Tiger Leaping Gorge
- This article is an itinerary.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge trek (虎跳峡; Pinyin: Hu Tiao Xia), near Lijiang in Yunnan, is one of the finest treks through some of the most naturally beautiful and diverse landscapes China has to offer. The trail runs high on the northern side of the gorge passing through quiet villages, shady forest, blustery precipice and verdant terraced farmland. The snow covered peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山; YuLong XueShan; 5596m) and Haba Snow Mountain (哈巴雪山; Haba Xueshan, 5396m) shadow either side of the gorge.
An open ended ticket to the trail is ¥65 (as of April 2012) (¥25 for students under 25) purchased from the ticket booths at either end of the trail. Some trekkers have avoided the entry fee by setting off early before the ticket booth opens or sneaking past when the guard is out.
Typically the hike is spread over two days (one and half - three day) but a slower pace will afford you to time contemplate the natural surrounds and unwind in the villages quietude.
The trail stretches between Qiaotou and Walnut Grove, the more adventuresome types can continue to Daju or Baishuitai. Maps showing distances and guesthouse locations are available from the ticket office.
A little used side-trail to a remote waterfall just outside Walnut Garden is not shown on most maps but is marked with yellow arrows. The path is a challenging but worthwhile detour, passing through shady stands of bamboo to the base of the waterfall where the crashing water flows into a series of tranquil water pools.
If you prefer to visit without any (strenuous) hiking, a road along the south side of the gorge enters from the west and goes for a couple kilometers before stopping at a parking lot. After that there is a fairly level paved trail to Upper Tiger Leaping stone. Tours can be arranged in Lijiang or you can try to hire a driver to take you as a day trip from Lijiang, though drivers from Lijiang are not allowed to cross the river as that's outside their allowed territory.
If you want to avoid any hassles of figuring out your own transportation and directions you can go with a guide and a group from Lijiang for about ¥500 (covers transport, one night lodging, and any fees; no food).
There are a few ATMs in Qiaotou; however, they are only likely to take Chinese bank cards. The best idea would be to take the money you require for your time at Tiger Leaping Gorge from an ATM in Lijiang, to be on the safe side. There are no ATMs at any point along the trail.
From Qiaotou: From the ticket office, walk along the road till you reach the school gate on your left. It's less than 1K from the bus station. There are blue and yellow signs that mark the start and most of the trail. Stay on the road, following the school's grey-white wall till its end where painted arrows point up an embankment at the beginning of the trek. From here keep to the well worn path and follow the plentiful painted red/yellow arrows.
A misleading fake path before the school forks off at a brick wall painted with fading arrows. People may tell you it is the right way, but stay on the road to the school. (If the road to the school is under construction you may have to take this one. Don't worry, you'll get to the right place eventually.)
About 20km, and 7 hours, later at Tina's there is a trail down to the river. You can come back up to Tina's two ways - Tianti (the heavenly ladder), or Teacher Zhang's trail - or take a trail that goes a little ways down the river before coming back up a little farther down the road.
From Tina's GH / Zhang GH, you can go down the middle gorge but each path cost 10¥ to use it. No combined ticket if you want to use both. Viewpoint from Zhang's GH has entrance fee of 2¥ / 5¥, which seems to be enforced only reluctantly. Once down in the gorge, turning left at the last hut before the Tiger Leaping Rock, you can continue downstream to Walnut Grove, along the river through an impressive cut along the sheer cliff.
Buses to Lijiang or Shangrila should be around ¥50. They depart from Tina's at 8AM, 1PM and 4PM. You will see signs along the hike advertising a ride from Sean's GH in Walnut Grove to Lijiang at 330PM. However, this bus does not run everyday and should not be relied upon if planning to hike from middle gorge to Walnut Grove.
Get down to previous intersection if you want to check town and local market Get up to next crossing and turn right to reach entrance of the park (and the counter)
Some locals in Lijiang will insist that this hike is dangerous, especially in rainy season. You probably will not want to go when it is pouring, or if there has been a huge amount of recent rain due to the threat of landslides, but if it hasn't been that wet lately, and you find a couple of dry days and are reasonably experienced at hiking, the worst that will happen is that you will get muddy and have to ford a couple of swollen cascades.
The instant you step off the bus in Qiaotou touts will insist you take their mini-van to the ‘start of the trail’ (for ¥120+ one way) but they should be politely ignored. The real start of the trail is a 2 minute walk over the bridge and down the first road on the right.
On the trail there are endless efforts of varying legitimacy to help you part with your cash. At regular intervals old women, young girls and sundry others will demand small fees for using optional parts of the path. Some, such as the descent to the river below Tina's guest house, are particularly annoying, as you'll be asked for money at what seems like every step of the way, with an elaborate story to explain the cost. There is a 10 Yuan fee to hike down to the Tiger Leaping Stone, and another 10 Yuan fee if you choose to take the ladder trail back up. Locals will attempt to charge you fees to use the rocks as photo ops, but ignore them and take the trail to the building downstream, visible from the stream. The views are much better from there.
Nearing the most difficult part of the trail (the twenty-eight steep switchbacks), local men with horses or donkeys who will offer to take you part way for a fee. They will charge anywhere from ¥150-300, regardless of where on the trail you decide you want to use their services. If you feel the need to have the accomplishment of doing the hike on your own two feet, they can help you by taking your bag for about ¥50.
Some guesthouses may try to mislead you about your hiking options. Tina's guesthouse has been known to insist that while you may descend to the river below, you must hike back up, and may not continue along the river to Walnut Grove - one of the most spectacular sections of the trail. While this part of the gorge has its charm, some feel it is not an essential part of the trek and could be skipped, though some emphatically disagree.
However if you go out of season (Late March for example) many of the money collecting posts will be unattended and you'll be free to take advantage of the vistas without being harassed.
Sleep and Eat 
Numerous family run guesthouses are conveniently dotted along the trail. Prices rise during the peak periods but outside of these times guesthouses are cheap and blissfully quiet. Qiaotou has a handful of comfortable hotels but there is little reason to stay. Starting the walk at midday leaves ample time to reach Naxi Guesthouse or push on to 5-Fingers Guesthouse.
Qiaotou town has also some hotel but with very limited english speaking staff, no trek informations and not so competitive price against guesthouses on the trek.
In (average) time and distance order from Qiaotou along the high trail.
- 0h Jane's Tibetan Guesthouse, ☎ +86 887 8806570. with good restaurant. can leave bag here (¥5 virtually without time limit). Very good English is spoken.
- 02h00m Naxi Family Guesthouse, ☎ 08878806928/13988758424. dm: ¥20, d/tw: ¥40, d with bathroom: ¥70. A range of neat rooms looking into the central courtyard. Basic shared washing facilities with warmish showers and nice garden views from the toilet. Good-value freshly cooked Western/Chinese food made with locally grown produce (try the pumpkin!) -- this is hands-down the very best food available anywhere along the whole trail, so fill up while you can. Very authentic feel, great alternative to staying in Qiaotou. Pickup by Jeep or horse and reservations can be made in advance.
- 05h00m Tea-Horse Trade Guesthouse, ☎ 13988717292, 13988707922. Double or twin room ¥50, shared bathroom, ¥120 for double or twin ensuite, triple bed room ¥90. Friendly atmosphere, unbelievably nice owners (after seeing that we didn't finish one of our dishes at breakfast, they took it off our bill –– almost unheard of in China), very tasty food with huge menu, all freshly cooked by the owners children. Affordable massages (¥50/hour -- though they aren't always open) and very nice staff. Toilets are outside, Chinese-style, without doors. Be sure to bring your own toilet paper. Smaller then Halfway, about 20 rooms. No heaters in the room, and the mattresses are almost painfully thin, but there are very thick warm blankets.
- 06h30m Halfway Lodge, ☎ 13988700522. ¥25 for dorm beds.. Cheap beer, decent food, and simple and clean rooms. If you come just to eat, the service can be very poor. Double room with shared bath ¥50. En suite rooms are ¥130. Unusual (and completely unnecessary) "scenic toilet" with views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Nice pictures can be had from their "Inspiration Point" area for dining. Be sure you can make it before dark. This guesthouse can be very noisy as it is huge. If you are tired and it is evening, stay the night at one of these guesthouses - don't walk any further as the walk gets quite slippery/steep down to Tina's and would be dangerous in the dark (no barriers to falling off the mountain).
- Five Fingers Mountain Guest House " phone="13988776286 is a charming farmstead B&B that offers accomodation in basic but clean rooms with (shared) hot showers for 30 Yuan per person (april 2012). It is located around 30 meters above the trail about 20 minutes past the Halfway Lodge and is an excellent alternative to the better known hostels. This place is a genuine farmstead, a square courtyard surrounded by beautiful traditional Yunnan buildings with breathtaking views from the courtyard and rooms. The manager Li MIng Xing and her family are very friendly, and will do everything they can to make you comfortable within the restricted possibilities that their home can offer. This is not a comfy hotel, but a hospitable family inn. If you are afraid you will get cold at night ask for a room at courtyard level, they have stone walls and will be warmer than the flimsier ones on the upper floor. Li MIng Xing will cook an excellent meal for you and your party at a low cost (menu in english).
- 08h30m Tina's Youth Hostel, ☎ +86 887 8202258. More than a Youth hostel, they added recently some twin/double rooms. 24 hour hot water is advertised, but there was no hot wa*ter available during entire stay. This is by far the most touristy place (in a bad way) along the trail. Chinese (and some Western) food on the menu, but as of April 2012, the prices for food are considerably higher than anywhere else along the trail, and the quality is noticeably less. Internet and WiFi does not seem to be offered anymore. Uncomfortable beds, inferior blankets, pitiful heating pads, and no insulation makes the room colder inside than it is outside. The owner, Tina, seems to be the only person who speaks English. Staff is generally unpleasant to deal with. Minivan, which fits up to 7 people, costs ¥150 to Qiaotou, and ¥350 to Lijiang (February 2012). Can make regular bus to Lijiang stop for ¥50 per person at 16:00, you can also ask for this Bus to stop at Jane's Guesthouse if you need to pick up your bags. All tickets to be booked and paid upfront in the morning.
- 08h40m Tibet Guest House , ☎ 00 86 13988740050. 20. Run by a Tibetan family since it opened in May 2006. Price ¥20-100. Hot water 24hours, Tibetan meal, western meals, chinese meals, plus warranty cool beer.
- 09h30m Sean's , ☎ 0887-8202222 / 13988745942. dm: ¥20. The rooms here are overpriced but the staff speak English. Dorms have a teddy bear on each bed. Privates have 24hr hot water & heated rooms. Great food and no MSG! Part of GH is under reconstruction. As of April 2012, the best map for hiking the gorge is made available by Sean's. It can be obtained (for free) at the entrance tickets gates at Qiaotou. When using the map, note that you must reverse everything, as the directions are for *starting* from Sean's.
- 09h30m Chateau de Woody (500m past Sean's), ☎ 13988745996. dm: ¥15-30, d with/without bathroom: ¥180-320. Ignore the concrete building on the left and head opposite to the recently added rooms with hot (hot!) showers and big comfortable beds The paved courtyard overlooking the gorge is the perfect place to relax with some walnuts or something from the Chinese/Western menu. Jenny, the ever-helpful host speaks ‘good enough’ English.
- Haba Haba Snow Mountiain Inn (centre of town, opp Haba KeZhan), ☎ 13368873488,13988765396. ¥80, twin without bathroom. Basic accomodation with wonderful friendly hostess with limited English.
- Haba Haba Hostel (centre of town, opp Haba Snow Mountain Inn). ¥100, twin with ensuite bathroom. Functional Hotel, rooms have tv. Restaurant on ground floor
Before leaving Lijiang/Qiaotou/Daju, be sure you have enough water for the first part of the hike. On the way, there are no shops, but on the trek there are occasional vendors selling fruits, water and beer. Prices vary, but fruit will be ¥2-3 per piece. Guesthouses charge ¥5 per 1.5-litre bottle of water. Between Naxi's GH and highest peak is a shop (artistic use of Red Bull cans) where you can buy a variety of things. Don't count on open shops and present vendors in low season, make sure you bring sufficient supplies from Qiaotou or Nuòyú.
Get in, Get out 
From Lijiang: Morning buses to Qiaotou (桥头), ¥30, 2hrs, leave from the bus station, stopping to pick up passengers at the new Southern Bus station down the road. Get to Bus station from city centre by bus no.13. As of April 2012, the roads are under heavy construction, and the drive will take closer to 3-4 hours to reach Qiaotou. Make sure you only pay for going to Qiaotou if you plan to hike the upper gorge. They might sell you a more expensive ticket to "Tiger Leaping Gorge" but that would take you past the start of the trail.
- If you are arriving in Lijiang by train, it is only a ¥15 taxi ride to get to the main bus station from the train station. The public bus is also an option but requires transferring onto another bus. Avoid the private minivans waiting in the train station parking lot that will ask for ¥400-¥500 to drive you directly to Qiaotou.
To/from Qiaotou/Walnut Garden: Minivans do the 30min trip between either end of the trek. The cost should be ¥80 for the entire van. Drivers will ask for more. As of Summer 2010 this entire road is under construction; you will have to walk it and risk the blasting if you don't want to go the high road.
From Shangrila: You can pick any bus to Kunming, Lijiang and Dali, there is a bus at least every hour. About 30y.
If you are heading north to Zhongdian (Shangrila) or coming from there, there is an alternative road via Haba. It is a longer but quieter with fantastic mountain landscapes. The tarmac is very good for bikes. You can think about doing some camping along this road:
Walnut Garden to Daju If you are in Guesthouse as Tina's or Sean's, that means you are in the middle of the trek. Walk down the low road 3 hours past a small town (三坝乡; Sanba village) near the Yangtze river. Near the river you will see paths across the Yangtze river leading down to the river itself, with a shed and real staircase heading down to the river. Roads are constantly changing here and being constructed, there is currently a gentle car dirt trail down to the river, opt for this option rather then the goat trail. Better is to ask locals, even if you don't know chinese, just ask for "Daju" and point opposite bank of the river. They will show you how get down to ferry pier.
First ferry departure at 10AM, than every few minutes. The price depends on how many people is on the board and if you know some chinese. The most locals is on the first ferry - cheaper!!! (5Y per person), later could be 20Y!
Daju to Lijiang If you are coming from Qiaotou over whole gorge or from Tina's of Walnut garden, you got to the river bank with ferry. After you cross the ferry, there might be two buses a day departuring to Lijiang, first at 1PM, 30Y(?) per person. If you arrive soon, you can walk a bit to forward Daju because bus will stop by every guesthouse or shop on the way through village. The village is really long! (not sure where it starts and finish. there is just a lot of houses by the road) When you get on the bus, it will stop a lot and soon will be full of locals going just a few kilometers with goods, vegetable or whatever from place to place.
Along with a bus there should be a private minivan bus hustler. From here they take you on a road back to Lijiang, about 3 hours.
Lijiang to Daju For some reason there is no regular bus departuring from Lijiang bus station to Daju. You can find minivan who will take you there and you can do trek from opposite side and finish in Qiaotou.
Daju is a sleepy concrete town which you can use as one end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge walk. It seems like Daju is slowly becoming a ghost town as tourists numbers are declining, but despite the fact Daju isn't picturesque, it is a peaceful place to relax and the people are very friendly (the Tiger Leaping Gorge Inn, at one end of the concrete road and overlooking the town square, is run by a very helpful and friendly woman who speaks enough English to get by - her food is simple but delicious).
From a Qiaotou start, just keep walking down the road from Walnut Grove and past the ticket office. There are two options for crossing the river to the Daju side. Either keep walking down to the permanent ferry, or not too far out of Walnut Grove you'll see a coloured sign on a pole to the winter ferry. It will tell you the ferry doesn't operate in July, August, and September because the water is too high (hence you continue to the permanent ferry). At this sign (there is also a faded red arrow painted on the road) you turn directly right off the road and start descending down a dirt trail to the river. This trail is quite steep. As you're descending you'll see the ferry and a hut on the far side of the river.
When you get to the bottom hopefully the ferryman has seen you from the top of the cliff on the far side (always a good idea to yell out "ni hao" - great echo here), and he'll make his way down, calling out as he does, to bring the ferry across. The crossing costs ¥30 per person. The only reason he might not see you is he's just taken other tourists to Daju in his minivan, in which case you'll be waiting at least an hour for his return. He can be reached by phone at +86 13987049952.
It's a steep but short climb to the carpark at the top of the cliff and if you've nodded when the ferryman said something about "Daju" and "minivan" he'll be right behind you and will drive you to Daju for ¥20 per person. Alternatively you can walk the about 8km into town.