Ala Kul is a beautiful, glacier-fed lake high in the mountains above Karakol. It is a challenging hike, with lots of climbing, but well worth the trouble of getting there. You must cross several boulder fields on the way up to the lake, so wear sturdy boots. And the lake is at an elevation of about 3,900 meters, so it can snow at any time of year. The hike can be done in as little as three very long, challenging days, but four days is the standard time for this hike. At Altyn Arashan there are hot springs and several guesthouses where you can soak in them. It’s a great way to spend the last evening on the trail.
You can get a taxi from Karakol to the starting point of this trek—the wood automobile bridge over the Karakol River. From there, it’s about 15 km. to the wooden footbridge over the river that leads to the trail to Ala Kul. There is a campsite near the footbridge where most hikers spend the first night. From the footbridge, the trail goes almost straight up what looks like a dry stream bed. After a couple of steep climbs, you reach a boulder field. If you stay to the left (north), you will strike the trail again on the other side of the boulder field. Soon after you will come to a small hut and campsite that is about halfway from the footbridge to the lake. Continue up along the river, climbing and climbing until you reach the lake. There are campsites both above the lake near the trail and below next to the lake. From the lake, the trail climbs along the lake to the pass. You will have views of the Takur Tor Glacier at the east end of the lake as you climb. The pass is at about 3,900 meters. The initial climb down from the pass is steep, but then flattens out. Once you reach the Arashan River, stay on the left (west) bank until you reach Altyn Arashan, where there is a footbridge across the river and several guesthouses, some of which have camping spots. From Altyn Arashan, the path drops pretty consistently and flattens out as it reaches the village of Teploklyuchenka, where you can catch a taxi or marshrutka back to Karkol.