The Yellow Mountains is one of the most famous and beautiful mountainous areas in China. It was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990. Its spectacular natural scenery includes oddly-shaped pines and rocks, and mystical seas of cloud.
The Yellow Mountains are not so called because the mountains are yellow, but because the area was renamed after the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) in 747 AD. After that Huangshan began its ascent to fame. Many Buddhist temples have been built there and, more recently, it has become a major tourist attraction, because of its scenic qualities.
It is said that the Yellow Mountains is the place where the Yellow Emperor, the mythical ancestor of the Chinese, lived, refined precious medicines and became a supernatural being. Xu Xiake, a noted Chinese geologist in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), who visited the Yellow Mountains twice, left his praise in this quote:
Outstanding natural beauty is Huangshan's number one feature. The Yellow Mountains' classic attractions are known as its "Four Natural Wonders": the imaginatively-named pines, oddly-shaped rocks, seas of cloud, and hot springs.
Yellow Mountain pines are particularly hardy, seeming to twist directly out of the smooth rock. Many old pines have been named according to their appearance or some legend about them.
Greeting Guest Pine is the most famous pine in the Yellow Mountains, and doubtless in all of China. The 10-meter (33 ft) high tree grows like a man standing by the path and stretching out his hand to guests in a greeting gesture. Many Chinese hang a poster of Greeting Guest Pine in their living rooms and restaurants as a decoration.
Read more about the pines of the Yellow Mountains.
Likewise the oddly-shaped rocks of the Yellow Mountains get their names not only from appearance, but also from legend. Each rock's name has a story, which gives the rock life.
Flying-Over Rock is one of the most famous boulders in the Yellow Mountains. The 12-meter- (39-ft-) high rock tilts on a huge rock ledge. The contact area is very small which makes it more amazing.
Read more about the oddly-shaped rocks of the Yellow Mountains.
The seas of cloud have contributed much to the ethereal atmosphere of the Yellow Mountains, making peaks look like islands in the sky. The best time to appreciate this phenomenon is from November to May, especially after rainy/snowy days, at sunrise or sunset.
There are hundreds of peaks and thousands of ravines in the Yellow Mountains, but four seas of cloud are named: North Sea, South Sea, East Sea, and West Sea. Celestial Capital Peak (1,800m/5,900ft), Lotus Peak (1,873m/6,145ft), and Bright Top (1,841m/6,040ft) are the three tallest peaks, and best locations to see the stunning seas of cloud.
Hot springs not only relax you from the tiredness of climbing, but also have the function of healing and restoration. The hot springs of the Yellow Mountains were discovered and tapped more than a thousand years ago.
There is a tale that Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor), the earliest ancestor of the Chinese nation, bathed in the hot spring and became younger. So the springs are also called the Springs of Youth.
Buddha's Light (an optical phenomenon like a halo surrounding the observer's shadow, once thought to show the observer's enlightenment) may be witnessed if the conditions are right. It requires the observer to be between the sun and a cloud. The Yellow Mountains offer ideal conditions when seas of cloud are below the obsever.
Watching the sunrise over Huangshan is a very popular and highly recommended activity. The glow of the sunrise and sunset draws the crowds to popular viewing spots. Many people make the early morning trek up to Bright Top.
The following are approximate average sunrise times at the Yellow Mountains. Observed sunrise will vary depending on your height with respect to surrounding mountains. On cloudy days the sun may appear above the cloud line somewhat later, and dawn may be less colorful.
Read more Photography Tips for the Yellow Mountains.
The hot springs, some waterfalls and low level scenic walks can be found 40 minutes walk (or a short taxi ride) from the main south gate. There are several hotels in this area, in whose grounds are the hot springs. The hot springs are a great place to go to relax the muscles after a day or two's hiking on the mountain.
There are cable cars (telphers) to take the effort out of the ascent and descent. There are two main routes up to the mountaintop hotels from the south gate: the Yungu Cableway route, and the Yuping Cableway route.
Yellow Mountain Scenic Area can also be entered from the north, but it's not recommended as it's a longer journey from Huangshan city (or Hangzhou/Shanghai).
Below is a summary of the hiking options.
The Yungu (/ywn-goo/ ‘Cloud Valley') Cableway route begins near Cloud Valley Temple. Yungu Cableway takes 8 minutes to reach White Goose Ridge (Bai E Feng /bye-er fnng/).
(The walking option is an estimated 1 hour 45 minutes, and doesn't offer much: just a pavilion and a rock called Immortal Pointing The Way, and the company of local workers manually transporting bedding and other goods up and down the thousands of steps.)
After (possibly a long wait and) a quick ride up by cable car, take the east route to enjoy a Yellow Mountain ‘appetizer'. At Beihai Hotel, the best hotel on this path, take a short break and lunch, leave your bags at the hotel, and head west to Dispersing Cloud Pavilion (Paiyun Lou /pie-ywn low/) to see the stunning scenery in West Sea Canyon.
For a more peaceful way to enjoy the scenery of the Yellow Mountains, China Highlights recommends the circuit through the West Sea Canyon, with its less frequented trails and spectacular views. It's a good place to discover the Yellow Mountains. (Every year from December till April, West Sea Canyon is closed to tourists because of snow and maintenance.)
The Yuping (/yoo-ping/ ‘Jade Screen') Cableway route to Bright Top is the less recommended route up, because there's more walking and tourists. Yuping cableway's bottom station is at Kind Light Pagoda (Ciguang Ge /tsrr-gwung ger/). The cable car takes 10 minutes to Jade Screen Pavilion. This saves 1 hour 15 minutes of walking. Jade Screen Pavilion is an excellent viewing spot.
If you first head south from Jade Screen Pavilion, past Greeting-Guest Pine, you could take two hours or so to climb Celestial Capital Peak. This peak is a steep climb, but the views and rock formations near the summit make it worthwhile. The busiest place in the Yellow Mountains must be around Greeting-Guest Pine, where tourists from all over China take it in turns to have their photo taken with this well-known tree.
The route from Jade Screen Pavilion to Bright Top is very busy in peak times, which makes the narrow paths slow going. Tour guides with megaphones interrupt the eerie stillness of the mountainside. The path offers another diversion (1 hour 30 minutes) off to the highest summit, Lotus Peak, before reaching Bright Top.
From Beihai Hotel there is a path to the north gate of Huangshan Scenic Area, the less visited side. Along this path you can see Dawn Pavilion (a popular place to see the sea of clouds and the dawn, so a good morning walk option), Refreshing Terrace and Monkey Watching the Sea (a curious boulder perched on a ridge), on the way down to Pine Valley Nunnery. Catch Taiping Telpher back up.
Taiping Telpher is Asia's longest telpher (3,709m long), taking up to 100 passengers at a time from Dispersing Cloud Pavilion down to Pine Valley Nunnery (Songgu An), or more popularly up 1,000m to save two hours or more of walking.
The usual way to get to the mountains is to first go to Huangshan City by bus, train or plane. A bus from the city to Huangshan Scenic Area takes about 1 hour.
There are buses from Hangzhou making the 3-hour journey to the city or a 4-hour journey direct to the mountains.
A train from Shanghai (e.g. K8418: 20:21–07:11) takes around 12 hours. A bus only takes about half the time.
Huangshan's small airport, 10 minutes' drive from Huangshan City, has daily flights to and from Shanghai, and other cities including Beijing, Xi'an, Guangzhou.
See Huangshan Transport.
There are an estimated 60,000 steps along with paved/concrete paths leading to all the main points of interest (a common feature on China's popular mountains).
There are three cable cars (cableways with enclosed cars) to take the time and effort out of the middle part of the climb to the summits, and minibuses that will take you as far as the cable car stations from the gates. The prices for the 3 cableways (Yungu, Yuping, and Taiping) are the same. The one way price is: 105 yuan per person one way. Every year during the low season from November till January of the next year, the three cable cars will take turn to stop operation for annual maintenance.
Note: Yuping cableway is closed for enhancement work from October 8th, 2014 to approximately April 30th, 2015.
Pack for mountain walking and a day or two's stay at mountain hotels. The rest (cases, etc.) should be left at a hotel in Huangshan City or at the bottom of the mountain.
We recommend waterproofs, layers of warm clothes, a windproof lightweight layer, a change of clothes, high calorie snacks, plenty of drinks, a map for reference and a camera. In summer use sun protection as it is easy to get burnt on the mountain. Pack waterproof bags for anything that shouldn't get wet and put it all in a backpack.
It is worth noting that the average July high is 21°C (69°F) and the average January Temperature is -6°C (21°F) on the mountain, and bringing appropriate clothing. See Huangshan Weather.
Footwear: Decent comfortable trainers with a cushioned sole (with a change of footwear in case they get soaked) should be sufficient in summer. Waterproof walking boots/ snow boots with crampons (hireable at the mountain) are recommended in the winter, when there is likely to be snow. The steps may be treacherously slippery in the winter and some areas are restricted access for safety reasons.
If you arrive in Huangshan City too late in the day to go to the mountains, there are decent hotels in the city and Tunxi (/twn-sshee/). Tunxi is a town/district and a county adjacent to and effectively forming the south of the city of Huangshan.
Tunxi's Ancient Streets are famous for ink production. Visitors can see a historic factory where ink tablets and seals are produced. A stroll down the main streets of Tunxi gives visitors the chance to take in the ancient architecture and maybe buy some tea or other local products from the shops that line the streets.
Hong Village is 1½ hours by bus from the city, at the foot of the Yellow Mountains. Hong Cun (/hong-tswn/ ‘Spacious Village') is famous for being the set for Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
It is a beautiful ancient village frequented by painters capturing the blend of water, willows and ancient architecture on canvass. Walking through the narrow streets one can visit many historic residences with antique furniture and beautifully carved wooden doors and archways.
There are also the Tangyue Memorial Arches, 40 minutes from the city, the largest collection of these tall Chinese-style stone gateway and roof structures in the world.
Tachuan Village is considered to have one of the best autumn scenes in China. It boasts numerous ancient giant trees, such as Chinese tallow trees, maples and camphor trees. In fall the leaves turn multi-colored, creating a gorgeous sight, and attracting many visitors and photographers.
If you are planning a tour to the Yellow Mountains, please see our popular 3-day essence of Huangshan tour for inspiration. You can see the best of the Yellow Mountains, and wander in Hongcun and Tunxi Ancient Street for a scenic and historical tour. Or contact us to tailor make your own Yellow Mountain tour according to your interests.