Tiger Leaping Gorge in China is believed to be the deepest gorge in the world.
The mountains on either side of the Tiger Leaping Gorge reach over 5,000m at their highest point, looking down to the Yangtzee River running through it below.
The dramatic scenery and relaxed hike along the high path through the rural villages of the Naxi minority people make this a very enjoyable travel adventure to have in China.
The trail starts at Qiaotou and most people finish where the high and low road meet at Tina’s guesthouse, Walnut Grove.
We recommend walking the 22km distance on the high path and taking it as slow as you can. 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.
We enjoyed ourselves so much that we stretched it out to a five day trek. The high trail is easily accessible, with clearly marked signs, and clean and friendly lodges to rest at along the way.
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 of 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 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 bend summit. 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 of 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 and helped to take my mind of my aching butt.
Day 4 of 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 of 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.
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
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 take with you only bottles of water and snacks. Wear good hiking shoes.
Try not to go when the weather is bad. June / July are meant to be the best months. Take care on the narrow trails, especially those that run close to the edge.
Getting there and back:
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.
Check that the roads will be passable for your return journey and arrange for a pick up from Walnut Grove before you leave on your trek or phone Jane’s Guesthouse on the trail. Cost for a 6 car van is approx 150 RMB
Entrance for us was 50 RMB (2006)
- Naxi Family Guest House
- Tea & Horse Guesthouse
- Halfway Guesthouse
- Tina’s Guesthouse
- Sean’s Guest House
- Woody’s Rooms
- approx 80 RMB and food 15 RMB.
Signs are clearly marked along the way letting you know distances to each place.
Are you ready to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge?
More Resources for China
Check out these helpful travel guides:
- China Survival Guide: How to Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps, 3rd Edition
- Lonely Planet Discover China (Full Color Travel Guide)
- Grab your VPN for China here