Tiger Leaping Gorge - One of China's Best Hikes

Tiger Leaping Gorge - One of China's Best Hikes

By Chris QuanUpdated Oct. 1, 2021

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges on the planet, and it has the best hiking trail in the Lijiang area. Foreign backpackers started hiking in the area in the 1980s.

  • Chinese: 虎跳峡 Hǔtiào Xiá /hoo-tyaoww sshyaa/ 'Tiger Leaping Gorge'
  • Depth: at a maximum depth of 3,790 meters (12,434 feet)
  • Length: 18 kilometers (11 miles)
  • Suited to: nature or hiking lovers
  • Time needed: 2–3 hours for touring; 1–2 days for hiking
  • Location: It is located 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Lijiang City,Yunnan in southwestern China.

Why Visit the Gorge

  • One of the deepest canyons in the world with a good path high above the Yangtze River to get away from the throbbing roar of the river and inexpensive accommodations along the way. Other deep canyons in the world such as the Grand Canyon in America don't have cheap hotels and restaurants along inner canyon trails like this does.
  • Rugged country. You can have a strenuous hike if you want. The switchbacks near Leaping Tiger Gorge Town are steep and go up about a kilometer.
  • One of the UNESCO World Heritage natural preservation sites with rare species of animals and plants in an "ecological hotspot".
  • Close to other natural and historical highlights in the UNESCO Three Parallel River World Heritage Site and Three Parallel River National Park. You can see where three of Asia’s major rivers flow close to each other.
  • The inhabitants of the gorge are primarily the indigenous Naxi people with unique culture and traditional food. 

Tiger Leaping Gorge - an Ecological Hotspot


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. 

Three Segments of the Gorge

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.

Two Trails Along the Gorge

High trail of Tiger Leaping GorgeTHE HIGH TRAIL

The Low Trail: 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 High Trail: It 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. If you hike the path, you'll find some solitude because you may meet only a few groups of hikers all day. 

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.

Whether you visit on a tour bus or hike, you can see some spectacular sights. Recommended tour: 7-Day Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Tour

Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking


Many tourists like to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge and enjoy the spectacular scenery. 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.

More suggestions about the hiking in Yunnan Province

Recommended Hiking Tour


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. If you are interested in traveling to Tiger Leaping Gorge, we can design your own 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

Tiger Leaping Gorge hikingTIGER LEAPING GORGE HIKING

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 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.

Best Time to Visit Tiger Leaping Gorge

The best times to hike could be in the months of October, November and May. The rainy season from June to September is the most dangerous time to hike. At an elevation of about 2,700 meters or about 8,800 feet, the trail may be too cold for a comfortable hike in the winter.

More suggestions about Yunnan hiking

Things to Know before You Go Hiking

  • The whole hiking is very easy except for the section called the "28 Bends" which you would pass on Day 1. This track starts winding steeply upward. So for about an hour, you are really using your hamstrings and calf muscles. 
  • As to the accommodations, only simple local guest house is available.
  • Two cafes providing western style food and internet access for foreign tourists and hikers have sprung up at Tiger Leaping Gorge Town.
  • Watch out for the slippery stone paths. Skid-resistant shoes are recommended to avoid accidents. Dress for the mountain weather.
  • You can travel lightly. Meals, drinks and accommodations are available. The inns may not provide clean sheets, so you might want to take sheets. Be sure to have rain gear of some kind and a canteen or water bottle.
  • Safety Warning: Though the trail is well used, it is safer not to hike it alone. It might be best to travel with a partner or in a group. If you get hurt, a partner can help. Hospitals and clinics in the area may not have someone who speaks English. There may be no English speakers to help you. It is easier to get lost if you are alone, and you may be more susceptible to some sort of scam or crime.

The History about the Gorge

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.

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.

Nearby Attractions

  • Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the most southerly snow-capped mountain in the Northern Hemisphere outside of the Andes. Those who climb to the top will be rewarded by an amazing panoramic view (in good weather). See our One-Day Hiking Tour.
  • Old Town of Lijiang is China's best-preserved minority ancient town. It is famous for its ancient architecture and orderly system of waterways.

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