Climb Kilimanjaro on the Northern Circuit Route

If solitude is what you are after when it comes to climbing Kilimanjaro. Or if the crowds are what is holding you back from making this amazing journey. Then stop procrastinating, we have the route for you. Fewer than 1% of all treks are booked on this route. It is the Northern Circuit Route and it is the only route to circle around the north side of Kilimanjaro.

northern circuit near buffalo camp
Northern Circuit near Buffalo Camp

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not easy. But if you prepare and choose the right route for you, then making it to the summit is possible. There are several routes to climb Kilimanjaro, but which route is right for you? Below are the group climb routes we offer. In this article, we will focus on the 9-day Northern Circuit group climb.

8-day Lemosho route
9-day Northern Circuit route
7-day Machame route
6-day Rongai route

Unfortunately, you won’t be alone for the first few days on Kilimanjaro. The Northern Circuit starts with the Lemosho route on the West side of Kilimanjaro. However, the Lemosho route has only about 10% of the trekkers on Kilimanjaro—so not it won’t be overly crowded.

The two routes continue together through the rainforest and up to the Shira Plateau. On the fourth day, near Lava Tower, the Lemosho joins the most popular route, the Machame route. The Northern Circuit departs and heads clockwise around the north side of Kilimanjaro. It will be on the Kenya side of the mountain, with expansive views of the country below. The route traverses almost the entire mountain before making its way toward the summit from the east side.

9-day Northern Circuit Itinerary

Our 9-day group climb itinerary has an arrival and departure day already built in. That means the date listed as the first day is the arrival day and the hike begins the next day. On the arrival day, you’ll go to your hotel in Arusha. You’ll either pre-book a private drive with us or take a taxi. Once there you’ll prepare for your trip by having a pre-climb trip briefing. The guides will make sure you have all the right equipment. They will also perform a health check before you go up the mountain.

Furthermore, we will confirm you have the appropriate mandatory medical coverage and travel insurance.


The day will begin after breakfast. You’ll ride to the Londorossi park gate of Kilimanjaro National Park. The guide will register you with the Park Service. During this time, the guides and porters will be weighing and packing all the gear.

After registration is complete you’ll be driven to the Lemosho trailhead. There you’ll eat lunch before starting the hike. The porters will leave before you to make sure to get a good campsite. They will also have everything set up once you arrive.

The trail immediately begins to climb. You’ll be on a well-maintained path—with intermittent wooden stairs—into the verdant rainforest. This forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including the Colobus monkey. These monkeys are black with a long ‘cape’ of white hair and a white flowing tail.

After a short 2.9 miles, you’ll arrive at Lemosho Forest camp. It is also known as Big Tree camp or Mti Mkubwa camp.

The elevation is 8,700 feet. You’ll have gained 1,700 feet and it takes about 2-3 hours.


The morning begins with breakfast followed by a short ascent through the rainforest. After a few hours, you’ll emerge from the rainforest. Below, you’ll have amazing views of the clouds concealing the rainforest you just departed. You’ll stop for lunch. The afternoon trek continues up to the Shira Plateau to Shira I camp at 11,600 feet. Weather permitting you may now see the summit of Kilimanjaro. This usually occurs near sunset.

Hiking usually takes about 6-7 hours, covers 4.9 miles, and ascends 3,000 ft.


Day three begins with an easy day hike to allow your body time to acclimatize. Once you depart Shira I, you’ll hike to Shira Cathedral at 12,800 feet. From there you’ll be treated to amazing views of the rainforest below as well as Uhuru Peak and Mount Meru.

Once off the Cathedral, you’ll continue over rocky hills until you reach Shira II camp.

Along the way, you’ll pass by one of the helicopter evacuation pads and the start of the Shira route. You’ll also pass by a field of rock cairns, please feel free to knock them down. They are a nuisance.

Shira Hut sits at 12,600 feet. This campsite has stunning views, close to the glacier-adorned dome of Kibo and the jagged rim of the Shira Plateau. The view of Mount Meru floating on the clouds is quite stunning.

Shira II camp on the Northern Circuit
Sunset from Shira II Camp

The day’s hike takes 4-5 hours, covers 9.9 miles, and gains just over 1,000 feet.


Lava Tower along the Northern Circuit
Route toward Lava Tower

Day four’s hike begins with panoramic views as you ascend along a distinct trail. The trail ascends above the Moorland zone and continues through the lava ridges. You’ll see the glaciers above and the streams they form bringing much need water to the villages below.

At Lava Tower at 15,150 feet, you’ll break for a hot meal. If you watch closely, you may see a rock slide along the treacherous Western Breach route that begins here.

After lunch, you’ll leave the Lemosho route and descend to 13,800 to camp at Moir Hut.

The day’s hike takes 5-7 hours, covers 7.2 miles, and gains just over 1,000 feet.


Day five begins with a climb out of Moir Valley and a detour to reach the summit of Lent Hills at 15,400 feet. After admiring the views you’ll backtrack to the trail and head east. In this section, you’ll pass through a field of rock slabs that make a distinct sound as you make your way across.

The final stretch of the day has you trekking over rolling hills until you reach Buffalo Camp at 13,600 feet. At the camp, there is a huge feeling of space as the Kenyan plains stretch out far below.

The hike takes 4-7 hours, covers 4.4 miles, and gains just over 1,800 feet, but also loses about 1,800 feet.


On day six you’ll depart Buffalo Camp, climb to the top of Buffalo Ridge and cross many ridges and gullies. The trail continues eastwards through a landscape that has increasingly sparse vegetation. You’ll camp for the night—Third Cave Camp at 12,800 feet.

Day six’s route takes about 5-7 hours, at a distance of 12.4 miles, and drops 800 ft.


Today’s route continues up toward the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo. Your surroundings change to a more lunar feel. Sparse vegetation and scattered rocks surround you as you cross the barren plains. Once you reach the saddle you’ll continue until you reach School Hut at 15,500 feet and camp for the night. It will still be early in the afternoon. Spend the rest of the day resting and preparing for Summit night in a few short hours.

The day’s hike takes 4-5 hours, covers only 3 miles, but ascends 2,700 feet.


Today is the day, you’ll start around 11 PM (on day seven). The guide will wake you. Dress quickly, eat breakfast, grab your gear and begin the ascent by headlamp. Your group will plod along slowly in the dark, ascending rocky switchbacks. The group will sort out into stronger climbers versus slower climbers. The guides and porters will accompany each group.

The goal is to reach the crater rim by sunrise. This point is called Gilman’s Point at 18,600 feet. The hike takes about six hours from camp. You’ll take a break here and enjoy the views of the sun rising above Mawenzi peak and the crater floor below.

Those in the group who are still feeling strong can continue the two-hour round trip to the summit along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet. The trail passing close to the spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs that still occupy most of the summit area. Once at the summit you’ll rest and wait your turn to take photos at the summit sign. The descent to Barafu Camp is surprisingly fast, and after a snack, you’ll continue the descent to the final campsite, Mweka Camp. It’s located at 10,000 feet.

The total travel time with be 11-15 hours and cover 9.6 miles. You’ll gain 3,845 feet and descend 9,300 feet.


Your final day on Kilimanjaro has you descending along a well-constructed trail. Lush rainforest surrounds you. The trees are alive with the sound of birds singing.

Your journey concludes at the Mweka gate at 5,400 feet. Once your guide signs you out, you’ll continue down through coffee and banana farms to Mweka village. There you’ll celebrate your accomplishment and partake in the tipping ceremony. The guides and porters will sing and dance and you’ll receive your Kilimanjaro certificate. Afterward, you’ll be driven back to your hotel in Arusha.

The trail takes about 4-6 hours. It is 5.14 miles and drops 4,800 feet.

Final Thoughts

Many people find hiking alone enjoyable and even comforting. They enjoy being alone with their thoughts, and what better place to do it than Kilimanjaro. You’ll have nine days to work through things, come up with new ideas, or like many people that hike Kilimanjaro, to have a spiritual journey that is life altering. Whatever your reason is for climbing Kilimanjaro, one of the best routes is the Northern Circuit. Book today and begin a new chapter of your life.

Are you ready to book your trip of a lifetime?

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