12 things you need to know when hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China

Tiger Leaping gorge hike

Tiger Leaping Gorge is in my opinion one of the natural wonders of the world and an absolute dream for those that love hiking and the outdoors. The Gorge forms part of the Three Parallel of Yunnan Protected Areas UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was formed by the Jinsha River forcing its way between the towering Yulong and Haba Mountains and is one of the deepest gorges in the world at roughly 3900 metres. According to tradition a Tiger once leapt across the gorge, which is only 30 metres wide at its narrowest point.

If you are planning a visit to Yunnan Province in China then hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge is a must-do. Read on to find out all the things you need to know when organising a hike at Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Where is Tiger Leaping Gorge?

Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Xia in Chinese) is located at the border of Lijiang and Shangri-La in Yunnan Province, western China. The Jinsha River flows through the gorge, and this is a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River.

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How do you get to Tiger Leaping Gorge?

To get to the start of the hike you will first need to find transport to the town of Qiaotou. This it the main tourist centre in the area and there are plenty of accommodation options and other facilities.

You have two options to get to Qiaotou. Either take a bus from Lijiang or Shangri-La, or hire a private driver to take you there directly. From Lijiang the morning buses to Qiaotou (桥头) cost around CNY30 and take about 2 and half hours, leaving at least every hour. They will leave from the bus station, stopping to pick up passengers at the new Southern Bus station. From Shangri-La you can pick any bus to Kunming, Lijiang and Dali and buses are at least every hour, costing about CNY30.

Hiring a private driver is by far the easiest way to get to the start of the hike, and they will even take you to the ticket office at the start and drop you at the very start of the trekking route afterwards.

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Do I need to pay to hike Tiger Leaping gorge?

From the town of Qiaotou you will need to find the ticket office to buy your entrance ticket (make sure to have your passport handy). The ticket will cost you about CNY50.

Is there anywhere to store your luggage?

You’ll most likely want to only carry the essentials during your hike so will need to find somewhere to storage the rest of your luggage. If you have a private driver then one option will be to ask them to transfer your main luggage to Tina’s Guesthouse which is located at the end of the trail. Alternatively you can ask your accommodation in either Lijiang or Shangri-La to store your luggage for the 2 days that you will be away. Most places offer this service for only a small fee.

What is the best time of year to visit Tiger Leaping Gorge?

The best months to hike the gorge are in the Spring months of March, April and May, where temperatures will average around 20 degrees Celsius and rain will be less likely. Autumn in September and October is also a great time to hike. We hiked during April and were lucky to have warm weather and sunny skies for the duration.

June to September are considered the rainy season and it’s possible that the route may be closed due to the risk of landslides. Whilst it’s perfectly possible to hike at this time, you’ll need to be prepared to change your plans if the weather doesn’t work out for you and if the route is closed.

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Is the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike safe?

You may read or hear from locals that the hike is dangerous. Whilst there are some challenging and steep parts in the hike, as long as you take sensible precautions then the hike is perfectly safe if you follow the marked route. There are some sections of the route where there are some steep drops, so just make sure you don’t walk close to the edge. Take extra care if it’s raining as the path can become slippy.

Tiger Leaping gorge hike

Which route should I take on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike?

The best hike to take will be the upper route. Don’t consider the other routes as they simply follow a main road. The upper route is a spectacular hike and will provide you with the best opportunities to view the stunning mountainous scenery. You will be able to see the snowy peaks of the Jade Dragon and Haba mountains and the rushing waters of the Jinsha River below.  You can grab a simple route map from many hotels in Lijiang or Shangri-La. Whilst they may look fairly basic, as the route is well marked it’s all you’ll need during your hike.

How long does the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike take?

The Upper Route will take you 2 days to complete, with an overnight stay halfway. As there are a few places to stay you will be able to tailor the length of the hike on each day to suit you. However you can expect to be walking for anything up to 8 hours each day, depending on your pace.

Can you hike Tiger Leaping Gorge without a guide?

The simple answer is yes. As the trail is very easy to follow you won’t need a guide to direct you. However if you’re not a confident or experienced hiker then there is always the option of taking an organised trip from Lijiang.

In general the route is not too challenging. However the notorious ’28 bends’ section of the route on the first day is a long and steep ascent which requires a good level of fitness. There’s a small stall near the top that sells some much needed cold drinks!

Are there any places to stay on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike?

There are several hostels and guesthouses along the route. During my hike I stayed at the Tea Horse Trade Guesthouse which was about a 6 hour hike from the start of the route. I pre-booked but there were plenty of free rooms so could easily have turned up without a booking. There was also a great restaurant that served up some traditional food at a reasonable price.

Tea Horse Guesthouse, Tiger Leaping Gorge

The other good option for a place to stay mid-hike is the appropriately named Halfway Guesthouse. It’s another 1 to 2 hours hike beyond the Tea Horse Guesthouse. This is a good option if you only want a short hike on the second day and need to get an onward journey quite early.

What do I need to bring with me on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike?

Try and travel light if you can, as the hike can be strenuous and the weather hot. Some of the main things to remember include:

  • Water for the first day (you can re-stock halfway)
  • Good, sturdy hiking shoes
  • Lightweight waterproofs
  • Snacks to keep your energy levels up (you can get meals at your accommodation halfway)
  • Layers of clothing which are easy to put on and remove
  • First aid kit
  • Suncream
  • Passport and cash
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Where do I go at the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike?

Your hike will finish near Tina’s Guesthouse where you may have arranged to store your luggage for the last few days. From here you have the option of taking a walk down to the middle gorge to a spectacular viewpoint. Make sure to set aside a few hours for this.

You can take an afternoon bus from Tina’s guesthouse to either Shangri-La or Lijiang that departs around 15.30 (tickets can be purchased from your accommodation the night before). However in my case I chose to arrange a private driver to collect me and my luggage and drive us south to Lijiang.

Tina's Guesthouse Tiger Leaping Gorge
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