The Yellow Mountains

The Yellow Mountains

By Candice SongUpdated Oct. 11, 2021

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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.

3-day Huangshan tour

  • Chinese: 黄山 Huángshān /hwung-shan/ huang means 'yellow' and shan means 'mountain(s)'
  • Things to do: Enjoy hot springs, photography, and hiking
  • Must sees: peculiar pines and rocks, seas of cloud, hot springs, sunrises and sunsets
  • Suggested visit: 2 days
  • Location: Huangshan Prefecture, Anhui Province, Eastern China, about 300 km (200 miles) west of Hangzhou and 500 km (300 miles) southwest of Shanghai. The scenic area is about 50 km (30 miles) north of Huangshan City.


the yellow mountainsSeas 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:

  • You don't need to see any more mountains after seeing 'the Five Mountains', and you don't need to see the other four mountains after seeing Huangshan .
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Highlights — The Four Wonders

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.

Imaginatively-Named Pines

pine of the yellow mountainsGreeting-Guest Pine

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.

3-day Huangshan tour

Oddly-Shaped Rocks

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.

the yellow mountainsTowering peaks of the Yellow Mountains

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.

Seas of Cloud

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 five seas of cloud are named: North Sea, South Sea, East Sea, West Sea, and the Heavenly Sea (in the middle). 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

hot springEnjoy hot spring at the foot of mountains.

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 — a Rarely Seen Extra Wonder

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.

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Appreciate the Yellow Mountain Sunrise

bright topSunrise at Bright Top

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.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Approx. Sunrise Time 6:40 6:20 6:00 5:40 5:20 5:00 5:20 5:40 6:00 6:20 6:40 7:00

Enjoy Hot Springs and Waterfalls at the Foot of the 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.

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Popular Hiking Routes

popular hiking route map of the yellow mountainClick to enlarge the map.

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.

Route 1: From the Yungu Cableway — Highly Recommended

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.)

West Sea Canyon of the yellow mountainsSeas of cloud of West Sea Canyon

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.)

  • Walking the West Sea Canyon circuit as far as Bight Top may take around five hours. Aim to arrive at Bright Top to photograph the sunset. Completing the West Sea Canyon loop takes in Flying-Over Rock, a large tilting monolith which looks awesome at dusk. From Dispersing Cloud Pavilion go past West Sea (Xihai) Hotel to return to North Sea (Beihai) Hotel.
  • Touring West Sea Canyon is easier with the monorail. We recommend using the monorail to ascend back to Dispersing Cloud Pavilion if you want to avoid three hours hiking up and ensure you're in a good spot for the sunset. With your extra time you could take the path from Beihai Hotel to White Goose Ridge and see the rock called Flower Growing Out of a Writing Brush. Climb from White Goose Ridge to Bright Top (35 minutes) to photograph the sunset.

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Route 2: From the Yuping Cableway — the Crowded Classic

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.

Route 3: Northern Morning Walk with Asia's Longest Telpher

Taiping TelpherTaiping Telpher

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.

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Travel Essentials

Getting to the Yellow Mountains

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.

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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.

huangshan telpherCable car of the Yellow Mountains

Getting Up the Yellow Mountains

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.

What to Pack

Bring a daypack for mountain walking and things for a day or two's stay at mountain hotels in a backpack. The rest (cases, etc.) should be left at a hotel in Huangshan City or at the bottom of the mountain.

Even if you take a taxi and cable car up the Yellow Mountains, you would still need to walk about an hour from the cable car station to your hotel. You will not like walking with cases, as there are lots of steps. You could pay a porter to carry cases for you, but it is not cheap: about 150 yuan per case.

3-day Huangshan tour

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.

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Hotels on the Mountains — Very Basic

Hotel on the Yellow Mountains

The price is higher for hotels on the mountains than in Huangshan City, but you pay for the location not the quality of the hotel.

The accommodation is very basic. Due to the moist weather on the mountains, the rooms are sometimes humid, even moldy. The furniture may be a bit worn. Room facilities/supplies are simple: a bed (which may be a bit hard), a water heater (for limited hot water), and a bar of soap. So please bring a toiletries kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, etc.

Please note that everything used in the hotels is carried by porters, including furniture, food, and bottled water. Then all trash, recycling, and discarded materials are also carried down the mountains, so everything is more expensive. Laundry is carried down for cleaning and up again daily!

Nearby Attractions

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Tunxi Ancient District

tunxiTunxi Ancient Village

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 Cun — a Very Photogenic Village

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.

tangyue memorial archesThe Tangyue Memorial Arches

The Tangyue Memorial Arches

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

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.

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Tour the Yellow Mountains with China Highlights

3-day Huangshan tour

China Highlights aims to provide you with the best travel service possible. Contact us and will try our best to get over any difficulties you encounter during your time in Huangshan.

If you are planning a tour to the Yellow Mountains, please see our popular tours below 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. Our tours can be customized. Just tell us your interests and requirements and we will tailor make your own Yellow Mountain tour.

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