam free where wolves still prowl, so they retain more of their natural behavior in order to survive, compared to horses back home. During the trek you will develop a relationship with your horse, and gain their trust. Even experienced riders will be learning new ways of riding. Our local team will teach you tips and techniques, and you and your horse will learn together.

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The journey

The first challenge on this trip is getting from Ulaanbaatar to Zavkhan aimag. Rather than flying straight there, we set out across the steppe on the Great Mongolian Road Trip (see below). Once we meet the horses, we have 9 full days of riding, moving on each day to a new wilderness campsite. The first few days takes us through a lush valley where herders graze the 'five snouts' - yaks, horses, sheep, goats, and camels, before reaching an uninhabited mountain area.

After farewelling the horses we either drive south to Khar Nuur, a lovely desert lake where sand dunes plunge in to crystal-clear waters, or alternatively we head north via remote Gandan Nuur, a beautiful forested lake. Either location is perfect for hiking, swimming or just relaxing after all that riding, before flying back to Ulaanbaatar.

A taste of Zavkhan

A fun trip from way back in 2012.


Zavkhan Erdene Zuu Monastery cropped V2 900x600

The Great Mongolian Road Trip

We begin the trip by travelling overland to Zavkhan, breaking the journey up over two and a half days. We use reliable Russian four-wheel drive vehicles (the mighty 'furgon'), ideal for the poor roads. We believe that no trip to Mongolia is really complete without a road trip, but once is enough for most people, so we fly back at the end of the ride! We stay in comfortable ger camps along the way (there's plenty of camping to come).

Visit Kharkhorin (Karakorum), site of the 13th century capital of the Mongolian Empire, and Erdene Zuu Khiid (monastery), founded in 1586. For the less culturally-inclined, the infamous penis rock can be experienced nearby (although it's really quite small!). By early afternoon of Day 3 we arrive at our river-side camp where we meet our local wranglers, and familiarise ourselves with the horses.

Trip Plan

As with all our treks, the exact route taken will be weather dependent. We also like to explore new trails when we have the right group of riders. This Trip Plan (we don't like to use the word itinerary) is an example of the route we may take. Think of our treks as non-itinerised.

Day Activities
Day 1 Arrive in Ulaanbaatar. We meet you at the airport/train station and take you to your hotel. You are free to explore this fascinating city before we gather for an evening meal and meet your fellow riders.
Day 2 Drive west to Kharkhorin, site of the ancient capital of the Mongolian Empire, where we will stay the night in traditional gers (yurts) at a local camp. Visit 16th century Erdene Zuu monastery.
Day 3 Continue on to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, the Great White Lake, a beautiful area surrounded by steppe and volcanic hills. Visit Tsetserleg's bustling market along the way, a mini-version of Ulaanbaatar's Black Market, but without the pick-pockets. Stay in traditional gers once again.
Day 4 Drive on to reach Zavkhan in the afternoon, where we set up a river-side camp, and meet the horses. We start with a safety briefing and pointers about the local riding style, and then begin matching you to your ideal horse. You can ride around the immediate area and have your first taste of riding Mongolia-style.
Day 5 A longer day ride around the area (a mix of forest and steppe) will allow you to decide if you and your horse have bonded. We also take along spare horses on the trek, available any time you would like to try something faster (or slower).
Day 6 Ride south, up the broad Khojuul river valley, to meet the support vehicle with your luggage and camping equipment at Agtiin Am ('valley of thyme') campsite. Along the way we ride through an area of sand dunes, the perfect opportunity for less experienced riders to try a faster pace. The horses love to gallop over the sand, but eventually they tire - and if you fall off it's a soft landing!  
Day 7 Reach Ulaan Chuluu ('red rocks') campsite on the edge of Tarvagaatai Nuruu National Park. This area is particularly popular with nomadic herders who graze their yaks on the lush pastures. There's time to stop and visit friends along the way and taste delicious yak yogurt and other local delicacies which may challenge your palate.
Day 8 Ride high in to the National Park where the landscape quickly becomes alpine, leaving the forested valley behind. If the weather gods favour us, we can reach Nogoo Nuur (Green Lake), a spectacular caldera high in the mountains. Visit an old hot spring for a well-earned soak. Abandoned at the end of socialist times, it has now been rediscovered by local people.
Days 9 to 10 Cross over the mountain range via a horse-only trail, and drop down to Dukhii Hyasar camp, where we often stay two nights. Hike in to the surrounding hills to look for hidden caves - during the dark days when monks were persecuted, they found refuge here. We once found a cave containing old Buddhist prayer scrolls - they are still there somewhere! It's also a great place to swim, fish, look for wildlife such as elk and wild boar, take a short ride, or just relax with a good book.
Day 11 Continue down-river to Kharkhoit camp. The wildflowers through here in early summer are truly spectacular, with many wild varieties of species you may recognise from your own garden. Herders migrate to this area later in the year, so the lush meadows are a feast for the horses.
Day 12 As we ride down out of the mountains, the landscape opens up to vast steppe once again. You and your horse will no doubt be eyeing up the opportunities for a gallop. Reach Gunzan camp in the afternoon.
Day 13 During summer, herders graze this region, so it can be rather like riding through the Serengeti, but instead of zebras and wildebeast, we pass amongst herds of yaks, horses, sheep, goats, and camels. Once again you will experience the legendary hospitality of the local people.
Day 14 After a final morning ride we drive south-west through desert-steppe to Khar Nuur, a desert lake where sand dunes meet crystal clear waters, or we drive north to Gandan Nuur, a lovely lake in the forest (depending on flights). Set up camp on the lake shore for two nights.
Day 15 Khar Nuur or Gandan Nuur are perfect for relaxing after all that riding. Spend the day swimming, take a stroll on the dunes or in the forest, or just catch up on your diary.
Day 16 Continue on to either Uliastai in the south, or Moron in the north, and fly back to Ulaanbaatar.
Day 17 If you have time we will help with finding any last minute items to take home for friends and family, and you can see some more of the city. Finally we take you to the airport/train station and say farewell.

The area where we ride

This map shows the area of Zavkhan Province where we ride.

What you need to know about riding on our Zavkhan Classic Trek

For more information about a trip with Zavkhan Trekking, please see our FAQs, or simply send us a message.

What's included in the price for the Zavkhan Classic Trek?
I think I'm keen, how do I book?
How does the Zavkhan Classic compare to the Altai Mountain Trek?
Why do we drive to Zavkhan instead of flying?
What is the climate like in Zavkhan?
Do I have to camp on this trip?
What is the riding pace like?
Do we use pack-horses on this trip?

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

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