Tips and experiences from trekking legendary Tiger leaping gorge – One of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world.
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Complete gallery from Tiger leaping gorge
Introduction to Tiger leaping gorge
The great white peaks of the ridge of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on the eastern side of the Tiger leaping gorge and slopes of Haba snow mountain on the eastern side. Those spectacular massives cliffs falling to the gorge both from over 5500 m.a.s.l. down to below 2000 m.a.s.l. This eye-catching scenery will follow you all way long through the trek. Also, You will experience a neverending ramble of the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River. There is a huge stone in the center of the river, and a tiger once leaped from Yulong Snow Mountain to Haba Snow Mountain by jumping on it. That´s the legend that formed the name of the gorge.
Tiger leaping gorge is located in southwestern Chinese province Yunnan between known town LiJiang and Shangri-la. The entire length of the trek we did is about 40 kilometers ranging in altitude from 1900 – 3200 m.a.s.l. Fortunately, there are many variations and you can flexibly shorten or extend your trip. Because there are many variations of the trek most of the people are completing the trek in 2 days but can achieve also in 1 day. For overnight, You can use one of many guesthouses in between. Fortunately, the civilization didn´t reach Tiger leaping gorge yet so you can sleep outside in tents everywhere you wish to.
Best time to visit
The rainy season from June to September is the most dangerous time to hike. At an elevation over 2500 meters, the trail may be too cold for a comfortable hike in the winter. So the best time to hike is from the end of September to November and then from April to the middle of May. Between May and September is the rainy season, heavy rains can make the trail hazardous with landslides and rockfall. We did in February and despite a bit colder weather, it was a great choice.
Getting from Lijiang to Tiger leaping gorge
Our journey started in a historical town Lijiang which is on the list of UNESCO. However, it´s more like a tourist attraction full of small souvenir shops, bars, and entertainment. Chinese people say that it´s a town of love and first You need to visit the town single with friends. Second time for a honeymoon with Your partner. However, my current partner was the guy we could perfectly enjoy the evening practicing the Chinese language all night long.
Unfortunately, we had to take the bus in the morning around 6:30 direction small village Hutiaoxia. This place where two rivers (Shuoduongang and Jingsha river) flows together. The bus ride was only 802 kilometers, but it felt like an eternity. The moment when we crossed the bridge over Jingsha river we entered the land of beauty. The sun came out and we could enjoy finally great views over Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
We were so anxious to disembark the bus and start trekking. Not so many fellow trekkers went out of the bus in Hutiaoxia. Actually I hardly remember just a few people. But we were actually happy to be alone there.
First impressions of Tiger leaping gorge. Entrance fee, donkey ride offer and something more.
Soon after we started walking the first disappointment came. The small gate with a Chinese speaking guy inside signalized we need to contribute for passing. After some time in China, you need to get used to paying for entering nature, so 75 Yuan was just fine for me.
As soon as we left the tarmac road we could see a donkey rider approaching us. Surely waiting for some business to do with us. Despite we are not so far broke we are not the best deals in the valley. Seems he simply couldn´t understand that there are still some people in the world who like to carry heavy stuff on their backs even there is a donkey available.
He was patiently following us and constantly overtaking us with bothering questions. I knew he was thinking that after a couple of meters we can´t keep up and we will surrender and load our baggage on his donkey. Bad luck man!
As he understood we will not give up he got lost, so we were enjoying the great views on our own. We almost forgot about this existence being amazed by lovely green fields, blue river, and steep cliffs, but didn´t take long and the guy struck back. Waiting for us with his friend close to some shelter inviting us entering. The offer was fair. Some green stuff with a pipe. We couldn´t resist his sad eyes and we made a purchase.
Last village, Naxi family guesthouse and the hardest part called 28 turns.
It didn´t take long to reach the first Naxi village where the white pale faces attracted a lot of interest. Naxi people are an ethnic group inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province. There was a small shop with some basic supplies, but generally, nothing to look forward to. You can also find here a guesthouse ran by the Naxi family, but the worst part is just to come, so no time for resting!
So-called 28 turns are considered as the hardest part of the trail. It´s zig-zag steep ascent but for trained person nothing extraordinary. One can easily do it in less than 2 hours rewarded by opening views which is definitely worth it. After 28 turns the rest of the day will be mostly leveled path.
Next village with people tugging the rope just having the ordinary entertainment. A Naxi woman approached us waiting for thirsty tourists and she was the right woman at the right place! Beers? Why not? Besides drinks, she offered also some forbidden substances. Seems like Tige leaping gorge is a Chinese free zone…
Today we ascended over 900 meters so it was just enough to find a spot for a tent and call it a day. We found a great spot with nothing else than spectacular views over the opposite mountain. Stars were shining like crystals and warm night gave us a chance to enjoy local green production.
Rugged mountains, unbelievable deep gorge and delicious Naxi food.
Looking down the gorge from the tent wondering why Chinese must build roads everywhere. Dig tunnels even in the virgin nature and create scars on this great piece of land.
We slept on the place just above the “halfway guest house”. You can take a rest, refresh Yourself or just sleep inside the trekker’s guesthouse. The name of the guesthouse advice we are already halfway thru. The blueish river sounds loudly down the gorge in distance sometimes disappearing in deepness. How small and helpless is a human in comparison with such a power of nature?
Following the narrow path carved in the steep cliff was passing behind narrow waterfalls. Welcomed forced shower each time we passed under it. Soon we descended into a small village on the main road. Very welcome refreshment in the form of tasty lunch. Naxi bread, pumpkin soup and Chinese dumplings filled with yak cheese. Also some beer and lovely view just from the table thru glassed-up terrace. That´s the bridge Caffe guesthouse.
Unfortunately, we´ve descended too low and no it´s time to reach back the high trail. Despite we ate like kings the return to 2500 m.a.s.l. was quite a struggle. As soon as we reached the high trail we understood that we will not finish the trail today. Maybe we also didn´t want to as it´s somehow comfortable being here. We will have to spend another day in the Tiger leaping gorge.
Threatened by heavy dark clouds we found a nice spot for tenting. Because we were lucky the rain started just a couple of minutes after we set the tent. I´m not sure if the spot for the tent just in the middle of the graveyard was the best option, but at least it gave us a mysterious feel for the night.
Walnut garden and huge ascent before the end of our journey.
Bright sky was a sign of a good day, so we set off towards the next adventures. Soon we reached the place walnut garden, where are just a guest house and a tiny shop to refresh. No walnuts found but may be named after terraced gardens leading steeply down to the gorge. This is also a place where most of the trekkers are finishing the trek and returning back. We felt like to continue for a while. at least till the end of the opening of the gorge. At this moment we still didn´t know what decision we made.
Till today I´m still not sure if this was part of the trail, but it was massive. The trail was ascending still up and up. As we started at approximately 2300 m.a.s.l. and despite we were expecting a pleasant descent, the trail ascended as high as 3250 m.a.s.l. Ok, steep screes with loose stones, unpassable terrain, and many other obstacles. At this moment I realized, we were actually no longer on the right trail.
Definitely this exhaustive ascent was worth it in form of rewarding views over a small ridge. The gaze over the Yangtze river flowing out of the narrow gorge to open valley was the satisfaction.
From this moment on we were enjoying deserved descent surrounded by sun and green fields, but how long? Blisters in shoes made themself heard, hunger came suddenly and lack of water forced us to stay strong and speechless follow the path. We had to descent over 1400 meters almost to the main road to find some civilization. In order to replenish the water, we entered the first house and asked with our broken Chinese for water. Successfully, so our Chinese language was not so broken as it sounded.
Hurray, we made it, but how to get back???
Great we made it, but how to return back now? We are quite far from the main road where we got out of the bus where we need to return to continue our Yunnan journey. In this abandoned place I´m sure not many busses are passing if any?
We didn´t see walking back on the road as an option, so we tried to hitchhike and? Voila! The first van stopped. Hitchhiking in China is not really understood well. Hitchhike here means paid transportation. Well, no other choice right? Despite it was more expensive than any other bus or public transport we paid 150 Yuan for approximately 30 kilometers.
Normally it would be too expensive, but the guy really made our day. The overheated old car just refused to carry us anymore, so if he was rescuing us until now from Tiger leaping gorge back, the coin has turned over now. We are rescuing him now. The pipe from the cooling was detached and the screw was lost. After a few unsuccessful attempts we couldn´t help us. Fortunately, we never give up and our driver had probably some lessons of MacGavering and substituted the screw by any other.
As we had enough water until now we had to sacrifice it for the car´s cooling to finalize the adventurous route back to Hutiaoxia. Really great experience and now after a year away from the experience I wish to return back as Tiger leaping gorge is a mind-blowing experience.
Impressions of Tiger leaping gorge
Fortunately, we took a shoulder season to visit. Therefore we met only a few fellow trekkers. I can believe that even in peak season the crowds won´t be too big. Tiger leaping gorge becomes one of a few extraordinary places in China which are not yet overcrowded. Luckily trekking in Chinese culture is still not the most popular activity. Despite the fact there are plenty of tourist facilities and the trek is well serviced. If You will set off the light without food and sleeping gear you will most likely survive. Chinese villagers are friendly and will always (for small money) take care of you. Nature is wonderful and it should become a trek of a bucket list for any nature lover.