What is Northwest China?
The northwestern part of China becomes more like Central Asia than Eastern Asia. The climate is extremely arid and dry but the terrain is some of the most beautiful in China. It is here that the historic Silk Road snaked from its Eastern terminus at Xi'an across the mountains and deserts through Central Asia an on to Europe. Travelers will feel the extremes of Chinese weather when traveling here.
The following regions and provinces are considered to be in China's Northwest so will experience the kind of weather described in this article:
What is the Weather Like in Northwest China?
The area gets some extreme winters but let's look at it season by season:
Let's start with winter because the region gets the most extreme weather during this season. Temperatures drop to way below freezing. Some areas close for the season. For example, tourist hotels don't operate from the end of October through April along the Karakoram Highway in Xinjiang and you'd be miserable looking at the Buddhist paintings inside the Mogao caves in December. Trust me. It was cold enough in those caves when I visited in June!
The bottom line is, Northwest China is pretty forbidding during this time of year and if you're traveling for pleasure, I'd save it for the rest of the year.
Spring is certainly a milder time of year but it's still going to feel very chilly until late May. That said, things in the region green up quite a bit and the tourists are few and far between so spring is a good time to travel to Northwest China.
Summer is high season in the regions. It is generally hot and very dry. There is very little rainfall here in summer months and day-time temperatures can get above 100F (37C). The nighttime temperatures drop radically with the sunset so evenings can be cool and very pleasant. I visited northern Gansu (the Silk Road Hexi Corridor and Dunhuang) in August and the weather was delightful.
Fall is also a wonderful time to go though depending on when you travel, you might be getting into the late season (as I mentioned above, some places close to tourists after the October break). We did a family trip to Xinjiang in October and the weather was perfect. It was warm and comfortable during daytime sightseeing but cooled off in the evening. The only place we needed jackets was up along the Karakoram Highway where the altitude is high.
Average Temperatures & Rainfall for Northwestern Chinese Cities
Here are some charts that will give you an idea of weather in some of the major cities in Northwestern China.
- Xi'an Average Temperatures
- Xi'an Days of Rain
- Urumuqi Average Temperatures
Of course weather varies and the above is meant to give the traveler general guidance and direction. Ready to start planning and packing? Follow my 10 Easy Travel Planning Steps to get started with your trip and read all about packing in my Complete Guide to China Packing.
Travel in Northwest China
Northwestern China is one of my favorite regions to explore in China. I really love the ancient history aspect and my kids enjoy seeing the incredible landscape, including glaciers, mountain scenery and deserts. It is here that you can go camel trekking on the Gobi Desert or experience the lowest part of the continent in the Turpan Basin.
Here are some places to consider traveling in Northwest China: