Midway between Lijiang and Shangri-la, Tiger Leaping Gorge in China’s Yunnan Province has carved its way between snow-capped peaks and formed one of the deepest gorges in the world. The roaring Jinsha River (part of the Yangtze River) shows the power of nature there.
Known as one of the world’s great treks, the rugged Tiger Leaping Gorge trail refreshes souls with sheer natural beauty and majestic snow mountain views. And Naxi culture is another pearl shining on the Gorge.
Tiger Leaping Gorge has three sections: the Upper Gorge, Middle Gorge and Lower Gorge. The Upper Gorge and Middle Gorge are popular with travelers for their sheer landscapes. The Lower Gorge is usually not recommended due to its plain scenery. To admire its beauty, people choose a Tiger Leaping Gorge section as per their interests and time.
- Facts about Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Tiger Leaping Gorge Map
- Where is Tiger Leaping Gorge?
- Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking
Facts about Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Chinese: 虎跳峡 Hǔtiào Xiá /hoo-tyaoww sshyaa/ 'Tiger Leaping Gorge'
- Maximum depth: 3,790 meters (12,434 feet), about twice the depth of the Grand Canyon
- Length: 23 kilometers (14 miles)
- Highest TLG Trail altitude: 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), which won’t cause altitude sickness
- Entrance fee: CN¥45/US$7
- Suited to: nature and hiking lovers
- Time needed: 2–3 hours for a short visit; 1–2 days for hiking
- Location: about 86 kilometers (53 mi) north of Lijiang City, and around 106 km (66 mi) from Shangri-La
Tiger Leaping Gorge Map
Where is Tiger Leaping Gorge?
Tiger Leaping Gorge stretches about 23 kilometers from Qiaotou Village in Hutiaoxia Zhen (‘Tiger Leaping Gorge Rural District’) to Daju Village.
The Upper Gorge — for a Perfect Combo of Short Visit and Hike
As the narrowest section, the upper gorge is characterized by rapids and a precipitous landscape. The gorge is accessible to all travelers, which kindly offers two choices: the Upper Gorge Scenic Spot for a short visit (1–2 hours) and the High Trail for hiking to the wild path (1–2 days).
- The Upper Gorge Scenic Spot: following the well-paved plank path along the Jinsha River, you can reach the narrowest area of the whole gorge to listen to the roar of the Jinsha River. The tiger statue seen in most pictures is located there. It’s an energy-saving and time-smart choice.
Tips: There are 1,000 steps down to the viewing platform from the parking lot. You can choose a sedan chair (CN¥150–200) or the escalator (CN¥70) to avoid the one-hour walking.
- The High Trail: It starts from Qiaotou (‘Bridge Head’ village) and winds its way up to the middle of Haba Snow Mountain before tracing the length of both the Upper Gorge and Middle Gorge. People usually take a 2-day hike along the High Trail from Qiaotou (Upper Gorge) to Tina’s Guesthouse (Middle Gorge), passing the 28 Bends and Half-Way Guesthouse.
Tips: The High Trail faces south so hikers often get the benefit of sunlight even in the deep gorge. The trail’s top altitude of about 2,700 meters or 8,800 feet means altitude sickness is not a problem.
The Middle Gorge — Challenging Hiking
Suitable for: energetic hikers; fit people with a good sense of balance
The Middle Gorge is a perfect place to challenge yourself. It usually takes half a day to admire its splendid scenery. You can stand on Tiger Leaping Rock in the rapids, seek for thrills by climbing the vertical Sky Ladder, and admire the strikingly beautiful Yixiantian (the ‘Ray of Sunshine’).
- Teacher Zhang’s Trail and Tiger Leaping Rock: The drop of the river in the middle gorge is high, especially at Mantianxing (满天星 ‘Sky Full of Stars’). Mantianxing gets its name as the rocks in the rapids are like stars twinkling in the sky. Tiger Leaping Rock is the most famous of the “stars”. In the legend, the hunted tiger used it to leap across the river. You can get to it via a hanging wooden suspension bridge (for CN¥10/US$1.5). Step onto the rock and take cool pictures of the roaring river.
- Sky Ladder with 168 steps: It scares those afraid of heights away due to its steepness (a few degrees off vertical) and height (20 meters, about 6 floors high). The rough metal ladder is fastened to a cliff with two metal bars across for each “rung”. This thrilling ladder offers a vertigo-inducing view at the top. People usually choose the Sky Ladder out to finish the Middle Gorge Hike. If you are afraid of heights, you’d better give it a miss.
- Yixiantian (the ‘Ray of Sunshine’ Trail): It got its name as the river seemingly pierces through the mountains like a ray of sunshine at one point — straight with steep cliffs either side. Descending to the river, the Ray of Sunshine Trail passes a small cave on the way. Following the paths cut through the cliff may take your breath away.
Local folks develop and maintain the trails of the Middle Gorge, so you have to pay an entrance fee or tickets for each spot (about CN¥15/US$2.3). Three trails lead to different highlights: Teacher Zhang’s Trail, Sky Ladder, and the Ray of Sunshine trail. They are connected, so you are free to hike one of them or move back and forth between them, or trek all of them. The most popular route is Teacher Zhang’s Trail in and Sky Ladder out, which offers the best experience and is time-saving.
The Lower Gorge — Not Recommended
The Jinsha River gets calm and quiet in the Lower Gorge area. Compared to the first two gorges, the scenery is plain. Few people visit it due to the featureless landscape. Besides, the locals have abandoned the trails, and the overgrown bushes and rocks from landslides have made hiking difficult and possibly dangerous.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking
When we refer to Tiger leaping Gorge, hiking often comes to mind. It is suitable for energetic hikers and people with a good level of fitness. It is not recommended for kids less than 10 years old or those without hiking experience. Based on your fitness, you can choose to hike only 1 day or as long as 3 days.
The most popular trek is from Qiaotou to Tina’s Guesthouse, also called The High Trail Hike. It is around 22 km (14 miles). This hiking route can be divided into 4 parts (as listed below), usually taking 1½ days. Hiking along this trail, you will go through the remote Naxi villages, pass by the farming terraces, encounter natives grazing their goats as well as enjoy a panorama of the grand gorge.
- Part 1: Qiaotou – Naxi Guesthouse (not recommended in 2022 because of construction/maintenance work)
- Part 2: Naxi Guesthouse to Tea Horse Guesthouse
- Part 3: Tea Horse Guesthouse to Halfway Guesthouse
- Part 4: Halfway Guesthouse to Tina’s
After finishing The High Trail at Tina's Guesthouse, you can spend another 3-4 hours exploring more of the Middle Gorge by trekking from Tina's to the bottom of the Gorge.
For a 1-day hike, usually the route from the 14 km (9 mile) point to Halfway Guesthouse then to Tina's Guesthouse is recommended.
Tips: You're suggested to travel light as you can get supplies from the many little shops along the hiking routes.
Recommended 2-Day Hiking Route
Day 1: Naxi Family Guesthouse to Tea-Horse Guesthouse (3 hours) to Halfway Guesthouse (2 hours)
- Distance: 10 km (6 miles)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,906 m (6,250 ft) up and 1,406 m (4,610 ft) down
- Overnight stay: Halfway Guesthouse
Day 2: Hike from Halfway Guesthouse to Tina’s Guesthouse (2 hours)
- Distance: 5 km (3 miles)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 514 m (1,690 ft) up and 789 m (2,590 ft) down
Once arriving at Tina’s, you can choose to…
- Leave for Lijiang or Shangri-La.
- Continue your hike to the bottom of the Gorge. It is another 3–4 hours' hike, and it is more strenuous and challenging. If you’re scared of heights or have knee’s problem, just give it a miss.
- Take an extra day to visit the hidden Baoshan Stone Village for an in-depth local culture experience. Known as a ‘Castle on the Cliff’, Baoshan Stone Village is a miracle created by the Naxi people. They have used local stone to its fullest — making stairs, tables, even beds from it. Besides precipitous Stone Village, the incredible Prince Pass will make you exclaim “WOW!” The huge mountains plunge into the river and form a very narrow gorge, where the Jinsha River appears like a ribbon. See our 3-Day Tiger Leaping Gorge and Stone Village Hiking Tour>>>
Recommended 1-Day Hiking Route
The two-day high trail hiking will satisfy you with the magnificence of the Gorge and its challenges, but you could shorten the hike to one day. Thus, you’ll skip the toughest part, but still enjoy the stunning scenery, such as waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and the rushing river. It’s also thrilling and interesting.
One-day route: 14 Km Point to Halfway Guesthouse (2 hours) to Tina’s (2 hours)
- Distance: 8 km (5 miles)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 600 m (1,970 ft) up and 789 m (2,590 ft) down
Our driver would transfer you directly to the 14 Km Point. Then you would start your hike by climbing up to Halfway Guesthouse. The trail from the 14 Km Point to Halfway is less visited and has few signposts. With local knowledge and safety training, our private guide would happily accompany you to keep you safe and from getting lost.
When arriving at Halfway, enjoy your lunch at its rooftop terrace and admire the beautiful snow mountains. After lunch, continue your hike to Tina’s.
Read more on Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking.
- 1-Day Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Hiking Tour
- 4-Day Yubeng Village Hiking Tour
- 6-Day Jianshui and Yuanyang Tour
Best Times to Visit Tiger Leaping Gorge
Comfortable weather is always beneficial to enjoying your holiday. Choose the best time that fits your schedule and interests.
September to October: 12 to 25°C (54–77°F), the “Comfortable Season”
Lijiang’s autumn is the best time for a hike and a short visit to see the stunning views and roaring river.
The comfortable weather is good for High Trail hiking or a short visit to the Upper Gorge. The weather is pleasant, usually with the breeze. The river’s flow will still be at a high level after the rainy season. The leaves become colorful as well, which makes the gorge more attractive. Photographers are likely to prefer fall for capturing masterpieces.
November to March: 3 to 20°C (37–68°F), Dry Season, Off Season
Winter is the best time to enjoy the stillness and admire the snow-capped mountains clearly. Although it’s cold in this period, the benefits may be quite worthwhile. For a short visit to the Upper Gorge, you can enjoy the viewpoints with fewer people. For hikers, the trails are more peaceful.
April to May: 15 to 26°C (59–79°F), Beautiful Flowers Season
The spring months have perfect daytime temperatures for hiking and dreamy temperatures at night for sleeping.
The farming activities are busy around mid-March. Sit on a rock, look down at the blue-green fields, and see the Naxi people busy farming. The blooming flowers and flourishing forests brighten the gorge as well. Only the calls of goats might break the quiet of the mountainside trail. The rustic scenes are spirit-renewing.
June to August: 17 to 27°C (63–81°F), Rainy Season
June to August is the rainy season, when hiking is not recommended.
But it is the best time to see the Upper Gorge with the fastest flow rate.
During the rainy season, landslides happen often and may make visits or hiking trails inaccessible. The local government might shut down the Gorge and block the road for safety reasons due to heavy rain. Contact us to check the weather and the visit possibilities before going.
How to Get to Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge is situated at the midpoint between Lijiang and Shangri-la. Compared with Shangri-la, Lijiang is more accessible with flights and bullet trains. You could visit Lijiang first to enjoy Lijiang Ancient Town, mysterious minority cultures, and great views of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, then reward yourself with the splendid landscape of Tiger Leaping Gorge, before immersing yourself in the land with the Lost Horizon-inspired name — Shangri-La… or vice versa.
For transport to Tiger Leaping Gorge, you can easily get a bus from a bus station in Lijiang or Shangri-La. However, the bus schedule is fixed, with about 1–4 buses in the morning. The number and timetable of buses are adjusted according to the season.
A private transfer offers you more flexibility, which would help you avoid the hassles of bus travel, and more comfort, leaving you more rested to enjoy the wonders of the Gorge. You even can skip the hike, and take our private transfer directly to the lovely hotels hidden on Haba Snow Mountain’s steep sides, like Yachajiao Manor, Tea Horse Guesthouse, and Tiger Leaping Gorge Camp Shangri-La.
Getting to Tiger Leaping Gorge from Lijiang (2 hours’ driving)
Tiger Leaping Gorge is 86 km (53 miles) from Lijiang Ancient Town — about 2 hours’ driving. To visit it by bus, there are two choices:
- For a short visit to the Upper Gorge, sightseeing buses are available every 9:00 AM and 9:30 AM and costs CN¥35/US$5. The same buses return to Lijiang at 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM, costing CN¥50/US$7.
- For hiking, you’d need to take a Hutiaoxia Zhen bus and get off at Qiaotou. Buses leave to Hutiaoxia Town every 30–60 minutes. When arriving at Qiaotou, you could start your two-day High Trail hike or find a taxi to take you to the Middle Gorge for a day hike.
The return buses to Lijiang cost CN¥55 (US$8) and depart from Tina's every day at 9 AM and 3:30 PM. A shuttle bus to Shangri-La from Tina's at 3:30 PM costs CN¥80 (US$11).
You may want to explore more of Lijiang. See Lijiang Tours>>>
Getting to Tiger Leaping Gorge from Shangri-La (3 hours’ driving)
Tiger Leaping Gorge is 106 km (66 miles) from Shangri-La Ancient Town — about 3 hours’ driving. No direct bus is available from Shangri-La to Tiger Leaping Gorge. You need to choose a bus with a stopover in Hutiaoxia Town (about CNY40/USD5.5). Upon arrival at Hutiaoxia Town, you can hire a car to the Upper Gorge or Middle Gorge.
Proper taxis are rarely available outside of big cities in China. When hiring a car in Hutiaoxia Town, beware of "black taxis": people offering rides in their own unmarked car or van. They might charge higher rates or make a detour. So, it might be helpful to have a local friend or contact us for trusted private transfers.
To discover Shangri-la, home of the little Potala Palace, you may be also interested in Shangri-La Tours.
The Legend of Tiger Leaping Gorge
Near the mouth of the gorge, there is a rock in the middle of the Jinsha River called Tiger Leaping Rock. Legend says that a tiger crossed the river by leaping on the rock to escape from its hunter — a 25-meter (82-foot) jump! Hence its name.
How Was Tiger Leaping Gorge Formed?
Geology experts say the gorge was formed by crust movements forming the mountains and subsequent erosion by the Jinsha River.
Some say the gorge was formed by a rift subsiding. However, as per the latest research, rock formations are continuous and complete at the zone of the Jinsha River between Haba Snow Mountain and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Therefore, the rift theory has been refuted.