Mongolia in Winter: 9 Things to Do When Temperatures Drop

Mongolia in winter doesn’t have to be intimidating. Temperatures might be between -25 and -40 degrees Celsius, but there are still plenty of things to do from dog sledding to ice festivals.

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Mongolia in winter sounds intimidating. It is true that -40 C is nothing to scoff at. But Mongolians keep their yurts warm and their spirits high. Even when the winter temperatures outside are well below freezing.

In Ulaanbaatar, temperatures aren’t as brutal as the rest of the country, averaging -25 C in December and January. Those winter temperatures have even earned Ulaanbaatar the coldest capital in the world title. Just because it’s one of the coldest places on earth doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting in the off-season. In fact, there are plenty.

For one, Mongolia enjoys an average of 250 days of sunshine each year. This is how the country became known as the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky. So at least there’s that.

Speaking of blue skies, something important to know before you go is that Ulaanbaatar is also known for the air pollution that overtakes the city when the temperatures drop. It used to be rated as one of the worst cities in the world for air pollution and air quality, but this has been improving in recent years. Thanks to non-profit and government initiatives, there is less raw coal being burned in the outlining ger districts. This is the major contributor to the air pollution. While the air quality and overall air pollution has improved, especially over the last five years, the city still has a way to go.

Despite this, Mongolia in winter is still beautiful. Especially once you leave Ulaanbaatar and its air pollution in your rear view mirror.

While the best time to visit Mongolia is still summer, traveling here in winter has its perks. Big, beautiful, adventure-filled perks that will give any top cold weather destination in the world a run for its money.

In this travel guide I’ll explain the things worth braving a Mongolian winter for and offer a few winter travel tips.

Why visit Mongolia in winter?

Winter is the off-season for travel in Mongolia. Tourism peaks in Mongolia in July, with most travelers visiting between May and October. After that, the country is practically devoid of tourists.

Because of this, many yurt camps and lodges close for the winter. But not all of them. Hotel prices are at their lowest rates and tour guides are more willing to negotiate on their daily rates. (Not that I condone this, a good guide in Mongolia is worth whatever they’re asking for, trust me.)

Basically, winter is the cheapest time to travel to Mongolia.

And, in winter, some parts of the country are extremely difficult to travel to. But hey, that’s half the adventure.

If you’re willing to brave Mongolia’s winter temperatures, you’re rewarded with beautiful landscapes, practically exclusive access to unique cultural events and holidays, and you’ll surely earn the respect of more than a few local Mongolians.

Like any undiscovered and untapped destination, it’s these places, festivals, and people who make traveling to Mongolia in winter worth your time and money.

Keep in mind that Mongolia’s winter activities aren’t your typical ones. While there are ski slopes here, the best things to do in winter in Mongolia includes ice festivals, dog sledding, and eating fatty, hearty traditional Mongolian food with a swig of Chinggis Gold vodka to wash it all down.

How cold does it get in Mongolia?

There’s no way around it, winter in Mongolia is cold. Places across Mongolia can reach -50 degrees Celsius while Ulaanbaatar averages -25 degrees Celsius in winter. January is typically the coldest month of the year, and the driest.

Freezing temperatures, wind, snow, and ice can be an issue if you plan to travel to different parts of Mongolia in winter. Not dressing properly can quickly lead to frostbite and cars are known to not start when temperatures are this cold.

If you plan to travel in Mongolia in winter, hire an experienced driver with a winterized car and never travel without a clear plan. This is not a place to get lost, get stuck in the snow, or find yourself having car trouble.

How much snow does Mongolia get?

In Mongolia, snow is to be expected in the winter months. Snow is typically light and frequent, and the sky is usually clear. In January, Mongolia averages six hours of sunshine a day. In December the average hours of sunshine is five hours and in February the average is seven hours.

In January, two millimeters of precipitation is average, while 3 millimeters is average in December.

Walking through Ulaanbaatar in December, January, and February, expect snow-covered sidewalks and slushy streets. The first big snow usually rolls around in December, but it’s not uncommon for it to snow in October and November.

Winter boots are a must. Boots with good traction and insulation are highly recommended.

Ice Festival Winter in Mongolia

Winter Holidays + Festivals in Mongolia

Here’s a quick list of calendar dates for holidays and festivals in Mongolia in winter.

  • Beginning of October: Ulgii Annual Eagle Festival
  • End-November*: Genghis Khan’s Birthday/National Pride Day (Public Holiday)
  • December 31: New Year’s Eve
  • January 1: New Year’s Day (Public Holiday)
  • Mid to Late February*: Tsagaan Sar (Public Holiday)
  • March 3 – 4: Khuvsgul Lake Ice Festival
  • March 6 – 7: Thousand Camels Festival
    March 8: International Women’s Day (Public Holiday)

*Dates are determined by the Lunar Calendar

9 Best Things to Do in Mongolia in Winter

While most places on this list are some of the best places to visit in Mongolia any time of year, winter brings new life and new reason to get to these destinations.

9 Best Things to Do in Mongolia in Winter

Dog Sledding in Terelj National Park

Not only is Gorkhi-Terelj National Park one of the best day trips from Ulaanbaatar, it’s one of the best things to do in winter thanks to the dog sledding tours that take place there.

The dog sledding tours last a few hours and include everything you need to enjoy the ride, including extra blankets and warm jackets. You can also opt for longer, more immersive dog sledding expeditions that last several days.

While at Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, use this opportunity to ride a winter-coat clad camel, go for a horseback ride, and climb to the top of the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue.

The drive out from Ulaanbaatar takes about 1.5 hours and if you time it right, you can be back in the city for happy hour.

Extend your stay at one of Terelj’s luxury hotels or spend the night in a yurt at one of Terelj’s yurt camps that stays open year round.

Book a dog sledding and day trip trip out to Terelj National Park →

Dog Sledding Mongolia Tour
Attend the Annual Ice Festival

The annual Ice Festival on Khuvsgul Lake is one of Mongolia’s most popular – and famous – festivals. While some tourists do attend, this is mostly a festival and celebration for locals.

The Ice Festival is every year on March 3rd and 4th while Khuvsgul Lake is frozen solid. The festival includes the chance to ride horse-drawn sleds, see elaborate ice sculptures, ice skate, watch an ice wrestling competition, and show off your strength in a giant game of tug of war. There’s also dog sledding and an ice ger building contest.

The Khuvsgul Lake Ice Festival is one of Mongolia’s most unique festivals to experience. Not many tourists make the trek to experience this annual tradition on Khuvsgul Lake in the middle of winter, and they’re missing out.

Khuvsgul Lake Mongolia
Hunt with Eagles in Western Mongolia

The Ulgii Eagle Festival is held over two days at the beginning of October every year. It’s one of the most popular festivals for tourists in Mongolia, drawing thousands of foreigners out to watch these hunters in action each season.

While the Eagle Festival is great, travelers shouldn’t end their travel experience there. Instead, plan to spend a few extra days with an eagle hunter and his family to really get to know this ancient tradition firsthand. Living with the eagle hunters is the best way to learn about this rare and quickly disappearing culture.

During a stay with the eagle hunters, you’ll ride horses alongside them as they carry their eagles on their arms, perched on a wooden crutch for support, and head into the mountains to see these eagles hunt in the wild. Watch carefully as the eagle hunter slowly removes their eagle’s hood from over its eyes giving the eagle the chance to spot a fox or rabbit in the distance. The power these Golden Eagles unleash as they soar at speeds of 200 kmh towards their prey is unlike anything else you’ll ever witness in the world.

The hunting season is typically November to February when the winter coats of the eagle’s prey is at its fullest.

Book this 9-day tour and learn how to hunt with a Golden Eagle by immersing yourself with an Eagle Hunter family →

How to Get to Ulgii for the Eagle Festival

To get to Ulgii for the Eagle Festival you’ll need to take a domestic flight from Ulaanbaatar to Bayan-Ulgii. Flights are not cheap and can cost $500. Flights can be booked with Aero Mongolia or Hunnu Air.

I recommend attending the Eagle Festival as part of a tour. While you can book and attend on your own, the tour company will book your hotel, handle any flight updates (there will be some), they will handle all the transportation logistics, and will know the ins and outs of attending the festival. They can also arrange the additional days with one of the eagle hunters and his family.

Mongolia Eagle Hunter
Attend the Annual Thousand Camel Festival

Mongolia’s answer to the camel festivals held in the Middle East, the Thousand Camel Festival is deep-rooted in tradition and camel herder culture.

The camel festival is where tourists have the chance to meet the camel herders of the Gobi Desert and learn more about this unique way of living. Highlights of the camel festival include:

  • Camel polo
  • Camel races
  • A camel parade with more than 100 camels
  • The chance to taste camel dairy products

The festival is held annually on March 6th and 7th in Bulgan soum in the South Gobi Province. There are no flights from Ulaanbaatar in March, so anyone interested in attending the festival will need to make the 10 hour drive from Ulaanbaatar.

Popular tourist attractions like the Flaming Cliffs, Yolyn Am Valley and Ice Field, and Khongor Dunes are near Bulgan soum and can easily be added to make a best of Gobi winter travel itinerary.

Traditional ger camps are closed during this time of winter, so booking a hotel in Dalanzadgad during the camel festival dates will be necessary.

Camel Festival Winter Mongolia
Hike Through the Yolyn Am Valley to the Frozen Waterfall

On your way to Bulgan soum in the South Gobi for the Thousand Camel Festival, be sure to stop off at Yolyn Am Valley to experience the ice field this part of southern Mongolia is known for.

Hike your way back into the valley where a magnificent cascading frozen waterfall awaits. Be sure to bring hiking poles, dress warm, and wear appropriate shoes for walking on snow and ice. This is, as they say, no regular walk in the ice field-covered park.

Yolin Am Ice Fields Mongolia 2023
Go on a Camel Trek in Front of the Flaming Cliffs

It was only by chance that I recently learned this was possible. When speaking with the Director of the Flaming Cliffs, an incredible woman whom I have an enormous amount of respect for, she slyly tempted me with this winter adventure. Then, after meeting a local camel herding family, they even told me they would do it with me.

While I haven’t done it yet, they’re able to set up yurts at points along the cliffs so travelers can spend two or three days walking through this famous tourist attraction at their own pace. The Flaming Cliffs are one of Mongolia’s best natural wonders, so any chance you have to see them, you have to take.

Camels Mongolia Winter Travel
See Mongolia’s Famous Sand Dunes Covered in Snow

This isn’t a natural phenomenon that you see every day. Well, unless you’re from the Gobi Desert.

Mongolia’s Gobi Desert is one of only a few deserts in the world where snow accumulates across the dunes. The contrasting orange and yellow from the sand with the white from the snow is mesmerizing.

Photographers and drone enthusiasts will especially love the sight of these magnificent dunes covered in a layer of white.

Eat Buuz on Tsaagan Sar

Celebrated on the first day of the Mongolian New Year, Tsaagan Sar is one of the biggest holidays in Mongolia.

Translated to the White Moon, Tsaagan Sar is the celebration of the arrival of spring. Associated with peace and harmony, Tsaagan Sar is always on the first day of the new lunar year. Mongolia recognizes it as a public holiday and it’s one of the most interesting times to be in the country, especially in winter.

The day before the New Year, called Bituun, locals typically spend the day cleaning their houses and readying themselves for the holiday. On Tsaagan Sar, families gather at the house of their oldest relative. When they enter the house, they great the eldest members of their family first before sitting together for a meal. Meals on Tsaagan Sar typically include sheep’s tail, rice with curds, buuz, and mutton. Gifts are also exchanged, making this the Mongolian equivalent of Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one big happy buuz-filled celebration.

Families gather and if you can bug a friend to let you crash their Tsaagan Sar or find a tour to join, you’ll get the real White Moon experience.

Mongolian Food Tour
Soak in Mongolia’s Hot Springs

Yes, Mongolia has hot springs. No, I’m not sure why this isn’t a bigger deal either!

There are two options when it comes to experiencing Mongolia’s most famous hot springs. You can either head to Tsenkher or Khujirt, both in central Mongolia, and both with great resorts.

Visit the Tsenkher hot springs if you’re traveling with kids or in a large group. Khujirt is more focused on the wellness aspect of the hot springs and makes for a great weekend away from Ulaanbaatar.

These springs geothermal waters at both locations are full of minerals and a hot soak after a long, cold day is never a bad idea. Sitting in these waters for 20 to 30 minutes will change your mood and outlook on Mongolian winter – it might not be so bad after all!

What to Pack for a Winter Trip to Mongolia

Believe it or not, Mongolia’s winter temperatures aren’t as brutal as they sound. This is coming from a local.

The thing is, you know these temperatures are extreme, so you dress the part. You don’t leave home without gloves, a hat, scarf, and you’re wearing two pairs of pants, warm boots, and the best Mongolian cashmere or wool socks around.

When I’m in Ulaanbaatar or traveling around Mongolia in winter, I’m wearing Artic-grade gear. A Shackleton polar expedition jacket with a fur-lined hood. Sorrel winter-rated boots. North Face gloves made for below freezing temperatures. And I have a few Hot Hands hand warmers stashed in my pockets, just in case.

If you don’t feel like you’re prepared enough, you can get a winter deel, the traditional Mongolian garments local still wear, made for just this occasion. Winter deels are lined with fur and made out of naturally insulated materials such as wool or cashmere. Check out Flames Mongolia if you’re interested in having a winter deel made.

Travel Tips for Mongolia in Winter

  • February and March are the best months for experiencing winter in Mongolia.
  • In winter, instead of renting a car and driving yourself, hire a driver. It’s usually cheaper anyways. Read my guide on what to budget for a trip to Mongolia for more information on this.
  • If you don’t have warm enough winter gear for traveling in Mongolia during these months, go to Flames Mongolia for a winter deel. It will cost you less than 600,000 Mongolian tugrik and will be the warmest thing you will ever own.
  • Ulaanbaatar unfortunately has some of the worst air pollution in the world in the winter. Bring a KN95 disposable face mask or other mask to wear when walking around the city.
  • Traffic in Ulaanbaatar gets particularly bad in the winter. Book a centrally located hotel so you can easily walk the city if you visit in December, January, February, or March. The Holiday Inn is one of my favorites for the price and location.

Author: Breanna Wilson

Hi! Sain uu! I’m Breanna, an American travel writer and adventurer living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for more than 5 years. I’ve written for and been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times, among others. Read more of my Mongolia travel articles here.

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