Steep valleys, crisscrossing rivers, streaming waterfalls, exotic wildlife, dense forests, cold deserts, snow-capped mountains – these are the scenes from the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh, lying in the foothills of Dhauladhar Range in Western Himalayas. A great difference in altitude is found in different parts of Himachal. This produces a rich diversity of terrains, ecosystems, weather conditions, forests, and wildlife, culture, and architecture. Since many popular hill stations in Himachal Pradesh have today become overcrowded, tourists typically wander around to an elevation slightly higher than these hotspots. These new, unexplored destinations act as an ideal base – to be close to the main tourist places in and yet far from its hustle.
Top 12 Hill Stations In Himachal Pradesh
- McLeod Ganj
One of the most picturesque hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, Dalhousie is surrounded by snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar mountain range. It was once the summer retreat of the British – a past well reflected in the Victorian and Scottish architecture found in the bungalows and churches. Some historic and beautiful churches include the St. John’s, St. Francis’, St. Patrick’s, and St. Andrews Church. A memorial dedicated to martyr Ajit Singh stands against the pretty backdrop of Panchpula Waterfalls. Dalhousie’s highest peak Dainkund remains covered with snow during winters. Paragliding, horse-riding, boat cruise, and zorbing are some fun activities to engage in at this destination. The nearby hill station of Khajjar is equally popular, known for the enchanting Khajjiar Lake and captivating Kalatop Khajjiar Sanctuary.
Best Time to Visit: May to September (Summer), October to February (Winter)
The broad valley of Kullu is dotted with temples, apple orchards, and thick forests of pine and deodar. One of the most popular hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, Manali is a resort town in Kullu District of Himachal. It hosts many adventure sports – like snow trekking, parachuting, skating, zorbing, and paragliding at Solang Valley, or rafting in Kullu. The temples of Manu and Hadimba, hot springs of Vashisht, and waterfalls of Jogini and Jana are some of the well-known tourist spots. The Great Himalayan National Park was recently adjudged a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding biodiversity conservation efforts. The Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Art, Gadhan Monastery and Roerich Memorial offer a peek into the prevalent history and culture. A trip to Rohtang Pass and Bhrigu Lake is quite popular during the peak season.
Best Time to Visit: March to June (Summer), October to February (Winter), January (Snowfall)
3. McLeod Ganj
A suburb of Dharamshala, McLeod Ganj is world renowned as the residence of Dalai Lama, and also the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. One of the most popular hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, McLeod is also called ‘Little Lhasa’. The Dalai Lama Temple, Tibetan Museum, Namgyal Monastery, and Norbulingka Institute are popular attractions to learn about the Buddhist culture. The enchanting villages of Naddi and Dharamkot are ideal to escape the noise of McLeod during weekends. Taking a bath in the water reservoirs of Bhagsu Temple in the backdrop of Bhagsu Waterfalls is a popular activity. The trek to Triund or Kareri Lake, hot water springs at Tatwani, St. John Church, Dal Lake, Army Memorial, Dharamshala Cricket Stadium are some the other tourist attractions.
Best Time to Visit: Anytime
Kasol is a tiny hamlet nestled in the lap of the magnificent Parvati Valley, along the banks of the river Parvati in Kullu. The presence of a strong Jewish history lends Kasol its nickname as the ‘Mini Israel of India’. A hotspot for backpackers, Kasol serves as a base for neighboring treks to Malana, Tosh, and Kheerganga. The town of Manikaran is an important pilgrimage site – home to the famous Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara and many hot springs. One of the most well-known tourist places in Himachal is ironically an isolated village, of Malana, which is also the world’s oldest republic. The colorful flea market of Kasol is a shopper’s paradise for local items like clothes, jewelry, and handicrafts.
Best Time to Visit: March to June (Summer), October to November (Winter)
Amongst the most renowned hill stations in Himachal Pradesh is the city of Shimla, its cultural and educational hub. Famous for its apples, Shimla is also the last stop of the Kalka–Shimla Railway Line, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shimla was the summer capital under the British, and its colonial past is best explored through a heritage walk, which begins at the ridge, in the heart of the city on the Mall Road. The city features many Victorian-era buildings, such as the Christ Church, Gaiety Theatre, Bandstand, and Viceregal Lodge. The famous Jakhoo Temple is situated on the Shimla’s highest peak at Jakhoo Hill. The Himachal State Museum and the Army Heritage Museum on Annandale Ground are repositories pertaining to the rich culture and history of Shimla. The Reserve Forest Sanctuary and Chadwick Falls are ideal for nature lovers. Shimla is popular for its natural ice skating rink and also other adventure sports like trekking, rafting, and paragliding.
Best Time to Visit: March to June
Kalpa is a small, calm hill station, which serves as an ideal base to explore the Kinnaur District. The nearby hamlet of Reckong Peo offers majestic views of the Kinner Kailash mountain range and Shivaling rock. Besides their religious significance, the temples of Chandika Devi, Bering Nag, and Mathi are also known for their exquisite architecture. An ancient tower-like fort at Kamru offers splendid vistas of the grand Himalayas. Three wildlife sanctuaries are located nearby, namely the Lipa-Asrang, Rakchham-Chhitkul, and Rupi-Bhaba Sanctuary. Unusual local handicrafts that make for perfect souvenirs are sold at the markets of Basteri Village and the Tibetan Woodcarving Centre. Dotted with blooming apple orchards, Sangla Valley is famous amongst trekkers. The last inhabited Indian village before the Indo-Tibetan border is at Chitkul, known for its potatoes and clean air.
Best Time to Visit: March to April
Steep mountain ranges, cold deserts, harsh weather such is the high-altitude barren terrain of Spiti Valley. The town of Kaza is a developing tourist destination, as it serves as the perfect base to explore Spiti. A strong Buddhist culture, exotic flora and fauna, especially medicinal plants, flourish across the remote Spiti Valley. Kaza is home to Spiti’s biggest monastery, the Key Monastery, which is also the main learning center of Buddhist monks. One of the most visited tourist places in Spiti is the nearby town of Tabo, famous for the spellbinding Tabo Monastery and its art gallery, the ‘Chamber of Pictures’. Komic Village is famous for its fossils and the ancient Tangyud Monastery. At Hikkim Village is the world’s highest post office. Kibber Village is known for its uniquely built houses and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot many endangered animals at the natural habitat of Pin Valley. The idyllic Chandrataal Lake and Dhankar Lake near Kunzum Pass make for an ideal meditative spot.
Best Time to Visit: May to October
Situated on the banks of river Bhaga in Lahaul Valley, Keylong is connected to Kullu through the famous Rohtang Pass. The valley is home to exotic, high-terrain wildlife of snow leopards, Tibetan antelope, Himalayan brown bear, Himalayan blue sheep, musk deer, ibex, foxes, and more. Many beautiful and ancient monasteries are scattered around, such as the 12-century Kardang Monastery – the largest and most significant Buddhist monastery in Lahaul. The Gozzangwa Monastery is known for its chorten (stupa) and exquisite rock carvings from the pre-Christina period. The striking Gandhola Fort is an abandoned 7-storey tower, which was once the seat of a local chieftain. Nearby, the 8-century Gandhola Monastery boasts of a history dating back to the 1-century. The monasteries of Shashur and Tayul are known for their rich collection of ancient scriptures and Thangka paintings.
Best Time to Visit: May and June
The small hill station of Kufri is an ideal base to be close to Shimla, yet far from its hustle-bustle. An entire day can be spent at the Kufri Amusement Park enjoying thrilling rides in the backdrop of majestic mountains. The watch point at Mahasu Peak offers captivating vistas of the Badrinath and Kedarnath mountain ranges. The nearby picturesque town of Mashobra is Asia’s largest watershed and also home to an Indian Presidential retreat. The site of Craignano famous for its Italian style villa was once a summer resort. Today, it hosts activities like rock climbing, rappelling, and fishing, and is a popular picnic spot. Rare felines, antelopes, and birds such as the Himalayan Monal can be spotted in the surrounding areas, like the Indira Tourist Park and Himalayan National Park. The enchanting hill station of Chail located nearby is well-known for camping, relaxing by the Sadhupul Lake, or fishing at Giri River. Some edifices in Chail well-known for their fine architecture include the grand Chail Palace, the stunning Kali Ka Tibba Temple, the church-like Chail Gurudwara, and the unpretentious Sidh Baba ka Mandir.
Best Time to Visit: April to June (Summer), December to February (Snowfall)
Shoja is a quaint, unexploited hamlet in the Seraj Valley, which is perfect for a peaceful getaway close to nature. From quiet rivers to high-altitude glaciers, smooth alpine meadows to lush forests – the diverse landscapes of Shoja make it ideal for relaxing, trekking, and bird watching. The pristine glacial waters of river Tirthan are popular for fishing. Exploring waterfalls and classic riverside homes while walking around the splendid Tirthan Valley is a feast for the eyes and mind, both. Open fields surrounding the beautiful Seroslar Lake make for a great picnic spot. A hike to the ruins of Raghupur Fort promises panoramic views of the valley. The striking edifice of Chehni Kothi is a huge 17-century fortified tower that houses a temple. The high mountain pass of Jalori and the peaceful hamlet of Jibhi are popular tourist stopovers.
Best Time to Visit: March to June, September to November
The historic town of Chamba lies on the banks of river Ravi, overlooking the Dhauladhar mountain range. The town is spread around the Chaugan – a huge open field in the heart of Chamba. Chamba is known for many historic temples like the Champavati, Banni Mata, Vajreshwari, Chamunda Devi, and Lakshmi Narayan temple. One of Chamba’s largest monuments, Rang Mahal is a striking edifice with fort-like walls featuring a unique combination of Mughal and British architecture. The historical 18-century building of Akhand Chandi Palace exhibits a lavish Mughal architecture. The glorious history and culture of Chamba region, especially its miniature Pahari paintings in Basohli style, are exhibited in the Bhuri Singh Museum. Although small in size, the Church of Scotland, or Chamba Church, stands out for its simple yet colorful architecture.
Best Time to Visit: Anytime
Running along the Dhauladhar mountain range, Kangra is Himachal’s most populous district. The biggest surviving fort found in the Himalayas, the Kangra Fort stands testimony to the world’s oldest serving royal dynasty of the Katoch clan. Known for their religious and architectural significance, the 8-century rock-cut temples of Masrur are a popular tourist attraction. An eternal flame burns at the Jwalamukhi Temple, the most famous Jwala Ji shrine. Situated at Baijnath is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Bamboo Museum at Palampur showcases the use of bamboo to build, literally anything. The peaceful surroundings of Tashi Jong Monastery and the sprawling tea estates at Saurabh Van Vihar in Palampur are a step closer to nature.
Best Time to Visit: September to February (Winter), April to June (Summer)
The best time to visit a Himalayan hill station depends upon the nature of experience you are looking for. Spring and summer are best to explore around, winters for snowfall, monsoons are pleasant too but carry a risk of landslides. Tourism contributes significantly to the economy of Himachal. Its festivals, historic and religious sites, picturesque landscapes, and adventure tourism – pull people from the world over.