The name Huangshan is much abused and misused. This article is about Huangshan Scenic Area - otherwise known as Mount Huangshan. Its fame is such that almost everything in the area has adopted the same name. Most confusingly, the nearest big town, Tunxi has re-branded itself as Huangshan City or, often, just Huangshan. Without care, you will find that your train to Huangshan takes you to a different town to your Huangshan hotel and that neither is in the Huangshan Scenic Area.
Huangshan itself does not have good transportation links. Moreover accommodation (and everything else!) within the scenic area is expensive. Consequently most travelers stop in either Tangkou or Tunxi for the nights before and after a visit to Huangshan. Assuming you go back to the same hotel you will be able to leave the bulk of your luggage with them and only take a day pack up the mountain.
Huangshan is a granite massif consisting of 36 separate peaks, rising above 1,800 m. Famous throughout Chinese artistic history, Huangshan represents the typical mountain in Chinese paintings. Frequently shrouded in mist, the many peaks appear to float on clouds and have very fanciful names such as 18 Arhats Worshipping the South Sea, Lotus Flower Peak, Celestial Capital, Paint Brush, etc.
Jagged granite peaks clothed in uniquely shaped pine trees create a spectacular landscape of great interest to artists and photographers.
Flora and fauna
Over 1,450 kinds of plant are found within the Park. The most spectacular tree is the unique Pinus huangshanensis which grows precariously clinging to rock faces. Many of the trees have names such as the Welcoming Guest and the Seeing-off Guest Pines. Carpinus, Cornus, Enkianthus, Fraxinus, Rhododendron and Weigelia are some of the species of flowering tree to be seen. 470 species of animals have been recorded. The most frequently seen ground animals are squirrels and small skinks.
In summer it is cool at night, in winter cold.
The main entrance to Huangshan is the southern one near Tangkou however it is some distance from here to the paths on the mountain. You cannot enter by taxi: only the National Express shuttle buses are allowed into the scenic area. You can walk in, but it is better to save your energy for the mountain. Shuttle buses go from Tangkou to either Mercy Light Temple for the Yuping (aka Jade Screen) Cable Car or to Yungu (aka Cloud Valley or Yungu New) Cable Car. Buses leave approximately every 20 minutes, cost ¥19 and take around 20 minutes. The peaks are only really accessible by the eastern path (2.5 hours up and 1.5 hours down). The western path takes 9 hours and all of the peaks are closed there. STRONGLY ADVISED TO USE EASTERN PATH ONLY.
From the lower cable car stations you can either walk to the top or use the cable car. Cable car tickets can generally be purchased 6:30 to 16:30 but hours may be extended occasionally.
There is also an entrance and cable car in the north at Taiping from Songgu Nunnery near the bottom of the valley up to Purple Cloud Peak.
Shuttle bus from Tangkou to YunGu cableway is ¥19 each way.
An entry fee of ¥230 applies (off-season entry fee is ¥150, e.g. early December), a 50% discount is available for students with IDs and seniors. ( 35 Yuan discount offseason| This discount is also available to foreign students. The fee is paid inside the scenic area near where the shuttle bus drops off.
Cableway to the top costs ¥80 each way (¥65 off-season).
Funicular from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to near Baiyun Hotel is about ¥100.
For example, a typical round trip: bus up --> entry fee --> cableway up --> funicular --> cableway down --> bus down = ¥528.
There are no roads, buses or taxis on the mountain. You can use a cable car to reach the top but, once there, walking is the name of the game.
The walkways in Huangshan mountain area are properly engineered 2m wide paved paths. Handrails and parapets are done well, and that's a good thing because when you look over the side of some of these paths, you will see a long sheer drop. You'd better be willing to climb a lot of steps - there are said to be a total of 60,000 steps on the paths. You'll be sharing these paths with a lot of other people including many loud tour guides, but it is really worth while making the effort.
If you are not fit, you can take one of the sedan chairs in which you are carried by two porters. Porter stations are dotted around the mountain. However the paths are well enough made for most people to walk, if slowly.
The main thing to do in Huangshan is walk around and take photographs of the scenery which is spectacular, beautiful, different and varying in appearance with every change of weather. The same view looks quite different by day in fine weather or with cloud, early morning or late evening. Sunrise and sunset are renowned but, of course, dependent on the weather.
When there is good weather and clear skies, nighttime star gazing is quite rewarding. If you are staying overnight at a hotel on the mountain then before dark comes, recon some good areas where you can get away from the hotel lights and look up. On the mountain you'll be above most of the haze/smog/light and viewing a sky full of stars is possible.
All of the scenic area is gorgeous but the following spots are highlights: Lotus Peak, Narrow Cliff, Fair-walking Bridge, Cloud-dispelling Pavillion, the rings/loops north of Xihai Grand Canyon, Refreshing Terrace, Beginning to Believe Peak and White Goose Ridge.
Many walk Huangshan in a single day. Typically one would start early from Tangkou (or very early from Tunxi) and take the shuttle bus to Yungu cable car and then use the cable car to the top. From the top station walk anti-clockwise via Black Tiger Pine, Dawn Pavilion, Cloud-dispelling Pavilion, Flying-over Rock and Bright Top to Yuping (Jade Screen) cable car station and then take the cable car and shuttle bus back to Tangkou. Hiking the mountain like this in one day requires some fitness but is quite feasible for most. The fit can reasonably add on some detours as well - see the two day itinerary for suggestions.
Starting from Yungu cable car and ending at Yuping has the advantage that there is slightly more down hill than up but the difference is not great so the opposite order is quite reasonable.
For those with a bit more time and money a two day itinerary is very worthwhile - particularly if you doubt your fitness! It will allow seeing more of the area without time pressure and also allow you to enjoy sunset and sunrise. It is best to plan where you will sleep on the mountain - see Sleep. Yungu Cable way delivers you near to Beihai and Shilin hotels. Yuping Cable way delivers you near to Yupinglou Hotel. Taiping Cable way delivers you near to Cloud Dispelling Hotel.
With the extra time you can easily detour to Lotus Peak, Lion Peak, Beginning to Believe Peak and White Goose Ridge. If time and energy permit, you can also consider:
Those who are very unfit should consider forgoing the walk from one cable car to the other. Instead, catch a cable car up, walk around as much or as little as you want and then take the same cable car back. The cable car trips are breathtaking on their own and the areas around the top stations are well worth a look.
The maps attached to the right are probably the best you will find. Print them out and take them with you.
Many local couples buy padlocks and inscribe their names on them, then lock them to various places on top of the mountain. Others buy medals commemorating their successful summit of the peak.
At some of the hotels such as Beihai are China Post stations where you can buy and send post cards. They also have the usual trinkets like magnets, playing cards, etc.
Food options are limited on the mountain. There are (expensive) restaurants in all the hotels but it is hard for a solo traveller to find cheap food. There are several small grocery stores selling snacks & drinks. Stinky tofu of a particularly stinky variety seems to be popular as well. On top of the mountain in peak season, water was ¥6-10, beer ¥10, meat sticks 3 for ¥10, instant noodles ¥10, cucumbers 2 for ¥6.
For authentic Anhui cuisine (which is one of the eight Chinese cuisine traditions) at a reasonable price, you'd better visit Tangkou, a town at the foot of Huangshan. Local restaurants offer delicious food and welcome visitors with substantial hospitality. A restaurant called Haozailai (好再来菜馆) enjoys great popularity among local people in Tangkou, and you will find superbly delicious Chinese food there.
Take plenty of water as the price rises steeply on the mountain (up to ¥10 per 600ml bottle). Local beer, such as Huangshan Beer (黄山啤酒), costs ¥10-20.
You can easily find bottled water, Coca-cola and a few other beverages at shops and hotels. Of course it's a very good idea to bring a water bottle with you when hiking as you can go an hour or more between places.
On Huangshan, many tourists choose to stay overnight at one of several hotels in the Beihai region of the mountain to watch the sunset and sunrise.
It is possible to camp on the top of the mountain for around ¥180. However, conditions involve tightly-packed camping that is on concrete flooring and the mist is so heavy that most wake up cold and wet. Dorm beds in a relatively clean place cost ¥200, which may be a better option.
There are no practical backcountry options even if it were allowed, which it is not.
Huangshan is one of the most famous mountains in China, and as a result you will have to deal with the masses that come visit it every day. At the prime hours on a weekend, queues for the gondola can take up to 2 hours. If you choose to take the gondola up, you may find your self completely surrounded by tourists. The crowd will disperse if you walk to the grand canyon area. Still, if you are the type of adventurist that is looking for that peaceful, natural hike, then Huangshan may not be your place. Nevertheless, the mountain is extraordinary and is well worth the visit.
Be sure to check trail closures before you begin. It may be that you walk on a four hour loop, only to find that after 3 hours the last section is closed.
Many maps of Huangshan are outdated. Moreover even signs on the mountain may be incomplete or outdated. If lost it's best to ask one of the workers where to go.
Mount Huangshan can get very cold in winter so be sure to bring appropriate clothing including boots that that can deal with icy paths.