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China’s Best Cycling Routes

Are leisurely, half-day biking trails around a city simply not challenging enough for you? Try one of the difficult but fulfilling cycling routes listed below. Each of these cycling routes covers several scenic destinations, allowing you to take in breath-taking scenery along the way.

Scroll to the bottom to check out pre-made cycling tours. Of course, if you find inspiration in the suggestions in this article, you can also have us tailor-make a cycling tour for you. At China Highlights will take your requirements seriously, and aim to make sure that everyone has a memorable experience.

1. Around Qinghai Lake: Lake Scenery with Flocks of Birds

tour qinghai

Qinghai lake is a large saltwater lake in Qinghai province. Generally speaking, it is a great place to go for some solitude. The lake is relatively little known to tourists, and Qinghai province itself has a small population.

  • Distance: 360 kilometers
  • Cycling route: Around Qinghai Lake (clockwise: Heimahe Town→Gangcha County→Xihai Town→Huangyuan County)
  • Best time to cycle: July and August in the summer
  • Duration: 4–7 days

Features and tips: This route is the venue for the Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race (held every July since 2002), and the asphalt road is excellent. The lake is 3,200 meters above sea level, so cyclists should give themselves a little time to adapt to the high altitude. The temperature difference between day and night is huge. For example, in August it can change from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F) in one day. Solar radiation during the day is also strong. So please bring both sun-protection and warm clothing.

The color of Qinghai Lake changes depending on your angle, the time of day, and the season. People also come to view the flocks of birds on Bird Island, who have come to nest or rest during their transcontinental migrations.

Qinghai Lake is in a Tibetan area and is considered holy by the Tibetan people. Cycling clockwise is a respectful option, since it is the same direction taken by worshipers.

Qinghai Lake is about 130 kilometers (80.7 miles) from Xining. You can travel by bus, taxi, or car.

2. Around Hainan Island: Leisurely Route with Sea, Sandy Beach, and Sunshine

wuzhizhou tourism zone

Hainan is a tropical island with beautiful beaches, resorts, golf courses, plantations, ethnic villages, forest, and more.

  • Distance: 650 kilometers
  • Cycling route: Haikou City→Lingshan Town→Sanjiang Town→Wenchang City→Coconut Scenery Spot in Dongjiao Town→Boao Town→Xinglong Tropical Botanical Garden→Sanya City→Wuzhishan City→Qiongzhong Li and Miao Autonomous County→Haikou City
  • Duration: 8–10 days
  • Best time to cycle: November to May

Features and tips: The entire route is at an average altitude of approximately 10 meters, and includes few slopes. The average temperature for a year is about 27°C (80.6°F). Summer in Hainan is very hot, and autumn may bring typhoons, making these times not the best for cycling. Winter and spring, however, are perfect. The picturesque island scenery with its gentle sea breeze, sandy beaches, and tall coconut trees make the route a popular one among bicycle enthusiasts. Prepare sun-protection and rain gear, as well as protection against insects and mosquitos.

3. Urumqi to Dunhuang: Oases in the Desert

mingsha hill

This trip starts off in Urumqi in Xinjiang, China’s far northwestern province, and finishes in Gansu’s Dunhuang. Both provinces are rich with culture and history, boasting important stops along the old Silk Road.

  • Distance: 990 kilometers
  • Route: Urumqi (Xinjiang)→Dabancheng District→Turpan→Shanshan County→Yiwanquan Village→Kumul→Luotuo Quanzi Town→Xingxingxia Town (Gansu Province)→Xihu County→Dunhuang
  • Best time to cycle: August - October, during an invigorating autumn climate and a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
  • Duration: 10–15 days

Features and tips: Autumn is the ideal time for this tour, since the weather is invigorating and fresh, mists grace the landscape, and some of the best produce in China is ripe and ready to be eaten. Xinjiang, in particular, is known for its grapes, melons, figs, pears, pomegranates, walnuts, and more!

This cycling route is one of the most popular in China. It passes through the vast Gobi Desert, which is part of the Taklimakan Desert and is broken by a scattering of oases. Cyclists can taste sweet, fresh fruits in many places of Xinjiang, including Turpan and Kumul, and buy unique souvenirs such as Uyghur-style hats and bronze wares in Urumqi’s Erdaoqiao Market.

In Xinjiang, you will want to visit the Mausoleum of Kumul Uygur Kings, Mount Tianshan with its snow-capped peaks and vast grasslands, Manhan Ancient Town (满汉古城), Barkol Lake (巴里坤湖), and the Heavenly Lake near Urumqi. If you have the chance to visit a Kazak family and learn about their customs, that is also a wonderful experience. In Gansu, attractions not to be missed include the Mogao Grottoes, Echoing Sand Mountain, Crescent Spring in Dunhuang. Finally, in your day to day cycling make the most of the amazing sunrises, sunsets, and starry nights of the Gobi Desert.

Road conditions are good and relatively flat. The only possible difficulty is the wind-driven dust, so protect your eyes with close-fitting cycling shades, and your mouth, nose, and ears with a neckerchief or dust mask. Because the temperature difference between day and night is huge, bring both warm clothing and sun protection.

4. Lanzhou to Dunhuang: Retracing the Silk Road

view from wuwei to lanzhou

This tour takes places in Gansu Province. Starting in the capital city of Lanzhou and finishing up in the historic city of Lanzhou, this route will take you along part of the ancient Silk Road, which opened around 130 BC when the Han Government dispatched General Zhang Qian as an envoy to build good relationships with the small, nomadic states west of China.

Features and tips: The Gobi Desert is surprisingly beautiful, with rolling sand dunes sprinkled by numerous oases. This route passes many historical sites, including the Mogao Grottoes, the beginning of the Great Wall at the Jiayu Pass in Jiayuguan City, and the Grand Buddha Temple in Zhangye City. If you travel in the fall, you can also take advantage of abundant fresh and inexpensive fruit.

For the most part, cycling conditions are flat asphalt road at an altitude of approximately 1,200 meters. Cyclists need to prepare for the dry climate, strong solar radiation and wind, and large temperature difference between day and night. China Highlights suggests that you bring close-fitting cycling shades and a neckerchief to protect your face from the blowing sand.

5. Sichuan and Yunnan: Find Shangri-La from Lost Horizon

wu hou temple

This route starts and ends in Chengdu, Sichuan, with Shangri-la as the focal point. Shangri-la is the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province in southern China. Shangri-la is a Tibetan word meaning 'land of sacredness and peace'.

  • Distance: 1,500 kilometers
  • Route: Chengdu City→Dujiangyan City→Xiaojin County→Danba County→Xinduqiao Town→Daocheng County→Xiangcheng County→Shangri-La→Lijiang City→Yanyuan County→Xichang City→Yan’an City→Chengdu City
  • Duration: 20–30 days
  • Best time to cycle: September and October or May to June

Features and tips: This route is famous for its magnificent natural scenery. Along the way, stop at:

This route covers several ethnic villages, allowing cyclists to experience colorful ethnic customs.

Most sections of the road are winding and mountainous, and some are paved with sandstone. Cyclists need to prepare for hard cycling conditions, but the magnificent natural scenery makes it well worth it. Since there are so many slopes along the route, we recommend cycling light. Fall and early summer are best for traveling, since the scenery is at its peak and the weather is comfortable. The period from September to April is the snowy season.

6. Chengdu to Lhasa: China's Most Demanding Road

yandrok yumtso lake

If you’re looking for a real challenge, this is the route for you. It starts in Chengdu, Sichuan, China’s “gateway to the west”. From there it takes you across western Sichuan, all the way through Tibet to Lhasa.

  • Distance: 2,200 kilometers
  • Route: Chengdu City→Ya’an City→Kangding County→Yajiang County→Litang County→Batang County→Zuogong County→Baxoi County→Bomi County→Nyingchi County→Gongbo’gyamda County→Medro Gongkar County→Lhasa
  • Duration: 25–30 days
  • Best time to cycle: May, June, September, and October

Features and tips: Cyclists depart from Chengdu, enter the Tibetan plateau, pass several rivers (including Jinsha River, Lancang River, and Nu River) and scale more than ten mountain passes before arriving in Lhasa.

Most mountain passes are at an altitude higher than 4,000 meters, and some are as high as 5,000 meters. The cycling is very difficult, as cyclists reach a mountain pass every two days. What’s more, cyclists need to pay close attention to the weather forecast and prepare for possible debris flows and landslides. That said, the billowy rivers and the highland landscape of grasslands and snow-capped mountains make this route popular among cycling enthusiasts.

China Highlights suggests that you engage in high-intensity training before trying this route, as it is challenging given the slopes and high altitude.

Travel Safely 

bicycle bottle and holder and bike

To someone who is new to China, the traffic in some places, particularly the less-developed places, can seem quite lawless and chaotic. However, once you understand how things are done in this part of the world you will be better able to avoid accidents and knowledgeably negotiate China’s roads. Learn more about Chinese traffic. You can also read here to learn about how to cross the road in China… safely.

If you plan to travel independently, make sure you are prepared. You will need:

  • A nice bicycle
  • Bike tools, pump, and puncture repair kit
  • Bike lights
  • A detailed map of the route
  • A tent and related supplies, or Airbnb/hotel reservations
  • Food and water
  • Helmets, gloves, and comfortable (colorful!) clothes
  • Poncho or raincoat
  • Sunscreen
  • First aid equipment
  • Other camping necessities, such as toilet paper

Finally, we have another article you may enjoy about 9 things to know about cycling in China.

Cycling Tours

Yangshuo cycling Yangshuo cycling

Cycling is a great way to experience China. Here are a few biking tour options for you to consider:

  • Yunnan Cycling Escape (7 days): Cycle Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang cities and the surrounding minority villages of Baisha, Xiahou, and Shuhe. From the magnificent Stone Forest to Erhai Lake to ancient villages, this is a trip to be remembered.
  • Picturesque Guilin Biking Tour (5 days): Bike from downtown Guilin to the ancient town of Xingping, and then through the outstanding karst hills and quiet countryside to Yangshuo. Experience terraced fields, the Dragon Meeting River, and panoramic views of minority villages.
  • Leisure Guilin Biking (2 days): Escape the busy cities with a gentle bicycling tour along the Yulong River (Dragon Meeting River) and through the karst hills of Yangshuo. Additionally, enjoy lunch with a local family visit. 

If you have something in particular in mind, do not hesitate to contact us for a custom-made cycling tour. We would be happy to help!

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If it’s the beauty of nature and history that captures you, learn about more opportunities in “7 Most Beautiful Ancient Villages in China” and “China's Top 7 Places for Spring Photography”.