Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the most popular rural tourism attractions in China. But what is there to do and why should you visit? Read on to find out…
Where is Tiger Leaping Gorge?
The gorge is located on the Jinsha River, which is a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River. This is around 37 miles north of Lijiang City in Yunnan, southwest China. It is also not far from the beautiful area known as Shangri-La, making it the perfect place to hike if you are staying in this part of the world.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the most incredible canyons in the world. It is also one of the deepest – with a maximum depth of around 3,790 metres or 12,434 feet from river to mountain peak. It is around 9.3 miles long (15 km) and can be found where the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the Haba Snow Mountain meet. In terms of administration, the river here forms a border between the Yulong Naxi Autonomous County of Lijiang City, and the Shangri-La County of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Tourism at Tiger Leaping Gorge
Adventurous backpackers and rafters have been visit Tiger Leaping Gorge since the early 1980s. However, the gorge itself is not considered to be navigable. Four rafters attempted to go down the gorge in the ‘80s, but were never seen again. In 1993, the area was officially opened to foreign tourists. There are two trails meaning you can hike the entire length of the gorge, and this is what attracts tourists to Tiger Leaping Gorge. There is plenty of variety of here in terms of eco-systems and wildlife. The gorge has some beautiful waterfalls to discover and guesthouses available for trekkers to rest at night.
To visit Tiger Leaping Gorge, you need to buy a ticket from the tourist office in Qiaotou. This ticket is valid for one day, so check the weather forecast for the day before buying your ticket. It currently costs ¥65, or ¥45 during off-season, and students under 25 get a 50% discount on their ticket. This ticket price pays for maintaining the main roads and public areas at Tiger Leaping Gorge.
GOOD TO KNOW: your student card does not count as proof of age here – so if you are looking for this student discount, be sure to pack your passport.
Other fees you might have to pay go straight to local Naxi families. The Naxi are the tribal group who are indigenous to this area. They maintain some of the trails, ladders and bridges down to the river which you can pay ¥15 each to access. There is also a ¥10 fee to cross the bridge which leads to the Tiger Leaping Stone. This is well worth it, although there is an alternative free stone. You will see signs all around the gorge telling you how much you’ll have to pay where and for what – paying for access to Tiger Leaping Gorge helps to maintain the area and ensure it remains a safe and beautiful place to visit for future generations of travellers and hikers.
Getting to Tiger Leaping Gorge
To get to Tiger Leaping Gorge, you need to get to Qiaotou. You can reach Qiaotou by bus from the north gate at Lijiang, or from the Lijiang Express Bus Station on Shangri-La Avenue. It is worth planning in advance and asking the locals which bus is best for you depending on what time you’re heading to the gorge. Make sure you let the bus driver know that you want to stop at Qiaotou, just to be on the safe side! From the town – and ticket booth – to the gorge itself you can hitch-hike or jump in a taxi.
GOOD TO KNOW: Jane’s Guest House, located around 100 metres away from the ticket booth in Qiaotou, will store large backpacks for ¥5.
Hiking the Upper Trail
To get to the Upper Trail from Qiaotou on foot, carry on past Jane’s Guest House and also past a large school; you’ll see a sign which reads Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking High Way Thus Into, and from here it takes around 45 minutes to get onto the trail itself. To hike the Upper Trail, it is best to take around 3 days. You can do it in an entire day, but you’ll probably be rushing and won’t get to make the most of the spectacular views on offer here or experience a guesthouse.
The first section is said to be one of the toughest, as it is pretty steep. You will likely encounter me with horses offering to take you for a ride to the top, but just say no and carry on. There are plenty of stunning photo opportunities along the way that you’ll want to take advantage of! Not too far into the trail, you’ll reach the Naxi Family Guest House – depending on how early you’ve managed to set off and how long it’s taken you to get onto the trail properly, you might choose to rest here.
The next part of the trail is known as 28 Bends. These are steep switchbacks with incredible views that seem to last forever – if you set off early enough of a full stomach, though, you’ll still be full of energy when you finish this section. You’ll then be able to stop for lunch at the Halfway Lodge! The food isn’t too pricey, and the views are (of course) absolutely spectacular. They even have a ‘Toilet with a view’ which you absolutely must use, whether you need to or not… they claim that their toilet has the best view in the world and let’s face it, they’re probably right.
From here, the trek is smoother and the views continue to be beautiful. There are more guesthouses along the way such as Tina’s (where you can purchase your book ticket back to Shangri-La or Lijiang for the next day if need be) and the Tibet Guest House, who allegedly do the best food in the whole of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Sean’s Guest House and Chateau De Woody are nearby too. You don’t need to stay for the second night but it can give you the chance to rest and get up early to see an amazing sunrise as well as explore the Walnut Grove area. This is where the Tiger Leaping Stone and the sky ladders are.
Can you hike the lower trail?
The lower road is newly built, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is perfectly safe to hike. It is crossed by waterfalls at several points, and there are rockslides often. Sometimes the road disappears into the river itself. The lower trail of Tiger Leaping Gorge is best reserved for experienced gorge-walkers and hikers, as it is a much more difficult trek and one that can get dangerous at certain points. There is nothing comfortable about wading through waterfalls – although the views from down here are absolutely breathtaking.
Things to note when trekking at Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Food can be bought at various points along the trek, but be sure to pack some extra snacks if you think you’ll need the energy boost. Always carry water with you, too.
- Take waterproof clothing, and layers in case it gets cold – which it does during winter. Gloves are a must.
- You’re very unlikely to get lost, as red and yellow arrows along with blue signposts will let you know where you are and where you’re headed all along the Upper Trail.
- Locals built and maintain the bridges and ladders, so bear that in mind when deciding whether to pay for the use of them or not. This is their livelihood.
- Make sure to take some of the best waterproof hiking boots you can get, as the paths do get very slippery, and you don’t want to fall and injure yourself.
Places to stay along the way
Some guest houses have already been mentioned, and there are plenty at Tiger Leaping Gorge. They don’t cost a lot, and provide somewhere basic to get your head down after a day of walking – ready for another day of walking when you wake up.
Naxi Family Guest House
The accommodation has heated blankets, amazing views, a rooftop terrace, great food and really helpful, friendly staff. Not far into the trail, it doesn’t get too busy. You’ll even get to meet the cats who live here! It’s just a great way to ease yourself into Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Tina’s Guest House
Further into the trail, Tina’s is one of the best-known guest houses at Tiger Leaping Gorge. The bus driver bringing you to the trail will even carry on and drop any luggage off here for you, to save you carrying it along with you. This means your belongings will be waiting for you at the guest house. As mentioned, you can of course get the bus back from here at the end of your hike too. With double rooms, family rooms and a dormitory there are various options here. Free WiFi and a bar/restaurant make this a great choice for accommodation at the gorge.
Sean’s Guest House
WiFi, parking and stunning views make this a great place to stay. Sean’s Guest House has comfortable rooms with heating and private bathrooms as well as an on-site restaurant, outdoor seating and much more. There is a shared kitchen, a lounge area and of course, you’re in the perfect location for horseback riding and hiking.