The Li River, in Guilin, is considered to be the most beautiful river in China. There are three ways to tour the Li: taking a cruise boat, a bamboo raft, or hiking. While a cruise is the most popular way to explore the river, a bamboo raft is a more sedate, flexible, and natural. But hiking is enjoyed by an increasing number of travelers.
The beauty of the Li River cannot be fully appreciated on a boat. Instead, hike slowly along the river, stopping here and there by the river, and immerse your feet in the water. Follow the trail through bamboo groves, treading between golden rice fields (in early autumn), and even camp for one night to experience the sunrise and sunset. This is how to fully appreciate the beauty of the Li Jiang.
The Old Yangdi to Xingping Hiking Route — Only Part Doable
The old Yangdi to Xingping Route is no longer fully doable due to ferry crossing closures.
The 2019 Quanjiazhou to Xingping Li River Hiking Route
Part of the old Li River hiking route was reopened in June 2019: the Quanjiazhou–Lengshui riverside trail. Now there is a 11-km (6½-mile) or around 3½-hour hike from Quanjiazhou to Xingping:
From Guilin, it’s about 1½ hours by road to Quanjiazhou village (全家洲). From there, hike about 2 hours (7 km or 4 miles) on a winding road/track between hills and the river to the Lengshui village pier opposite Jiumahua Shan (九马画山 ‘Nine Horse Painting Hill’). Then take a bamboo/pipe raft ferry across the Li River.
Continue on the riverside walk downriver for about 1½ hours (5 km or 3 miles) to reach Xingping (兴坪). You can also take a battery car (10 minutes) to Xingping from Jiumahua Shan.
The Xingping to Nine Horse Fresco Hill Circular Hike
According to the latest information [Oct. 2016] the operating “official Li River Hiking route” has changed to Xingping – Xianggong Hill – Lengshui Village – Nine Horse Fresco Hill – Xingping (12 km / 7 mi).
There are three choices for visitors planning to travel this section of the Li River, using hiking and bamboo rafting.
- Only hike, no raft: If you do not want to continue hiking after arriving at Jiumahua Hill, you can take a battery car to Xingping for free.
- Hike half, half by raft: You can choose either of the two sections: Xingping – Jiumahua Hill, or Jiumahua Hill – Xingping, to hike, and for the other section you can take a raft, but be prepared for a fee.
- No hiking, just rafting: You can take a raft to tour this sections of the Li River, maybe getting off in some places for photos.
Xingping – Jiumahua Hill (7 km / 4 mi)
This new route is good as it makes the hike a circular walk starting and finishing at Xingping, which is better for access and facilities than Yangdi. Also if you get tired there's plenty of local transport (golf carts and rafts to get you back to Xingping Ancient Town. The scenery is probably nicer too, taking in the fishing village and cavey hills behind it.
First ferry across the Li from Xingping Ancient Town to Xingping Fishing Village, and see cavey, tooth-shaped hills behind it. Then walk 4 km (2½ mi) upriver to Xianggong Hill, where many fantastic photos have been taken. Continue upriver to Lengshui Village, and take a pipe raft ferry across the Li to Jiumahua Hill.
Chinese Place Names (for reference/interest)
- Xingping Ancient Town (兴坪古镇 Xīngpíng Gǔzhèn /sshing-ping goo-jnn/ 'Flourishing Plain Ancient Town')
- Xingping Fishing Village (兴坪渔村 Xīngpíng Yúcūn /sshing-ping yoo-tswnn/ 'Flourishing Plain Fishing Village')
- Xianggong Hill (相公山 Xiànggong Shān /sshyang-gong shan/ 'Master Hill')
- Lengshui (冷水 Lěngshuǐ /lnng-shway/ 'Coldwater')
- Jiumahua Hill (九马画山 Jiǔmǎhuà Shān /jyoh-maa-hwaa shan/ 'Nine Horse Painting Hill')
Jiumahua Hill – Xingping (5 km / 3 mi)
Along the bank further downstream from Lengshui is Nine Horse Mural Hill, which is one of the highlights of the river. It was so named because of the naturally shaped image of nice horses in different positions on the cliff.
You only need to walk along the riverside path/road for an hour or so to reach Xingping, but taking your time is recommended. When almost at Xingping, you will come across a famous sight, Yellow Cloth Shoal, that serves as the pattern on the 20 yuan bill.
Xingping is around 50 minutes' drive away from Yangshuo, and there are regular buses from Xingping Bus Station to Yangshuo.
Useful Li River Hiking Information
These cavey hills are located opposite Xingping Ancient Town, looming over Xingping Fishing Village, in a beautiful bend of the Li River. This photo was taken from Laozhai Hill in Xingping Ancient Town, well worth the steep half-hour climb.
- Best time: spring, when large field of rape flowers are in full bloom. Summer's very hot. Fall's pleasant, especially during harvest. Winter is mostly dreary and cool, but there are some mild and sunny spells. When the Li is in flood (a few days a year from May to July), hiking may be unsafe/undoable.
- Walking conditions: The path along the Li River consists mostly of rice field trails and footpaths, though there are some concrete paths/roads between Jiumahuashan and Xingping. Hikers do not need to climb mountains, and will not get lost since there is only one way. Wear good walking shoes.
- Bring an umbrella or a rain coat in rainy seasons, and a hat and sun cream on sunny days. Prepare enough water and food, and small change if you want to buy water or other snacks en route.
- Bamboo rafting on the Li River is subject to the latest government Li River Management regulations. [Oct. 2016, see note below]
- A Chinese lunch can be had at a simple local restaurant along the way or when you get to Xingping (some Western restaurants have recently opened there too).
If Ferry Crossings Are Unavailable...
Due to changes in Li River management, hiking tours between Yangdi and Xingping became unavailable [Sep. 2015]. Hiking this stretch was possible again in early 2016. [Mar. 2016] But, later in the year, only the Xingping to Nine Horse Hill section was "officially open" for hiking. [Oct. 2016] Please contact us for the latest information.
Bamboo raft use for tourism was suspended in various places on the Li from 2015 due to safety concerns. If this happens again, what you could do is take a local bus or private transport and do a section of the hike without the ferry crossing.
We most recommend the Xingping to Nine Horse Fresco Hill (Jiumahuashan) section, as this is what’s known as the cream of the Li River scenery, and it's most accessible. Take a bus from Yangshuo to Xingping (or take a bullet train to the new “Yangshuo” HSR station only 6 km from Xingping), then walk to Nine Horse Hill and back.
Discover the Li River with an Insider
Need an some advice? China Highlights should be your top choice. Our headquarters is only 1½ hour’s drive from the Li River Hiking area.
Take a look at our sample itineraries below. They can be customized to include Li River hiking.
We are tour design experts. If you are interested in doing something quite different, you can just tell us your interests and requirements, and we will create a unique tour with you.