The Tiger Leaping Gorge is an incredible hike in Yunnan province. The gorge runs roughly 15km through the Yulong Mountains and at maximum it is just shy of 4,000 meters from mountain top to the river below. The high road hiking trail, which runs about a kilometer above the water is one of the most amazing experiences I have had in my +8 years in Asia.
I started the trip on my own in Lijiang through a bus organized by my guest house and made many friends along the way. Its inevitable that you will end up hiking with someone, learning about their adventures, and just chatting to pass the time. I was the only Mandarin speaker of the bunch we collected by the end of the trail, but it seemed like you could manage the trip without knowing a single word with the right research.
The hike is tough so I would recommend having some experience and at minimum light hiking gear, sunscreen and sneakers. I had a rough 36 hours of not sleeping on the train and seasonal allergies and still made it to the top, albeit slowly!
48 Hours in the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Lijiang
Day 1: Fly or take the train into Lijiang in the late afternoon, which is the closest city to the trail. I would plan to spend the in the Lijang Old City so you can start out on the early bus and get to the trail head just as the sun is rising. I stayed at the Zen Garden Hotel, which is nestled in the winding streets of Old Town and in a great neighborhood to explore. The service was amazing- the porter came and greeted me on one of the main roads and walked me to my hotel, the concierge organized not only my bus ticket to the foot of the mountain but found me a hiking partner and made us a little breakfast for the road. If you are feeling splashier, there is a nice Intercon just outside the Old City, and an Aman hidden somewhere in the hills.
Day 2: Take the 7:00am bus with a small pack, leaving your other luggage behind in Lijiang. The bus leaves from Lijiang Transport Service Center Bus Station in the southwest corner of Lijiang Old Town. With breakfast in tow, take the roughly 2 hour trip to Qiaotou and be ready to pay the entrance fee to the park upon leaving the bus. Its only up from here, and the path leads pretty straight up hill. If you are tired or have children, you can rent a donkey for the beginning section of the hike but they are not able to take you up all the way.
The first guest house is the Naxi Family’s, which took me nearly 2 hours to get it. It falls just before the 28 Bends, a steep path that leads to the highest elevation on the trail. Some stop here for the night, but we arrived here around noon and felt fine to keep going. At the top of the 28 bends, we took a brief break and then stopped at the Tea Horse Trade Guest House for a hot meal and to admire the view.
With multiple stops for snacks, a longer stop for a hot meal, and a good few stops to catch my breath due to allergies and, let’s be honest, the steep climb, we still made it to the Half Way Guest House in 7-8 hours. A word of warning- I booked my reservation over the phone a few weeks before as I knew I would be traveling during a Chinese holiday (click here to check). It might be worth asking a Chinese speaking friend to reserve a room for you in advance so you get a spot, but you can always just show up and hope for the best. Thanks to the popularity of the Half Way Guest House, there are a few cheaper alternatives a few hundred meters away that looked larger. Still, the views from the Half Way observatory deck are amazing, and it’s the perfect place to relax after the hike with a beer. It gets very cold when the sun goes down so be sure to bring a nice jacket and warm clothes to sleep in. The rooms are rustic but nice, with heating blankets and surprisingly good hot water pressure.
After breakfast at the Half Way House, head on the trail towards Tina’s Guest House. The path is more or less flat and beautiful, but very high up still, with nerve wracking drop-offs and walks through waterfalls to get through. You’ll begin a climb down and land at Tina’s, where you can opt to book a ticket back on the bus back to Lijiang or continue on to Walnut Grove. I decided to head back at this point, but heard Walnut Grove is beautiful. From there, there are a few trails to explore but you need to pay a bit more to continue on.
Once back in Lijiang, you can continue on home or spend another day or two exploring the nearby sights:
- We rented bikes in the Lijiang Old Town and went out to Shuhe Ancient Town, and my personal favorite of Baisha. It’s a bit small and dusty but was a closer look into the life of the Naxi people as Shuhe and Lijiang are both a bit touristy.
- We also biked out to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which was closed due to cloud cover. I would recommend taking a taxi there a different day as the ride was long and uphill on the way there, and you’re biking on the shoulder of the road.
- Shangri-La iwould make a wonderful next stop
- Take more RMB than you need. There are no ATMs on the mountain, and only cash is accepted in the guest houses. Check before you leave home if your international debit/credit card can be used in Chinese ATMs as well - my Hong Kong Union Pay debit card did not work!
- Bring tissues/toilet paper and hand sanitizer/moist wipes
- Lijiang Old Town is popular, as is the Half Way House. Check if you will be traveling during a public holiday and book accordingly in advance.
- Read the weather reports and wear lots of sunscreen. You will be cold but you will still likely burn the half of your body that faces away from the mountain.
- Expect to see wild marijuana along the path, and Naxi vendors selling it alongside apples, snickers bars and water as you hike.