At 15km in length and the highest point at a maximum depth of 3790m, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is an impressive and dramatic hike in Yunnan Province, deep in Western China.
Starting the trail
I attempted this hike in January of 2018. With a little rucksack and rather too many layers, I landed in Lijiang after my flight from Fuzhou. From Lijiang, I caught the bus just outside the Old Town to Qiaotou. The journey took about 3 hours, and it’s best to catch the 8.30am bus as I was told this is the ‘tourist bus’ to the trail.
One thing to note is you must pay for and get off at Qiaotou, not the further destination of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. This end destination is for the viewing platform at the bottom of the gorge, and not the start of the trail. For more information on how to get to Tiger Leaping Gorge, you can click here.
The upper trail (which I did) began at the ticket office with a 65RMB entrance fee (they do not accept WeChat). Make sure to follow the Upper Trail signs, as the lower trail takes you along the river, not on the mountain top.
From the ticket office you walk down the road past Jane’s Guest House (where if you have a larger backpack you can store your bag there for 5RMB, the bus on the way home will pass here for anyone who wants to pick up their luggage). Walk past a school until you reach a sign that says ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking High Way Thus Into’. From there, follow the road straight up for a further 45 minutes.
I hiked the Upper Trail alone, and given I’m not great at directions at the best of times, there were definitely times I felt like I had surely gone the wrong way! Having been in China for nearly a year and a half, I’d come to realise that unpaved paths in scenic areas are rare, at least from my experience. So hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge was definitely a surprise to see trails that were often no more than ambiguous, dirt tracks. You will however find old blue signs along the way and red painted arrows to guide you.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 1
For me, this first part of the trek was the toughest. It was all uphill, and given I had read there would be people selling water and snacks along the way, as well as people at the bottom offering horse rides up, I saw none of this, so you can see how I might have been worried this little dirt track up a steep mountain might be the wrong way!
The fact that I hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge off peak season, meant that for the whole time I was walking, I only saw two other people on the trail, both on day one as I made my ascent. One was a local woman coming down the mountain with her two donkeys carrying hay, another was a local man much later on riding his donkey in the woods. To me, this was the best part as it’s pretty hard to be away from people in the most populous country in the world.
I took 3 days/2 nights to complete the hike. You really can do it in 2 days/1 night, but I had heard great things about Naxi Guesthouse, and I really wanted to stay there. The guesthouse is only about 3-4 hours into the first day, so most people keep on going by this point and stay at the Halfway lodge. But given how tough I found the first part, and how welcoming and beautiful I found the guesthouse and its owners, I opted to stay here for the night.
I didn’t pre-book, but I found I was the only guest here given it was not peak season. And as I mentioned, most people carry on past this place.
- Twin room with shared bathroom: 60RMB (30 per person)
- Standard double room with private bathroom: 100RMB
- Deluxe double room with private bathroom (and mountain view): 120RMB
(They do accept WeChat but prefer cash)
The food was delicious and the hospitality was just amazing. However, the best part was the view from the courtyard at sunset. The snowcapped mountains would turn a golden colour right in front of your eyes, it was simply stunning.
After a good nights sleep and a hot shower, I was up early and ready to go, until I realised the sun did not rise until 8am here! So not wanting to hike in the dark, I had some delicious cups of tea and waited for the sun to rise. I ended up leaving around 9am.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 2
Yunnan Province, particularly up in the mountains during January is cold. Like really cold. The guest house lulled me into a false sense of security with their electric blankets, but once I was hiking I felt the icy weather.
I have never been anywhere before where I was watching the sun hit the mountains and waiting for it to creep over me for warmth. But, at around 11.30am, the sun was out in full force. So while it was still cold, in the sun and with the blue skies, and the walk itself, I felt pretty warm.
Day 2 consists of the omnibus sounding 28 bends. But to be honest, compared to the first day, I felt this part was a little easier. Maybe this was due to not pushing myself too far on day one, stopping at Naxi Guesthouse instead of carrying on.
The scenery on the morning of day 2 was breathtaking. From woodlands, to cliff edges with snow capped mountains, I was in awe. The best view came when I got the full view of the gorge and the icy, turquoise river below. The scale was insane, and given I was the only person around, I stopped to admire the view in the sun for quite a while.
At around 2pm I stopped at the Halfway Lodge for a lunch of vegetable noodle soup for the great price of 9RMB, free tea, and amazing views on their rooftop terrace. Even better, there were charging points which allowed me to keep taking photos for the rest of the day!
The afternoon on day 2 was pretty much just a long walk and not very strenuous. There were times when I had a herd of goats marching past me for what seemed like forever, and roaming donkeys and mules along the path. Other than that, once I left the guesthouses and villages, I was all alone. This part of the trail is on some pretty steep cliff edges, so definitely keep to the sides if you don’t like heights!
After lunch at the Halfway Lodge, breaks, and a pretty relaxed, albeit long, walk, I made it to Tina’s Guesthouse around 5.30pm. From Tina’s you can book your bus ticket back to Lijiang for the following day for 55RMB (I’ve been told you can also purchase this from Halfway Lodge and pick it up at Tina’s, if you plan on leaving that same afternoon).
You can either stay the night at Tina’s, or for a more cozy atmosphere, head to Tibet Guest House. Follow the main road for about 45 minutes until you get to the guest house in Walnut Grove run by a Tibetan family.
- Twin room with shared bathroom: 60RMB (30 per person)
- Private room with private bathroom: 120-150RMB
Seeing the sun set over the lower gorge at this point led to some amazing views that really were a highlight. To me, this was the added bonus of staying the second night.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Day 3
I was told the bus to Lijiang would depart at 3.30pm, so with that I had a relaxed breakfast, and planned to explore Walnut Grove. But with aching legs and stunning views, I opted to relax in one of the few coffee houses in the village at the bottom of the gorge with a coffee and my book, and enjoy the view. You could also get warm Yak’s milk which many people told me was the best drink to try! And my bus actually left at 2pm instead of 3.30 as it was full.
To get to Walnut Grove, walk further along the road from Tibet Guest House towards Woody’s Guest House and follow the paved road down. Follow the yellow and red arrows pointing the opposite direction (to Sean’s and Woody’s). This trail is short (about 2 and a half hours) and if you continue walking along it, it will eventually lead back to the road. You can then climb up a series of pretty steep ladders to get to Tina’s!
Tips for Hiking the Gorge
- Bring warm clothes for the winter especially – when you’re hiking and the sun is out, it can get pretty warm, but early in the morning in the shade it is very cold. Also, the accommodation (minus the electric blankets) have no heating so it’s pretty chilly when you wake up!
- As I mentioned, I saw no one on this trail. So bring plenty of water and snacks. However, other people have reported snack sellers along the way, so this depends on the season.
- Bring cash – WeChat was accepted, but only with a frown!
- Wear good shoes – you walk a long way, often along tracks with sliding rocks, by waterfalls and on cliff edges. The last part is also all down hill.
- As mentioned, you can do it in 2 days, but I recommend 3 and stay at Naxi Guesthouse if you have the time. This way you begin the second day with no one else around.
- Enjoy the amazing views – stop and take it in!