Jade Dragon Snow Mountain towering over the winding Jinsha river below, mirrored by the equally enormous the Haba Snow Mountain. China has some scenic views to boast of, but the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike is home to some of the best. Turquoise waters, limestone cliffs, snow-peaked mountains, fluffy clouds and glorious light combine to make your jaw drop for the majority of this trek. China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge is hailed as one of the world’s best multi-day hikes. Scaling along the sides of a gorge that is almost 2000 meters deeper than the Grand Canyon, offering unrivalled views of some of China’s most dramatic landscape.

Looking back at some of the TripAdvisor reviews it seems those who didn’t enjoy this hike attempted the trail in 1 day. Our advice – plan for at least 2 or stretch to 3 days if you can. There is enough good hiking and scenery to make it worthwhile.

So here is our guide; our full itinerary, how we got there, what we encountered, food, safety, and top tips in case you’re in need of some extra inspiration for your own trip. We’ve also added in some options for shorter treks if you are looking to hike in less time.

If you’re headed to China, we’d absolutely recommend you add this to your plan, it’ll be a highlight.

DAY 1:

Distance: 15km
Time: 10:30am -> 4pm inc. an hour for lunch and lots of breaks.
Started: Hutiaoxia
Lunch: Naxi Guesthouse in Changsheng village
Stayed: Teahorse Guesthouse in Yongsheng village

We had based ourselves in Lijiang prior to the trip, and bright one morning we headed to the local bus terminal. Our hotel manager had marked this on a map for us & assured us we would get delivered straight to the start of the hike – yay for no bus changes! We left plenty of time to get there before the planned bus departure as everything seems to take longer in China. Arriving 30 minutes early we eventually spotted some hikers and followed them to join a queue we assumed was for Tiger Leaping Gorge. We presented our handwritten note (helpfully provided by our host from our hotel) that requested 2 tickets to Qiaotou (or sometimes Hutiaoxia, it’s the latter on all the maps) – Approx ¥24.

Its a 2 hour bus that arrives in the spectacularly ugly Tiger Leaping Gorge Town (Hutiaoxia), probably a quaint village only a few years ago but the Chinese construction behemoth has well and truly arrived and it’s safe to say this town has zero soul remaining. We were ushered off the bus and into the tourist office to buy our Tiger Leaping Gorge scenic area tickets for ¥45 each. We had planned to walk from the office (as some blogs had suggested) but the bus driver wouldn’t hear of it and pushed us back onto the bus. Turns out this was for good reason – The walk up a busy road packed with cement trucks would not have been pleasant.

2 kms down the road we reached a bus stop (with shop, toilets and map), and here the driver gestured at the door… our cue to exit. We were joined by 4 other hikers, but the rest of the folks on the bus stayed put… we assumed they were choosing to be bused directly to the tourist area “scenic spot”.

Following arrows and a sign saying “Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking high way thus into” (translated Chinese signs are a continuous source of entertainment) our journey commenced.

**NB: There used to be 2 trails; a higher and a lower. Some years ago the lower trail was tarmac’d for busing touristic convenience…only use the high trail**

We had failed to read any recent guides that warned that the first 2 hours of the hike were now through a massive construction site… so not a great start to our trip. Two enormous bridges are being built across the gorge to connect Lijiang and Shrangli-la… to say they spoil the natural beauty of the upper gorge is under-calling it vastly. If we were to do the hike again, we’d skip this bit.

After a bit of a slog uphill, dodging cement drugs, and lightly frying in the midday sun, we finally arrived at Naxi Guesthouse for lunch. To our surprise we found 2 Italian hikers who had taken the bus to the scenic spot and then walked up the hill to the Naxi Guest House in Changsheng village, brightly telling us that “everyone knew to avoid the walk from Hutiaoxia…” D’oh!

**Naxi GH is super friendly, good food and nice looking rooms if you want to stay here the night before starting**

hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge

After lunch we faced the slightly terrifying sounding 28 bends, a rather gruelling uphill stretch with enough corners to make us feel dizzy, but thankfully the scenery in the afternoon both significantly made up for the rather sub-par morning & made each and every bend worth it. The sound of construction was far behind us and from that point on, all we could only hear was the roar of the Jinsha river below, the insects chirping around us, and the locals around every corner demanding that we sit & rest (and now you’ve sat you must buy a drink).

That evening we stayed at Teahorse Guesthouse in Yongsheng village. It was friendly, clean and had a great roof terrace overlooking the gorge.

Have a look at prices and availability here.

DAY 2:

Distance: 15km
Time: 10:00am -> 4pm inc. an hour for lunch and lots of breaks, and getting lost.
Started: Teahorse Guesthouse in Yongsheng village
Lunch: Halfway Guesthouse in Bendiwan village
Stayed: Tibet Guesthouse in Walnut Garden

Steph woke up early to snap the sunrise whilst I remained dead to world, we eventually both were up and about and despite feeling unsurprisingly achey. Local Yunnan coffee and a huge banana pancake made us feel ready for our second day of hiking.

We planned to walk from Teahorse guesthouse to Halfway Guesthouse in Bendiwan village for lunch, onto Tina’s Guesthouse for a drink before finishing in Walnut Garden at the Tibet Guesthouse. Essentially all on the flat. Sounds easy? It should have been except for the bit in the middle where we got lost and found ourselves 100m above the path, edging along a vertical slope covered in thorns (Steph’s legs bore the brunt of the scratches). Whilst taking stock of our situation under a tree (not cursing each other at all) a group of American students turned up as well – therefore proving that it was an easy mistake to make, and so in fact, it was probably the path’s fault. We all continued along the goat track until we returned to the path… only adding an extra hour or so to our day – no big deal (except for hurt pride and war wounds).

Halfway Guesthouse was huge, with very hospitable owners, and a big terrace with probably the best view of any guesthouse on route. This view was also visible from the toilets… which made that experience quite memorable. We ate some fried rice and our newest fave snack and local staple; Naxi bread. Once back on the trail the afternoon delivered more stunning views of steep cliffs, narrow paths, gorges, ravines, waterfalls – all the good stuff.

We popped into Tina’s guesthouse to assess the vibe and agreed that some of the other guesthouses had a more homely feel, so after a quick full-fat coke, we bought our bus tickets back to Lijiang (more on that below) and headed further on to Walnut Garden, 3km down the road.

In Walnut Garden, we stayed at Tibet Guesthouse, another very friendly place decked out in Tibetan style overlooking the gorge (as every Guesthouse did to be honest). We chose it as we had heard it had the best food in the area and they certainly delivered the tasty goods.

Have a look at prices and availability here.

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