Have you ever over-estimated a hiking trail? It happened to me while preparing for the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike near Lijiang (China), which I was told was a 4 day hike. I ended up doing it in two days. I had packed cans of tuna, beans and other food that would last for 4 days of solitude, and my backpack ended up weighing around 16 kg (35 lbs).
As it turned out, the (ample) guest houses along the way were well stocked on food, and I even found some food stalls conveniently located along the route. Apparently I wasn’t the only one that overestimated the trip; plenty of trashed candy wrappers and empty water bottles can be found next to the hiking route. Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience and I don’t plan on forgetting it any time soon.
Tiger Leaping Gorge facts
- Located 60 km (37mi) north of Lijiang
- At maximum depth the distance between river and mountain peek is 3.790m (12.343ft), making it one of the deepest and most spectacular canyons in the world
- The indiginous Naxi people are the primary inhabitants of the gorge
- The upper trail is around 22 kilometers(14 mi) in length
- Entrance fee is ¥65 (€8.75) or ¥32.50 (€4.25) if you are a student under 25 and bring your passport
Getting from Lijiang to the Tiger Leaping Gorge
From Lijiang there are plenty of (Shangri-la bound) buses going to the Gorge; As tourists normally either go to Shangri-la or the gorge, you will have no trouble making yourself clear. You get off at the Qiaotou village, from there you walk a few meters to the hike’s entrance. A bus ride should cost about ¥40 (€ 5.40, price from Nov 2015). A recent Lonely Planet might help for reference.
Getting to Lijiang
The easiest way to get to the Tiger Leaping Gorge is via Lijiang, a city that can be easily accessed by train. To get to Lijiang you can take a direct train from Shenzhen (near Hong Kong) which takes a brutal 32 hour if the “sleeper” spots are fully booked. Been there, done that and slept on the floor in between carriages. I recommend taking it easy and breaking the trip up with stops in Guilin, and / or Dali. Kunming can be skipped, unless you want to visit the Stone Forest in Shilin (it’s beautiful if you don’t count the one million Chinese tourists).
Which hiking trail should I choose?
Now there are two hiking trails which separate the boys/girls from the men/women. One takes you up a kilometer and gives you views you have only dreamed of, while the other leads you to bus-loads of tourists on the ground level next to the rapids. Which ever trail you choose, there is an entrance fee of €10,-. I was ready for a 4-day struggle against nature, fatigue and weather, but as I said in the intro of this article, that never happened. It’s not a trail you should underestimate either, you will need to be at least a moderate hiker in order to not get cramped legs. Especially the hike up and down the mountain at the beginning and end weren’t easy. It’s easy to find your way on both trails, as they are clearly marked.
Tiger Leaping Gorge map
It’s pretty easy to get yourself a map for the hike. In most hostels in Lijiang, you will find a black and white map created by Tina’s Guest House. Although this map doesn’t look very clear on first glance, it is all you will need. If you forget to get a map in Lijang, there are maps available at the entrance building of the gorge.
When you get dropped off at the entrance of the hike and you have paid for your ticket, walk down the main road for a few meters until you’ll find a sign for the “High path”, taking you up the mountain. If you decide to stay over at the Naxi Family Guest House which I mentioned earlier, there is a map painted on the wall on the roof as well.
Tip: stay at the Naxi Family guest house
If you don’t want to end up following the same people for 2 days, you can stop at the first guest house (Naxi Family Guest House) for the best value in any guest guest house I’ve been to, around the world that is. For 2.50 Euro (almost the same in Dollar) you get a 2-person room, and if you’re lucky you’ll be the only one in it (can you tell that I’m a bit introvert sometimes?). The food, serenity and lovely (English speaking!!) staff are well worth the stay. And best of all, and here comes the tip, you will have the route all to yourself if you leave early on day two. Not many people end their first day at this guest house, since it’s only about a 3-4 hour hike from the start and would feel much like giving up for most.
Halfway at the Halfway Guesthouse
The name of this guesthouse can’t get any more literal, but it definitely causes hikers to choose this guesthouse as their first stop for a night’s sleep. It’s definitely a beautiful place to stop and rest or enjoy a meal, even if you’re not staying here. The signs pointing to the guesthouse from the trail are a welcome sight as well, as they simply say “halfway”.
Do I have to reserve a guest house before setting off?
I didn’t book any guest houses in advance, I simply turned up. This worked out pretty well for me. The Halfway House and Tina’s Guest House are the most popular places to stay and it might be more difficult to stay there without a booking.
You will come across the Naxi Family Guest House pretty soon in the day, so it might feel a bit weird to already call it a day. But the good part, besides the guest house being absolutely amazing, is that it caused the walk on the next day to be practically without any other hikers. I would however always check with the guest houses up front if they expect to be full, as I don’t know how things can change in high season.
Tiger Leaping Gorge weather and rainfall throughout the year
The best time to visit the Tiger Leaping Gorge is between December and Februari, the Chinese winter. The weather during the day is usually clear and warm (but not too warm), but temperatures drop to below 0ºC (32 °F), so make sure you pack accordingly. During the rain season (July to October) the trail is officially closed, however there are still those who attempt it. I would however discourage this, as some parts of the trail are narrow, muddy and can get very slippery. I can tell you, it’s a looong way down. During the summer, around April, May and June, you can still see the snow on the mountain tops; a stunning sight.
What if the Tiger Leaping Gorge is closed?
As mentioned before, the Tiger Leaping Gorge officially closes in the rainy season (July to October). However, this practically means that the ticket booth will be closed and there will be a barrier and/or a sign. As landslides and heavy rainfall will cause the hiking paths to be very difficult or even unsafe to hike on. Therefore, only attempt to hike the trais when you have done your research on the weather on the trail and are absolutely sure the conditions are in your favor. Do ask around in hostels in Lijiang if unsure. When attempting the trial during the period of closure, you might get into trouble getting back to Lijiang from the end of it. Your best bet will to ask the hostels you pass about getting a ride back.
Enough talking, more photos and videos!
Words don’t do this trip much justice, so I’ll stop writing now and start posting pictures of the Tiger Leaping Gorge to give you a little taste. Pictures don’t convey the full beauty of this hike though, so you’ll have to walk the walk yourself to truly understand what’s out there.
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