Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China

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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.

caroline walking on the trail beside high mountain ranges
Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

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

caz sitting on trail surrounded by flowers

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.

caz on upper trail of tiger leaping gorge

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

river running through gorge
The start of the trail

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.

guesthouse with flowers on balcony
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

caz standing under rock jutting out on trail

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.

caz standing in front of waterfall

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.

cow grazing on grass off the trail

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.

caz standing in front of guesthouse
Halfway guest house

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.

craig and frankie posing for photo
Craig and Frankie
frankie catching flies
Frankie in fly-catching action
craig with view on deck with mountain views
Bar with a view – the loo below it had the same view
open naxi sandwich with vegetable filling
Naxi sandwich
craig lying on hostel bed

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

restaurant on deck above garden
Half way guest house bar and restaurant

We loved The Halfway Guesthouse so much we stayed an extra night and spent our spare day hiking around the area.

villages on mountain
caz posing in front of Yangtzee river through gorge
The Yangtzee River

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

flowers on side of mountain trail

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.

caroline climbing steep ladder out of gorge
caz and craig sitting on rock beside yangtzee river
So close to the Yangtzee!

craig on wooden bridge across the yangtzee

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.

caz sitting at table with mountain views

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.

Yangtze river flowing through gorge

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

caz in front of yangtze river

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

naxi lady pulling donkey

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

wooden guesthouse with clothes out front

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

yangtze river running through gorge

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.

You can get really cheap eSims from Airalo. You can set it up so it’s ready to go as soon as you arrive. That way you don’t have to worry about finding a local sim card. See prices and availability here.

More China Travel Guides

Need more inspiration for your trip to China? Here are some other helpful guides.

Are you ready to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge? Let us know in the comments!

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65 thoughts on “Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China”

  1. Amazing post you guys! Puts me to shame really. While in Arizona in May, I hiked up Camelback mountain and was winded. This is on a whole different and very impressive level.

    1. Thanks Amy. I didn’t think it was as bad as what it looks, although we had been hiking for months before we did this. The only bad part is the 28 bends. It’s well worth it.

      1. Is there a place to stay in the middle of the 28 bends or does it have to be done all in one day? I am a 56 yr. old woman who is 40 lbs. over-weight. Could I truly do this?

  2. Are there any glamorous hiking shoes to be had? if so, I’ll buy a pair hop on the next plane to China and follow your trail. What a marvellous experience. Seriously, that’s tempting. China is on my agenda for next year anway so I may cut my stay in Shaghai short and try and go there. You sure can inspire people to travel.

  3. This is really an amazing post — I love how you’ve described the journey itself with so much personality. The great photos really help bring it all to life, too. What a wonderful experience shared in such a compelling way!

    1. I would love to spend more time in their National Parks. They probably don’t have many more left. It really is a beautiful country and I was surprised by how much open space there still is there

  4. WOW – takes me back. I literally walked on your very footsteps through that adventure. THe Naxi House where we had lunch. The Haflway house – by the time I arrived there and we ate that was one of the best meals I had ever had in my entire life.
    It was a BLAST! 🙂

  5. Loved reading your description. I will be there 2 weeks today!!! At 57 I hope the 28 bends are doable!! I have been running twice a week and going to the gym daily so hope that’s enough preparation.

    1. Plenty. You will be fine. Just take frequent breaks. And definitely break the whole hike up so you don’t have the strain of doing the bends and everything else in one mad rush day.

  6. I did this hike a while ago.. it was awesome! Those gorge walls are stunning 🙂 An enduring memory was the plantation of marijuana around the hostel toilet that I stayed in at the half way point…

  7. Great travel story! After reading it, I am 100% going to go there. Can I ask what month you did it? I am planning to go there in september or october 2012, but I am not sure what season has the most rain. Also, is it easy enough for a person to do this hike alone, or is a buddy really neccessary?

    1. We were there around that time and it was fine. It rained a little but nothing to worry about. I think the walk is easy enough to do alone. We saw a few people on their own. You’ll meet people if you stay the night at the guest houses along the way. Enjoy it!

  8. Hi there,
    This may sound crazy but we are going to visit China with our 2 small boys, 4 years and 18 months and also my husband’s mom. We really want to do the TLG over 3 days, we were thinking hiking straight from Qiatou to Naxi GH (but where could we leave our things if we don’t stay at Jane’s? does she provide a luggage hold even if you don’t stay there or do you know?) and then on to Tea and Horse and then Halfway. Is that too slow or should we go all the way to Halfway the 2nd day? We are in reasonably good shape but may be carrying children or hiring horses. Any info you can help me with? It’s difficult finding all the info I need online! Looks like a great adventure!

    1. Hi Jen,
      I think three days is perfect. It will be so relaxing and you’ll get a better appreciation for how beautiful it is. That will give you time as well just in case the children want to be carried for too long.
      We did it in three and couldn’t believe how some people race through it in a day. They miss so much by doing that. You can always decide once you are on the trail if you want to push on or not as well.

      You can leave luggage at Janes, we did and we didn’t stay there. I think maybe you might have to pay a luggage fee. I can’t really remember. But you can have a shower and everything there if you want.

      Enjoy it, it is a fantastic experience

  9. We will be going in the beginning of july with our 8 year old twin boys who love to hike. How many days wold it take to hike TLG and is it okay for 8 year old kids.

    1. Hi Sashi!
      I think it is fine for 8 year olds. Just keep an eye on them and make sure they know to stick to the path There are no fences and steep drop offs. The path gets narrow at times, but now so to be worried, just to make sure they are taking care.
      How long it takes depends on you. I know some people do it in a day, but I would not recommend this, especially with kids. I think optimal time is 3 days. But if you have less time then do it in two or if you really just want to relax then stay a couple of nights at one of the guest houses and chill for a day or two.

      1. What is the distance of the whole hike? not sure which month you were there but we will be there in the first week of july and seems like it is the rainy season.

        Thanks, Shashi

        1. I’m not sure of the distance Sashi. It rained the entire three days for us. It’s still enjoyable to do. Just pack a raincoat and good hiking boots

  10. Great blog post; Thank you! I will be heading to Tiger Leaping Gorge to hike with my daughter in June and this post has put my mind completely to rest regarding logistical details and general unknowns.

  11. Hi!
    I’m planning my hike to TLG for mid April and I definitively loved your post and took note of all the tips.
    The only thing that worries me is the 28 bends. I don’t want to end up in something more demanding than what I can really handle. I’m not a sport fan and only go to the gym twice a week (btw, I’m 31 ). How hard is this? In 2009 I’ve hiked the Inka Trail in Peru and although the second day been a bit tough, the rest was fine. Is it comparable?

    1. Oh no you will be fine! It really is not that bad. If you hiked the Inca trail you have got this down pat. And if you go to the gym twice a week you are more than good. I was pretty unfit when we did the walk. Just have a rest on the way if it gets a little strenuous, but it really isn’t.

  12. Hi,

    Great description. I’ll be there in late June and your description made me think that I should relax and do it in 3 days with 2 overnites instead of 2 days.

    One concern, I’m traveling alone and considering finding a “join tour”, if available, from Lijiang, for safety sake.

    Thoughts or recommendations?

    1. Difficult decision. I think you would be fine doing it alone. I didn’t feel unsafe at all, but I was with Craig. We did meet other lone hikers. I’m sure it has probably gotten a little more popular since we did it so there will be more people on the track. Start at Jane’s Tibetan Guesthouse, you might find some other travellers to go with there.

      It all depends on you. I think if you are going to worry the whole time then join a tour. It would be nice to have the company as well.

      1. Thanks. I like your idea of just hanging and/or hanging back with other hikers. My concern is the memory I have of hiking alone down Mt. Tremblant in Quebec and stepping on what turned out to be a dodgy rock. Broke the ankle (but saved the camera) and then hiked out for 3 km to a road where I could get a lift to my car from rescue. Fortunately, the break healed really well allowing me to trek in Patagonia, hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and otherwise continue to be crazy after all these years.



        1. Wow! That is some ordeal. I can totally understand why you be a little nervous to do it on your own. There are a lot of villages along the way, the stretches were there is no one around wouldn’t be that long.

          We were mountain biking on the weekend and one of our group fell off and smashed her tibia. It was horrific. We were about 3kms in and it took ages for the paramedics and fireman to come in and rescue her. She was in killer pain. It really does make you reconsider doing things on your own.

  13. Yikes, talk about tibias. Why I was innocently roller blading in the park one yesteryear and altho the hill became steeper, I would have ridden it out but there was a metal wall of automobile cross traffic looming. So I decided to spill on the grass in a controlled way all nice, like in the movies. That darned leg had a mind of its own and decided to fold up under my body taking all the weight of the fall.

    Helical fracture of the tibia. No pain, really. However, by that evening the foot started to swell up like a gas bag. Girlfriend at the time suggested I stop in at the hospital. The radiologist who did the x-ray came back and said: “Don’t eat anything for 24 hrs; you’re going into surgery.” Sigh!

    All better now years later but somehow…rollerblades…the thrill is gone.

  14. Hey, Caz, thanks for the write up! I read your blog a few hours prior to leaving for my trip so the points you mentioned were fresh in my mind. As such, we stayed at the halfway house intent on pretending it was my birthday and getting a free birthday pancake out of it. Though that didn’t work out, we did hang out with some other hikers (rob and dan from brisbane?) who had been brought to the same place because of your blog also! Seems like you inspire a lot of people to take this trip, and talking with them was one of the highlights of our trip. Thanks for the tips, we had a wonderful trip!

    1. That is so awesome to hear Lisa!! Thank you for letting us know. We love hearing stories like that. We’re so happy to be helping people have memorable travel experiences. The hike is one of our favourites.

  15. Well done ! You are so brave and adventurous! These are great pictures of Tiger leaping Gorge! Which reminds me… I should go through my India pictures and post some. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together.

    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it! In return, I also found a great blog of trekking the Great Wall, I’d love to share it here with you and for future travelers. http://www.wildgreatwall.com/which-part-of-the-great-wall-is-the-best-to-visit/

    1. Thanks for the share Andy and for contributing positively to the blog. The Great Wall is on our list so this will be helpful

  16. Hello. I am travelling to Lijiang tomorrow and would really love to do this hike! Everyone I’ve met along my travels recommends it and it looks spectacular! Thing is I’m travelling alone! I’m hoping I can find people at the first hostel to hike with, but if I don’t, do you think it’s safe enough to hike alone? All by myself? Or is that too crazy? I’ve read that is very dangerous but the people I’ve spoken too say it’s not really. They think safe enough to do alone. What do you think? Appreciate any advice you have!!! Thanks!

    1. Hi Shawna,
      I haven’t heard much about it being dangerous. I’d feel okay with going on my own but would understand how you would feel nervous about it. We didn’t encounter any problems. I would get to the hostel early in the morning as most people set off then. I am sure you will find other people doing the hike. See how you feel when you arrive, if you feel really nervous, scared and uncomfortable about going alone, then maybe not go. Test how your gut feels, not your head. Your head will tell you its dangerous because that is what you have read, your gut always knows best.

  17. This is amazing, thanks for the story and the tips.My partner and I are planning to go early September and I was wondering whether we should do it in 2 days or not. Now I am even considering three days. The plan is to go to TLG from Lijang and then take a bus to Shangri la. I know Tina’s guest house can arrange for a car back to Qiaotou and then take a bus to Shangri La. But do you know if we necessary need to be “guests” of her guest house in order to get a lift back to Qiaotou ?

    I feel inspired by the fact you have been travelling for such a long time. I am hoping do the same…

  18. Is the trail really physically challenge?? Well, I’m quite a huge size of a person but I climbed mountain few times a months and was wondering if it’s ok to take my own time to hike??

  19. Hi
    While searching on internet for stories of the Ancient Tea-Horse Road I found your blog. It’s a very nice article, beautiful pictures even it was almost 9 years since your trip.
    We did the Ancient Tea – Horse Road on motorbike in 2007, 2008 and 2009 (3 trips) but never had time for hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Your article make me want to do it again one and have 3-4 days hiking there.
    Thank you very much

  20. Thanks so much for this inspiring article! My wife and I are 59 & 60 and are toying with hiking TLG in March. We are regular day hikers, go to the gym a couple times a week, but one thing I DON’T do is climbing ladders or traversing rickety narrow bridges high over streams. How much of that is part of the hike? Is that ladder on a detour from the through-trail or not? (In other words, can it be avoided?) Many thanks! Ron

    1. It’s been awhile since we have done the TLG so not sure how much it would have changed. I think the one ladder we did could have been avoided. I think we detoured down to the river which then involved that high ladder. I think if you stay on the main trail you’d be fine

  21. Thanks for the update…really helpful. I plan on going in February (I know you suggested June/July for good weather) but do you think Feb is an okay time to go hiking there?

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