Where to go hiking in China
By Kati Taylor
China is synonymous with bright and beautiful cities. Towering skyscrapers, bustling crowds and haggling street food vendors are common sights when travelling around the country’s landmarks and it can be hard to imagine that there is any stone left unturned. However, some of China’s most striking beauty can be found in its wilderness. When it comes to hiking trails, China’s vast size and sheer diversity of landscapes leaves any traveller spoilt for choice. Alpine wilderness gives way to verdant hillsides and snaking rivers, all looked over by the snow-capped peaks of mountain ranges.
Our Chinese local partners have put together a sample hiking itinerary to inspire you, but remember all our trips are tailor-made so you can customise it to your requirements and make sure you see all the highlights of this wonderful country. Whether you’re looking for a multi-day trek through the alpine landscapes or a short loop around the karst mountains, we've gathered together an enticing list of trails to help you to decide where to go hiking in China.
Tucked away in the east of China’s Sichuan province, Siguniangshan National Park is truly a hidden gem. Few tourists make the journey from Chengdu meaning that the park’s three main valleys, Haizi, Shuangqiao and Changping, are still largely unexplored. From all of them you can get amazing views of the Siguniangshan Mountains which are locally known as the Four Sisters or the Oriental Alps.
The Haizi Valley, known as the Valley of Lakes, is the least developed of the three. You can easily spend a few hours hiking through it, admiring stunning alpine lakes and sprawling fields of wildflowers. From the trailhead, you can take a 15 km route to Dahaizi Lake. It is widely considered to be the most beautiful lake in the region with beautiful pure waters that reflect the surrounding mountains. On the way, you will pass plenty of viewpoints and it is also possible to do the trail on horseback if you prefer.
The Shuangqiao Valley can be a little busier than Haizi, mainly because it is the largest and most accessible of the three valleys. There is a road which runs all the way through it and a hop on hop off style bus service is in operation. From the entrance of the valley there is a paved wooden boardwalk which runs its whole length. You can either follow it as far as you wish or branch off onto one of the dirt paths that join onto it en route.
The third valley, Changping, also has a paved footway but it does not have a through road. Shuttle buses drop visitors at the entrance of the valley where they can make their own decision about which route they wish to follow. The main trail is gradual, with no steep ascents or descents, meaning it is a comfortable option for walkers of all abilities. Like in Shuangqiao, it is possible to follow dirt path offshoots if you wish to get away from the crowds.
In terms of when to visit Siguniangshan, most locals recommend the late spring and autumn months. The snow should have cleared by late March and the trails tend to remain relatively clear and comfortable until mid October. There are guesthouses in the towns surrounding the park and it is best to stock up on snacks and supplies for the day before heading into the valleys.
Having officially opened to tourists in 1993, Tiger Leaping Gorge has become one of the most iconic adventure travel destinations in Yunnan province. The trail only runs 30 km but it is challenging with steep, climbing switchbacks that can seem to go on forever. While some opt to complete the trail in a single day, it is worth taking your time and spending a night or two in the guesthouses which dot the route. Not only does this give you more time to enjoy your surroundings, spreading the trail over a number of days also makes the route less strenuous.
According to legend, Tiger Leaping Gorge got its name many years ago when a tiger, chased by a local hunter over tens of miles, leapt over the Jinsha River at the gorge’s narrowest point. The rock where the tiger is rumoured to have made this jump is now an iconic viewpoint, offering spectacular vistas over the surrounding landscape. Legends aside, the gorge itself is truly magnificent - the river thunders through its heart, surrounded on all sides by vertical cliff faces. In the distance you can see the snow capped peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range which tower over 5,000 metres above sea level.
The trails around Tiger Leaping Gorge often become waterlogged and slippery during the rainy season (June - September) so inexperienced hikers should avoid this time frame. Throughout the rest of the year, the paths are well marked and maintained. In terms of supplies, the trek is dotted with comfortable guesthouses which serve hot meals so all you really need to bring is appropriate clothing (layers for if the temperature drops and rain gear) and water bottles. It is recommended to head out early each morning for the best views and comfortable temperatures.
Hiking along the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces
No trip to southern China would be complete without a foray into the region’s famous rice terraces. Longji’s ‘Dragon Bone’ terraces are etched into steep, mountainous landscapes - descending downwards like a giant’s staircase. There are many signposted trails you can follow among the terraces which climb up to spectacular panoramic viewpoints. Given the steepness of the terraces, many of the routes are quite strenuous so it is best to prepare your supplies beforehand and take plenty of breaks as you wind your way to the top.
The path that links the villages of Ping’an and Dazhai is certainly worth the exertion. Set off from bustling Dazhai and follow a cobbled country lane through layers of rice fields. Stop off at viewpoints along the way so that you can look back at the village and see the locals at work in their paddies. Continue along the same road, admiring the terraces on all sides, and you will reach the village of Ping’an. The route is fairly straightforward but don’t be afraid to ask a local if you need advice.
The terraces are beautiful all year round but they are at their best at the end of spring (late May onwards) when the fields are flooded. Start your hike at dawn and you’ll have the chance to admire an unforgettable sunrise reflected in the waters of the terraces.
The Li River connects Guilin and Yangshuo, two of southern China’s most picturesque cities. Its green tinged waters backed by limestone peaks have been inspiring Chinese painters (and beckoning to lovers of the great outdoors) for centuries. The river’s many tributaries and offshoots are ripe for exploring and there is no real need to plan your route in advance. You can meander from village to village, flagging down bamboo rafts to take you up or downstream. There are verdant hills to climb, ancient caves to explore and countless viewpoints where you can feast your eyes on your surroundings.
Wherever you are on the Li River, you are sure to be wowed by the landscapes but there is one trail in particular which is worth adding to your itinerary. It begins from the village of Xinping which is approximately 28 km downriver from Yangshuo. The trail is a 12 km circular route that takes you across the river, through the village of Lengshui and its surrounding rice fields and past the region’s iconic Nine Horses Fresco Hill. There are no steep inclines and the paths are well signposted so it’s an accessible trail for hikers of all abilities. It is also stunningly beautiful - you will walk through meadows of wildflowers, terraced rice fields and in the shadows of karst mountains. From the Nine Frescoes, you cross over the river and walk south back to Xinping.
The Li River can be explored at any time of year but it does get very hot during the summer and the winter months are often overcast. Our local experts recommend visiting in late spring or early autumn to give you the best chance of seeing the region’s wildflowers in full bloom. There are simple restaurants along most hiking routes but it is still best to bring along your own water and snacks just in case.
Make it happen
If you want to lace up your hiking boots and set off along the magical trekking routes of China, then check out our local partner's hiking itinerary for inspiration. They are experts at putting together tailor-made holidays to China - all you need to do is get in touch with them and they can start planning your perfect bespoke trip. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.