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Tiger Leaping Gorge in China is believed to be the deepest gorge in the world.
Named after a legend hunter who once fled a tiger by jumping the narrowest point of the gorge to the other side, the gorge is famed for its narrow, craggy rock surface which often has snow-capped peaks in the winter and lush greenery in the spring.
The mountains on either side of the Tiger Leaping Gorge reach over 5,000 meters at their highest point, looking down over the Yangtzee River running through it.
The dramatic scenery and the relaxed hiking trail through the rural villages, home to the Naxi minority people, make this a very enjoyable travel adventure to have in China.
But if you’re not sure what to expect or how to complete this 2 day hike, then keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike.
- About Hiking The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
- Tips for Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Getting To and From Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Where to Stay on The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
- Best Time To Do The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
- More China Travel Guides
About Hiking The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
The trail starts at Qiaotou, a small town in the western Yongjia County of southern Zhejiang, in the Yunnan province of China.
The hike is a multi-day hike that spans for 22km and has an elevation gain of 1,980 meters.
Most people complete the hike in 2 days, but we recommend you spread it over five days to allow for a more relaxed hiking experience and to spend more time at the villages meeting with the locals and enjoying the scenery.
The ending point is where the high and low road meet at Tina’s guest house, Walnut Garden.
We recommend walking the upper trail and taking it as slow as you can. The trail passes along the border of the town of Shangri-La, as well as overlooks the serene Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Jinsha river.
We met plenty of hikers that race through the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail in a day, and we don’t know how they would have managed to enjoy or appreciate the experience.
The high trail is easily accessible, with clearly marked signs, and clean and friendly lodges to rest at along the way.
There is a small fee to enter the gorge at ¥45 pp ($0.30 USD) and you will also need to carry cash with you to pay for guesthouses and food as there are no ATMs along the hike.
The hike is well marked with signs along the way letting you know distances to each place.
Day 1 Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
The trail begins with a slightly uphill track through villages and farms taking you up to the edge of the mountains with splendid views of the muddy Yangtzee river below.
The weather was wet so we had to take extra care with the muddy narrow tracks.
As we began the hike in the evening and we weren’t pushed for time, we only trekked for 1.5 hours before we reached our first sleeping place the Naxi guesthouse.
The Naxis are a Chinese minority group and can be identified by their royal blue and white outfits. The Naxi guesthouse is a popular resting place for travelers hiking the Tiger leaping Gorge trail.
There were about 10 other travelers there and we had a relaxing evening talking over a delicious dinner and then retiring to a $5 room overlooking the central courtyard.
Day 2 Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
As it was Craig’s birthday, we decided to have a sleep in and hike for only 3 hours to the next guesthouse.
The bad weather had cleared, and although the first hour was difficult with a 3,000m summit hike, the view as the clouds cleared to reveal the jagged mountain tops opposite made it all worthwhile.
The walk then leveled out through pine forests, past waterfalls and snaking along the cliff edge for spectacular views.
We found another guesthouse along the way where we stopped for spicy cucumber salad, Naxi bread (to die for) and rejuvenating green tea.
After our energy had been restored we made it over the 28 hairpin turns up the gorge, the most difficult part to the trek, which involved steep trails and climbing using the rocks and roots of trees to help.
The outstanding views made it all worthwhile. We had heard a lot of talk before going on the trek about it being quite dangerous and difficult. We didn’t find it to be this bad but you certainly want to be of reasonable fitness to do the hike.
The trail can be very narrow and slippery at times with lots of switchbacks, so you do have to be extra vigilant with each step, especially in wet weather.
The Halfway Guesthouse was the perfect place for us to collapse after the 28 bends, the infamous switchbacks on the hike and the only portion of the hike that’s particularly strenuous.
If you don’t want to hike this bit, you can rent a donkey to take you up.
This was one of those places you just stumble upon, stay there longer then you think and just remember it forever.
The Halfway Guesthouse sits above the clouds and is famous for its loo with a view, which has been featured on several documentaries.
You truly could not do your business in a more picturesque spot, even I wanted to do the manly thing and hang around in the toilet for longer than was necessary.
What we remember most about it though is the eccentric owner Frankie. He entertained his international guests with his unique technique for catching the ever present and annoying flies.
Frankie. with amazing speed and dexterity, would catch the fly in one hand and then slam it down on the quartz table to finish it off. If this didn’t work Frankie would drop a can on top of the stunned fly to squash it.
That evening was spent drinking several beers with other Tiger Leaping Gorge hikers to celebrate Craig’s birthday.
Frankie even brought out a special birthday pancake with peanuts cooked inside for Craig and shots of rice wine made their way into the celebration.
The bar was a place we did not want to leave as it sat on the edge of the mountain with spectacular views of the gorge below.
The guest house itself had bright and airy rooms with views and we splurged out with a wooden framed bungalow with private bathrooms.
Day 3 Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
We loved The Halfway Guesthouse so much we stayed an extra night and spent our spare day hiking around the area.
It was here, as we were coming back down from the mountain, that I learned how treacherous the path could be in the rain. I slipped on a rock and slammed down very hard, corking my butt on the corner of the rock. I had a quite the souvenir bruise from it.
Taking a walk in the soft evening light that evening was a magical time to take in the serenity and beauty of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek and helped to take my mind of my aching butt.
Day 4 Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
From the Halfway Guesthouse it was only a half hour steep walk through and under waterfalls and fields to the road below.
From here you can walk down to the middle rapids and see the stone from where the mythical tiger leapt across the gorge, which is how the gorge got its name.
The rapids were raging – the wildest water I’d ever seen. It was thrilling being so close to it and experiencing the awesome power of water.
Getting down and back up from the middle rapids involves a really steep climb. 20 m high vertical ladders on the cliff face help you to get back out.
Take the climb really slow and whatever you do don’t look at the twigs that are hammered into the rock face holding the ladder up.
The climb out was scary and exhausting so we pulled up to the Tibetan Guesthouse for the evening.
It was a quiet place to stay with magnificent views from our room and also the toilet. We thoroughly enjoyed our sunset beers and dinner that evening.
Day 5 Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
The next day we decided to walk all the way back to Quiatou along the 21km low road. Crazy! Yes we know it. But we loved this area so much we wanted to experience as much of it as possible.
It was a pleasant walk and as we were closer to the river it gave us a much different perspective of the gorge.
Once we reached the upper rapids it wasn’t as enjoyable as you meet with thousands of Chinese tourists and their tour buses. The walk suddenly became noisy, busy, and dusty – very different to the high road.
We were exhausted as we neared the end of the 4 hour walk back. We picked up our luggage from where we left it, had a shower, and then hopped on the next bus to Lijiang Old Town.
Life for us is all about the memories, and hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge was an experience that we will never forget.
Tips for Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Before you go, be sure to follow these words of advice…
- Only take with you what you will need for the trek. There are guesthouses at the beginning of the trek where you can leave your luggage and carry just a day pack of supplies.
- There are plenty of guesthouses along the way for food so you only need to take with you only bottles of water and snacks.
- Wear good hiking shoes.
- Try not to go when the weather is bad. Take care on the narrow trails, especially those that run close to the edge.
- Carry first aid supplies for blisters, altitude sickness and any other medications you need. Note that there are no hospitals along the trail.
- It’s a good idea to bring hiking poles.
- Carry plenty of yuan. There’s no ATM on the route, so be sure to have enough cash to pay your entrance fee to the gorge and for guesthouses and food on the way.
Getting To and From Tiger Leaping Gorge
You can get buses from Lijiang (2 hrs) or Zhongdian. From the middle rapids you can get taxis back instead of walking as we did.
The closest airport to the Tiger Leaping Gorge is Kunming, where you can get a bus from Kunming South Bus Station to Lijiang every hour, which takes four hours.
Check that the roads will be passable for your return journey and arrange for a pick up from Walnut Garden before you leave on your trek or phone Jane’s Guesthouse on the trail.
Cost for a 6 car van is approx 150 RMB.
Where to Stay on The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
Below are the guesthouses we stayed at along the way:
- Naxi Family Guesthouse
- Tea Horse Guesthouse
- Halfway Guesthouse
- Tina’s Guesthouse
- Sean’s Guest House
- Woody’s Rooms
Guesthouses range in price and comfort, but for budgeting purposes we recommend you allow ¥150-¥200 per night for accommodation and some food.
You will find mostly guesthouses which double up as restaurants, and the occasional hostel with dorms. Most guesthouses offer private double and twin rooms, but you may need to share a bathroom.
You don’t need to book guesthouses in advance and many of them are not on booking platforms, but if you want to be prepared you can find guesthouses via our booking partner, Booking.com.
Best Time To Do The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
The best time of year to do the hike is in Spring (April and May) when the weather is warm and the meadows are in bloom.
There is no prettier sight than seeing the ray of sunshine over the mountains and canyons, and sparkling off the dew-wet grass in the morning.
Another great time to do the hike is in October, just after the rainy season and before the winter, when there are fewer crowds.
June to September is the rainy season and is not the best time to do the hike.
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More China Travel Guides
Need more inspiration for your trip to China? Here are some other helpful guides.
- Tips for First Time Visitors to Beijing
- What to Do in Beijing
- Things to Do in Shanghai
- Cycling Through Yangshuo Countryside China
- Climbing the Great Wall of China
- Essential Things to know before visiting China
- 2 Week Itinerary Guide for China
Are you ready to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge? Let us know in the comments!