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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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Revision as of 07:39, 15 May 2011 by (talk) (Sleep and Eat)

Southwest China : Yunnan : Tiger Leaping Gorge
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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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This article is an itinerary.

Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge, December 2006.JPG

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.

An open ended ticket to the trail is ¥50 (¥25 for students) purchased from the ticket booths at either end of the trail. Some trekkers have avoided the entry fee by setting off early before the ticket booth opens or sneaking past when the guard is out. Starting Spring 2010 - The road near entrance office was in reconstruct so they didn't sell tickets.

Typically the hike is spread over two days (one and half - three day) but a slower pace will afford you to time contemplate the natural surrounds and unwind in the villages quietude.

The trail stretches between Qiaotou and Walnut Grove, the more adventuresome types can continue to Daju or Baishuitai. Maps showing distances and guesthouse locations are available from the ticket office.

A little used side-trail to a remote waterfall just outside Walnut Garden is not shown on most maps but is marked with yellow arrows. The path is a challenging but 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.

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. 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 500RMB (covers transport, one night lodging, and any fees; no food).


From Qiaotou: From the ticket office, walk along the road till you reach the school gate. Stay on the road, following the schools grey-white wall till its end where painted arrows point up an embankment at the beginning of the trek. From here keep to the well worn path and follow the plentiful painted red/yellow arrows. About 10km later, at Tina's there is a trail down to the river. You can come back up to Tina's two ways (Tianti (the heavenly ladder), or Teacher Zhang's trail) or take a trail that goes a little ways down the river before coming back up a little farther down the road.

A misleading fake path before the school forks off at a brick wall painted with fading arrows. People may tell you it is the right way, but stay on the road to the school. (If the road to the school is under construction you may have to take this one. Don't worry, you'll get to the right place eventually.)


Some locals in Lijiang will insist that this hike is dangerous, especially in rainy season. 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.

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. At regular intervals old women, young girls and sundry others will demand small fees for using optional parts of the path. Some, such as the descent to the river below Tina's guest house, are particularly annoying, as you'll be asked for money at what seems like every step of the way, with an elaborate story to explain the cost. There is a 10 Yuan fee to hike down to the Tiger Leaping Stone, and another 10 Yuan fee if you choose to take the ladder trail back up. Locals will 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. Men with horses or donkeys who will offer to take you part way for a fee.

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 to 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.

Sleep and Eat

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 5-Fingers Guesthouse. In (average) time and distance order from Qiaotou along the high trail.

  • 00h00m Hiker's Cafe, "Hiker's, 08878228900/13378876480 (), [1]. Opened in June 2010 by a guy from Shanghai who loves hiking.
  • 02h00m Naxi Family Guesthouse, 08878806928/13988758424. A range of neat rooms looking into the central courtyard. Basic shared washing facilities with warmish showers and nice garden views from the toilet. Good-value freshly cooked Western/Chinese food made with locally grown produce (try the pumpkin!). Very authentic feel, great alternative to staying in Qiaotou. Pickup by Jeep or horse and reservations can be made in advance. dm: ¥20, d/tw: ¥40, d with bathroom: ¥70.
  • 05h00m Tea-Horse Trade Guesthouse. Friendly atmosphere, very tasty food with huge menu but all freshly cooked by the owners children. Affordable massages (50RMB/hour) and very nice staff. Chinese toilets without doors. Smaller then Halfway, about 20 rooms. Double or twin room 50RMB, shared bathroom, 120RMB for double or twin ensuite.
  • 06h30m Halfway Lodge. Cheap beer, great food, and simple and clean rooms. Double room with shared bath 50RMB. En suite rooms are 130RMB. Unusual (and completely unnecessary) "scenic toilet" with views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Be sure you can make it before dark. This guesthouse can be very noisy as it is huge. If you are tired and it is evening, stay the night at one of these guesthouses - don't walk any further as the walk gets quite slippery/steep down to Tina's and would be dangerous in the dark (no barriers to falling off the mountain). 25RMB for dorm beds..
  • 08h30m Tina's Youth Hostel. More than a Youth hostel, they added recently some twin/double rooms. Very good Chinese (and some Western) food - cheap and simple but well-prepared with what seem like all-local ingredients, Internet and wifi. Some staff speak English. Taxi van to Qiaotou, which fits up to 7 people and costs ¥150 after some bargaining. Minivan to Lijiang which fits up to 7 people costs ¥300 (September 2010)
  • 09h30m Sean's, 0887-8202222 / 13988745942, [2]. The rooms here are overpriced but the staff speak English. Dorms have a teddy bear on each bed. Privates have 24hr hot water & heated rooms. Great food and no MSG! Sean is a great host and chatting with him makes the gorge even better. Part of GH is under reconstruction. dm: ¥20.
  • 09h30m Chateau de Woody, (500m past Sean's). Ignore the concrete building on the left and head opposite to the recently added rooms with hot (hot!) showers and big comfortable beds The paved courtyard overlooking the gorge is the perfect place to relax with some walnuts or something from the Chinese/Western menu. Jenny, the ever-helpful host speaks ‘good enough’ English. dm: ¥15-30, d with/without bathroom: ¥180-320.


Before leave Lijiang/Qiaotou/Daju, be sure you have enough water for the first part of the hike. On the way are no shops, but on the trek there are several women selling fruits, water and beer. Prices vary, but fruit will be ¥2-3 per piece. Guesthouses charge ¥5 for 1.5 litre bottle of water. Between Naxi's GH and highest peak is a "shop" where you can buy really lot of things.

Get in, Get out

From Lijiang: Morning buses to Qiaotou (桥头), ¥16, 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.

To/from Qiaotou/Walnut Garden: Minivans do the 30min trip between either end of the trek. The cost should be ¥80 for the entire van. Drivers will ask for more. As of Summer 2010 this entire road is under construction; you will have to walk it and risk the blasting if you don't want to go the high road.

From Shangrila: You can pick any bus to Kunming, Lijiang and Dali, there is a bus at least every hour

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:

To Haba from Walnut Garden: Tina's or Sean's guesthouse can organise a minibus (180-200RMB) to Haba along a scenic road (1.5hrs). From Haba, there is a daily bus to Shangrila, then.

Walnut Garden to Daju If you are in Guesthouse as Tina's or 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 Tina'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.


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 Grove 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 Grove 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.

When you get to the bottom hopefully the ferryman has seen you from the top of the cliff on the far side (always a good idea to yell out "ni hao" - great echo here), and he'll make his way down, calling out as he does, to bring the ferry across. The crossing costs ¥30 per person. The only reason he might not see you is he's just taken other tourists to Daju in his minivan, in which case you'll be waiting at least an hour for his return. He can be reached by phone at +86 13987049952.

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.

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