The Northern Circuit is the longest route on Kilimanjaro. It starts in the west along the Lemosho Route, then circumvents the peak on the northern slopes, approaches the summit from the east and descends in the south. As such, it offers 360° degree views of the peak and afar.
Together with the Grand Traverse, the Northern Circuit is the only route that circumvents the peak on the northern slopes, providing the most authentic wilderness experience away from the crowds.
The route offers plenty of opportunity to acclimatize to the high altitude and therefore also has a very high summit success chance. Even though it is the longest route, it might as well be one of the easiest!
We recommend the 9-day Northern Circuit for two reasons: First, its altitude profile and duration make the Northern Circuit one of the routes with the highest summit success chance. And second, it provides an authentic wilderness experience away from the crowds.
The scenery is special on Kilimanjaro, no matter which route you take. However, please be aware that the Northern Circuit misses two scenic highlights of the southern slopes: the Dendrosenecio forest (though you will still get to see a few Dendrosenecio trees) as well as the Barranco Wall (a blessing in disguise if you suffer from vertigo) – a small sacrifice for your authentic wilderness experience!
If you're looking for a slightly shorter or more affordable climb, please see the 8-day Northern Circuit. Alternatively, for an easier and more luxurious experience, we recommend the 8-day Grand Traverse.
Popular 9-day Northern Circuit trips
- Transfer to the Kilimanjaro National Park gate
- Moshi (831m) → Londorosi Gate (2,250m)
During the drive, enjoy the green scenery of coffee and banana plantations. Nearer to Londorosi Gate, you’ll find yourself surrounded by pine plantations – sad evidence of the past destruction of the indigenous rainforest which used to engulf the gate until few decades ago.
At the gate, you will be registering with the Kilimanjaro National Park authorities. Expect to linger around for approximately an hour to two while all equipment and supplies get distributed amongst your porters and weighed to ensure fair porter treatment practices.
Once formalities are taken care of, it’s time to head back into the car to drive to the start of your exciting journey at Lemosho Gate.read less
- Short transfer to the start of the climbing track
- Londorosi Gate (2,250m) → Lemosho Gate (2,100m)
In the past, spotting wildlife in this area used to be a possibility with animals such as elephants and buffalo. However, it is no longer the case, and armed rangers are no longer needed.
As you approach Lemosho Gate, you’ll be entering into the montane rainforest zone, and the rich air along with the greenery will be a pleasant greeting!read less
- Lush rainforest alive with monkeys and birds
- Lemosho Gate (2,100m) → Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,650m)
The air is misty and dense, and your surroundings are nothing short of breathtaking. Be on the lookout black-and-white Colobus Monkey troops that frequent the area; you’ll want to snap some photos of the lively bunch.
The trail may begin as muddy, and despite the rainforest technically called a montane forest, it doesn’t diminish the fact that you could be rained on quite suddenly. So be sure to have your rain gear at an arm’s length!
As you arrive at your first camp on the mountain after a short hike, you may be surprised to find your camp fully set up by your porters who work hard, seemingly like invisible ferries to us, to make sure that all we need to do is enjoy our climb.
Mti Mkubwa is also known as the “Big Tree Camp” and you’ll know why immediately. Situated under a big tree, the camp is alive with the sounds of monkeys and birds; many of whom you will hear through the night, and in the early morning.read less
- First views afar from above the tree-line
- Mti Mkubwa Camp (2,650m) → Shira 1 Camp (3,610m)
The trail will begin to lead you out of the rainforest and into the savannah. Before you know it, you’ll be met with tall grasses, heather, moorland and volcanic rock that is laced with lichen. As you hike up through the hills, and cross varying streams, you’ll notice the enticing views afar that come with the Lemosho Route.
After a few hours of walking uphill, you reach the top of the Shira Ridge onto the Plateau where you are treated to a panoramic view of Kibo and the Shira Cathedral. From here, it’s only a short hike down to camp, allowing for plenty of rest before the next day.
Be aware that the Shira Plateau can be below freezing at night, so make sure you have your hats, gloves and flashlights ready when the sun sets.read less
- Crossing the vast Shira Plateau
- Shira 1 Camp (3,610m) → Shira 2 Camp (3,850m)
After you’ve crossed the Shira Plateau, watch out for a few specimen of the curious trees, also known as Giant Groundsels.
Your guide may leave you with the option to hike up to the Shira Cathedral, or head straight to the next camp. If you choose to see the cathedral, you won’t be let down. The cathedral is approximately an hour and a half away from the trail and was caused by an ancient eruption. To get to see it up close is a scenic treat, and some say it’s the highlight of their trek!
If you don’t choose to see the cathedral, you will arrive at your camp by mid-day. Use your afternoon to go for a walk further up the mountain. The higher you hike during the day before returning to your camp at a lower altitude, the better you will acclimatize to the thin air.read less
- Acclimatizing to the thin air at Lava Tower
- Shira 2 Camp (3,850m) → Lava Tower (4,600m)
On this part of the journey, the landscape becomes more barren and even the heather disappears, only to be replaced by rocks and lava ridges. At the peak of your journey, you will have climbed 4,600 metres to the Lava Tower, also known as the Shark’s tooth. This covers an altitude distance of approximately 750 metres from Shira 2 Camp.
Your new surroundings at Lava Tower will consist of a high altitude desert, with no vegetation and pools of rocks, scree and dust as far as the eye can see. You’ll need a few warm layers on this part of the journey as it can be prone to cold winds, ice and mist.
Symptoms of altitude sickness are common here, but don’t worry because this is one of the reasons why you have come here: to allow for proper altitude acclimatization.read less
- A euphoric descent after your big morning climb
- Lava Tower (4,600m) → Moir Hut Camp (4,200m)
You’ll surely feel your legs today by the time you reach Moira Hut. The camp is situated at the base of Lent Hills – a scenic and quiet camp that is only used for the Shira and Northern routes.
If you’ve skipped Lava Tower and made your way to Moir Hut Camp directly, and still have some energy left, you may want to take a short walk around the camp in the afternoon. This acclimatization opportunity is a quaint getaway from the other busier camps, and should be taken full advantage of!read less
- Off into authentic wilderness on the northern slopes
- Moir Hut Camp (4,200m) → Buffalo Camp (4,026m)
The day will begin with a fairly steep climb, as you hike to the summit of Lent Hills. You will be rewarded with breathtaking scenery of the vast moon-like terrain and the snow-covered mountains. After you’ve accomplished the most challenging part of the day, and admired the views, it’s time to head east across the rock fields and back onto a trodden trail.
For the remainder of your hiking day, the path gently undulates and you cross a series of inclines and declines through the slopes of Kibo. As you approach Buffalo Camp, and weather permitting, you are met with a scenery of plains that stretch out all the way to the Kenyan/Tanzanian border.
The day will leave you with some time to rest, and an opportunity to explore the surrounding area. The infinite amount of plains and the snow-capped Kibo will be a welcoming place to relax.
Buffalo Camp has no cabins or built structures, not even toilet latrines, completely immersing yourself into the Kilimanjaro wilderness. There is good chance that you get to enjoy the campsite to yourself, a real treat on the busy mountain!read less
- Closeup views of Kibo and afar to Kenya
- Buffalo Camp (4,026m) → Third Cave (3,800m)
Enjoy the meditative silence and be prepared that your initial excitement of being on the mountain may be fading away and you may find the scenery a little repetitive. This was precisely the reason why you have chosen this longer hiking route – to get away from civilization and allow enough time to acclimatize to the thin air. Surely, your body will be feeling these benefits by now.
The Third Cave campsite is named after a cave that sits nearby the camp, as was once used as accommodation for hikers back in the day. Once you arrive after a short hiking day, you may be met with an out of body experience as the clouds tend to hang around the camp. Weather permitting, Kibo’s majestic backdrop sits in your view as you take in the wonders of the mountain in this pristine area.
Other than your Northern Circuit route, Third Cave is only used by some variations of the Rongai Route. Therefore, you might have the campsite again to yourself. Enjoy!read less
- Into thin air and alpine desert
- Third Cave (3,800m) → School Hut (4,800m)
The hike will be shorter today, but significant altitude height will be gained to acclimate you for the summit. Soon after leaving Third Cave, the landscape will become barren, and you may feel like you’re on another planet with the clouds sitting below you.
You’ll notice that the altitude can be difficult. While the trek doesn’t seem very steep, the lack of oxygen will make it feel otherwise. Do not be discouraged, and take as much time as you need! The views of the towering will motivate you as you take each step. Weather and cloud cover permitting, you have Kibo in your view the entire time.
It’s still fairly early as you approach the School Hut campsite, so that you can get as much rest as possible before the exciting night ahead. Even though you may not be feeling hungry due to the altitude, try to eat as much as possible to gain strength for your summit push. After an early dinner, it’s time to get your gear ready for your early wake up, and to catch as much sleep as you can.read less
- Final summit push through the night and sunrise on top of Africa
- School Hut (4,800m) → Uhuru Peak (5,895m)
After your breakfast, you will have all your gear ready for the day. Be sure to bring extra water (dehydration is painful at such high altitudes), headlamps, thick gloves, sunscreen and sunglasses for the summit (the sun is intense once up) and of course, your camera. Snacks are encouraged as well to maintain energy throughout the long day.
Your summit ascent begins, and the pre-summit goal is to reach Gilman's Point. After a relatively moderate start, the trail joins with the Marangu Route as you approach the scree-sloped Kibo. The path becomes steep in the beginning, but a series of switchbacks will make the climb easier for you.
As the oxygen becomes thinner, you’ll begin to feel the effects of the higher altitude. Take your time and focus on taking the trek step-by-step. After approximately an hour and a half slowly making your way up, you will hit rockier terrain, with some boulders to walk over. These rocks are called the Jamaican Rocks, and can be slippery at times so be mindful of your steps as you cross over them.
The night will be cold with frigid temperatures and altitude sickness may begin to hit you. Your final push to the top may seem endless, but rest assured that it will come to an end. What satisfaction as you reach Gilman's Point at the top of Kibo! From here, it is only an hour and a half or so until Uhuru Peak, and you will have the opportunity to rest and refuel a bit before the final haul. As you look across the starlit sky, you have the outline of Mawenzi glaring back at you. Take in the cosmic sights and congratulate yourself for making it thus far! The worst has been accomplished.
As you turn Southwest, you start to push through the steady but shallow trail along the crater rim and past Stella Point towards Uhuru Peak. While it’s a very gradual ascent, the thin air will make it difficult to predict how you feel in this last stretch. Those who react well to the altitude may find it easier than others, with adrenaline rushing through their body. Some don’t react as well as others, and will find this to be the most challenging, despite the gentle incline.
The end is near, and you push yourself to the highest point. A stunning landscape overlooking the icefields and glaciers is waiting for you. Dawn is approaching as you push yourself to the highest point of Mount Kilimanjaro and of Africa – Uhuru Peak. You’ve made it! Take some pictures, pat yourself on the back, hug your companions and enjoy the glistening pink and orange sunrise hues overlooking the ice fields and glaciers. The rolling clouds splash against the noble beauty of Kibo – it’s a sight you won’t soon forget.read less
- Half way down into thicker air
- Uhuru Peak (5,895m) → Mweka Camp (3,100m)
After making it all the way up to the summit of Uhuru Peak, you will still feel that lingering sense of euphoria that comes with such a magnificent achievement. Now the challenge is to make your way down to Mweka Camp, which sits at 3,100 metres – an an altitude drop of almost 2,800 metres. As you make your way down, you will find that the descent is tough on your knees, which will by now be feeling the impact of your climb up this formidable mountain. To ease the strain on your knees, make good use of your walking poles.
For the initial part of your journey down from Stella Point, you will encounter fields of sand and scree, which can be particularly challenging to navigate your way through. Gaiters are once again essential here, to prevent some of the glacial scree making its way into your boots! There are different ways you can tackle the scree. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can simply slide or ski down the scree slopes, which is a fun and quick way of conquering it! If you’re not comfortable with that, simply walk slowly down the scree, although this will add additional time onto your journey.
Your slope then turns into rocks before you reach Barafu Camp. Rest and eat to regain some energy. However, don’t rest too long. You still have over 3 hours to go. As you descend, you’ll notice that some of the plants and greenery starts to reappear and the surroundings are not as barren as it has been in recent days. You’ll pass by Millennium Camp which is located just above the tree line. Sometimes, you may camp here if the descent further down is just too challenging to handle – discuss this with your guide beforehand to see if it’s possible.
But Mweka Camp is only two hours further, located in the upper part of the rainforest zone, which brings with it a very welcome increase in oxygen and moisture in the air. You will be feeling tired and worn from the journey by the time you reach your camp for the night, but this is normal. Conquering Kilimanjaro is far from easy and you can take solace from the fact that you have completed a challenge that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Finally, you’ll be able to get some well earned rest and relaxation, and celebrate the completion of this important milestone of your journey.read less
- All the way back down through the forest
- Mweka Camp (3,100m) → Mweka Gate (1,640m)
Soon even the jungle will gradually start to fade in favour of dirt tracks and the return of civilisation, which signals your arrival at Mweka Gate – the exit of Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. Once you have reached this point, your journey across Kilimanjaro will have concluded and you will be satisfied in the knowledge that you have reached the summit and finally conquered this tough but beautiful mountain.
Once you arrive at Mweka Gate and you have completed your walk, it will be time to bid farewell to your crew. It is customary to tip your guides, cook and porters for their assistance during your trip before you are transported back to your hotel. Please check the tipping procedure and tipping ranges recommended by your tour company before the start of your climb.read less
- Transfer to your hotel
- Mweka Gate (1,640m) → Moshi (831m)
Arriving at your hotel, you’ve finished the magical journey, and it’s time to sift through photos, brag to your friends, and reminisce fondly on those life-long memories that you’ve just made.read less