Hiking in Yunnan: Everything you need to know

Aug 3, 2020 | Global travel, Asia, China

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(Last updated on: 04/08/2020)

China is a vast country with a wide variety of types of tourism. From shopping in Shanghai to visiting the ancient sites of Xian to relaxing on the beach in Hainan, there is something to suit everyone in China. If you’re an active person who enjoys walking and stunning visits then hiking in Yunnan makes for a great holiday.

If you’re thinking about going hiking in Yunnan, then I have it all covered! In this article I will tell you why Yunnan is a fantastic place to go hiking, the best time of year to go hiking in Yunnan, where are the best places to hike and plenty of tips for your trip from what to pack, to how to avoid altitude sickness, to where are the best places to stay. Want to know more? Read on…

Why should you go hiking in Yunnan, China?

Hiking in Yunnan is a popular activity amongst domestic tourists and international tourists in China.

Located in South West China, Yunnan province is a popular rural tourism destination. It is home to stunning scenery encompassing snow-capped mountains, lakes, gorges and rice terraces.

Many of the hikes in Yunnan are rated as some of the best hikes in all of China. You can choose from a variety of hikes ranging from one day in length to week long hikes. You can choose to hike independently, although most people choose to join a tour or to hire a guide.

The beautiful scenery is what attracts many people to Yunnan. In just a few short days you can visit lakes, waterfalls, gorges and glaciers!

If adventure tourism is your thing then hiking in Yunnan is likely to appeal to you. Many of the hikes are high-endurance in nature and with altitudes of up to 5000metres (16,400ft) it is a great place for adrenaline-seekers. Hikes often encompass cliff-edge walking, rock falls and glacier-walking, narrow bridges, vertical ladders, rope bridges, steep inclines and declines.

Tip: Throughout this article I have provided recommendations for accommodation options in different places in Yunnan. Hotels need a special license to accept foreigners so I always book using Booking.com as it it only advertises hotels that are legally allowed to take your booking.

Furthermore, Yunnan province is home to many remote tribes and ethnic minorities, so if you like a bit of cultural tourism then this can be included in your trip too.

Lastly, there are many pilgrimage routes that are undertaken within Yunnan province.

Learn more about Yunnan Province in this World Travel Guide video.

When to go hiking in Yunnan

You can go hiking in Yunnan at any time of the year. However, it is probably best to avoid the coldest months of the year and the rainy season if you can.

The average annual temperature in Yunnan is a spring-like 17degrees C. This means that you can go hiking at any time of the year without being too hot or too cold.

In the winter months you can appreciate the stunning snow-capped mountains during your hiking trip. This is also the dry season, so you are less likely to encounter delays due to the weather. Although, less water does also mean that waterfalls and rivers may be less impressive than they are during the wet season.

Note: Temperatures are MUCH cooler at altitude. The temperatures given here are averages for the province.

January and February are the busiest months to go hiking in Yunnan. This is because people seek the warm climate during the Chinese New Year Festival break. During this time you are likely to encounter more crowds and the associated impacts of overtourism.

The summer months bring on and humid weather. July is the hottest month of the year with an average temperature of 27 degrees C. July is also the wet season. Beware that if you choose to go hiking in Yunnan in July you will run the risk of disruptions to your trip due to the wet weather.

Of course once up into the mountains expect cooler temperatures and micro climates.

Where to go hiking in Yunnan

There are many wonderful places to go hiking in Yunnan. Below are some of our favourites-

Where to visit in Yunnan

Lijiang

Hiking in Yunnan
The beautiful streets of Lijiang.

Lijiang is often the starting point for many hiking trips in Yunnan Province. A picturesque little town, Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. It is one of the best preserved ancient towns in China.

Lijiang is filled with cobbled roads, small canals and an array of restaurants and bars. It is a great place to relax and appreciate the traditional Chinese architecture.

Hiking in Yunnan
The rivers run-in g through Lijiang were very pretty.

The town of Lijiang is 2600 meters high.

Where to stay in Lijiang

Luxury: InterContinental Lijiang Ancient Town Resort is excellent quality with traditional architecture and lush greenery.

Budget: Desti Youth Park International Hostel offers comfortable dorm rooms in one of the oldest Tibetan buildings in town.

Something different: Jianshe Inn is exceptional value for money with unique Japanese style rooms.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is an absolutely incredible place to go hiking. So incredible, in fact, that it is considered to be one of China’s best hikes.

The gorge itself is one of the deepest gorges on the planet. It is simply remarkable.

If you are planning to go hiking in Yunnan, then Tiger Leaping Gorge is a must!

Tiger Leaping Gorge encompasses a 20km hike that includes the famous 28 bends switchback climb. This is an extraordinary hiking route which includes 28 sharp turns.

Tiger Leaping Gorge itself is approximately 15km in length and 3790m at its deepest point.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Yunnan, attracting thousands of tourists each year since it was opened to tourists in 1993.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is broken down into two areas- Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge and Lower Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Hiking in Yunnan
A map of Tiger Leaping Gorge

Lower Tiger Leaping Gorge

Lower Tiger Leaping Gorge can be accessed via a road. Here you can stay at Tina’s guesthouse, a very popular place to stay amongst hikers. You can also leave your bags and shower here without staying overnight.

At the bottom of the gorge there is an extremely steep hand-railed hike down to a raging river.

Hiking in Yunnan
The waters were fierce due to it being a particularly bad rainy season.
Hiking in Yunnan
These bridges are not for the faint-hearted!

There are also rope bridges over to the island in the river.

The sheer cliff edges and raging river makes for a great hike for an adrenaline-junkie or adventure tourist.

One of the highlights of this part of Tiger Leaping Gorge are the ladders. Some parts of the hike involve climbing near-vertical ladders, called the Gateway to Heaven. This is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

Hiking in Yunnan
Looking down at Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge

The views of the HaBa Snow Mountains here are spectacular and the clouds making for an often mystical setting.

Hiking in Yunnan
Walking through the clouds was quite magical.

The trail at Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge is rugged and very steep at times. The trail runs along the gorge with sharp cliff edges.

The trail in this part of the gorge is very exciting. It includes hiking through waterfalls and over mini bamboo bridges.

Upper Halfway guesthouse is a popular place to rest here and it has magnificent views of the HaBa mountains.

Hiking in Yunnan
The views were stunning throughout the hike.

Where to stay at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Budget: Tina’s guesthouse come highly recommended for a quick stop to freshen up, as a place to store your luggage while you hike and as a place to stay overnight.

Something different: The Summit Inn provides privates rooms with bathrooms and stunning views of the mountains.

Shangri-La

Shangri-La gained its fame from British novelist James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon which was published in the 1939. In Tibetan language Shangri-La translates as ‘sun and moon in heart’.

Hiking in Yunnan
Visiting Shangri-La was a spec gal and unique experience.

Shangri-La is world-famous, yet many people have no idea where this mystical town actually is!

Located at a height of approximately 3300 metres, this ancient town steals the hearts of many travellers who visit. Set amongst the snowy mountains and with an abundance of culture from the traditional ethic minority tribes, Shangri-La is a truly unique town like no other.

Hiking in Yunnan
There were many flags here like the ones that I saw in Nepal.

This ancient town has many traditional shops, Buddhist temples and a prayer wheel which people push round 3 times for luck.

Hiking in Yunnan
People would turn this famous prayer wheel three times for good luck.

The town itself is very pretty and the ambience is very calm day or night.

In the evenings there is live music, which creates a great vibe.

Where to stay in Shangri-La

Luxury: The Shangri-La Resort offers 5 star facilities. Each room has a stunning garden or mountain view.

Budget: Shangri-La E-outfitting Hostel is in an excellent location with great communal facilities and a cosy lounge- great for those chilly mountain evenings!

Something different: The Banyan Tree Ringha is a spacious Tibetan-style accommodation option set in tranquil greenery.

Yubeng Village (Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture)

Yubeng Village used to be only accessible by foot or by horse (now a road does link it). The hike to the village is challenging and so only those who are really determined to visit the village do so! It is the perfect slow tourism destination.

In Tibetan language Yubeng Village translates as ‘gathering place of Jewry’.

My advice: Travelling in remote parts of China can be challenging. People don’t speak in English and foreign credit cards and currency is often not accepted. I strongly recommend booking an individual or group tour. Click here for current prices and availability.

Legend has it that Yubeng Village was historical unknown to the outside world. There was once an old man who was looking for barley in Xidang Village, near Lancang River. The people were suspicious of the man because they did not know where he came from. The attempted to follow him, but he appeared to disappear. Some days later the man returned to the village, once again seeking barley. The villages sold him the good, but placed small holes in the bags, enabling them to follow his tracks. It was by following this old man that the people discovered Yubeng Village.

To this day, there is no road to Yubeng Village.

Yunbeng Village is often described as ‘fairy land’ due to its beautiful, yet mystical aesthetics and ambience.

Reaching the village is somewhat challenging. It involves altitudes odd approximately 4000 metres and many steep inclines. The village itself it set amongst snow mountains and glaciers.

Where to stay in Yubeng Village

At the time of writing I was unable to find any accommodations that can be booked Online. Based on our personal experience, we can recommend Coffee and Time. But you will need to check availability on arrival.

Glacier Lake

The areas surrounding Yubeng Village are just as remarkable, if not more so!

After a long hike up from Yubeng Village, you will reach the Glacier Lake.

Hiking in Yunnan
It is chilly up by the glacier lake so be sure to pack a jumper!

The trail to the lake leads you through trees and plains and then up to base camp. From base camp you continue following a river, cross over the river, and continue up to glacier lake.

The lake is pretty stunning…. because the glacier runs straight into it! Very cool!

You can walk onto the glacier, but you must be careful for small crevasses.

The glacier lake is located at an altitude of approximately 4200 metres and the hike is more than 20km long.

Hiking in Yunnan
Walking on a glacier is very cool, BUT be careful!

Sacred Waterfalls & Sacred Lake

Hiking in Yunnan
The flags decorating the trails give the area a special ambience.

The sacred Lake is at the top of a very steep and difficult hike. It involves climbing to an altitude of approximately 4400 metres.

The Sacred Waterfalls are at a height of around 4000 metres. They are very impressive, especially during the wet season.

People choose to run round the waterfalls three times getting wet for good luck.

The trail leading up to the waterfalls is lined with prayer flags. It is very pretty.

Hiking in Yunnan
Reaching the waterfalls was a great feeling after such a long hike.

Where to stay when visiting the sacred lake and waterfalls

These areas are remote and there is no accommodation near by. You will need to stay in Yubeng village before/after these hikes.

Yunnan hiking packing list

Hiking in Yunnan

Hiking at altitude is no joke. You need to be prepared and ensure that you have the correct gear. People die when climbing in these conditions if they do not have the appropriate clothing and equipment.

Here is my list of things that you will need for your trip when hiking in Yunnan.

Sturdy rucksack- Hiking in Yunnan often involves walking long distances and you will often be required to carry your own belongings. Therefore it is essential that you have a sturdy rucksack. My favourite brand is Osprey as they are always great quality and really comfortable.

Walking poles– You can buy some good value walking poles for a reasonable price on Amazon. these will help you on difficult and steep terrain.

Hiking boots– Good hiking boots are a must when hiking in Yunnan. Here are my favourites, although there are lots of the market.

Warm fleece– It will get cold in the evenings and when at high altitude so I recommend packing a lightweight fleece, such as this North Face fleece.

Dry fit clothing– wet clothes are hard to dry in cool, mountain climates. Therefore you want clothes that will dry easily in the event that you sweat a lot or get caught in the rain. Something like this is perfect.

Hiking socksthese will give you extra support for those long days hiking.

Waterproof coata small coat that can fit inside your bag is perfect to protect you from the rain.

Sun cream– It might feel cold at the top of the mountains, but the sun is strong! Piz Buin Mountain Suncream is great for this.

Mosquito repellent- my usual go-to for this is Jungle Formula.

Warm hat/gloves– A good quality hat and gloves is pretty important when at high altitude. I swear by my Berghaus gear.

T shirt, shorts, trousers– Don’t overpack, bring just enough to keep you going (otherwise you will be carry unnecessary weight).

Waterproof cover for bag– Being able to cover your bag during a downpour is pretty important, a cover like this one is light weight and takes up very little space in your luggage.

Ibuprofen– You may get headaches from the high altitude or get sore limbs from the long hikes.

Power bank– Your accommodation may be basic so I recommend bringing a device like this one that will allow you to charge your electronics on the go.

Travel towelThese microfibre towels are amazing. They dry super quickly and are very light!

Plasters– You may get blisters or hurt yourself in another way during your hike.

Hiking trousersGood quality trousers are pretty important. These help you to stay comfortable during your hike as well as protecting you from the elements.

Torch– The mountains get very dark at night and you may want to get some sunrise or sunset walks in, so a small torch is essential.

Water bottle/ camelbak– You need to drink a lot of water when at high altitude!

Energy snacks– I wouldn’t have managed to climb the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro without my energy snacks! I cannot recommend these more!!

Toilet paper– Because you never know when you might need to go!!

Salt/lighter– People are often bitten by leaches when hiking, so it is good to be prepared.

Travel wash– because you might need to clean your clothes, I recommend this handy bottle that doesn’t take up much space in your luggage.

Camera– The scenery is spectacular so you will want to capture these special moments! I have a Nikon and a GoPro and I wouldn’t leave home without either!

Drone– Many people also take a drone when hiking in Yunnan, and I must say, their photos are spectacular!

Oxygen tank– You will likely be climbing to high altitudes while hiking in Yunnan. Many people therefore opt to take small oxygen canisters, like these, with them.

Tips for your hiking trip in Yunnan

To round off this article about hiking in Yunnan Province, China, I would like to give a few of my top tips. These are things that I have learnt from hiking at high altitude both in Yunnan Province and elsewhere in the world.

Altitude

Altitude can be a game-changer.

Some people cope well and others don’t.

The first time I went above 4000metres I got a bad headache, but nothing that some Ibuprofen couldn’t rectify.

Some people don’t feel any different at altitude, and others take specific medication to help with altitude sickness.

Sadly, some people do die of altitude sickness and there have been death in Yunnan Province amongst foreign tourists.

It is, therefore, essential that you are well prepared for your hike and that if you show signs of altitude sickness that you descend to a lower altitude immediately.

Hiking gear

In order to stay safe on the mountain you do need to make sure that you have the appropriate gear.

This includes thermals, sturdy walking books and oxygen tanks.

The packing list above should help you to organise what you need to buy before your trip.

Food and drink

Options are limited in remote areas so be prepared for Chinese/Tibetan cuisine. The good thing is that rice is readily available everywhere and this is a good source of carbohydrates.

You will find Western food in Sangri-La, which makes for a welcome treat after several days of rice and noodles in the mountains!

Alcohol is readily available everywhere an d you will generally find Tibetan wine and beer. However, alcohol isn’t recommended at high altitudes.

I also recommend that you pack plenty of water and snacks in your luggage.

Money

When hiking in Yunnan you will need WeChat pay, Alipay or cash.

Whilst Lianjing and Shangri-La are developed areas, many places here may not accept foreign credit and debit cards. And the remote places almost certainly will not.

You can now use Alipay as a foreigner. Take a look at this article to find out how to set this up.

Clean up after yourself

Sustainable tourism is very important in order to ensure that areas like Yunnan remain clean and useable for future tourists.

Unfortunately, many hiking areas suffer from the negative environmental impacts of tourism, such as littering and erosion. This isn’t nice for anyone and has adverse effects on the wider ecological setting. Do your part and clean up after yourself!

Where to stay when hiking in Yunnan

Accommodation options vary considerably between the different areas of Yunnan Province. In the remote areas choices are extremely limited and the accommodation is very basic.

Beware that in China not all accommodation providers will accept foreign tourists. This is because hoteliers need a special license and permissions. Unfortunately, some websites do sell rooms to foreigners, who are then turned away on arrival. This is why I always book with booking.com- you know that the rooms are legally allowed to be advertised and sold to foreigners and you usually don’t need to pay anything until arrival. This makes managing your money much easier and allows for flexible cancellations policies.

Throughout this article I have provided my own personal recommendations for places to stay during your hike. If you choose to join a group tour, like this one, then your accommodation options may be selected for you.

Take a look at the map below to check rates and availability of accommodation options when hiking in Yunnan on your travel dates.

Booking.com

To conclude: Hiking in Yunnan, China

As you can see, hiking in Yunnan is a special experience. Walking through the clouds, climbing through gorges, visiting sacred waterfalls and glaciers and visiting the famous Shangri-La area are just some of the highlights of hiking in Yunnan.

Do you have any further tips or advice? Leave your comments below!

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Beginning to believe peak yellow mountains Huangshan

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Dr Hayley Stainton

Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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