Most tourist guides for China advise that if you only have time to visit one province, you should choose Yunnan; hence, I give you the same piece of advice. I really think it’s a good one. The main reason why this is the case is the stunning nature that you have access to once you reach Yunnan — tall mountains with great views, many opportunities to just enjoy nature; a totally different China than the smoggy Beijing you always see in the news. So what are the best mountains in Yunnan Province and how do you get there? Read further to find out.
1. Tiger Leaping Gorge
This is a relatively easy hike for which you should plan at least two to three days if you don’t want to hurry. The path goes through the gorge, you will see the river down in the valley, and the snow mountain in front. The views are magnificent, making you feel like you have entered a fairy tale in which your aim is to reach the clouds. There is also an option to go all the way down to the river at the end of the hike. Along the way, you will be able to find many guesthouses. This gives a lot of flexibility, as you can choose your accommodation based on the weather, your pace, and your mood. Unless you’ll go with a big group or during one of the big Chinese holidays, there is no need to book accommodation in advance. All the guesthouses serve food — some of them mostly Chinese cuisine, some of them mostly Western cuisine — so unless you’re on a budget, there’s no need to carry too much food (maybe just some snacks).
You don’t need special equipment to get to the top, just make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Since the weather on this route is fairly unpredictable, it might be a good idea to carry a raincoat as well. The starting point for hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge is Lijiang. From here you can take a mini bus until you reach the start of the hiking trail (it will take around 4 hours).
2. Meili Xueshan
Meili Xueshan is the name of a rather large mountain range close to Shangri-La, Deqen Prefecture. The highest peak in Yunnan Province (Kawagarbo, 6,740 m / 22,112.86 ft) is also part of this mountain range, located right at the border between Yunnan Province and Tibet, but this mountain range contains a total of 20 peaks.
No one has managed to conquer Kawangarbo, nor a lot of other the other high peaks in this range. However, there are quite a few hiking trails and the views here are amazing — the tall snowy peaks makes one realize the wonders of nature. Fei Lai Temple Viewing Platform is one of the best places to watch the sunrise — make sure, though, to pack warm clothes! Plan at least three or four days to make sure you make the most of the fresh air and amazing landscapes. The closest town is Shangri-La, and from there you can catch a mini bus.
3. Haba Xueshan
Unlike Meili Xueshan, you can climb all the way up Haba Xueshan (5,396 m / 17,703.4 ft), given that the weather is on your side. But getting all the way up requires special equipment. Don’t worry, though, you can rent all the equipment you need before starting the hike, in Haba Village (around a 5 hour drive from Lijiang, there are mini buses available approximately every hour).
Along with the equipment, most people also hire a local guide from the village and some people even hire donkeys to the base camp if their luggage is too heavy. Having a local guide is definitely a safer option, as there have been a few casualties over the years. You should plan at least three days, maybe even four in case the weather is moody.
From Haba Village up to the base camp, it’s around four to six hours of relatively easy hiking, mostly though the forest. There’s no restaurant or shop up there, just some huts with basic beds and camping spots, so make sure you pack enough food with you. The best time to climb is between March and June or September and December. Outside of this time, the wind and rain might be too strong for a safe climb up to the summit, although the base camp would still be reachable.
4. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan)
Just 15 km (9.3 mi) away from Lijiang, this is a bit different than the other options presented above because it is not a real hike, as the cable car will take you all the way up to 4,506 m (14,783.5 ft) high. It’s one of the most touristic areas in Yunnan, and since it’s part of a national park, there are many fees that one needs to pay. It’s definitely not the place to go if you’re travelling on a budget! It’s rather a place for people who are not fit enough or not willing to climb to 4,500 m (14,763 ft), but still want to see the beauty of the snowy peaks up close.
However, if you do decide to make the trip, don’t let yourself be talked into buying an oxygen tube before getting on the cable car. Unless you have respiratory problems, you shouldn’t have any issues with oxygen when reaching the peak. Do pack a jacket, because even it is warm enough in Lijiang to wear short sleeves, it can get cold at that altitude. You should also be mentally prepared to queue and wait for the cable car (I’ve already mentioned it’s a touristic place!).
Hiking in China can be a very rewarding experience
China is much more than pandas, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai. It’s a huge country that is definitely worth exploring. And when it comes to nature, it’s simply amazing! The rolling hills, the whirling rivers, the valleys, the high mountains — there are many opportunities to get closer to nature and enjoy being in the mountains while discovering Chinese culture. Yunnan Province, with its mountain ranges, is definitely the best place for that.