Tiger Leaping Gorge is considered one of China's best hiking areas for its perfect adventurous and off-the-beaten routes, shining Naxi culture, and sheer gorge scenery. It is on the way from Lijiang (2 hours' driving) to Shangri-La (3 hours' driving) in Southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Winding around 22 km (14 miles) in total, Tiger Leaping Gorge provides various hiking routes, including something to meet your hiking level. Trekking for a half day, one day, or two days is available based on your preference.
Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking is suitable for most of the year, except during the rainy season from June to September, when landslides may occur.
The Gorge consists of three parts: the Upper Gorge, Middle Gorge, and Lower Gorge. The first two are popular for hiking. The Upper Gorge (mainly from Qiaotou to Tina's) is easier than the Middle Gorge.
Tiger Leaping Gorge hike is generally suitable for energetic and adventurous hikers and people with a good level of fitness. The longer/steeper hikes are not recommended for kids less than 10 years old or those without hiking experience.
Hiking along Tiger Leaping Gorge isn't very strenuous except for the initial climb along a series of switchbacks called the 28 Bends. This track starts winding steeply upward. So, for about an hour, you would really be using your hamstrings and calf muscles.
The inns and hotels along the way make the trek comfortable as well. You can hike at your pace and fully take advantage of the accommodation. However, it is strenuous if you attempt to do the whole thing too quickly.
Trails are well-marked and easy to follow. But the path gets very narrow in some places, you have to walk carefully next to a cliff face. The path isn't really dangerous, except in the rainy season (June to September). Rain makes the rocks slippery and the path muddy. Walking over a fresh rockslide might be tricky.
The medical facilities in the immediate area are poor. Even in Lijiang, the hospital staff may not speak English. Foreigners may have a difficult time getting medical treatment. Therefore, a local English-speaking guide is helpful to suggest the best route, to enhance an unforgettable experience and, most importantly, to stand by for emergencies.
Recommended Hiking Routes
Tiger Leaping Gorge has all the features of the best hikes: adventurous routes, fantastic views, flora and fauna, appealing geological features like waterfalls, and isolation.
Though it is one of China's popular trails, it is not crowded. Mainly foreigners take the high path above the river. Few Chinese tourists hike it, 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 most popular 2-day trek is from Qiaotou to Tina's Guesthouse. It's called the High Trail Hike. It winds around 22 km (14 miles) at half way up Haba Snow Mountain, usually taking 1½ days. When hiking, you will encounter Naxi people grazing their goats, climb up the strenuous 28 bends, and have majestic gorge views from the rooftop terrace of Halfway Guesthouse.
If you prefer a shorter trek of 1 day, the route from 14-Km Point to Tina's Guesthouse with a stopover at Halfway Guesthouse is recommended. It is a shortened version of the High Trail. Unlike other villages along the High Trail with poor roads, the 14-Km Point (at the foot of the Haba Snow Mountain) can be accessed by driving via well-paved roads. You can still enjoy the essential highlights, like snow mountains, waterfalls, and the panorama of the Gorge, in a limited time.
A half-day hike from Tina's Guesthouse to the Middle Gorge unveils the beauty of the Gorge from the bottom with a quick, steep climb. Middle Gorge trails along the roaring Jinsha River offer unbeaten views of the sheer gorge. Climbing the steep Sky Ladder is a true adventure.
Other recommended Yunnan hiking tours that may interest you:
- 1-Day Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Hiking Tour
- 4-Day Yubeng Village Hiking Tour
- 7-Day Shangri-La and Meili Snow Mountain Adventure Tour
The 2-Day "High Trail" Hike
This hike is based on the very popular but most challenging route. The most challenging part is the 28 Bends. You have to zigzag your way up for 500+ meters (1,650+ feet) of elevation along the twisting, steep bends. You might feel out of breath when ascending. After that, most of the rest is relatively level or descending with few climbs, and you will be rewarded with heavenly scenery.
In peak season (October), local folks might offer a horse ride to the top of 28 bends.
If you want to stop your hike part way through, you just need to hike to the closest village and find a local truck back to the town. Due to the language barrier, you may want to contact us for an English-speaking guide to assist you.
Day 1: Naxi Family Guesthouse to Tea Horse Guesthouse to Halfway Guesthouse
- Total distance: 10 km (6 miles)
- Total time: approximately five hours
- Elevation gain: 1,906 m (6,253 ft)
- Elevation loss: 1,406m (4,613 ft)
- Overnight stay: Halfway Guesthouse
Most people start from Qiaotou, then hike to Naxi Family Guesthouse in 2 hours. According to the latest feedback in 2022, the road from Qiaotou to Naxi Guesthouse is under construction with mud and dust. So, you might want to skip this hike and start from Naxi Family Guesthouse for a better experience.
From Naxi Family Guesthouse, hike 3 hours up the steep switchback called 28-bends before lunch. Enjoy the triumph of conquering the 28 Bends and enchanting views over the rugged Tiger Leaping Gorge.
After lunch, hike for another one or two hours to 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.
Contact us in advance to book a room with a terrace or sightseeing window. After a long hike, the perfect conclusion to the day for many is sitting on the balcony of your room, having a bottle of cold beer and immersing yourself in the glorious sunset view.
Where to Eat: Tea Horse Guesthouse for lunch, Halfway Guesthouse for dinner
Where to Stay: The owners of recommended guesthouses can speak basic English and offer good service. You can select other family-run guesthouses or restaurants if language is not a problem for you. Book in advance: there are few private rooms.
Tea Horse Guesthouse
- A popular first-day stay for beginner hikers with basic facilities only
- From US$7 per bed for dorms, from USD25 per private room
Tea Horse Guesthouse is an ideal place for beginner hikers after the strenuous 28 bends if you don't want hike the extra 2 hours to Halfway. You can have an awe-inspiring view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from its room and rooftop terrace.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Yachajiao Manor
- The high-end alternative to Tea Horse Guesthouse
- From US$150 per private room
A few steps from Tea Horse Guesthouse, Yachajiao Manor is a boutique hotel with better facilities. Constructed from stone and wood, every room offers fantastic views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Nothing could be better than appreciating the enchanting starry sky or breathtaking sunrise from your room. A hot tub is set on the terrace of each room. Just enjoy yourself in a bubble bath while gazing at the amazing landscape. Its swimming pool is another highlight in summer. You will have a chance to join in the Naxi minority dance every night.
- The first-day destination for most hikers, basic facilities only
- From US$6 per bed for dorms, from US$24 per private room
After hiking for an extra 2 hours from Tea Horse Guesthouse, you can enjoy a more relaxing pace on the next day. This may be especially important for you to catch the return bus at 3:30 PM.
As a popular destination for the first-day hike, Halfway refreshes visitors with its special best bathroom view and panoramic views from the rooftop terrace. Find a seat on the viewing deck, order a drink, chat with others, and see the glaciated peaks turning orange in the sunset or sunrise.
Day 2: Hike from Halfway Guesthouse to Tina's Guesthouse
- Total distance: 5 km (3 miles)
- Hiking time: 2 hours
- Elevation gain: 514 m (1,686 ft)
- Elevation loss: 789 m (2,589 ft)
The day 2 hike is quite easy and mostly level-ish. You can discover the beauty of the gorge leisurely. Hike down to Tina's Guesthouse, passing through some pretty waterfalls and canyons on the way.
After lunch at Tina's, you can stay at the Middle Gorge for a rest, leave for your next destination, or continue your hike to the Middle Gorge. The 3-hour Middle Gorge hike is more strenuous and challenging. If you're scared of heights or have a knee problem, just give it a miss.
For Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking as part of a Yunnan tour that is tailored to your requirements, contact us. Or you may want to check out our 3-Day Tiger Leaping Gorge and Stone Village Hiking Tour.
Where to Eat: Halfway for breakfast, Tina's for lunch
Where to Stay: Tina's Guesthouse
- Hostel with basic facilities
- From US$6 per bed for dorms, from US$20 per private room
This famous hostel is recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide. They can help book you a seat on a bus back to Qiaotou or Lijiang. People usually stay there for a more relaxing hiking pace when doing the Middle Gorge Hike.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Camp Shangri-La
- High-end boutique hotel
- From US$607 per private room
If you have a high demand for comfort, this hotel is perfect for you. Hidden in the cliffs near the Middle Gorge, Tiger Leaping Gorge Camp Shangri-La features comfort and fantastic views. Why not reward yourself with a refreshing stopover after a long hike? You can get cool pictures to show off from its character-filled design. And you can enjoy 270° panoramic gorge views from your room, afternoon tea near the cliffs, and its outdoor starry bar. Book in advance as only 14 rooms are available!
The 1-Day High Trail Hike
The two-day High Trail hike is the classic way to satisfy yourself with the magnificence of the Gorge and its challenges, but you could shorten the hike to one day. Thus, you'll skip the toughest part, but still enjoy the stunning scenery, such as waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and a rushing river. It's also thrilling and interesting.
- Route: 14 Km Point to Halfway Guesthouse (2 hours) to Tina's (2 hours)
- Total distance: 8 km (5 miles)
- Hiking time: 4 hours
- Elevation gain: 600 m (1,968 ft)
- Elevation loss: 789 m (2,589 ft)
Our driver could directly transfer you to the 14 Km Point. Then you would start your hike and climb up to Halfway Guesthouse. The trail from 14 Km Point to Halfway is less visited with few signs. With local knowledge and safety training, our private guide would be happy to keep you safe and stop you getting lost.
Where to Eat: When arriving at Halfway, enjoy your lunch on its rooftop terrace and admire the beautiful snow mountains. After lunch, continue your hike to Tina's.
The Half-Day Middle Gorge Hike
For those ready to take on a bigger challenge, the Middle Gorge Hike is ideal for thrilling fun. Take cool pictures standing on Tiger Leaping Rock in the rapids, climb the vertical Sky Ladder, and follow the paths cut through the cliff.
Three trails lead to different highlights: Teacher Zhang's Trail, Sky Ladder, and the Ray of Sunshine trail. They are connected, so you are free to hike one of them or move back and forth between them, or trek all of them.
The most popular route is Teacher Zhang's Trail in and Sky Ladder out, which offers the best experience and is time-saving.
Start from Tina's, descend along Teacher Zhang's Trail near the cliff, and reach the bottom of the Middle Gorge after an hour. The dangerous 'Starry Sky Reef' marks the narrowest part of the gorge. You have the option to step out onto Tiger Leaping Rock via a hanging wooden suspension bridge for CN¥10 (US$1.5).
Then follow the paths to Sky Ladder for another hour's hike. The rough Sky Ladder is very steep — only a few degrees off vertical. The vertigo-inducing view and thrill of climbing attract the adventurous. But if you are afraid of heights, you can take another trail back to Tina's.
The Middle Gorge is more challenging and requires more of a sense of balance. Most of the paths are narrow and steep, so you might scramble using your hands sometimes. Once you begin some parts, you will have no choice but to climb on until the next trail intersection. Going back may be tricky.
Where to Eat: Tina's Guesthouse
Best Times to Hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge
When planning a trek in Tiger Leaping Gorge, you need to beware of the rainy season (June to September). Landslides happen frequently during this period. The rest of the year is generally safe and pleasantly hikeable, though winter can be cold.
- October is the best time for hiking with pleasant weather and colorful landscapes.
- Spring (April to May) is the flower season with spirit-renewing scenes.
- The dry season (November to March) is the best time to see the snow-capped mountains and clear Jinsha River. It is colder, but usually without ice or snow on the trails.
See more on Yunnan weather and things to do by season>>>
How to Get to Tiger Leaping Gorge
For Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking, most people take a bus to Qiaotou Village (Hutiaoxia Town). You should then find a car to the starting point of your route. Only two return buses are available from Tina's every day: 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
A private transfer is suggested to give you more flexibility, more comfort, and less hassles than bus travel. You are free to enjoy hiking at your own pace with your own timings using this option, which we provide.
You might also be interested in Lijiang tour planning.
Is It Safe to Hike Alone in Tiger Leaping Gorge?
Generally, it is safe to hike alone on these trails thanks to clear signage, friendly locals, and hostels en route. However, for a worry-free experience and in-depth cultural exploration, a local guide is strongly recommended. Contact us to custom-make a trip with the most suitable hiking route for you.
You should strongly consider buying travel insurance before departing, especially hiking and trekking travel insurance. To some degree, no outdoor activity is fully safe. We, at China Highlights, always have insurance against accidents. It is particularly helpful to cover any medical expenses and to guarantee a timely rescue and treatment.
What to Pack for Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking
You're suggested to travel light as you can get supplies from the many little shops along the hiking routes. Your luggage can be stored at a hotel in Hutiaoxia Town, or in Lijiang if you're returning there, and you should just take a backpack with you. Here is a recommended packing list:
- Sun protection: sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
- Bring layers of clothing, as it can get cold in the evening/early morning.
- A waterproof jacket, as you will pass under waterfalls, and it may rain
- Worn-in hiking boots
- Extra socks as your boots might get wet
- Energy boosting snack food such as chocolate, sliced dried beef, nuts etc.
- One or two bottles of water
- Change in small notes (CN¥300–500) for fees, tickets, snacks, etc., especially for if you don't have WeChat Pay or a phone signal.
- Insect repellent