The Yellow Mountains: A comprehensive guide
11th February, 2023
The Yellow Mountains is one of the most beautiful mountainous areas in China. Located on the edge of Anhui province, the area makes for a great weekend break from Shanghai or Hangzhou. It can also be easily accessed from other parts off the country via the nearby airports and high speed trains.
The Yellow Mountains are great for all types of tourists. Whether you’re a keen hiker, a family with young children or an elderly person looking for some fresh air and relaxation, Huangshan has it all.
However, as I have learnt during my time living in China and travelling to places such as 1000 Islands and Sanya, information in English isn’t always easy to come by. Therefore, a trip to the Yellow Mountains requires some forward planning in order to make the most out of your visit. But don’t worry, I have done the research so you don’t have to- read on for everything you need to know about travelling to the Yellow Mountains in China.
- Tourism in the Yellow Mountains
- The best time of year to visit the Yellow Mountains
- How to get to the Yellow Mountains
- Where to stay in the Yellow Mountains
- Yellow Mountains packing list
- Yellow Mountains: A 3 day itinerary
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Other things to do near the Yellow Mountains
- Planning your trip to the Yellow Mountains
Tourism in the Yellow Mountains
Whilst China is quite rightly known for its historic Great Wall in Beijing, the unique panda research centre in Chengdu and The Bund in Shanghai, there is a lot more to China than most people realise.
Whilst most foreign tourists are ignorantly unaware of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Huangshan (literal translation- Yellow Mountains), the area has a booming domestic tourism sector.
Formed approximately 100 million years ago, Huangshan began its ascent to fame after 747AD, however it is only in recent years that it has become a major tourist attraction. It was one of the first designated national parks in China, awarded this status in 1982. Then in 1986, Huangshan was selected as one of the top 10 attractions in China. In 1990 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and then finally in 2004, it was selected as a World Geopark.
The Huangshan mountain range has several peaks that are easily accessible to tourists. The three tallest and best-known peaks are Lotus Peak (1,864 m), Bright Peak (1,860 m) and Celestial Peak (1,829 m).
The vegetation of the area varies with elevation and is made up of mesic, deciduous and alpine areas. Huangshan Mountain is known as one of China’s premier green tea growing areas. The area is particularly famous for the Huangshan Pine. Many of the pine trees in the area are more than a hundred years old and have been given their own names. Many tourists stop to take photos of the famous Welcoming-Guests Pine, which is thought to be more than 1500 years old.
Interestingly, the Yellow Mountains are not named so because of their colour. In actual fact, they were given this name after the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di). Legend has it that the Yellow Mountains is where the Yellow Emperor, the mythical ancestor of the Chinese, lived. Here he was said to refine precious medicines. Whilst living in the mountains he became a supernatural being.
China’s international tourism industry has only really taken off in the past couple of decades, and tertiary tourist attractions that are outside of major cities, such as the Yellow Mountains, have seen the slowest growth. But this doesn’t mean they are short of tourists! Huangshan is heaving with domestic travellers during the peak season and on weekends when the weather is fine. In fact, it gets so busy that I would recommend planning the timing of your trip carefully to avoid being stuck in queue after queue on top of the mountain!
The vast majority of tourists who visit the Yellow Mountains are Chinese tourists. In 2019, in an attempt to encourage foreign visitors, the Chinese Government waived entrance fees for non-Chinese nationals. Sadly, this policy did not stay in place and now foreigners pay the same entrance fees as the Chinese.
As with many natural attractions in China, there is lots to do other than enjoying the natural elements. Zip lines, grass sledges and spas have popped up all over the area in recent years.The standard of accommodation has also improved and there are now many options to choose from.
The best time of year to visit the Yellow Mountains
We visited Huangshan at the beginning of October and it was perfect!
The Golden Week crowds had dispersed and the sun was shining. Despite being over 1000m high, the temperature was only a degree or two cooler than it was at the bottom of the mountain and I was perfectly comfortable in my shorts and a t-shirt.
Timing your visit to the Yellow Mountains is pretty important- you want those Insta-worthy shots, right?
With an average of 300 days a year of rain, 250 days a year of fog and with the weekends and public holiday crowds, it is important that you plan the best time for your visit to the Yellow Mountains in order to get the most of your trip.
There are two major factors to consider: weather and crowds. I will explain now…
Weather in the Yellow Mountains
The weather in the Yellow Mountains can be pretty unpredictable.
In an ideal world, you would plan your trip to Huangshan a few days before you go, according to the weather forecast (with good weather does come more tourists- be mindful of this). It rains a lot in the mountains and you won’t get those picture-perfect vistas that you’re after if it’s pouring with rain.
The best times of year are spring and autumn, when the weather is pleasantly warm and it isn’t the height of rainy season. We visited in October and the weather was lush!
Below is a graph that demonstrates the average temperatures and rainfall throughout the year.
Some people choose to plan their Yellow Mountains itinerary according to a specific thing that they want to see, such as the tea plantations, rapeseed or waterfalls. Below I have listed some of the key times of year that are worth noting if there is something that you are particularly keen to see during your visit.
- best time for sea of clouds– September to May
- best time for rapeseed flowers– March to May
- best time for snow– December to March
- best time for tea picking– April two June
- best time for waterfalls– June to September
Dates to avoid travelling to the Yellow Mountains
China suffers from overtourism more than any other country in the world. Trust me, you haven’t experienced crowds until you have travelled to the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu during the Golden Week national holiday (I learnt this the HARD way).
If you choose to travel to the Yellow Mountains during a holiday period or a sunny weekend, expect to conduct your hike shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of Chinese tourists. Pushing and shoving is deemed perfectly acceptable- and it doesn’t seem to matter that you are on the edge of a sheer cliff drop!
Overtourism also brings with it other negative impacts, such as increased prices of accommodation and transport, reduced availability, littering, smoking and noise pollution.
Having learnt from experience, I strongly recommend avoiding all public holidays when you travel to Huangshan and, if possible, avoid weekends too.
Here are the key times of year that you will want to avoid travelling to the Yellow Mountains:
- Chinese New Year (dates change each year but will take place sometime between the end of January and late February)
- Summer holiday (most schools are closed during July and August)
- Golden Week (The biggest national holiday of the year taking place between October 1-7)
- Dragon Boat Festival (Late June)
- Mid Autumn Festival (usually mid-late September)
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How to get to the Yellow Mountains
There are three main ways to reach the Yellow Mountains- via your own private transport, using public transport or on a tour.
Private transportation to the Yellow Mountains
We drove using our own private car from Hangzhou to Mt Huangshan. It took us about four hours and the kids slept in their car seats in the back for most of the journey. It was a nice scenic drive.
Driving worked out great for us, but be aware that you will need a Chinese drivers license and that there are not many car hire companies that will rent to foreigners.
If hiring a car and driving yourself isn’t an option for you, but you still like the idea of having your own transport to travel at your own pace, then I recommend hiring a private driver. Drivers are quite affordable in China and this is a doable option if you are within a few hours drive of Huangshan.
Public transportation to the Yellow Mountains
If you travel via public transport you can take a flight, train or bus. Travelling to Huangshan is particularly easy if you are coming from nearby cities of Hangzhou or Shanghai.
The main options are listed below.
- Take a flight to Huangshan Tunxi International Airport
- Take a high-speed train to Huangshan North Railway Station
- Take a normal train to Huangshan Railway Station
- Take a long-distance bus to get to Huangshan
Many people don’t realise it, but the city of Huangshan is actually about a 45 minute drive away from the scenic area. So once you arrive here you will need to take a local bus or arrange a car. You can book a private transfer in advance here.
Tours to Huangshan (the most popular choice)
The third option to reach the Yellow Mountains is via a tour.
Information about tourist attractions that is in English is generally not readily available in China. This can make travelling stressful. You may also miss out on visiting the best spots!
Whilst we travelled to Huangshan independently, it wasn’t always easy. There were moments when we had no idea where we were going or what we were paying for! For some, this is all part of the fun of travelling in China, but for others, it causes unnecessary stress.
The tourism industry in China is very tour-focussed. You can take private tours, small group tours or large tours. Taking a tour is a great way to make sure that you don’t miss any of the best bits and that your trip runs smoothly.
There are a large number of tour operators offering these kinds of tours. However, many tour companies do not speak English or offer English-speaking guides, so it can be difficult to find the right one. If you think a tour is the best option for you, then I recommend the following:
- 1 Day Mt Huangshan(Yellow Mountain) Group Tour
- Private Two Days Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) Sightseeing Tour
- 3-Day Yellow Mountains, Hongcun Village and Tunxi Ancient Street Private Tour
Where to stay in the Yellow Mountains
We stayed at the SONGE Wei Boutique Hotel and I absolutely recommend this hotel for all types of travellers!
The location is amazing, just steps from the beautiful Emerald Valley. The staff are super attentive and will pick you up and drop you off to any place that you want to go. And the food in the restaurant is great too.
The owner gave us a map and helped us to plan a hiking route that was suitable for a family with young children. There are lots of different routes that you can take, so his advice was invaluable when we were on top of the mountain!
Our room was amazing. We booked into the family room, which was a large room with a children’s section and an adults section. The kids area had a play tent, some books and a robot! The kids were absolutely mesmerised and the robot provided hours of entertainment. We also loved that there was a bath, free drinks including soda, and that the beds were soft (not common on China, usually they are rock solid).
The hotel has recently had a refurbishment and all of the rooms are sparkly clean and new. Initially we were offered a larger room, but there was no robot(!)- so we gratefully declined. If you are travelling as a group though, this room would be amazing- it was over two floors and had a living area as wells two bedrooms.
There are plenty of other rooms at the hotel too, including twin and double rooms.
Best holiday resort
I also considered staying at the Crowne Plaza Huangshan Taiping Lake.
This hotel is perfect for a longer break that incorporates some relaxation/fun time! It isa 5 star hotel offering luxurious accomodation with stunning lake views. The hotel boasts a water park, 2 on-site swimming pools, a fitness centre and 5 dining options.
Whilst this hotel is a 30 minute drive from the scenic area, it is absolutely worth a few minutes in the car if you are looking for a relaxing break away.
This hotel also has lots of Western options for food, which we did not find closer to the mountain. It has a range of room types, including family rooms.
Best budget option
If you’re travelling on a budget, then the Koala International Youth Hostel has amazing reviews.
The Koala International Youth Hostel features a restaurant, bar, a shared lounge and garden. Among the facilities at this property are a shared kitchen and room service. The accommodation provides evening entertainment and valet parking too, which is a bonus!
Hotels on top of the mountain
One of the top things do in the Yellow Mountains is to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountains.
If this is in your Yellow Mountain itinerary then you will need to find suitable accommodation at the top of the mountain. The area does not open early enough to allow you to hike to the top, so staying on the mountain is your only option.
Accommodation options on top of the mountain are very limited and they are not of the highest standard. They also get booked up early during busy periods.
I seriously considered staying a night on the mountain and researched all of the available hotels, but in the end we decided against. With the small kids we didn’t want to have to lug all of our luggage up the mountain…
During my research I found that the reviews for the hotels at the top of the mountain were mediocre at best. The highest reviews were for the Paiyunlou Hotel. So, if we did stay on the mountain, this is where I would’ve booked.
Other accommodation options in the Yellow Mountains
There are a wide range of places to stay in the area, so if none the above take your fancy, try using the map below to check what’s available on your travel dates (make sure you zoom out for more options- there obviously are not a lot of hotels on the top of the mountain)
Yellow Mountains packing list
There isn’t much except nature (and the odd zip line, because, you know- this is China!) in the Yellow Mountains. As such, you will need to make sure that you have everything you need for your trip before you leave home.
Here is my recommended packing list for your trip to Huangshan:
Sturdy rucksack- You will likely be doing a lot of walking in the Yellow Mountains. Therefore it is essential that you have a sturdy rucksack. My favourite brand is Osprey as they are always great quality and really comfortable. Fill it with water, snacks and/or camera gear!
Walking poles– You might only spend a day hiking, but there are some really steep climbs and you will wish you had your walking poles when your legs start toter to jelly (well, at least that’s how I felt!). You can buy some good value walking poles for a reasonable price on Amazon. These will help you on difficult and steep terrain.
Warm fleece– It will get cold in the evenings and when the sun goes behind the clouds unless you are travelling in the summer, 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.
Waterproof coat– a small coat that can fit inside your bag is perfect to protect you from the rain (remember what I said- it rains an average of 300 days per year in the Yellow Mountains!).
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– We got bitten a lot during our hike because we forgot to pack the mosquito repellent. My usual go-to is Jungle Formula for us adults and Mosquitan patches for the kids.
Warm hat/gloves– A good quality hat and gloves is pretty important during the colder months. I swear by my Berghaus gear.
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.
Toilet paper and hand sanitiser– Because I didn’t see either of these items in any of the toilets I visited during my time on the mountain. And with a potty-training toddler, I visited quite a few.
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 the Yellow Mountains, and I must say, their photos are spectacular!
Child carrier– We couldn’t have hiked the 8km trail across the top of the mountain without our Tula carriers. The kids love them- they playlet and sleep while they are being carried!
VPN– Trust me, you WILL want to share your amazing Yellow Mountain photos with your friends and families back home. Don’t forget to install your VPN before you leave. I recommend Express VPN.
Travel Insurance– You never know when you could have an accident in the mountains. Never travel without insurance. I recommend World Nomads.
Yellow Mountains: A 3 day itinerary
We had a wonderful trip to the Yellow Mountains and we found that three days was the perfect amount of time to spend in Huangshan.
Here is how we filled our days:
We left our home in Hangzhou at around 10am. It took four hours to drive to the Yellow Mountains. The drive was lovely- nice open roads and no traffic. And the scenery was great.
PM Emerald Valley
We arrived at our hotel at around 2pm. We checked in and then headed straight out to Emerald Valley.
Conveniently, Emerald Valley was right on our doorstep, quite literally! Only a few steps from our hotel, this scenic area is often overlooked by tourists, who head straight to the mountain, which is a shame.
Emerald Valley is a beautiful scenic area filled with more than 100 emerald pools which change colour in the light. The water here is the clearest and cleanest that I have seen in all of China!
There is only one route to walk, so you can’t get lost. You follow the trail of pools up the mountain until you get to a large rocky area at the top. Emerald Valley is the longest Canyon at the foot of Mt Huangshan, but only part of this is accessible via the Emerald Valley scenic area, the rest is fenced off.
It took us around 45 minutes to walk the length of the Emerald Valley trail. On the way back the path takes you a different route and you can choose to take the zip line back down!
I was shocked that they allowed both my three year old toddler and my 18 month old baby to go on the zip line! But it felt pretty safe- they were strapped in tightly and the baby was attached to me with the baby carrier. It was pretty cool to be able to glide back to the entrance above the trees and made for a fun ending to a great afternoon at Emerald Valley!
Evening Jade Village
We spent the evening having dinner and drinks in our hotel restaurant, located in Jade Village. The food was great and the portions were huge! I recommend the eggplant and egg fried rice!
AM Cable car mountain ascent
On our second day in the Yellow Mountains we got up early and the hotel owner gave us a lift to the south entrance to the mountain. Here you can but your tickets.
[Note- allow time for buying tickets. We had to go to a special foreigner line first. Then we had to go to another line to get a number (like a bingo ticket). Then we had to go to another desk to buy a bus ticket. Then a cable car ticket. Then an entrance ticket. Each ticket desk wanted to see our passports and health codes on our phones.]
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From the entrance you will take a bus to one of the cable cars (or you can choose to climb the 60,000 steps up, which will take about two hours). We were advised to head to the Yuping Cable Car station if we wanted to do a short walk, because this is where the best scenery is. However, our hotel owner said that we would have the best experience if we could do the full 8km hike from the Yungu Cable Car station to the Yuping Cable Car station.
This is the route that we chose to do. I would absolutely recommend it! It was challenging at times, but perfectly doable with two kids on our backs. This route is suitable for someone with modest fitness and who is not afraid of heights. You can see our route marked on the map below.
Whilst the map that was provided by our hotel is really useful, with distances marked on and Chinese and English text,I appreciate that it does look a little bit complicated. So I have provided a clearer map for you below.
PM Hiking across the mountain top
We spent the afternoon hiking across the top of the mountain. As you can see, we did a variation of route two on the second map. If we didn’t have to carry the kids, we would have done the full route two, which would probably take about another two hours. In total, we were on the mountain for about 5 hours.
Most people start at the Yuping Cable Car (which is where we finished out hike). This was by far the busiest section of the hike and I was glad that we started at the other side of the mountain so that we could enjoy the scenery without the crowds- I would definitley recommend this route.
There were lots of steps and some parts were more challenging than we had expected! We were lucky that the kids are still small enough to be carried. If you travel here with slightly older children then you may wish to revise your Yellow Mountain itinerary to involve less walking.
If you are on a guided tour then your guide will take you to all of the best scenic spots on the mountain. If you’re hiking independently then you will want to incorporate the following key spots into your route:
Beginning to Believe
One of our first stops on our hike was Beginning to Believe Peak. I think the name is quite apt, seen as it was at the beginning of our walk. Seeing the rugged cliff edges jutting out into the sky here is quite a magical experience. The scenery is breathtaking.
This stunning peak reaches a height of 1682m. It is situated in the east of Flower-Scattering Valley in the Beihai Scenic Area. The cliffs face three different directions and encompass picturesque rocks, verdant pines and incredible visas in every direction.
There is an old saying that says ‘one won’t see the best of the Huangshan Mountain until they come to the Begin-to-Believe Peak’. And I totally believe this is true!
The Yellow Mountain area is famous for its pine trees. During our hike we saw many tour groups who were stood around particular trees. As the information was all in Chinese, I wasn’t sure what the fascination was at the time, so I came home and researched it…
It turns out that the Huangshan pine ( known as Pinus Hwangshanensis) is a uniquely classified tree species in botany. These trees commonly grow on alpine peaks which are between 800 and 1800m high. There are several Huangshan Pines were are places of interest on the mountain top.
The most popular Huangshan Pine is Guest-Greeting Pine. This pine tree stands beside the Green Lion Stone in the Huangshan Yuping Scenic Area at 1670m high. The height of the tree is 9.91m. This tree has become representative of all Huangshan pines and a symbol of Huangshan.
Other famous Huangshan Pines that you may want to look at include:
- Seeing Out Guest Pine
- Black Tiger Pine
- Double Dragon Pine
- Phoenix Pine
- Leading Pine
- Couple Pine
We only saw the Flying Stone from a distance, but you can hike there if you wish.
Located in the White Clouds Scenic Area, Flying Stone is a large rock that sticks out amongst the view. It is also known as ‘Xiantao Stone’ or ‘Xiantao Peak’.
Dispelling Cloud Pavilion
Another area that we saw only from a distance is the Dispelling Cloud Pavilion.
This area is not worth visiting for the pavilion itself (which is pretty small and unremarkable), but for the scenery that it occupies. This is one of the best spots to see the famous mystical sea of clouds.
It was sunny during our visit with barely a could in sight, so I have taken a photograph that I found on the Internet to show you what it is like.
Bright Summit Peak
If you are planning to watch the sunrise at the Yellow Mountains, this is the spot to do it!
Bright Summit Peak is the second highest summit and is a very popular place to rest and enjoy the views due to its flat topography. This peak is 1860m high and is recognisable by the large white ball on the top- the Yellow Mountain meteorological station.
On a clear day you can see as far as the East China Sea. The views are simply spectacular.
Lotus Peak is the highest Peak in the mountains and is a part of almost every Yellow Mountain itinerary. However, getting to the top is not for the faint hearted!
The peak is 1864m above sea level and is the third highest peak in east China. Most people climb 2/3 of the way up, before the path becomes less populous and less safe. Whilst my husband and three year old daughter made it to the top (on hands and knees at one point), I turned back when there were no longer substantial railings. With my fear of heights and a wriggling baby on my back, this was way too much for me to handle.
Having said that, the photos look incredible and it is worth the climb if you are a bit more steady on your feet at heights than I am. Just make sure you have good shoes with a firm grip if it’s wet and slippery!
Evening Jade Village
After a tiring day of hiking we relaxed in our hotel (we were so glad to have a nice hotel to go back to!).
We had a well deserved beer (or two), a delicious meal and a long soak in the bath to ease our sore limbs!
Luckily we had installed a VPN on our phones too, so we could share the highlights of our day on Facebook and Instagram!
AM Nine Dragons Waterfalls
The last part of our Yellow Mountains itinerary was a visit to the Nine Dragons Waterfalls. The waterfalls were only a five minute drive from our hotel and we spent a couple of hours exploring the area.
The Nine Dragons Waterfalls are amongst the 7 most famous waterfalls in China. You walk along a trail waterfalls, each with a pool of water at the bottom. The largest waterfall is 600m in length and 360m high.
As we visited during the dry season, the waterfalls were not very powerful. If you choose to visit during the summer months, which coincides with the wet season, then I expect there will be a more impressive scene.
PM Journey back to Hangzhou
Once we had finished looking at the waterfalls we set off in the car back to Hangzhou.
Three days felt like the perfect amount of time to really enjoy Huangshan and I would absolutely recommend a Yellow Mountain itinerary similar to ours.
Other things to do near the Yellow Mountains
If you have more than three days to spare, there are plenty of other cool things to do in the Yellow Mountain area. Here are some of the other things to do in Huangshan:
Huangshan Hot springs
I’ll be honest, I was a bit gutted that we didn’t have time to visit the Huangshan Hot Spring! My legs and back were really aching after all the hiking (with the baby on my back) and a quick trip to the spa would have been AMAZING!
The hot spring in Huangshan Resort & Spa is open day and night. The average temperature of the main spring mouth is 42.5℃, and that of the secondary spring mouth is 41.1℃. The water is suitable to bathe in and to drink.
There are lots of benefits from visiting the hot springs, including:
- Promoting metabolism
- Treating skin disorders
- Ameliorating cardiovascular diseases
- Stimulating nerve tissues
- Preventing chronic arthritis
Tunxi Ancient District
Tunxi is a historic town that is famous for ink production. Here you can have a tour of the ink factory, stroll through the picturesque streets and enjoy the ancient architecture.
Hong Cun is famous for being the set for Ang Lee’s ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.
Located 1 1/2 hours by bus from the city of Huangshan, this beautiful ancient village is one of the most photogenic in Eastern China. This village is commonly visited by painters and photographers.
The Tangyue Memorial Arches
This is the largest collection of these tall Chinese-style stone gateway and roof structures in the world, located around 40 minutes from Huangshan City.
The best time to visit Tachuan Village is during the autumn, when the giant ancient trees boast multi-coloured leaves.This village is popular with photographers.
Planning your trip to the Yellow Mountains
Whether you choose to plan an independent Yellow Mountain itinerary or book onto a group tour, I hope that you have found this article informative and helpful. Travelling in China? Take look at my other China posts for inspiration and advice!