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Biking around Qinghai Lake

Written by Kelly Pang Updated Jan. 6, 2021

Qinghai Lake is located in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This lake is already a stage for the popular Qinghai Lake professional bicycle racing event that is held every year in July at the same time as the Tour de France. So it is already a favorite biking area in China. Qinghai Lake is at an altitude of about 3,200 meters or about 10,500 feet, so biking around it is strenuous. Many people simply have difficulty living at the high altitude for two days. However, the rewards of seeing beautiful scenery that soars to 4,000 meters and seeing the local cultural mix of Muslims, Mongolians, and Tibetans make the strain worth it for many people. When the weather is warm in the summer months, there are ethnic festivals, and maybe you can be there to watch the big bike race in July. Biking in the winter is probably impossible. Here is a suggested route around much of the lake where you can enjoy the high altitude wide open spaces and the culture.

One thing you might be able to find during this bike trip is some solitude. Qinghai Province is little known to tourists, and it may be the province with the smallest population. However, it is also one of the biggest provinces in the country. About 7 million people live there. The lake itself is the biggest lake in China. Another thing you  might be able to find are thousands of birds. It is a major nesting ground for many species of birds, and it is a major stop for several species of migratory birds between March and June. The capital of the province is Xining. It is only about 100 kilometers or about 65 miles from the lake, and maybe you can use it as a place to rest. China Highlights can help you customize a tour to bike around Qinghai Lake, or just see our Qinghai Lake Cycling tour.

Suggested Bike Route (Full Trip: Four or Five Days)

You can start at a town called West Sea Town. It is northeast of the lake and is away from the lake, so it is closer to Xining. If you are not acclimated to the high altitude, it might be good to rest here a day or two. Then can then hire a ride or try to take the Lake Road East (Huan Hu Dong Road) and then go to where the road makes a sharp turn north. A small road goes down from that point along the eastern shore to National Highway 109. It is about 50 kilometers or 30 miles to Highway 109 from that point. It passes a place called Hai Bei Tent Resort. It isn't certain if this road is passable, so check about it before you start out on it. It might be good to try to stay the night around this area or north of it along the Lake Road East. Just riding on level ground may be difficult for a lot of people.

Once on Highway 109, after riding west about 25 kilometers, you will arrive at the Grassland Hotel 151 (151基地草原宾馆). You can stay there. This section of road is mainly rugged and hilly territory.

Excellent Scenery along the Lake Road West

After riding another 80 kilometers westwards on 109 National Highway, you will arrive at a Tibetan town called Dark Horse River Town (黑马河乡 Hei Ma He Xiang). After that, you will go north along Lake Road West or S 206. Try to find accommodations along the way. There is a small village, but it isn't known if there will be accommodations.

Riding to Bird Island and Seeing the Birds

You can ride to Bird Island Park in the northwest corner and see the birds. Every year, the best visit time of the Bird Island is in May. It isn't really an island. It is a peninsula. The entrance ticket of the Bird Island about 80 RMB or 10 USD. The park consists of Egg Island and Phalacrocorax Island. It is open about 7 am to 6 pm.

The Bird Island Hotel (鸟岛宾馆 Niao Dao Binguan) is little rough but cheap. Doubles are about 120 RMB or 18 USD, and dorm beds in a room where you sleep with other people are 25 RMB or 4 USD. It is also possible to rent tents from the locals around the Bird Island Park. Generally these are set up with beds in them, and they cost about 20 RMB per night.

Then you should ride along Lake Road West to the north and turn onto National Highway 315. After riding about 70 kilometers east, you will arrive at Gangcha County. You might see yellow rape flowers coloring the water yellow.

After riding about 100 kilometers southeastwards along 315 National Highway to the east, you will go back to the starting point—West Sea Town. It is near mountain pastures.

Important Information

Plan out this trip and prepare for it. It isn't certain if you'll find accommodations or a place to stay along the way. Hotels may be full. Also, there may be construction along the roads. You might want to bring a small tent or sleeping bag just in case. Remember that it might freeze at night even in the summers. You can't drink the salty lake water. Perhaps you can stay in the local people's houses too.

The average altitude of the road is about 3,200 meters.

If you don't have years of outdoor traveling experience, it is not advised that you do the whole route like this. Maybe just take it easy doing part of it and stay in hotels, and go with riding companions. People with no riding experience are unsuitable for this trip.

China Highlights can help you design a tour to take part in the anual Qinghai Lake International Cycling Racing or watch it, or you may want a cyling tour around the lake.

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