Aug 07, 2017 By Ian Rynex ,

Hiking in China is an ancient pastime, as many of the most sacred Tao and Buddhist shrines and temples sit atop large mountains. On a hiking holiday in China, you may find yourself passing through history as well as verdant landscapes and beautiful scenery. Here are what I consider to be the top five hiking destinations in China.


Tiger Leaping Gorge - Lijiang, Yunnan

Source: Wikimedia

Tiger Leaping Gorge runs through the foothills of the Himalayas in western Yunnan Province near Lijiang. Jinsha River, a tributary to the mighty Yangtze River, carved the gorge over millions of years. Hikes here offer some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in China; you will encounter sleepy villages, shady forests, blustery peaks and expansive terraced farmland. The snow-capped peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain stand watch over the southern and northern sides of the gorge,. The trail runs across the north side, offering expansive views of the cascades in all directions.

Difficulty and Duration:

There are two options: a much shorter guided hike along a paved trail, and the much longer self-guided hike. At moderate to high difficulty, the longer hike is likely to last two or three days at a leisurely pace.


You can stay in the small guest houses that appear frequently, about every three hours, along the way. Some are equipped with WiFi and modern conveniences.

Getting There:

There are frequent flights to Lijiang from China’s main cities, but it will be cheaper, although slower, to fly to Kunming and then take a bus or train to Lijiang. From Lijiang to Qiaotou where the trails start, you can either take a private car or any Shang-Ri-La bound bus, which depart from the North Gate in Lijiang or from Lijiang Express Bus Station. You can also rent minivans or cars via guesthouses in Lijiang and Qiaotou.


 Langmusi - Gansu/Sichuan

Photo: Wikimedia

Langmusi is a quiet village made up mostly of Hui Muslim and Amdo Tibetan residents. It is surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside and distant snow-capped mountains. The town truly sits smack on the border between Gansu, to the north, and Sichuan, to the south. Langmusi boasts a very active religious community with friendly and outgoing locals.

Difficulty and Duration:

Horse trekking, mountain biking and normal foot trekking are available. Guided horse trekking and bike tours take around three days, or you can walk Namo Gorge on foot, via the entrance of Kirti Gompa. Obviously horse trekking is the easiest option.


There are guesthouses, hostels, and a couple hotels at varying affordable prices within the small town. Many of these can help arrange your hike or tour.

Getting There:

It can be a bit of a challenge reaching Langmusi. There are no direct flights from the major cities on the eastern seaboard, but there are affordable flights (~RMB 450) to Xiahe, Gansu, from Xi’an. From Xiahe you must take an early morning bus, only one a day, that  leaves at 7:40am.


Longsheng Rice Terraces, Guilin, Guangxi 

Photo: Wikimedia

The Longsheng  (Dragon’s Backbone) Rice Terraces, also known as Longji Terraces, lie about 100 kilometers from Guilin, Guangxi. The terraces coil and wind up the gentle hills from the Chaliaohe River. The fields are beautiful year-round, but the famous bright yellow rapeseed flowers bloom in early spring.

Difficulty and Duration:

The hiking is easy to moderate. Most people use their hotels as a base and explore the terraces during the day.


You can stay in the various villages along the way, some of which boasts traditional rural architecture of the Zhuang and Yao minorities. The terraces are comprised of two distinct parts: Ping’an and Jinkeng, each with their own collection of small hamlets. There are a number of hotels and guesthouses in the immediate vicinity of the terraces.  

Getting There:

There are plenty of direct flights and trains to Guangxi from major cities in China. From Guangxi, you can take a bus from the new Qin Tan Bus terminal to Longsheng or Heping, where you can transfer to a small chartered bus to the terraces. This takes about 3.5 hours in total.


Shandan Great Wall - Shandan County, Gansu

Photo: Wikimedia

Shandan, the far western section of the great wall, is one of its most wild and unkempt areas. Built during the Han Dynasty in approximately 100 BC, this portion of the wall runs about 100 kilometers from Xiakou to Dongledakouzi Mound. Unlike the well restored sections farther east such as Badaling and Mutianyu, in Shandan you can truly appreciate the age of this massive construction, which is at various stages of natural decomposition.

Difficulty and Duration:

This trip should be reserved for the most adventurous. You can hike between villages situated near the wall, but the trails are sketchy in some parts. You will want a GPS device or at the very least a good map, perhaps even a guide.


Sanshilibu, Shilibu and Zhangye are the main villages in the area. There are many hotels here and there are rest stops and small villages along the way. However, there are long stretches with no development whatsoever. If you plan on hiking for more than one day at a time you should bring a tent and your own water and food supplies.

Getting There:

It’s best to fly into Lanzhou, then find ground transportation (train or bus) to Zhangye county. You’ll  then need to get another long-distance bus to Shandan county.  


Mt Kailash Pilgrimage - Tibet

Photo: Wikimedia

Mt. Kailash, the Sanskrit name for what the Tibetan’s call Kang Rinpoche Mountain, lies in far western Tibet, north of the border with Nepal and India. The terrain consists of barren land, stretches of green valleys, snow-capped peaks and pristine lakes. Weather-wise, summer is the best time to visit, but the average temperature stays above freezing (below the peaks) even in the winter.

Difficulty and Duration:  

The elevation ranges from about 4,300 to 6600 meters, so be prepared to feel a bit of altitude sickness along the way. There are several tour options, some of which last up to two weeks, but the typical trek takes about three days.

Accommodation: Rustic accommodation will be arranged by your tour group for stops along the way. Tours are mainly arranged in, and  leave from, Lhasa.

Getting There:

Aside from the entry permit for Tibet, which is issued by Tibet Tourism Bureau, visitors will need three more permits; the Alien’s Travel Permit, a Foreign Affairs Permit, and a Military Area Entry Permit. Given the obvious complexity of traveling to the area and applying for these permits, it is advisable to work with a tour agency.

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