Tiger Leaping Gorge, the best hike in China – photo essay and hiking information
Chattering birds breaking the distant rumble of the river a thousand metres below your feet. The sunlight bathing the snowy tops of souring mountains. A woman selling herbs (I know, you know what I mean) from a wicker basket. This is a slice of China a world away from the hustle of city life.
The hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge embodies the best way to escape from the never ending cycle of noise that is modern day China and contains some of the country’s most sparkling views. Every step is invigorating, every corner contains breathtaking vistas across the gorge, put simply, this really is the best hike that China has to offer.
What is the Tiger Leaping Gorge?
Located 60km north of Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hǔtiào Xiá: 虎跳峡) is one of the deepest gorges on Earth, measuring 16km in length and flanked by the mountains of Hābā Shān (Hābā Mountain) to the west and Yùlóng Xuěshān to the east. From the surface of the Jīnshā River to the tallest mountain peak is around 3900m. The gorge is part of the UNESCO listed Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas.
The name of the gorge derives from the legend that, in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger once jumped across the river at its narrowest point, an impossible to reach 25m but there you go. And interestingly, the gorge is populated by the indigenous Naxi people, who live in a handful of small hamlets along the route.
Time: 9/10 hrs
Difficulty: moderately easy
Altitude: 1600m – 2670m
From Qiaotou town, cross the bridge. Firstly, you will have to buy a ticket to enter the gorge area. It costs ¥65. After walking for 2km you will have a choice. Continue on the tarmacced road – called the Low Road or turn left just after a school to the High Road. Take the High Road, this is the hiking path.
The path will gradually wind up the hill, passing a few houses and settlements until you are afforded your first stunning views over the valley below. In the village of Gecanbi is the first accommodation option – Naxi Family Guesthouse, which you should reach after about 2h.
The next part of the hike is the toughest. Known as the Twenty Eight Bends, the path climbs steeper than before jutting back and forth on itself as you climb inexorably higher. After much sweating, you will have reached the highest point of the whole hike and now, after enjoying the luscious views, it’s time to continue on.
From here on, you should start thinking about where you are going to sleep the night. Judge how much light you have, and how tired you are. There are two popular options: Tea Horse Guesthouse about 3h from Naxi Guesthouse and in the village of Yacha or Halfway Lodge about 5h from Naxi and in the village of Bendiwan. Because we had started late we settled on Tea Horse, it was pleasant enough, toilet / shower outside but clean and the restaurant served basic but affordable food and beer.
The next day will be easier than the first as you slowly descend back to the sparkingly river below. The end point is close to Tina’s Guesthouse. From here you can choose to head back to Qiaotou. We flagged down a bus, got asked for too much money, got off and then hitchhiked the rest.
Alternatively spend another night in order to do a short hike down to the water’s edge to see Tiger Leaping Stone, where our mythical tiger was said to have lept from, and then continue to Walnut Garden and the Bamboo Forest and then head back Tina’s. Some hikers also choose to continue to the town of Daju, where you can get buses back to Lijiang, or taxis and cars to Qiaotou.
Hiking map for Tiger Leaping Gorge