Tiger Leaping Gorge
The Tiger Leaping Gorge trek (虎跳峡; Pinyin: Hu Tiao Xia), near Lijiang in Yunnan, is one of the finest treks through some of the most naturally beautiful and diverse landscapes China has to offer. The trail runs high on the northern side of the gorge passing through quiet villages, shady forest, blustery precipice and verdant terraced farmland. The snow covered peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山; YuLong XueShan; 5596m) and Haba Snow Mountain (哈巴雪山; Haba Xueshan, 5396m) shadow either side of the gorge.
They are actually two ways on the northern side of the gorge : the lower road and the upper trail. The lower road, used by buses full of tourists going to the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge viewing platform, continues to the Walnut Grove (next to the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge) and the Lower Tiger Leaping Gorge. The upper trail is the hike you may be looking for: it goes up a few hundred meters on the road after leaving Qiaotou (see bellow) and ends near Tina's GH and the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. The later hasn't been set up by the government but by locals, so be prepared to be asked for fees to use their steep paths/ladders/stairs (see Fees)
There are lots of construction going on in TLG (March 2018). Roads are already connecting the Lower Road to some of the bigger villages along the way, and it looks like there might be future roads connecting some of these villages directly with each other. Halfway Lodge already organizes tours that take groups up to their village and then walk to the waterfall. So beware that even the Upper Trail can get busy in certain sections.
Typically the upper hike is spread over two days. A slower pace will afford you to time contemplate the natural surrounds and unwind in the villages quietude, but if you are a confirmed hiker you can do it in 7h (however, be aware, it is a real mountain hike). As of March 2018, however, many hikers met en-route expressed dismay at the state of even the upper trail. The beginning part is marred by the massive construction works associated with the building of rail bridges near Qiaotou. The villages in the middle part are all now completely connected to the lower gorge road with large well engineered roads and large trucks and construction noises are never far away. Nearly all of the second half of the trail is either on concrete or next to ugly electricity power lines. You are never far from advertising graffiti - while that modestly advertising an upcoming inn might be understandable, you may want to avoid (or say something to) Shangri-la based inns that have gratuitously ruined much of the trail with their graffiti. While the trail certainly has beautiful parts, one cannot help but be struck by the reality that the demands of nature and of hikers are taking a back seat to the builders of luxury compounds and commercial interests along the route. The good news is that from the main upper trail, it is obvious that there are places higher up to do interesting hiking in unspoiled areas. The bad news is that there is as of now very little guidance on this including a lack of maps and trails and certainly no facilities. If you attempt to hike to, for example, what appears to be an achievable sub-peak higher up using, make sure you bring plenty of provisions and watch your route and time carefully - night comes very quickly in the mountains.
The main upper trail stretches between Qiaotou and Walnut Grove, the more adventuresome types can continue to Daju or Baishuitai. Very basic Maps showing distances and guesthouse locations are available from the ticket office and guest houses.
Several maps do not reference the smaller trail going from the high way to the walnut grove. To get there you can follow the green arrows. The path is a little challenging sometime (be cautious of the landslides) but a worthwhile detour, passing through shady stands of bamboo to the base of the waterfall where the crashing water flows into a series of tranquil water pools. This trail is not advised for people afraid of heights.
If you prefer to visit without any (strenuous) hiking, a road along the south side of the gorge enters from the west and goes for a couple kilometers before stopping at a parking lot. After that there is a fairly level paved trail to Upper Tiger Leaping stone. However, this is extremely crowded and you only see a very small part of the gorge (though you will see a lot of construction trucks). Tours can be arranged in Lijiang or you can try to hire a driver to take you as a day trip from Lijiang, though drivers from Lijiang are not allowed to cross the river as that's outside their allowed territory.
If you want to avoid any hassles of figuring out your own transportation and directions you can go with a guide and a group from Lijiang for about ¥500 (covers transport, one night lodging, and any fees; no food).
There are a few ATMs in Qiaotou; however, they are only likely to take Chinese bank cards. The best idea would be to take the money you require for your time at Tiger Leaping Gorge from an ATM in Lijiang, to be on the safe side. There are no ATMs at any point along the trail.
In order to access the gorge, you will first have to buy a ticket from the tourist information office at Qiaotou. This ticket is formally only valid for one day and costs ¥65 (¥45 during the off-season), but once you are inside the gorge no one actually checks your ticket, no matter how many days you plan to hike there. Students under 25 get a 50% discount, but be sure to bring your passport as student cards are not accepted as proof of age. Some trekkers have avoided the entry fee by setting off early before the ticket booth opens or sneaking past when the guard is out (don't try the small path on the left just before the ticket office, every one who see you will shout or call for you to buy your ticket).
While this ticket to the gorge pays for maintenance of the main roads and access to public areas, the most spectacular parts of the hike down to the river at Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge actually go through private property of the Naxi, the ethnic group indigenous to the area. Since the laboriously constructed trails, bridges and ladders down to the river are privately maintained by different Naxi families, they sell tickets for ¥15 for different parts of the trail down to the river, in particular the flat trail called Teacher Zhang's House and the incredibly steep Sky Ladder (actual ladder-climbing along this route is optional). If you want to take a different route up than you took down you might have to pay ¥30 in total. A third trail, also known as "thin slice of the sky" is much less busy and often unattended by ticket vendors. It leads from the bottom of the sky ladder to Tibet Guesthouse, so you can either start from there or just follow the signs/graffiti for Tibet from down in the gorge.
There is a 10 Yuan fee to cross the bridge to stand on the Tiger Leaping Stone, though there is a free alternative stone. There are signs all over the place telling you how much you have to pay for what section. During the high season locals might also attempt to charge you fees to use the rocks as photo ops, but ignore them and take the trail to the building downstream, visible from the stream. The views are much better from there.
However if you go out of season (Late March for example) many of the money collecting posts will be unattended and you'll be free to take advantage of the vistas without being harassed.
Keep in mind that there are 2 completely different options to visit the Gorge. One is the high trekking trail accurately described below starting in Qiaotou, running on the left side of the river (as coming from Lijiang). The other is a flat tour-tourism artificial walking street that runs near the water on the right side of the river. It is slightly boring but it has the advantage of catching all the Gorge in 2 hours with 50. Most of the local 'guides' will lead you to it.
From Qiaotou: To start the hike from town, you'll need to get to the ticket office first. If you are on a Shangri-la bound bus, it'll drop you off just before a bridge. Just cross it and head right to the "Tiger Leaping Gorge Resorts". The ticket office is 30 seconds further on your right (don't worry guards will show you the 3 storey-brand-new-empty building)
It is now very easy to find the beginng of the upper trail. After you pass the ticket office there is a big new road under construction (many buildings also). Walk past Jane's and the school and you will see a the signboard saying "Upper Trail". After 45 min - 1h of walking with the trucks and cars you'll see a house with English written on it on your left hand side . Walk past this house towards the construction. On your left you will see a steep hill and a sign. Take it and it's the "real" upper trail. This new road (highway) will be a kind of upper trail for cars in a near future. So if you want to reach the "real" hiking trail, without walking on a road, you might consider hopping in a car when you drop of the bus (many people will offer you to drive you to the begining of the trail) but expect to pay something, 10¥ for 5 minutes of drive will do it... (this is china after all)
About 20km, and 7-8 hours later, you'll arrive at the Lower Road (Tina's GH is at the junction). On the Lower Road, there are several points where you can descend down to the river, at Tina's, Sandy's, further down on the way to Tibet's GH, and at Walnut Grove. It costs at least 15 yuan to go down all the way and back, whichever way you take. Down in the river, some families have built a bridge out to the biggest stone and charge an extra 10 yuan for the access. [Feb 2016]
Bus from Lijiang or Shangrila should be about ¥40 (Nov 2015). They start from north gate Lijiang or from Lijiang Express Bus Station (on Shangri-La Avenue) and drop you off at Qiaotou. Currently, only a few buses plying the Shangri-la to Lijiang route actually pass through Quiatou, so the old advice of just waiting for any such bus may not be valid any more; you may need to plan ahead from Lijiang to make sure you get on a bus that actually goes to Quiatou. If you catch the 8am bus from Lijiang and are a quite fast hiker, you should have sufficient time to hike the entirety of the upper trail (to Tina's) in one day though from there it would take a bit of luck and/or private hire of an entire vehicle to get to Shangri-la or Lijiang on the same day. But, there's something also to be said for spending one night in one of the friendly and quiet inns on the trail if only for a night.
You can also go directly to Qiaotou from Dali/Xiaguan. Buses run every half hour from 7am or 7:30 to noon. It takes around 5h to get there and costs around ¥115. Ask at your accommodation at Dali to plan this bus for you.
You can rent the blue minivan for around RMB250 per van that can sit 7 people (excluding driver). Just make it clear to the driver that you are going to Qiaotou if you are doing the hike. Otherwise, they might bring you to the tourist viewing platform at upper Tiger Leaping Gorge.
There is a shuttle bus to Shangrila from Tina's at 3:30PM which costs ¥80 and takes 2.5 hours (June 2017). Alternatively, you could get to Shangri-la by hitch-hiking to Qiaotou (¥20 from around Tina's) and then waving down one of the grey minivans heading to Shangri-la (¥30) (June 2017). You may even be able to flag down a grey minivan heading to Shangri-la directly from Tina's, but this requires that you be able to quickly identify the Chinese characters for Shangri-la in the windshield as the minivans approach.
Buses to old town Lijiang cost ¥55 and depart from Tina's every day at 9AM and 3:30PM (Nov 2015). You will see signs along the hike advertising a ride from Sean's GH in Walnut Garden to Lijiang at 330PM(You can call Sean by Cellphone:+86 15894367846). However, this bus does not run everyday and should not be relied upon if planning to hike from middle gorge to Walnut Grove. But Sean's GH is only 2kms from Tina's GH, so you can easily get to Walnut Garden and then return for the shuttle bus.
Get down to previous intersection if you want to check town and local market Get up to next crossing and turn right to reach entrance of the park (and the counter)
Some locals (incl. ticket vendors at the bus station) in Lijiang will insist that this hike is dangerous, especially in rainy season and it is not possible to go there. You probably will not want to go when it is pouring, or if there has been a huge amount of recent rain due to the threat of landslides, but if it hasn't been that wet lately, and you find a couple of dry days and are reasonably experienced at hiking, the worst that will happen is that you will get muddy and have to ford a couple of swollen cascades. Best is to call ahead at one of the guest houses, where you plan to stay and ask about the weather as it might be sunny in the gorge, while it might pour rain in Lijiang. They can also help out with transportation.
The instant you step off the bus in Qiaotou touts will insist you take their mini-van to the ‘start of the trail’ (for ¥120+ one way) but they should be politely ignored. The real start of the trail is a 2 minute walk over the bridge and down the first road on the right.
On the trail there are endless efforts of varying legitimacy to help you part with your cash. Nearing the most difficult part of the trail (the twenty-eight steep switchbacks), local men with horses or donkeys who will offer to take you part way for a fee. They will charge anywhere from ¥150-300, regardless of where on the trail you decide you want to use their services. If you feel the need to have the accomplishment of doing the hike on your own two feet, they can help you by taking your bag for about ¥50. The best way to deal with them is to ignore them and don't give any money, as this encourages them to pester tourists.
Some guesthouses may try to mislead you about your hiking options. Tina's guesthouse has been known to insist that while you may descend to the river below, you must hike back up, and may not continue along the river, following the "slice of the sky" trail towards Tibet Guesthouse and Walnut Grove, one of the most spectacular sections of the trail. While this part of the gorge has its charm, some feel it is not an essential part of the trek and could be skipped, though some emphatically disagree.
Before leaving Lijiang/Qiaotou/Daju, be sure you have enough water for the first part of the hike. On the way, there are no shops, but on the trek there are occasional vendors selling fruits, water and beer. Prices vary, but fruit will be ¥2-3 per piece. Guesthouses charge ¥5 per 1.5-litre bottle of water. Between Naxi's GH and highest peak is a shop (artistic use of Red Bull cans) where you can buy a variety of things. Don't count on open shops and present vendors in low season, make sure you bring sufficient supplies from Qiaotou or Nuòyú.
Numerous family run guesthouses are conveniently dotted along the trail. Prices rise during the peak periods but outside of these times guesthouses are cheap and blissfully quiet. Qiaotou has a handful of comfortable hotels but there is little reason to stay. Starting the walk at midday leaves ample time to reach Naxi Guesthouse, or push on to Halfway Lodge or 5-Fingers Guesthouse.
Qiaotou town has also some hotel but with very limited english speaking staff, no trek informations and not so competitive price against guesthouses on the trek.
In (average) time and distance order from Qiaotou along the high trail.
From Lijiang: Morning buses to Qiaotou (桥头), ¥35, 2hrs, leave from the bus station, stopping to pick up passengers at the new Southern Bus station down the road. Get to Bus station from city centre by bus no.13. Make sure you only pay for going to Qiaotou if you plan to hike the upper gorge. They might sell you a more expensive ticket to "Tiger Leaping Gorge" but that would take you past the start of the trail.
To/from Qiaotou/Walnut Garden: Minivans do the 45min trip between either end of the trek. The cost should be ¥120 for the entire van. Drivers will ask for more. In Walnut Garden, Tibet Guest House provides transport at RMB350/van (fit 7 people) directly to Lijiang. Sean's also offer transport to Lijiang/Shangri-la. Tina's GH also currently offers a shuttle bus direct to Lijiang or Shangrila at RMB55 departing at 3:30PM. So there's really no reason why you need to travel to Qiaotou just to catch a separate bus/van to go to Lijiang/Shangri-la, if you plan to hike the middle TLG. Transportation from Walnut Garden to Jane's, ask Tibet Guest House : ¥20 each (Feb 2015), same price than the shuttle from Woddy's. Then from Qiatou, it's easy to catch a local bus to Shangri-la (every 20 minutes, 2 hours, ¥35 each. Feb 2015)
From Shangrila: You can pick any bus to Kunming, Lijiang and Dali, there is a bus at least every hour. About 30y.
If you are heading north to Zhongdian (Shangrila) or coming from there, there is an alternative road via Haba. It is a longer but quieter with fantastic mountain landscapes. The tarmac is very good for bikes. You can think about doing some camping along this road:
Walnut Garden to Daju If you are in Guesthouse as Sean's, that means you are in the middle of the trek. Walk down the low road 3 hours past a small town (三坝乡; Sanba village) near the Yangtze river. Near the river you will see paths across the Yangtze river leading down to the river itself, with a shed and real staircase heading down to the river. Roads are constantly changing here and being constructed, there is currently a gentle car dirt trail down to the river, opt for this option rather then the goat trail. Better is to ask locals, even if you don't know chinese, just ask for "Daju" and point opposite bank of the river. They will show you how get down to ferry pier.
First ferry departure at 10AM, than every few minutes. The price depends on how many people is on the board and if you know some chinese. The most locals is on the first ferry - cheaper!!! (5Y per person), later could be 20Y!
Daju to Lijiang If you are coming from Qiaotou over whole gorge or from Sean's of Walnut garden, you got to the river bank with ferry. After you cross the ferry, there might be two buses a day departuring to Lijiang, first at 1PM, 30Y(?) per person. If you arrive soon, you can walk a bit to forward Daju because bus will stop by every guesthouse or shop on the way through village. The village is really long! (not sure where it starts and finish. there is just a lot of houses by the road) When you get on the bus, it will stop a lot and soon will be full of locals going just a few kilometers with goods, vegetable or whatever from place to place.
Along with a bus there should be a private minivan bus hustler. From here they take you on a road back to Lijiang, about 3 hours.
Lijiang to Daju For some reason there is no regular bus departuring from Lijiang bus station to Daju. You can find minivan who will take you there and you can do trek from opposite side and finish in Qiaotou.
Qiaotou to Dali Jane's guesthouse can arrange for one of the busses that leaves from Shangri La going to Dali to stop on the main road going through Qiaotou; ¥80 4 hours (Nov 2014)
Daju is a sleepy concrete town which you can use as one end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge walk. It seems like Daju is slowly becoming a ghost town as tourists numbers are declining, but despite the fact Daju isn't picturesque, it is a peaceful place to relax and the people are very friendly (the Tiger Leaping Gorge Inn, at one end of the concrete road and overlooking the town square, is run by a very helpful and friendly woman who speaks enough English to get by - her food is simple but delicious).
From a Qiaotou start, just keep walking down the road from Walnut Garden and past the ticket office. There are two options for crossing the river to the Daju side. Either keep walking down to the permanent ferry, or not too far out of Walnut Garden you'll see a coloured sign on a pole to the winter ferry. It will tell you the ferry doesn't operate in July, August, and September because the water is too high (hence you continue to the permanent ferry). At this sign (there is also a faded red arrow painted on the road) you turn directly right off the road and start descending down a dirt trail to the river. This trail is quite steep. As you're descending you'll see the ferry and a hut on the far side of the river.
It's a steep but short climb to the carpark at the top of the cliff and if you've nodded when the ferryman said something about "Daju" and "minivan" he'll be right behind you and will drive you to Daju for ¥20 per person. Alternatively you can walk the about 8km into town.