Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG) is one of China’s most famous multi-day hikes, which takes you through one of the world’s deepest gorges and past Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. We did TLG at a leisurely pace over three days, however you could do this in two days (by combining days one and two). We were expecting TLG to be crowded, however we often had the trailand stunning views to ourselves.
Day 1 – Qiaotou to Naxi Family Guesthouse, Zhongnuoyu Village
We started out by flagging down a bus along the highway between Lijiang and Qiaotou (see Logistics below). We got dropped in Qiaotou, and walked along the road to the TLG ticket office to buy our entrance tickets. A few minutes walk along the road is Jane’s Guesthouse, where we left our big bags for 5 yuan for the entire hike (although be warned, when I picked my bag up three days later, a rat or some other creature had eaten a hole through the back of my backpack and damaged some of my things).
Further along the road after a school, you will reach a fork in the road, where you turn left. You continue along a dirt road for about 45 minutes, before the road ends and the actual trail begins. You could take a taxi to the beginning of the trail head to save you walking this section of the road. From here, the trail leads steeply uphill along a dusty track. We were doing this at about midday with the sun beating down on us and the dust clogging our airways. As you ascend, you get a good view of the enormous suspension bridge being built across a valley, connecting two tunnels carved into the mountains. You are accompanied by this eyesore and the clanging of construction for the whole way to Zhongnuoyu Village, which is both surprising and disappointing as its supposed to be a national park. We found this to be the most difficult section of the whole hike.
After a few hours of walking, Zhongnuoyu Village comes into view, nestled in a green valley beneath Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Only as you descend into Zhongnuoyu Village do you leave the construction behind, and the beauty of the TLG hike begins.
We stopped at Naxi Family Guesthouse for lunch, and decided to stay the night. Naxi Family Guesthouse serves by far the best food of the hike, with staples like fried rice and a nice potato and pumpkin soup. Avoid the banana pancake, which is just cold flat bread with sliced banana on top. A basic triple room cost us 90 yuan, and we had a beautiful view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from our window. Before we went to sleep we noticed several black spots on our roof, which turned out to be flies, so we spend about an hour squashing and chasing about 30 flies before bed.
If you want to do TLG in two days, stop at Naxi Family Guesthouse for lunch, and continue to Halfway House, described below.
Day 2 – Zhongnuoyu Village to Halfway House
We made oatmeal and coffee in our rooms and enjoyed the view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It was my birthday, and our friend Ley, who came all the way out from Sydney, Australia to hike with us, brought a group birthday card and Kleen Kanteen bottle from our best friends back home.
From Zhongnuoyu Village village, the hike kicks off with the ’28 bends’, which takes you up much more than 28 switchbacks up the mountain, or about 450m in elevation gain. A memorable way to start my 27th birthday!
At the highest point, you get a beautiful view of the gorge and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and Ley gifted me a ‘birthday mandarin’ in lieu of cake.
From here, the trail is flat or descending through a pine forest, with views of the gorge and the mountains. Here you will find some of the most poorly translated signs of all time.
We stopped at Tea Horse Guesthouse for lunch, which was mediocre. We would suggest choosing the safe option of fried noodles, and sitting near a window for ventilation, as many people drive up here for lunch and smoke inside the restaurant.
We reached the next village in the early afternoon, and like all other foreigners decided to stay at Halfway House (which is more than halfway along the trail). Although a triple room was a bit more expensive at 150 yuan, it was comfortable and had a private bathroom. The view from Halfway House is stunning, and they capitalise on this with an enormous balcony facing Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. We kicked back to enjoy a beer and some snacks on the balcony in the afternoon sun.
Unfortunately the food at Halfway House leaves much to be desired. We ordered rice and vegetables, and were served cold rice with salad vegetables sprinkled on top, and noodles with the same cold salad vegetables and no flavour.
Day 3 – Halfway House to Tina’s Guesthouse
We woke up to watch the sunrise from the balcony. Unfortunately it was one of those sunrises where the sky turns from dark grey to light grey, but nevertheless the mountain view was beautiful.
The hike from Halfway House is pleasant and mostly downhill. The trail winds along the mountain with a sheer drop to the gorge down below. We only passed a few other hikers and several mountain goats gobbling up everything green in sight. About halfway along we came across a waterfall that sprinkles over the trail, causing the rocks to be slippery.
We reached Tina’s Guesthouse in time for lunch, which again was mediocre. After lunch, due to misinformation (or the language barrier), we decided it was a good idea to venture to the bottom of the gorge before our 3.30pm bus. We got a free lift from the guesthouse to the trail head, and were told there would be a car at the bottom to take us back up. After paying an entrance fee and a steep hour hike down in the blistering sun, we reached the bottom of the gorge. There was no car (nor a car park or any vehicles) to get us back up – in retrospect this seemed obviously impossible. We only had an hour until our bus left, and we met someone at the bottom who told us it took 1.5 hours to hike back up. This left us scurrying back up the gorge as fast as we could.
We soon reached the ‘sky ladder’ (15 yuan for access), which consists of several ladders tied together for about 50 meters, which are precariously fixed to the vertical cliff with no barriers or safety. I clung tightly to the metal handrails and raced up the ladder, trying to will my hands not to sweat to prevent me slipping off.
We managed to make it back to Tina’s sweaty, thirsty and exhausted, in time for the bus. We bid farewell to Ley, who took the bus back to Lijiang, while we continued on to Shangri-La.
Logistics – getting there and away
The easiest way to the start of Tiger Leaping Gorge is to take a bus from Lijiang to Qiaotou. In Qiaotou, you can buy your entrance ticket to TLG and start the hike. We went to TLG from the tiny climbers village of Damaidi, requiring us to flag down a vehicle on the highway.
We have heard Tina’s Guesthouse organises a private bus from Lijiang to TLG every morning. The bus will pause at Tina’s so you can drop your bags, and then take you to the start of the hike. In Lijiang, we stayed in a lovely hostel called Naxi Guesthouse, which can arrange the bus for you. We would’ve taken this option if we weren’t coming from Damaidi. The family-run Naxi Guesthouse is about a 10 minute walk from the chaos of Lijiang Old Town. They also do a nice home cooked ‘family dinner’ for 25 yuan where you eat with other guests from the hostel, and good Yunnan coffee.
At the end of our hike, we took the 3.30pm bus from Tina’s Guesthouse to Shangri-La, where we stayed at Tavern 47, one of our favourite hostels of the trip. TLG is a fairly well-trodden trail, so there are snack stalls selling water, fruit, Snickers bars and other snacks dotted along the trail. We paid 30-50 yuan per person for a night’s accommodation, and we spent a similar amount per meal, sometimes including desert or a drink. If this isn’t obvious, there are no ATMs in any of the TLG villages so bring enough cash with you.