The 10 Best Hikes in China

Kanasi or Kanas Lake, Altay, Xinjiang, China
Phiriya Panuthai / Getty Images

China’s landscapes have inspired legends, movies, and many a hiker with its seemingly floating mountains, deep gorges, and wild sections of the Great Wall. Hikers can trek alongside rice terraces, into massive bamboo forests, and through a landscape of rainbow mountains. Holy Daoist and Buddhist mountains provide several routes to their peaks, while a lake of changing colors in the north offers treks along a boardwalk with glimpses of grasslands. To find out where these routes are, read on to discover some of the landscapes and lore of the best hikes in China.

01 of 10

Tiger Leaping Gorge

China, Landscape with Tiger Leaping Gorge
inigoarza / Getty Images

Tiger Leaping Gorge's eponymously named trail snakes for 18 miles between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain, high above the creamy brown Jinsha River. Well-known but not crowded or overdeveloped, it's located near Lijiang in Yunnan province. Mountain massifs, rice terraces, waterfalls, villages, and forests can be seen along the route. According to Chinese lore, a tiger once took a mighty leap across the river to evade a hunter, giving the gorge its name. Usually hiked in two days, it begins with a somewhat steep ascent of about two hours, followed by 28 bends (moderate switchbacks), then levels out. Several guesthouses on the trail provide warm meals, cold beer, and basic but comfortable rooms.

Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10

Huashan

Tourists on the Plank Walk in the Sky, worlds most dangerous trail.
MBPROJEKT_Maciej_Bledowski / Getty Images

Hike the five peaks of China's most dangerous mountain, Huashan, only a 30-minute bullet train ride from Xi'an in Shaanxi province. One of China's five sacred Daoist mountains, the 7,066-foot-high Huashan used to hold monasteries and martial arts training grounds; however, its international fame comes from its narrow via ferratas. The Plank Walk, a series of boards secured to the mountain only a foot-wide, leads to a shrine on the south peak and the other via ferrata leads hikers to the Chess Pavilion. Safety harnesses can be rented onsite. To hike all the peaks, the route is just over 13.6 miles.

Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China
Daryl Ho / Getty Images
Address
8C8M+4WC, Wulingyuan District, Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China, 427403

Just outside of Zhangjiajie in Hunan province, the landscape of quartz-sandstone spires rising from the mist inspired the floating mountains of the movie "Avatar." Most visitors spend at least two days in the park, though five is ideal for exploring its many trails. Must-do treks include the Golden Whip Trail to Avatar's Halleluiah Mountain (3.9 miles) to see the park's most famous spire and Tianzi Mountain (15.4 miles), which zigzags through forests and along cliff ledges to multiple viewing platforms of the park's over 3,000 spires. Expect lots of tourists, as 4 million people visit the park yearly.

Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10

Longji Rice Terraces

Rice Terraces
KingWu / Getty Images

Translated as the "Dragon's Backbone," these terraces lie 50 miles north of Guilin and are composed of two areas: the Ping'an Rice Terraces and the Jinkeng Rice Terraces, colloquially known as the Dazhai rice terraces. Unlike other rice terraces in China, these can be visited year-round for views of water-laden mirrored tiers, green saplings, or golden ripe rice, depending on the season. Most hikers opt for short hikes through the terraces, particularly in Dazhai, where routes range from four to seven miles, but it's also possible to hike between Ping'an and Dazhai (about four to five hours). Besides the terraces themselves, hiking here allows trekkers to interact with some of the ethnic minority groups in China, the Yao, and Zhuang, who have farmed the area for the past 800 years.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Rainbow Mountains

Danxia Landform
MelindaChan / Getty Images

Though not possible to hike on Gansu province’s Rainbow Mountains themselves due to the delicate nature of the colorful sedimentary rock layers, it is possible to hike the four viewing platforms with panoramic views of the mountains in Zhangye Danxia National Landform Geological Park. Located about a 30-minute car ride from the city of Zhangye, the mountains contain red sandstone, mudstone, and many other sedimentary rock layers of yellow, purple, and green formed by tectonic activity and river deposits. Boardwalks and stairs lead to the platforms (a 10 to 30-minute hike each), and a park bus takes visitors from one platform to the next. Come at sunset or sunrise to see the colors at their most vibrant.

Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10

Shunan Zhuhai National Park

Shunan Bamboo Sea national park
hejuan / Getty Images
Address
China, Si Chuan Sheng, Yi Bin Shi, Chang Ning Xian, Q11县道FX88+2MC 邮政编码: 644304
Phone +86 831 462 0312

Called the "Bamboo Sea," Shunan Zhuhai National Park contains over 58 types of bamboo spread over 7,000 acres, making it China's largest bamboo forest. "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" was filmed here, and the air is known for being pure, sometimes referred to as a natural oxygen bar. With miles of trails, hikers can choose from different types of terrain, from the easy Wangyou Valley Trail (1.5 miles) winding through a bamboo corridor and along babbling brooks and waterfalls to the cliffside Tianbao Strongholds Trail. Shrines, stone carvings, and mushroom vendors make for colorful waypoints throughout the trail system. Reach the bamboo forest from Chengdu in about four to six hours by bus or train.

Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10

Emeishan

snow mountain of Emei
Wu Tao / Getty Images

Emeishan (Mount Emei), the highest of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands at 10,167 feet in Sichuan province. From the Baoguo Monastery, trails consisting of over 60,000 stairs take hikers through forests with ornate bridges and packs of monkeys, up to peaceful pavilions, and eventually to the Golden Summit above the cloud line. Temples and monasteries along the path offer basic shared rooms for the night, as it takes at least two days to climb the mountain's 37-mile route. Take the hour-long journey on the highspeed train from Chengdu to reach Mount Emei and the nearby Leshan Giant Buddha.

Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10

Great Wall: Xiangshuihu Section

Wild Great Wall in Rain in Beijing, China
Xiaoyun Shen / Getty Images

Hiking in the Xiangshuihu section of the Great Wall to the Health Preserving Valley feels like stumbling into a fairy tale land: wildflowers burst with color in the fields below, a thunderous spring gushes with pure water, and rocks scrawled with secret medicine recipes lie along the valley path. Walk along the dam to the Great Wall to Xiangshuihu’s highest watchtower and continue to the Health Preserving Valley, where hundreds of medicinal herbs grow. Though part of the wall here is restored, it’s not popular with tourists. There are some challenging wild sections if you head west where you will have to climb vertically. Located 50 miles north of Beijing in Dazhenyu Village, it can be reached by public bus.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Kanas Nature Reserve

Kanas River View , Xinjiang, China
Spondylolithesis / Getty Images

China's deepest freshwater lake, green grasslands, mountains, and glaciers bring hikers to Xinjiang's Kanas Nature Reserve year-round. Kanas Lake changes colors with the season (sometimes turquoise, sometimes blue) and was named after Genghis Khan, who was said to have drunk from it. Several trails weave along the lake's boardwalk, past spruce and Korean pine trees and dragonflies flitting across the water. For the best view of the lake, trek to Guanyu (Fish-Watching) Pavilion. The path of 1,068 wooden stairs leads to two platforms offering panoramic views of the lake and glimpses (some say) of the monster which lives in its waters.

Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10

Great Wall: Shandan Section

Great Wall Beacon Tower in Shandan.
Alberto Sánchez cerrato / Getty Images

In Gansu province, the Great Wall’s Shandan section stretches for over 100 miles through the Gobi Desert, allowing for peaceful trekking along unrestored parts of the wall. Built about 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty, it differs from other sections of the Great Wall, as it’s constructed of rammed earth instead of stone. Located between Lanzhou and the Jiayuguan Fort, herds of sheep, two-humped camels, and apricot orchards fill the fields on either side of the wall. Hikes here can be several hours or several weeks. Tourism in the area remains low, meaning you’ll have the wall primarily to yourself except for a few curious locals.

Was this page helpful?
Back to List

The 10 Best Hikes in China