Ni Hao! When I arrived to Yunan province in South West China, one of the first places I knew I wanted to go was hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
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This is said to be the deepest, narrowest and most dangerous gorge in the world and when I found out that I could hike it I didn’t have to think it twice to go there!
The Tiger Leaping Gorge spans for about 15 Km, and it’s flanked by the Yulong Snow Mountain and the Haba Snow Mountain which are 5596m and 5396m respectively. Pretty decent sized mountains!
The name of Tiger Leaping Gorge comes from an old tale saying that a tiger managed to jump across the gorge via a boulder on it. Certainly the name of the gorge is more poethic than the story itself.
What to do there?
If you’re short of time, you can just make it a one-day visit to the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge which I think is what most people do (at least all the tours of Chinese people)
If you have at least one night to spare, you must hike it!
How to get there?
You can get a bus from either Lijiang or Shangri-la. I took it from Lijiang early in the morning, the ticket is 40 RMB and the journey takes a couple of hours. Ask at your hostel for the exact location of the stop as it makes two stops in town.
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Just before arriving to the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG from now on) section the bus will stop at the ticket office as everyone has to pay 45RMB to enter the area.
This ticket will ONLY give you access to the upper section which is the one that has been developed by the government.
To go down the gorge in the middle and lower sections you will have to pay 15RMB to the locals as they’re the ones that (apparently) made and maintain the trails to go down.
At the October Inn hostel in Lijiang, they gave me a map of the TLG area, I had to show it to the bus driver to point the exact place to start the hike as there are two of them. I started about 10min by bus after we paid the tickets.
The start of the hike is all uphill, at times steep, and for the first hour or so over a paved road although there’s no traffic at all.
After about an hour climb you will pass the Naxi Guesthouse and will start climbing on a proper trail on what is called the 28 bends. We didn’t count how many there were, but they were quite a few!
The map shows the 28 Bends section should take 3 hours to climb, we did it in about 2.
After almost 3 hours of constant climb we stopped for lunch at the Tea-Horse Guesthouse.
If you stop there, order the Naxi sandwich! really tasty and big! they also offer free local green tea.
We didn’t eat at the dining room but at a side “lounge” with a fireplace, outside it was coldish and knowing that we had maximum 2 more hours hiking towards the Halfway Guesthouse which was going to be our overnight stop.
We decided to take a short nap in the warm room as we were sleepy from the early start to take the bus from Lijiang.
Well rested after an hour and a half stop for lunch and nap, we started hiking again. The map showed the remaining section to Halfway Guesthouse should take 2 hours over mainly flat terrain.
It only took us 1.5h to get there. Even that it was still early we had planned to stay here after it was recommended to us.
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
Many people continues towards the Middle TLG and stay at the “famous” Tina’s Guesthouse but the views at Halfway are stunning! even the public toilet deserves a visit! (the dorms have confy modern bathrooms inside though)
We were hiking in late February. Although there were about 3 or 4 Guesthouses, only Halfway was opened. In the main town at the Middle TLG there are a handful of options available for hostels as well.
I found Halfway to be quite nice, we were the first ones arriving that day and we chose the beds right next to the window. What an awesome view!
For the entire day we saw less than 10 hikers. The weather was changing from coldish to warm, nothing too extreme.
The total hike for the day was of about 6 hours including the 1.5h lunch/nap stop and plenty of photo stops.
I was told at the hostel in Lijiang that it was going to take 7-8 hours. So you can expect to finish at around 5-8 hours depending on your speed and stops. I didn’t find it too exhausting as it was mainly the first 90 minutes that were uphill.
Day 2 of hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Our second day started much colder than the previous one, there was a misty fog that added a different beauty to the mountains.
The start of the hike was pretty flat but going through awesome scenery. Next to really deep cliffs and lots of viewpoints of the distant gorge.
My initial plan for the day was to hike down to the Middle TLG and then take a bus to Shangri-La at around 3pm.
My friend had to go back to Lijiang but I decided to stay an extra night in the mountains as this is an incredibly beautiful place (I ended up staying 4 nights in total!)
It took about 1 hour of hiking since the start of the day when an intersection comes.
Here you can decide to stay on the same level and go through the Bamboo Forest Path and then the Luke’s Maintenance Road 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. 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.
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, by now on my own as my friend couldn’t stay any longer in the mountains.
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! But that’s a story for my post: Hiker’s Playground. Hiking around the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Finishing the one-day Tiger Leaping Gorge hike
Even that I stayed longer in the mountains. You could finish up your TLG trip on the second day.
Once you arrive to Tina’s Guesthouse you can walk down to the Gorge. There will be a few options on the map on where to go down.
I took the path that points down to the Sky Ladder. For each of these paths you need to pay a 15RMB fee to the locals.
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)
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!
Back in 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.
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!
If you stay a few days, I recommend you to stay at Luke’s Hostel and spend a few days with his lovely family! they will welcome you with tea and walnuts from their garden after every hike!
Feel free to drop any questions if you’re planning to hike or visit the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Make sure to check the rest of my posts backpacking in China for more ideas on your next adventure!