Qinghai Lake or Ch'inghai Lake, also known as Lake Koko Nor, is the largest lake in China (the size of Rhode Island or three Greater Londons). Located in the northeast of the Tibetan Plateau, this huge alkaline salt lake is usually No. 1 on “Most Beautiful Lakes in China” lists.
Why Travel to Qinghai Lake?
1. It's a Sacred Lake for Tibetan Buddhist Pilgrims
There are four sacred lakes for Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhists: Lake Manasarovar, Yamdrok Lake, Namtso Lake, and Qinghai Lake (the first three are all located in Tibet).
There's a Tibetan folk custom that pilgrims should walk around the lake in the Year of Goat, circle the mountains in the Year of Horse, and circle the forest in the Year of Monkey. Some believe it’s a decree left by Buddha. By traveling to Qinghai Lake you can get close to the devoted Tibetans and appreciate Tibetan culture.
2. Special Seasonal Scenery
Qinghai Lake has very different scenery in different seasons.
In spring, the surrounding mountains and wetlands take on a fresh green look with scattered colorful flowers and white snow. You can stay beside Qinghai Lake, witness the melting ice, and welcome thousands of guests from afar — migratory birds. Discover nature waking up.
In summer and autumn, the lake is decorated with golden clothing, as tens of thousands of hectares of rape flowers spread out from Qinghai Lake's shores.
In winter, snow and ice cover the surface of the lake, and the lake becomes quiet. It's a good time for you to go and slow your pace, immerse yourself in the cold world, and enjoy the quiet plateau scenery.
3. Ethnic Minority Culture
Part of the attraction of traveling to Qinghai Lake is the sparse population and the ethnic mix.
Qinghai Province is little known to tourists, and it's the province of China with the smallest and sparsest population apart from Tibet. Although it's the fourth biggest province in the country, only about 7 million people live there.
When the weather is warm in the summer months, there are ethnic festivals of the Tibetans and Muslims. Nowadays, there are still lots of minority tribes and herdsman families living beside the Lake. You can feel the strong nomadic ethnic culture there.
4. The Diverse Landscapes
Qinghai Lake has a breathtaking range of landscapes — wetlands, grasslands, snow-capped mountains, and deserts! Surrounded by snow-topped mountains, the lake is bounded with vast grasslands, wetlands, and some desert. In the lake, there are different shaped islands: Three Stones, Bird Island, and so on.
Come to Qinghai Lake, where you can enjoy several landscapes in one stop and experience a range of cultures and activities.
5. An Ideal Destination for Cycling
The lake is central to the popular Tour of 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.
The high altitude, starting at about 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) lakeside, makes biking around it strenuous. However, the rewards of seeing beautiful scenery that sweeps outwards and soars upwards and seeing the local cultural mix make the strain worth it for many people.
6. A Paradise for Migratory Birds
As one of the seven largest wetlands in the world, Qinghai Lake wetland was listed as an internationally important wetland in 1992.
It's a natural reserve of wetland ecosystems and wild animals. Qinghai Lake is a natural habitat of native birds and a paradise for migratory birds. Each year in late October, Qinghai Lake theses its peak of migratory bird activity, when more than 100,000 migratory birds gather at Qinghai Lake
There, you can have a closer look at nature, observe the birds, and learn a lot about animals and plants.
The Main Attractions of Qinghai Lake
1. Erlangjian Scenic Area
Located on the southern shore of Qinghai Lake, Erlangjian Scenic Area has the best infrastructure. It's home to a shopping center, restaurants, and hotels. There, you can get a great view of Qinghai Lake and take a yacht tour.
- Location: Qinghai Lake's southeast shore, 110 km west of Xining
- Address: 209 National Road, Gonghe County, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
- Boating: 8:00am–6:00pm
2. Sand Island
Due to geological and climatic reasons, a section of desert has grown along the northeast shore of Qinghai Lake. The view of the lake and the vast sea of sand dunes is very spectacular.
As the main scenic spot for viewing the desert scenery, Sand Island attracts a large number of tourists. On one side are the vast stretches of sand dunes, and on the other is the blue and endless Qinghai Lake. There, you can explore by off-road motorcycle and experience sand boarding.
3. Bird Island (closed currently: Sep. 2020)
Bird Island in Qinghai Lake is home to more than 10,000 migratory birds from all over Asia.
Each year, the birds fly to the island in waves from April. May–July is the best season for bird watching. In September, you can witness the moving scene of a large number of bar-headed geese flying south, while the best time to watch whooper swans is from November to February.
Where is Qinghai Lake?
Qinghai Lake National Nature Reserve is located in the northeast of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at the southern foot of the Qilian Mountains in Qinghai Province’s most accessible northeast corner. It is 100–200 kilometers (60–120 miles) west of Xining City, the capital of Qinghai Province, with convenient transportation.
Its administrative area spans the two Tibetan autonomous areas of Hainan and Haibei in Qinghai Province. There is Qinghai Lake East Ring road to the east, National Highway 109 to the south, West Ring road to the west, and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and National Highway 315 to the north.
How to Get to Qinghai Lake
To visit Qinghai Lake, travelers usually first arrive at Xining by plane or train, and then rent a vehicle (with driver) or take a bus from Xining to Qinghai Lake. Qinghai Lake is about 130 kilometers or 80 miles from Xining by road. There are regular buses from Xining to Qinghai Lake (Chinese: 青海湖Qinghaihu).
Bus: Several long-distance buses leave from Xining Station for a little Tibetan town called Heimahe that is on the southwest corner of the lake. These buses leave from 07:30 to 09:00. They cost 20 RMB and take 5 hours. If you want to go to Bird Island, you might find a bus or taxi going north from there. Instead of going to the southwest side of the lake, you can also get off at other towns around the lake.
Train: A train leaves at 09:40 for a town called Ha'ergai that is on the northern side of the lake. It arrives at about 14:30. Taxis and private vehicles usually wait there for passengers.
China Highlights can help you customize a trip to visit Qinghai Lake and other highlights in the area.
Qinghai Lake's Weather
Located on the Tibetan Plateau, Qinghai Lake has a typical continental plateau climate, with copious sunlight and strong ultraviolet rays; long cold winters and short cool summer, strong winds and sandstorms in spring, and low rainfall, mainly falling in the distinct summer wet season.
Temperatures are slightly higher in the east and south of the lake, and the record minimum temperature at Qinghai Lake is -33°C (-28°F).
- Altitude sickness: Qinghai Lake is over 3,200 m (10,500 ft) above sea level. Most people have light altitude sickness due to the thinner air. If you feel uncomfortable, rest and avoiding strenuous exercise is usually enough to allow acclimation.
- Prevent sunburn: Qinghai Lake is located in a plateau area with little cloud cover and good atmospheric transparency, so it has strong solar radiation. It is recommended to sunscreen and clothing to cover exposed skin.
- The area around Qinghai Lake is dominated by Tibetan residents. Please respect the taboo customs of ethnic minorities. The private grassy pastures between the road and the lake shore are often surrounded by barbed wire and outsiders are not allowed to enter. If you want to enter the fenced-off lakeside, it is best to obtain the consent of the locals.
- The most recommended way to experience the lake is by bike. The lake’s West Ring road and East Ring road are the best places to enjoy the best lake views by bike.