Panoramic Views of Ulaanbaatar
May 12, 2015
Some Of Our Mongolian Winter And Spring Adventures in Pictures
May 22, 2015

Your Guide To Mongolia’s Seasons

Mongolia is not exactly a pack-light destination.  It is better to be prepared to bring everything or at least be prepared to purchase on route anything that you suddenly require – from a large sunhat to thermals or wellington boots. Mongolia experiences four very distinct seasons – all which bring their own weather challenges. Here is your guide to Mongolia’s seasons.

Mongolian Climate

Mongolia is one of the highest countries in the world, with an average altitude of 1580 metres above sea level. Known as the ‘Land of the Blue Sky’ it is named for its (on average) 260 days of blue sky per year – but these do not all occur in the summer months! The high central Asian mountain ranges protect the country against the humid air masses creating an extreme continental climate with a temperature range to suit. 

A Mongolian ger in summer in your guide to Mongolia's seasons

A typical summer scene. In this image you can see the working horses brought in from the herd waiting to be ridden as well as the dairy products drying in the sun on the ger roof. Dairy products in Mongolia are known as Tsagaan Idee (white food).

 

Mongolian gers in the snow. Notice the traditional 'ulzii' pattern on the nearest door - a symbol of protection and longevity.

A typical winter scene. Notice the traditional ‘ulzii’ pattern on the nearest door – a symbol of protection and longevity. What you can’t see is that there are two or three layers of felt inside the providing additional insulation (in the summer months there is just one layer).

Mongolian weather is known for its sharp fluctuations with warm, short summers and long, dry and very cold winters. The coldest months are December to February with some areas of the country dropping to as low as -50°C, with Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia’s capital city) often seeing temperatures of -35°C. In the summer, the Gobi frequently hits temperatures of 30°C+, whilst (slightly obviously!)  it’s colder the further north you go.   

Spring

March to May, very few visitors, dry but very windy. Often sunny but with large fluctuations in temperature – Day 10-20°C; Night 0-10°C

Arid, windblown and dusty – spring in Mongolia is notorious for its whims and unpredictable weather.  Mongolians say, ‘like a spring sky’ (хаврын тэнгэр шиг), in reference to moody behaviour. Although Mongolian winters are infamous for their bitter temperatures, March and April are considered the hardest time of year by Mongolians, especially the herders because livestock are thin and weak after a long winter, and rain is rare. Winter chills can sometimes last through to the end of April.  Animals and people are waiting for the weather to stabilise, for rain to bring fresh growth to the land and for the spring winds to move on.

Spring in your guide to Mongolia's seasons

Sand storms such as this one are a frequent occurrence in Mongolia during the spring season – not just in the Gobi Desert but countrywide.

 

Spring flowers in Mongolia

Spring flowers against the backdrop of the Khangai Mountains in Mongolia’s Orkhon River Valley

But, don’t let the challenging backdrop provided by the weather put you off. Just make sure to pack  a windproof jacket and a scarf to protect yourself from the dusty wind. April is one of the most industrious times of year for herders and one of the most fascinating times of year to experience Mongolia – especially with the newborn offspring and the cashmere harvest.

Here are two comments from guests who travelled with us in April:

‘Highlights? Connecting with locals,  the great guides, your accommodating vegetarians, the gers and new borns, and the sense of security we felt and the knowledge of the drivers and guides. And how well you read us and what we were wanting to experience.’

‘Spending time with the herding families and having Nymka and Turuu answer my questions allowed me to a have full, satisfying experience and really engage with Mongolian culture/life/people.’

Visit for – the Kazakh New Year of Nauryz, the start of the livestock giving birth, and the cashmere harvest. ”

Summer

Late May to August, the busiest time of year for international visitors. Expect a mixed bag weatherwise –  changeable with sunshine most days, but also cloud and rain with some humidity.

Summer is one of the busiest times of year for Mongolian herding families. Family life is fluid at this time of year as July and August bring summer rains that bring fresh grass growth and livestock are moved looking for the rich summer pasture so they can fatten, enabling them to survive the harsh winter. Summer is also known as the White Season due to the processing of the livestock’s milk into other dairy products such as airag (fermented mare’s milk), orom (clotted cream) and aruul (hard cheese).

Visit for – the highlight of the Naadam Festival (the Three Manly Sports), the Yak and Felt Festival, the Danshig Naadam Festival, a general insight into the herding way of life, and green steppe.

Mongolian wrestlers in the annual Naadam Festival in your guide to Mongolia's seasons

Mongolian wrestlers doing their famous ‘eagle dance’ prior to competing at the national wrestling competition during the Naadam Festival. Naadam showcases the ‘Three Manly Sports’ of wrestling, archery and horse racing.

Autumn

September and October, not very crowded, dry, sunny, clear and cool. Day 0-20°C; Night -5 to +5°C

There is a Mongolian saying that goes, ‘Autumn is after Naadam’ and in the Mongolian Lunar Calendar, autumn is often highlighted as starting around August 6-8.  Naturally, autumn is a time of spectacular colour. 

Yes, Gorkhi-Terelj is the closest national park to Ulaanbaatar and is very developed (some would say overdeveloped) for the tourist industry (the main valley was first developed for tourism in 1964) but it shares a common border with Khan Khentii and the two reserves are similar. Between the two sites, altitudinal variation is significant, leading to the development of different habitats but both support large areas of forest-steppe and mountain steppe, with alpine habitats on higher peaks. The area is rich in rivers and streams, including the Terelj and Tuul and these water sources together with the rainfall in this mountainous region brings life to the pastureland – providing grazing for the livestock of the herding families who make this area their home. These herders include Naraa, Bujee (his wife) and their two children Tsindee and Bayasa – the family we work with in long-term local community partnership with in the region.

Nature is still visible before the start of the long hibernation period with birds such as the Demoiselle Crane gathering in large flocks to start their annual migration. There is also harvesting of the wheat and barley crops and the cutting of the winter grass that will be used as fodder for the livestock. School starts on September 1st and loans are asked from banks to pay school fees (or animals are sold to pay for it).

Visit for – the Eagle Festivals in Sagsai / Ölgii in western Mongolia, star gazing, and fewer people.

Winter

November – February, the quietest time of year, dry but bitterly cold

Winter is a quintessential Mongolian season. It is cold, very cold, but the cold is an important part of what makes Mongolia and its landscapes extraordinary at this time of year.  Mongolian Lunar New Year falls in January or February with visitors being welcomed to celebrate one of the most important times of years in the Mongolian calendar. Although the temperatures can scare at first sight, it is a very dry cold and with the right clothes -25 ° C in Mongolia could be compared with – 5 ° C in Europe. However, the concept of cold is very subjective!

From the winter solstice on, winter in Mongolia is classified into 9 sets of nine days (it’s set from the lunar calendar and understood as the 81 days of winter or the nine nines. Here’s our guide). Mongolian’s in the countryside didn’t always have the luxury of knowing the date or time so a set of ‘standards’ were set that herders used to determine where they where in winter.)

Visit for – Mongolian Lunar New Year, winter festivals such as the Khovsgol Ice Festival, remarkable light, and a realistic insight into herding way of life.

Sunrise on Tsagaan Sar - experience Mongolia's Lunar New Year on one of our Mongolia winter tours

Sunrise during Tsagaan Sar. Tsagaan Sar translates into White Month – and is Mongolian Lunar New Year – one of Mongolia’s most important festivals

 If you’re trying to decide from your guide to Mongolia’s seasons what season would suit you best for your visit, I will leave you with a quote from the book  Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. 


‘The steppe has one other unchanging characteristic: day and night, summer and winter, in foul weather or fine weather, it speaks of freedom. If someone has lost his freedom, the steppe will remind him of it.’

Sign up to our Newsletter

Written by Jess - the founder of Eternal Landscapes - there's no spam, no sharing your details and no random offers. It goes out once or twice a month. Hopefully enough to be of interest but not too much to annoy.

We respect your privacy.