Added by Kyle Obermann
Cutting 3,800m deep into the earth, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest and most awe-inspiring gorges. Hike 22km along the precipices of this spectacular gorge, enjoy Jade Dragon Snow Mountain’s western slopes piercing the sky 5596m above, and have a cold beer (or two) in the middle of it all.
About 100km and a 1.5 hour ride from the city of Lijiang in Yunnan Province, the Tiger Leaping Gorge cuts between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. The upper route takes around 8-10hrs to hike in full, but most people split the hike up in two days staying at one of the many local guesthouses in between. The route is famous for its stunning cliff-face views, and is one of the best easily-accessible hikes in China.
Take a bus from Lijiang going towards Zhongdian (中甸), which is also called Shangri-la (香格里拉), and get off at the town of Qiaotou (桥头) at the beginning of the gorge for about 30RMB. You can also hire a van l for around 300RMB from Lijiang (and split the cost between everyone). Chances are your place of residence will be more than happy to help you book transportation to the gorge – just tell them you want to go to Qiaotou which is the starting point of the upper route. Once in Qiaotou you will need to buy tickets to enter the gorge. They are 65rmb each, but there is a discount if you have a student ID. You can avoid the ticket fee by hiring a car and getting to Qiaotou before the ticket office opens (before sunrise).
Once in Qiaotou, begin walking past the new, three-story ticket building along the main road going upwards past a guesthouse called Jane’s Guesthouse. Carry along the road upwards for 45min or so, continuing past a school and shortly after take the smaller road leading off to the left with a blue sign near it marking the path to the high route. It’s not the easiest sign to spot, but if you accidently pass it the main road gives away to dirt and construction and will eventually end (as of Feb. 2016). Near where it ends there will be some smaller goat paths heading towards the gorge that connect with the main trail. You can also always communicate with locals using good ol’ rudimentary body language. They will know the direction. The trail name in Chinese is 虎跳峡高路 (Hǔtiàoxiá gāolù). You can ask directions by using the phrase “请问，虎跳峡高路怎么走?” (Qǐngwèn, hǔtiàoxiá gāolù zěnme zǒu? – so if you’re really worried you can print this out beforehand).
Once on the trail, it is very straight forward. The trail will pass through several villages where it splits off into small village paths, but merely follow the painted arrows on rocks everywhere and the blue sings and you can’t go wrong. From Qiaotou after about 1.5-2hrs you will come to Naxi Village. After another 3 hours you will hike over the highest point in the route (2700m) after what is call the “28 bends/switchbacks” and arrive at Yacha village. From here it remains relatively flat to the Halfway Guesthouse about 2 hours away. Finally, you will descend to Tina’s Guest House about another 2 hours away.
There is a bus going back from Tina’s to Lijiang every day at 3:30PM for 60RMB. Walk on further to Walnut Grove and there is a bus that heads in the direction of Haba Village (哈巴村) which is the traditional starting point to climb Haba Snow Mountain on the north side of the gorge.
There is also a “lower route” which is a concrete path running along the other side of the river at the bottom of the gorge. You’ll see it as you hike the upper route, but it is not as nearly as natural as the upper route nor does it go all the way through. For a one day trip to the gorge, however, it may be your best bet (or for a long run!).
This is not your backcountry, pristine hike. It’s incredibly scenic, but you’ll probably meet many other hikers, see trash, telephone wires, and have locals try to sell you things. However it’s still praised by many visitors as the best walk in China.
It’s easy to hike in one day (even possible to make it a day trip from Lijiang if you start early enough and get to Tina’s before the bus back at 3:30) but would be much more relaxing if you stayed in one of the guesthouses in-between and enjoyed a nice sunrise/sunset along with a cold beer or two.
If you have the money, consider hiring a car from Qiaotou to take you directly to the start of the trail and save time while avoiding the unsightly beginning highway section.
June to September is the rainy season.
The wiki travel page has a lot of other good information about the guesthouses etc.: http://wikitravel.org/en/Tiger_Leaping_Gorge
- Day pack for one-two days.
- <2L water (you can fill up for free at all of the villages).
- Rain gear
- Student ID (if you have one)
- Cash for food/beer/guesthouse
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