ultimate guide to hiking sri lanka

Hiking Sri Lanka – The 5 best hikes in Sri Lanka

There are some great options for hiking Sri Lanka, especially up in the hill country.  On both of our visits to Sri Lanka, we explored the hiking in the country.  And even on rainy days, there are glorious places to hike here.  Even during monsoon season, you’ll find some dry spots and areas to hike in.  There were few crowds if any, friendly locals, and easy-to-navigate routes, although we did get lost a few times! Here is our guide to hiking Sri Lanka and what we think are the best hikes in Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka’s Best 5 Hikes

There are some great places to hike in Sri Lanka, and on some of these routes you won’t see another person at all, on others, depending on the time of day that you hike, then you’ll likely find a few people around.  Here are our top hiking routes in Sri Lanka.  We’ve included where to start the hike, and where the best place to stay is for each of the hikes.

TWO HIKES IN ONE DAY

Man on Ella Rock

See Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

With this door-to-door trip in Ella, you’ll get to see Nine Arch Bridge, hike to Ella Rock, AND hike Little Adam’s Peak too!

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1. Hiking Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s also known as Shri Paadhaya, Sri Pada, Samanala Kanda, Sivan Oli Pada Malai, and, of course, Adam’s Peak. This mountain peak is holy to Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists and in hiking this trail in Sri Lanka you’ll be joining a pilgrimage.  Our guide to hiking Adam’s Peak is here.

Steps on the Adam's Peak Hike in Sri Lanka

The trail is mainly steps. 5,500 of them.  And it’s traditional to hike Adam’s Peak in the middle of the night, to arrive at the top for sunrise.  Adam’s Peak has been hiked by famous world travelers over the centuries – from Ibn Battuta to Marco Polo. You can read about our bus trip to Dalhousie and buses in Sri Lanka here.

  • Where to Start the Adam’s Peak Hike From:  Start the hike to Adam’s Peak from Dalhousie
  • Where to Stay to Hike Adam’s Peak:  Stay at the Mango Tree in Dalhousie to hike Adam’s Peak
  • How long is the Adam’s Peak hike? Adam’s Peak is 4.6 kilometers (and 4.6 kilometers back)
  • How long does the Adam’s Peak Hike Take? It will take around 3-4 hours to hike up to Adam’s Peak.  It usually takes around 2.5 hours to return to Dalhousie.
  • What’s the Best Time of Day to Hike Adam’s Peak?  It’s best to start at 2 a.m. to arrive at Adam’s Peak in time for sunrise.

2. Hiking Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka

We’ve been to Lipton’s Seat twice now.  The first time we came we took a tuk-tuk here from Haputale and then hiked back to Haputale.  The second time we traveled to Lipton’s Seat from Ella.  Lipton’s Seat is the peak of a tea plantation near Haputale and the Lipton that it refers to is Sir Thomas Lipton, who planted tea here in the 1880s.  My guide to visiting Lipton’s Seat is here.

liptons seat view

The best way to visit Lipton’s Seat is to take transport there and hike back down to the Dambatenne Tea Factory, or to Haputale.  You can also take a tour from Ella or Haputale (more here) – which includes hiking through the tea plantations. I’ve written more about exploring tea plantations.

I wrote about visiting Lipton’s Seat and hiking here.

  • Where to Start the Lipton’s Seat Hike From:  Start the hike at Lipton’s Seat and hike back to Haputale.
  • Where to Stay to Hike Lipton’s Seat:  Stay in Haputale at the Lilly Guest Rooms to hike Lipton’s Seat
  • How long is the Lipton’s Seat hike? It is 15.3 kilometers from Lipton’s Seat back to Haputale.
  • How long does the Lipton’s Seat Hike Take? It will take around 3-4 hours to hike back from Lipton’s Seat to Haputale.
  • What’s the Best Time of Day to Hike Lipton’s Seat?  It’s best to start early.  One of the main reasons is to see the view at Lipton’s Seat.  Try and arrive at Lipton’s Seat early morning – the fog tends to roll in later.  If you’re coming for the views, then check the weather before committing to a date.

Hiking in Sri Lanka can be something of a scramble, and I’d definitely recommend taking hiking poles with you.

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3. Hiking Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

There are two hikes that you should do while in Ella, and this one is the hardest  (the other is to Little Adam’s Peak). The easiest way to start is at the Ella train station, going past the “don’t walk along the train line sign”.  Of course, everyone does.  However, it’s wise to check the train times and make sure you’re not walking into oncoming train traffic! 

ella rock view

This hike to Ella Rock in Sri Lanka is more of a scramble than a hike.  And you will likely need maps.me on your phone, or the alltrails guide, or some local assistance.  The views from the top are glorious.  On a good day.  Here is our guide to hiking Ella Rock.

  • Where to Start the Ella Rock Hike From:  Start the hike at the Ella train station and return the same way.
  • Where to Stay to Hike Ella Rock:  Stay in Ella at 98 Acres Resort if you want to splurge or at The Rock View Hostel to hike Ella Rock
  • How long is the Ella Rock hike? It is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Ella Railway Station to Ella Rock and back.
  • How long does the Ella Rock Hike Take? It will take 3-5 hours to hike from the Railway Station to Ella Rock and back
  • What’s the Best Time of Day to Hike Ella Rock?  You’ll want to pick a good weather day to hike Ella Rock.  And start early.  There’s nothing to see if the mist has rolled in.

4. Hiking Little Adam’s Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka

Hiking Little Adam’s Peak is a little easier than it used to be.  When we first came here 8 years ago, there wasn’t much of a trail, and not so many people came here either.  So you can say that we’ve done this hike the easy way and the hard way. Hiking Little Adam’s Peak is one of the top things to do in Ella, for more our guide is here.

The first time we hiked Little Adam’s Peak my calves hadn’t yet forgiven me for the lil bro’s big daddy (aka Adam’s Peak).  However, while this isn’t quite a walk in the park, it is a pleasant saunter, through the streets of Ella, up a winding path through the tea plantation.  It’s only the steps at the top that are reminiscent of the big peak, and now that’s a distant memory, so these are rose-tinted glasses that I’m wearing now.  The view from the top is glorious. Our full guide to hiking Little Adam’s Peak is here.

view from Little Adams Peak hike

This is an easy trail in Ella, the first time we did it, we then went straight to hike Ella Rock.  The second time, we headed down to Nine Arch Bridge.  All of which are the top things to do in Ella.

  • Where to Start the Little Adam’s Peak Hike From:  Start the hike to Little Adam’s Peak from the trailhead at the 98 Acres Resort.
  • Where to Stay to Hike Little Adam’s Peak:  Stay in Ella at 98 Acres Resort if you want to splurge or at The Rock View Hostel to hike Little Adam’s Peak
  • How long is the Little Adam’s Peak hike? It’s 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) from Ella to the 98 Acres Resort.  From the trailhead (i.e. the tuk-tuk parking) it’s 700 meters to the summit.
  • How long does the Little Adam’s Peak Hike Take? It will take around 2 hours to hike up and back.  You’ll be stopping for photos along the way
  • What’s the Best Time of Day to Hike Little Adam’s Peak?  Check the weather forecast – and try and work around any fog or rain forecast generally though you’ll be fine hiking at any time of the day.

5. Hiking World’s End at Horton Plains, Sri Lanka

This is a 9-kilometer loop that will take about 3 hours from the start.  It’s not a difficult hike, in fact, it’s by far the easiest of these top 5 hikes in Sri Lanka.  You’ll need to get to the entrance to Horton Plain’s National Park, and the easiest place to stay to go is Nuwara Eliya. (You can get there from Ella on the stunning train ride) The trails are grassland and forest and the tracks are also well-maintained.  The midpoint of the trail is World’s End, where the views are stunning.  After that, you’ll hike back past Baker’s Falls and return to the entrance. Our guide to hiking to World’s End and the Horton Plains National Park hike is here.

Hortons Plain hike view
  • Where to Start the World’s End & Horton’s Plains Hike From:  The hike starts at the entrance to the Horton’s Plain National Park.  You’ll need transport or a tour to get there.
  • Where to Stay to Hike World’s End & Horton’s Plains:  Stay in Nuwara Eliya at the Promax Villa or splurge and stay at the Grand Hotel to hike World’s End
  • How long is the World’s End & Horton’s Plains Hike? The Horton Plains National Park hike to “mini-World’s End” onto World’s End and then back is 9 kilometers (5.6 miles)
  • How long does the World’s End & Horton’s Plains Hike Take? It will take about 3 hours to hike from the National Park Entrance and back.  It’s a circular route.
  • What’s the Best Time of Day to Hike World’s End & Horton’s Plains?  As with all the hikes in Sri Lanka, weather is a factor.  Go early, aim to leave Nuwara Eliya before dawn for the best chance of good views.

Travel Tips for Exploring Sri Lanka

Final Words on Hiking Sri Lanka

This is a pleasant hiking country – from train tracks to waterfalls, tea plantations to grasslands. We found no crowds, just friendly locals. Apart from on the pilgrimage route at Adam’s Peak, there were no constant stalls to hawk you anything, but enough to make sure you didn’t starve or go without. Most of all, it’s temperate – in our rainy December in Sri Lanka, we manage to hike these places on dry days – not a raincoat in sight!

If you like hiking in off-the-beaten-track spots, then check out our guide to hiking Seoraksan and the Cloud Bridge in Korea. Then there’s the amazing (alternative) rainbow mountains in Peru.

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