Hiker’s Playground: Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge

At the moment I saw photos of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, I had to make my way there.
When I discovered that I could hike it, I made my way faster!
When I got there, I had to stay longer!

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Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

My initial plan was to complete the hike in one night as I wrote on my post Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge. But after one day of stunning beauty, I kept extending my stay each day.

This happened after I arrived to Luke Youth Hostel (aka Walnut Garden Youth Hostel)

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Before arriving to Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG) I didn’t know much on what to expect. But after waking up at the Halfway Guesthouse on my first day of hiking the TLG I decided to stay longer.


The plan for that initial day was just to hike down to the Middle TLG and then take a bus to Shangri-La at around 3pm. This plan quickly changed when I saw the beauty of this place.

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

After waking up at Half Way, it took about 1 hour of hiking from the guesthouse to find an intersection.

Here you can decide to stay on the same level and go through the Bamboo Forest Path and then the Luke’s Maintenance Road towards Luke Youth Hostel or go downhill towards Tina’s Guesthouse.


Because of my lack of planning I took the downhill path and arrived to the small village by the Middle TLG. Here you will find a few guesthouses and places to eat.

By this point the hike had only been of a couple of hours and I wanted to find a place to spend the night so I could drop my rucksack and keep exploring.

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

I didn’t want to stay at Tina’s as it looks way too civilised for my taste (it’s the biggest building in the village) so I started walking a bit along the paved road.

After asking on a couple of places and being offered really expensive rooms. I kept walking until I found a sign on the road pointing uphill to “the highest guesthouse in TLG” and “perfect start point for more hikes”. Music to my ears!

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Stating at Luke Youth Hostel

Luke Youth Hostel (aka Walnut Garden Youth Hostel) is situated at 2360m of altitude. Everything I knew of this place was what I read on the sign, I didn’t have any booking and didn’t know how long would the uphill walk take.

I never write too much about accommodation, but this place deserves it!

According to maps.me the distance from Tina’s Guesthouse is of 4.6 Km with 460m of climbing. It takes about an hour of constant climb to finally reach Luke’s place.

If you book in advance, you could organise a free pick up and Luke will come downhill on his car.

Another (and better) option, is to just stay on the upper path when you’re walking from Halfway Guesthouse instead of going downhill towards Tina’s which is what I did. There are painted signs on the rocks to guide yourself as well!

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

Upon arrival I was greeted by Luke himself, he doesn’t speak a word of English but we were able to communicate over google translate.

After offering me an expensive private room he understood that I was looking for a dorm.

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

The dorm at Luke’s was really nice. I got the bed right by the window with views that left me speechless and the stars at night left me sleepless!

It was incredibly beautiful both during the day and at night with a zillion stars! all of this while laying down on a comfy bed (trust me, this is very rare in China) and with an electric blanket as it was cold at night.

As I was the only one staying those days at Luke’s, he let me use the bathroom of one of the private rooms instead of the communal one.

This was a nice gesture as the communal one is colder and the one at the room was very warm and modern.

Can you spot me?

From the moment I stepped in, Luke and his family were extremely kind (all over google translate!) the food they cook is all grown by them and the prices are good, from cheap (but tasty!) ones to some more expensive dishes that I didn’t try. All the food that I had on my 3 nights there was delicious!

Hiking routes from Luke Youth Hostel

At the hostel you will find this map:

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge Map

Some of the routes here were actually signalled by Luke himself and he’s still in charge of their maintenance. All this while still working a lot on his land. Much respect for this guy!

Day 1: hiking to the Water Ship Tank

I couldn’t understand from Luke into why the place is called like that, I can only imagine it’s one of those “poetical” names Chinese people like to put to natural features and you will come across these all over China.

Ask for indications to Luke and he will point you out on where to go. Shortly after you leave the hostel you will start finding green arrows painted by Luke signalling the route.

After about an hour of slowly going uphill, nothing too steep. You arrive to the first viewpoint.

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

From here the path will get slightly harder and more technical at times, to the higher viewpoint or “Water Ship Tank” it takes about 2 more hours through stunning paths and incredible views.

A couple of times I missed the arrows pointing the road, whether I didn’t see them or got erased by the elements, make sure to keep an eye in the distance looking for the route as I found myself climbing a sandy cliff which was pretty tiring only to find out after 20 minutes or so that I had left the route behind downhill.

When I got to the viewpoint it was almost overwhelming the beauty that I had in front of me.

Having the mountains for myself as I had not seen anyone for 3 hours now it was almost too good to be true. But it was!

Only a couple of eagles flying over me were the other two signs of life I could see. The villages far in the distance were not disturbing at all the beauty of the snow capped mountains and the stretches of the Tiger Leaping Gorge that were visible from this point.

I stayed for a good while at this point never wanting to leave!

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

Retracing my steps back into Luke’s I (again!!!) missed the path in the same (or very similar) sandy cliff and suddenly I found myself cross-countrying across dense bushes and even rock climbing some (admittedly) dangerous walls.

Not gonna lie, at one point it was actually scary as I couldn’t find the path and the GPS on maps.me was all over the place so I couldn’t make up on where I actually was.

Several dangerous climbing walls later, to my relief, I finally found the path. Not really sure on how long I wasted but I knew I had to start pushing my way back to avoid the low temperatures that were approaching as fast as the daylight was disappearing.

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

Luckily the rest of the path was again easy to follow and I was back way before sunset.

The sight of Luke welcoming me with hot buckwheat tea and walnuts from his garden were the best way to end an awesome day of solo hiking!

Day 2: Hiking to Dashengou Waterfall

My second day was a short one. Early morning was a bit cloudy but slowly the blue sky started to appear.

Hiking in China

After a good homemade and homegrown breakfast, I started the walking over the Luke Maintenance Road towards the Dashengou Waterfall.

This was an easy hike, mostly flat and following a narrow man-made canal that carries water from the waterfall to the villages. At one point the path gets dangerous for about 3 meters as it gets very narrow, with just a couple of inches to put your feet and a fall of a good three or four of meters.

Of course I crossed it…but only because I didn’t see that a few meters before this narrow stretch there is a diversion that goes a bit under it to then come up again.

It’s only about 30-40min walk to the waterfall. When I got there I could have only wished the temperature was warmer as it looked like a wonderful place to take a dip! I didn’t as the day was pretty cold and the water was freezing cold!

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

At this point I didn’t want to go back to the hostel just yet so I decided to continue the walk across the Bamboo Forest.

This stretch didn’t offer lots of views but it was still a beautiful walk in this nature’s paradise.

Once I got to the intersection that continues towards Halfway Guesthouse or downhill to Tina’s Guesthouse I decided to retrace my steps back to Luke’s.

Again, the perfect end of this (shorter) hiking day was to have Luke welcoming me with hot buckwheat tea and delicious walnuts from his garden!

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China
Day 3: down to the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge and leaving to Shangri-La

My days at the TLG were coming to an end as I had to keep moving. I could definitely have stayed a few more days there!

Once I had breakfast, and after explaining Luke that I didn’t need a ride down the mountain as I wanted to walk, I started going down hill. Not without feeling a bit sad of leaving this stunning area that by now had become one of my favourite places ever for solo hiking.

Beautiful trails
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

About 35 minutes downhill later, I arrived to the guesthouse that is also the entrance to the sky Ladder path down to the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge.

A 15RMB fee needs to be paid here to go down as the locals say that they are the ones that built and maintain the path, and because of this, the 45RMB ticket that everyone has to pay to enter the TLG area is not valid.

Both going down and uphill have steep sections.

You can leave your rucksack at Tina’s or at the guest-house that sells the tickets to go down the Sky Ladder (this is about 3 min walk down the road from Tina’s)

Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

Once you make it to the bottom of the gorge there are a few paths to different viewpoints. All of them are worth a visit!

You can calculate at least a couple of hours to go down and back up from the bottom of the gorge so make sure to time this with the departure of the buses towards Lijiang or Shangri-La, plus all the time you spend taking photos and enjoying the views of the powerful gorge.

On the way up you can keep climbing on the path or take the shortcut via the Sky Ladder! this is not apt for people that is afraid of heights, the climb is of 170 steps and expect no health and safety measures! I loved it!

Sky ladder
Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge China

Back on the village, you can buy the bus tickets at Tina’s and have lunch at any of the guesthouses around.

Once I finished my days of hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge I continued my journey towards the town of Shangri-La, the bus there takes just over 2 hours and cost 55RMB.

Can you do more hikes?

Of course! I only had time to do short day-hikes but you could do multi-day ones! whether you’re confident to go on your own or you can hire Luke as a guide.

A couple of options are to hike to the Ennu Village (about 9 hours away from Luke’s) the Haba Village (about 13 hours away from Luke’s) and up to the Haba Snow Mountain Base Camp at 4100m of altitude.

Down at the Gorge!

Having had hiked in many places around the world, the Tiger Leaping Gorge and its surroundings are now on my top-5 of favourite places for solo hiking adventures!

If you’re planning to hike in this stunning part of the world, come soon before the masses discover it! it’s a wonderful feeling to have the mountains pretty much for yourself!

The views!

As you may have gathered from my lines, I’d strongly recommend to stay at Luke’s Hostel (aka Walnut Garden Hostel). He and his family treated me so well that I can only hope these lines could help bring more people to help them make a living.

Feel free to drop any questions if you’re planning to hike or visit the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Enjoyed the read? Check out my other posts about solo backpacking in China

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