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China’s Best Cycling Routes

Written by Ruru ZhouUpdated Jan. 6, 2021

If the leisurely, half-day biking trails around a city are not challenging enough for you, you can try the difficult but fulfilling cycling routes listed below, which include information on popularity, coefficient of difficulty, and degree of beautiful scenery, and are ranked by difficulty. Each of these cycling routes covers several cities, and you can enjoy the graceful scenery along the routes in a most natural way.

If you plan to travel independently, prepare many things of your own before starting out, such as a nice bicycle, a detailed map of the route, a tent, a bunting, an airbed, a dagger, food, water, and other necessities. Of course, you can have us tailor-make a cycling tour for you that will allow you to cycle along your favorite section, if you find that the pre-made cycling tour may be too difficult. We at China Highlights will take your requirements seriously, and aim to ensure that every customer has a memorable experience in China.

Note: Remember to wear brightly colored clothing and cycle on the side of the road.

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

  • Difficulty: star
  • Popularity: star
  • Scenery: star
  • 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 and cyclists should adapt to the high altitude. The temperature difference between day and night is huge (comparing 10 °C versus 20 °C in August), and the solar radiation during the day is strong. Sun-protection measures and warm clothing should be prepared.

Qinghai Lake, located in the Tibetan area, is a sacred lake of the Tibetan people. Cycling clockwise is a better option. Cyclists can enjoy the graceful lake scenery (the color of Qinghai Lake can change according to different viewing angles, time of day, and season), view the flocks of birds on Bird Island, and learn and experience Tibetan custom and culture.


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

  • Difficulty: star
  • Popularity: star
  • Scenery: star
  • 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 it includes a few slopes. The average temperature for a year is about 27 °C, and the route a small amount of rainfall. Hainan's summer is too hot, and autumn may bring typhoons, making these times not recommended cycling season. The picturesque island scenery with its gentle sea breeze, sandy beach, and tall coconut trees make the route a popular one among bicycle enthusiasts. Prepare sun-protection measures and rain gear, as well as protection against insects and mosquitos.

Wuzhizhou Tourism ZoneWuzhizhou Tourism Zone

3. Urumqi→Dunhuang: Discover Oases in the Desert

  • Difficulty: star
  • Popularity: star
  • Scenery: star
  • Distance: 990 kilometers
  • Cycling Routes: 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: Enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering an oasis in the desert. Although you are cycling in the Gobi Desert, road conditions are good and the path is 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 buge, China Highlights suggests that you bring warm clothing, and some sun-protection measures.

This cycling route is one of the most popular in China, and it passes through the vast Gobi Desert (part of the Taklimakan Desert), which has oases scattered around. Cyclists can taste the fresh and sweet fruits in many places of Xinjiang (including Turpan and Kumul) and buy unique souvenirs (including Uyghur-style hats and bronze wares, and other art wares) in Urumqi's Erdaoqiao Market.

Along the cycling route, attractions not to be missed include the Mogao Grottoes, Echoing Sand Mountain, Crescent Spring in Dunhuang, the Mausoleum of Kumul Uygur Kings, Mount Tianshan (with snow-capped mountains and vast grasslands), Manhan Ancient Town (满汉古城), visiting a Kazak family (to experience the Kazak customs), Barkol Lake (巴里坤湖), and Heavenly Lake in Urumqi. Moreover, the sunrise, sunset, and a starry night on the Gobi Desert are sights to enjoy.

Mingsha HillMingsha Hill

4. Lanzhou→Dunhuang: Retrace Silk Road

  • Difficulty: star
  • Popularity: star
  • Scenery: star
  • Distance: 1,100 kilometers
  • Route: Lanzhou City→Tianzhu Tibet Autonomous County→Wuwei CityZhangye City→Jiuquan City→Jiayuguan City→Yumen City→Guazhou City→Dunhuang City
  • Duration: 12–15 days
  • Best time to cycle: September–October, which is the harvest period for fruits, and cyclists can enjoy fresh and inexpensive fruits.

Features and tips: The mostly flat asphalt road is good for cycling, and it has 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 ans a kerchief to use to protect your face form the blowing sand.

This cycling route is part 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. While journeying into the Gobi Desert, which has numerous oases scattered around, you cannot image what the next scene will be in front of you. In addition to the natural scenery, many historical sites can be seen along the route, including Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Jiayu Pass (the west point of the Great Wall) in Jiayuguan City, and the Grand Buddha Temple in Zhangye City.

View from Wuwei to LanzhouView from Wuwei to Lanzhou

5. Chengdu→Yunnan→Chengdu: Find Shangri-La from Lost Horizon

  • Difficulty: star
  • Popularity: star
  • Scenery: star
  • Distance: 1,500 kilometers
  • Route: Chengdu City→Dujiangyan City→Xiaojin County→Danba County→Xinduqiao Town→Daocheng County→Xiangcheng County→Shangri-LaLijiang City→Yanyuan County→Xichang City→Yan'an City→Chengdu City
  • Duration: 20–30 days
  • Best time to cycle: September and October, when the route has the best scenery and the weather is comfortable. The period from September to April is the snow season. The most beautiful Shangri-La turns out in early summer (from late May to June), and late autumn (from late October to mid November).

Features and tips: This route is famous for its magnificent natural scenery. Most sections of the road are winding and mountainous, and some sections are paved with sandstone. Cyclists need to prepare for hard cycling before enjoying the magnificent natural scenery. With the many slopes along the route, we recommend cycling light.

The route takes in the essential attractions of Sichuan Province and Yunnan Province: Hailuo Gou (glacier at low altitude), Xinduqiao (a heaven for photographers), Danba Ancient Village (a beautiful village in the highlands), Yading in Daocheng City (the soul of Shangri-La), the graceful Lugu Lake, Tiger Leaping Gorge (China's deepest canyon and a great destination for hiking), and Lijiang Ancient Town. This route covers several ethnic villages, allowing cyclists to experience the colorful ethnic customs.

Wu Hou TempleWu Hou Temple

6. Chengdu→Lhasa: Take on China's Most Demanding Road

  • Difficulty: star
  • Popularity: star
  • Scenery: star
  • 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 Tibet plateau, pass several rivers (including JInsha River, Lancang River, and Nu River) and more than ten mountain passes, and then arrive at 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 flow and landslide. However, the natural scenery with billowy rivers and the highland landscape of grasslands and snow-capped mountains along the route are attractive, making 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.

Yandrok Yumtso LakeYandrok Yumtso Lake

China Highlights takes great care of your requirements, aiming to ensure that every customer has an outstanding experience in China. Click the following banner for a list of the past two years' most popular tours. We can also help you tailor-make your own cycling tour.

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