Located roughly 60 kilometres north of Lijiang city in Yunnan, lies the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG). At a max depth of ~3970m (12434 ft) from river to mountain peak, TLG is one of the deepest river canyons in the world. It is here where Paul and I embarked on our first ever multi-day hike: 26km over 2 days. This was by far our favourite stop during our four week China tour.
At first, I was a little bit worried about having to find our own way to TLG without a tour operator. Luckily, my worries were unfounded as all it took was a short 2.5 hour bus ride direct from Lijiang (¥80/pp). There are actually two “Tiger Leaping Gorge” stops. One (虎跳峡) is mainly for day trippers and the other “Qiao Tou / 桥头” is where the start of the trail is located and where hikers should get off. Unfortunately, the cheaper QiaoTou tickets were sold out when we tried to buy our bus tickets so we had to pay extra for the TLG ticket but got off one stop early at Qiao Tou. Our bus driver was nice enough to drop us off right at the start of the trail and after purchasing our admission (¥65/pp), we were on our way!
The trail was not nearly as quiet as I had expected as nine other hikers got off from our bus alone and we passed by many more along the way. Even so, we never found the trail to be too crowded (except the first hour). Lonely Planet mentioned the presence of local villagers asking for trail “maintenance” fees but we didn’t encounter any except the ones charging to use the heavenly ladder and the suspension bridge. Perhaps it was because we went during low season (January) but I’m not gonna complain! We were also joined by a group of men following behind us along with their horses. For an hour, they tried to tell us how hard the “28 Bends” section was going to be and kept offering to take us up by horse. Personally, I’ve encounter worst touts and these guys were not overly troublesome. Because of the distance (from the start to 28-Bends), they can only make one trip a day and they follow you up until the 28 Bends in case you are tired out and need a ride. That being said, we had to watch out for horse poop during the first section of the hike!
In my opinion, the best part about the trail was the ruggedness. One minute we were zig zagging up a dirt path up the mountain and the next we were on a rocky path hugging the side of a sheer cliff. At no point were there any fences to keep you from falling off the gorge and into the Yangtze River below. I admit there were multiple times where I was scared of tripping over a rock and falling off the side. At the same time, the “natural” feel of the trail made our surroundings that much more beautiful and got our adrenaline pumping for 2 days straight.
Many hikers end their hike at Tina’s Guesthouse in Walnut Grove but Paul and I decided to push on a little bit further. First we paid an additional ¥10 fee to climb down the Sky Ladder (天梯) towards the Middle Rapids and the Tiger Leaping Rock. This task was no easy feat and my legs were seriously shaking after climbing down this vertical drop ladder. (Note: if you ever want to visit the rock but skip the ladder, there is a regular, safer path down!!). There’s an additional ¥10 fee to cross the suspension bridge to get to the actual “rock” but a local villager told us the rock right beside it is free and has even better views. From the tiger leaping rock, we headed towards Woody’s Guesthouse via the “Ray of Sunshine” trail (another ¥10), which offered some of the best views of the gorge and river. After 2 days of non-stop hiking, the terrace of Woody’s was a welcome break as we waited for the bus to drive us back to Lijiang.
If this hike is something you’re interested in doing, we found the hiking times indicated on the map below to be fairly accurate. Paul and I hiked steadily, taking short 1 minute breaks whenever we needed to catch our breath. We’ve encountered hikers who finished the trail in one day, and others who chose to spread out the hike over 3 days. We found 2 days to be just right.
Additional tips for TLG:
- Make sure you know when the sun sets and plan to be at a guesthouse before then. The trail is tricky to navigate and is dangerous to hike in the dark.
- Guesthouses like Tina’s, Woody’s, Halfway House, etc can help you arrange a ride back to Lijiang. The usual departure times are 9:00am, 1:30pm and 3:00pm depending on pick up spot. Paul and I caught a 3:00pm bus departing from Woody’s for ¥50/pp. We recommend calling ahead to reserve your seat since it is first come first serve. Pllan your hike so that you get there on time!
- We started our hike from Qiaotou at 10:30am, and reached Halfway House by 5:30pm. Then started the next morning at 9am (from Halfway House) and made it to Woody’s (including a detour to Tiger Leaping Rock & Ray of Sunshine) by 1:30pm.
- Touts will tell you it’ll take 3+ hours to hike the 28 bends section, but in reality, it only took Paul and I 1 hour. It’s really not that bad. Just go slow and steady.
- The hike is moderately difficult. It definitely required some physical fitness and the downhill parts were hard on the knees.
- Wear thick hiking socks! The downhill parts were especially brutal on the toes.
- Bring water and snacks for the first day of your hike. You can refill supplies at your guesthouse for the next morning.
And just like that we conquered our first ever multi day hike! Everest, Machu Picchu and Torres Del Paine, we’re coming for you!!