Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges on the planet, and it has the best hiking trail in the Lijiang area. The scenery is spectacular. Foreign backpackers started hiking in the area in the 1980s. Inns and guesthouses have been built along the trail for hikers. The Yangtze River in the canyon isn’t navigable. Tourists can tour the gorge area on tour buses along a road at the bottom of the canyon that follows the course of the river. This tour road is very popular with Chinese tourists. The people who walk the High Trail above the road are mainly foreigners. If you hike the path, you’ll find some solitude because you may meet only a few groups of hikers all day. Local Naxi people also use the trails. Whether you visit on a tour bus or hike, you can see some spectacular sights.
The valley is part of a UNESCO natural preservation area called the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, and it is also a part of China’s Three Parallel Rivers National Park. This area is important ecologically for wildlife preservation and is the headwaters for three of Asia’s biggest rivers. Because several ecological zones meet in the region and there is a range of climate zones, it is called an ecological hotspot with an unusually large number of different kinds of plants and animal species living in the same region. The gorge area is where some rare plants and animals live. Tiger Leaping Gorge is a scenic and natural highlight.
The gorge is divided into three segments called Upper Gorge, Middle Gorge and Lower Gorge. The whole valley is about 18 kilometers long. It goes from southwest to northeast. It lies between Hutiaoxia Zhen (Tiger Leaping Gorge Town) that is also called Qiaotou near the Upper Gorge and the town of Daju near the Lower Gorge. The canyon is near the beginning of the Yangtze River that is the world’s third longest river, and it is the most important river in China. The famous scenic areas of the Upper Gorge are the mouth of the gorge and Tiger Leaping Boulder area. Mantianxing (Sky Full of Stars) Reefs Area and Yixiantian are famous spots in the Middle Gorge. There are rapids in the Middle Gorge. In the lower gorge, you can enjoy the scenery around Daju.
To the west of the valley is 5,396 meter high Haba Snow Mountain and to the east is the 5,596 (18,355 feet) high peak called Shanzidou (扇子陡) of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. So the vertical distance down to the Yangtze River is 3,600 meters from the west and 3,800 meters from the east. The High Trail is the main path in the canyon. It is well used by hikers and local people. There are native houses and inns along the trail. It faces south so hikers get the benefit of sunlight in the deep gorge. Much of the trail is at an elevation of about 2,700 meters or 8,800 feet. The river roars and rushes along far below and can often be heard as one walks on the trail. Most of the High Trail is about a kilometer above the river. The eastern side is often shaded by the peaks, and the higher elevations appear to be bare rock or white snow, but it is green near the river.
This gorge is considered one of China’s best hikes. It isn’t very strenuous except for the initial climb along a series of switchbacks near the entrance to the gorge at Tiger Leaping Gorge Town. If one walks the trail slowly, takes advantage of the accommodations and is in good shape, the trail isn’t strenuous. The inns and hotels for backpackers along the way make the trek comfortable. It is strenuous if you attempt to do the whole thing too quickly however. The scenery is spectacular, and backpackers generally say that it is worth it. Though it is one of China’s popular trails, it is not crowded. Mainly foreigners, Americans, Europeans, and Israelis, take the high path above the river. Few Chinese tourists hike it, though you’ll see the native people using the route and grazing their animals. So it isn’t a crowded tourist pathway. According to what some people say, you may pass about one group of hikers each hour.
The path isn’t really dangerous either, except when it rains, when there are gusty winds, or where there are rockslides. Rain makes the rocks slippery and the path muddy. Walking over a fresh rockslide might be tricky. There are places where you have to walk carefully next to a cliff, and the path gets very narrow in some places. For safety, it is best to go with a group. It is easy to get a little lost. But take a good map so that you know where the hotels are. The rainy season extends from June to September. To avoid the rain, you could go in the fall. If you walk off the path, be careful.
The medical facilities in the immediate area are poor. Even in Lijiang, the hospital staff may not speak English. Foreigners may have a difficult time getting medical treatment. Recently, a foreign tourist was badly injured in the area, and he was taken to Lijiang. He didn’t have medical insurance, and the staff didn’t treat him. An emergency medical team from another city flew in to take him to Hong Kong.
One of the attractions in the area is the cave drawings that have been found in caves. There were cavemen in the area, and some implements and artifacts have been found. There are also branch trails and local paths and hamlets about. You can walk among them. Some people go down to the “middle rapids.” Two paths go down there that are probably more dangerous than the main path. The High Trail extends for 30 kilometers or about 19 kilometers further than the road along the river down below. You can see other highlights that the tour buses don’t reach.
At present, there is one main trail that runs the length of the valley called the High Trail. Here is a recommend two day hiking tour.
Day 1: Hike from Qiaotou to Halfway Guesthouse
On the first day, hike from Qiaotou to Halfway Guesthouse. The whole distance covered on the first day is about 17 kilometers, and you’ll hike for about six hours in total. Halfway Guest House really is at the halfway point on the High Trail. First, hike for two hours to Naxi Family Guesthouse and have lunch. Then continue to hike another 2 hours up the steep switchback called 28-bends before the next break. The views are unforgettable. After a break, hike another one or two hours, and then we will arrive at Halfway Guesthouse which has a great view of Yulong Snow Mountain and overlooks the Jinsha (Golden Sands) River Valley. You can sit out on a deck facing the mountain, and there are hot showers and clean beds.
Day 2: Hike from Halfway Guesthouse to Lower Tiger Leaping Gorge
Hike down to Tina's Guesthouse (about 2 hours) and pass through some pretty waterfalls and canyons on the way. And then walk for 1 hour down a side trail on the steep cliff to the bank of Jinsha River to see the Mantianxing Reefs. This is a another narrow part of the gorge. Continue along the road to the Lower Gorge (about 1.5 or 2 hours) where there is a ferry across the River to Daju. If you are interested in traveling to Tiger Leaping Gorge, we can design your own Hiking tour.
Click the map to enlarge
The Yangtze River is called the Golden Sand River in Yunnan. Near the mouth of the gorge, there is a rock in the middle of Golden Sand River called Tiger Leaping Rock. People say that the tiger crossed there by hopping on the rock. This is the myth or legend about Tiger Leaping Gorge. The horizontal distance the tiger would have had to have jumped may have been 25 meters, unless erosion and the force of the water swept the original boulder away. Modern tigers are not known to jump that far.
In the 1980s, backpackers started hiking the valley. In the 1990s, tourism was promoted. In 2003, Tiger Leaping Gorge was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2007, proposals to dam the gorge area were scrapped by the provincial government.
The gorge has been a barrier for river transportation. The water funneled at the mouth of the gorge forms violent whirlpools and hits the banks so powerfully that soaring breakers are created. As far as it is known, the first time anyone passed through the gorge on a boat was in 1986. In September of 1986, the Chinese Yangtze River Rafting Team navigated Tiger Leaping Gorge. Two men died.
Along the western side of Jade Dragon Snow Mountains. From Lijiang to Qiaotou, the bus trip takes about an hour.
There are easily accessible high-mountain scenic areas on the western side of Yulong Snow Mountain closer to Lijiang. There is a stairway at the 4,600 meter (about 15,000 feet) level that reaches close to the summit of a peak at Glacier Park. Lugu Lake and the First Bend of the Yangtze River are also scenic areas.