You might want to dust off your bucket list and whip out a pencil, because it’s time to add another entry: Hiking through Tiger Leap Gorge. The two day, one night hike was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to China, and the funny thing is – if it weren’t for the fact that Tibet was closed and we had to change our plans, we would never have gone.
So how can you make this happen – don’t worry I’m here to tell you.
The jumping off point for the Tiger Leap Gorge is a city called Lijiang. It’s in southern China near Kunming. You can take a train to Kunming and then onwards to Lijiang or you can fly to Lijiang. From Lijiang its another two hour drive to the small town at the mouth of the gorge.
However, two hours in China can quickly turn into four or five hours as we found out when we sat in unmoving (read: engine off) traffic both coming and going.
We hired a guide for the trip, but having finished the hike, I think it would be totally possible to do it on your own. The path is fairly well marked and there are multiple guesthouses along the way offering food, lodging and directions. We hiked for two days and stopped for lunches and our overnight at several very nice guesthouses, which in addition to have delicious food offered hot showers, western toilets and amazing views.
The hike itself was challenging at times – the most notable of these challenges being the “28 bends” – so named because of the 28 switch backs you must hike to reach the top of a rather steep hill. However, for the most part it was doable and I for one was so distracted by the scenery that I didn’t focus as much on the pain. (I will admit I begged for death on the 28 bends, but I promise that was mostly a joke). If it gets to be too much, there are men with donkeys for rent and they will happily carry you or your luggage to the top for a fee (About 300 RMB). One eager donkey man thought he had spotted us as weaklings and followed us to the very top of the 28 bends offering rides every step of the way. We named him “The Vulture.”
Because of our late start (due to the traffic) we only hiked for about six hours on first day and didn’t quite make it to the halfway mark. We stopped for lunch at the Naxi Family Guesthouse and then continued on to the Tea Horse Guesthouse for our overnight.
The next day we stopped at Tina’s Guest house for lunch and then did the three hour circuit down to see the water fall and the “Tiger Leap Rock.” (The gorge is named for this rock because it is said that the rock is close enough to the other side of the gorge that a tiger could leap across).
Here are my general tips if you plan to complete the hike:
- You are going to have to carry your own things – so pack light
- Food and water are readily available along the way -it’s over priced but not by much. Plus, it’s a nice break to sit down a guesthouse and be brought a nice hot meal. Don’t bring your own provisions.
- The trail can be confusing at times, but if you look for the arrows and numerous guesthouse advertisements, you should be okay.
- That being said, a guide is nice because it means you can focus on hiking and not planning your time and route.
- Buses are available to and from Lijiang to the Guesthouses at the beginning and end of the trail. If you have plenty of time just show up at the last guesthouses (Woody’s and Tina’s Guesthouse) and book a bus ride for the next day. If you are on a schedule, make sure to check the timetable ahead of time.
- Bring your own toilet paper – this is pretty standard for all of China.
- Wear good hiking shoes and consider bring a layer or two to throw on at night or during breaks.
- Bring a rain coat – it POURED during parts of our hike and we had no choice but to keep on trucking.