I still can’t believe I did this. When I was reading up on the Tiger Leaping Gorge everything said it was an “easy hike” and “anyone can do it.” I don’t know if I’m just that out of shape but I’m pretty sure everyone’s a liar. It was not an easy hike for me. It was challenging, took a lot of self pep talking and at one point Aaron and I just looked at each other and said – “What did we get ourselves into.”
You can get to the Tiger Leaping Gorge by bus from Shangri-la or Lijiang. From Lijiang it is about a two hour bus ride that was pretty comfortable. You will have to pay a 64 Yuan fee to get into the gorge but I hear if you arrive early you miss this fee. From there you get dropped off at a seemingly random location and have to look for a sign that says “Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking high way thus into.” Follow that road for quite a while until you find the sign that says Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge trail. It should be by a cafe and you’ll see a trail heading straight up.
The Initial Climb Is Hard
Or I’m more out of shape than I though. It didn’t help that my diet in China has consisted of bread and oil so my energy levels were not ready for this. Along the trail you’ll find little stops with umbrellas and there are some people along the gorge selling water. You’ll also find a few people trying to get you to ride their donkey up the gorge which I think is terrifying.
The hike itself is gorgeoussssss. When you aren’t watching where you’re stepping it’s a pretty surreal view. Since I am a big baby with heights these “oooo” and “aaaaa” moments were fleeting. About two hours in you can have lunch at a place called “Naxi’s” which serves surprisingly good food. I got the veggie noodles and cabbage which were HUGE portions. As per Chinese style it was drowning in oil but was good. After an hour break (we were taking our time) we headed out again.
After another steep climb the trail began to level out and then cruelly went down only to go up again. I can’t remember where I read that said ‘the trail goes up, then flat, then down,’ because it was certainly not that simple. Especially for an inexperienced hiker like me! Then came the dreaded “28 Bends.” This was a brutal part of the hike where I, again, read that a man said it was a ”relatively easy climb.” and I now think he’s just trying to sound macho. Once you get to the top of these bends it does beginnnnn to flatten out, but again not really. You’ll find sheer cliff drops, bamboo, and spectacular views of the mountains. I had a really hard time at this part because I kept thinking I would fall off the edge.
Naxi’s, The 28 Bends and 25 Miles Later
After this it’s still about a 3 to 4 hour walk to the Halfway House. Ladies I’m sorry but there are no bathrooms or anything till you get to the Tea House which after Naxi’s is about 3 hours away. Bring toilet paper with you at ALL times.
You will find blue signs saying Upper Trail and red arrows pointing you in the right direction so don’t worry to much about getting lost.
It took us about 7 hours to reach the Halfway House because A) I had a few moments and B) photos! I think my favourite moment of the hike was when Aaron and I took a little snack break where he ate chocolate pies and I munched on banana chips and we both just started laughing. It was like how could two cuddle bugs who get winded from running up the stairs think they were just going to be like “Ya let’s go on a hike!” without any forethought or grasp on the situation. It’s not like you can turn back once you start the hike! So we just started laughing and immediately once we started hiking again Aaron slipped on a rock and landed on his back. Further proof we were out of our element!
Getting to the Halfway House was like seeing an angel. I had never been so happy to arrive anywhere in my entire life. It was extra funny because I met a British guy in a blue Canadian Goose jacket at the Panda Breeding Center a few weeks prior and my last words to him were “Maybe I’ll see you in Lijiang!” Sure enough I turn around to see a blue jacket and a “Hey! Remember me?” Small world hey?
The Halfway House isn’t very glamorous but it’s the place to be. We had dinner outside. Since it’s so dark at the gorge there’s no light pollution so you can see the stars and the Milky Way. It was stunning. If you are going to hike the gorge then stay here. It was great seeing the people you took the bus with all meet up at the same place and everyone congratulates each other for making the hike.
Rest Up At The Halfway House
After a good nights rest and some pancakes we were off at 10AM. I was so so so relieved that the Halfway House was actually the 3/4 way house. The remainder of the hike was about 2 hours and you will hike over some waterfalls. Yes, you will walk through a waterfall on a cliffs edge but if I can do it you can do it! There are buses leaving from a place called Tina’s at 3:30 everyday so you can plan your hike around that time. The bus ticket home is 55 Yuan and the ride back to Lijiang is about 2 and a half hours.
This hike was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was physically and mentally exhausting. I can’t even walk on the second story of a mall without needing to be on the inside wall because I’m scared I’ll fall over the railing somehow so to finish this hike was a huge accomplishment.
I would recommend this hike to anyone wanting to test themselves and to find those amazing views. This gorge is really a gem and in a few years I’m sure they’ll have cable cars built in but for now it is a pretty untouched piece of nature.
Lots of water. You’ll be hiking in the sun most of the time.
Weather ready clothes. It is very hot during the day and freezing at night time
300 Yuan should cover you but maybe bring 500 just to be safe
Hiking shoes. I wore sneakers as did a lot of people but my ankles were hurting after due to lack of support
Breathable shirts/tank tops
Hopefully I didn’t scare you off! This hike was challenging and fulfilling! I am so proud of myself. What do you guys think, add it to the travel list?? Share in the comments!