China is a gigantic country. The Middle Kingdom offers a treasure trove of hikes across the country from its colossal Himalayas in the South, holy mountains in its heartland, low lying mountains in the East and of course the Great Wall of China snaking on peaks protecting the North.
Two-thirds of China’s total land area is mountainous, and this country also boasts seven of the world’s 12 mountain peaks over 8000m. With so much choice here is a list of 10 hikes that you cannot miss on your trip to China!
Wispy clouds play at the base of rocky pillars giving the illusions that the mountain of Zhangjiajie are suspended in mid-air. James Cameron was inspired by this incredible illusion and thus the floating Hallelujah Mountains of Pandora in the epic Avatar blockbuster was born.
The Avatar Mountains are in Zhangjiajie National Park in the heart of China. The national park is very large and requires a few days to explore all the different areas. Spend a few days hiking along picturesque streams within dense forests and discover Zhangjiajie’s otherworldly landscapes. The rocky pillars of Zhangjiajie are simply breath-taking. There are also lots of friendly monkeys leaping above your head to spot!
2. Longjing Tea Terraces
Nestled behind the hills surrounding Hangzhou’s legendary lake hundreds of locals are hard at work picking tea leaves. Women, wearing straw yellow hats to protect themselves from the intense sun rays, swiftly pick the green tea leaves from the bushes.
Start your tea trail adventures at the National Tea Museum. From Hangzhou it is a short bus ride to Longjing and is a rather picturesque journey as you pass through the lush landscape. At the museum learn about the history of tea, giggle a little at some of the translations and unusual models. Make sure you also stock up on free tea available in the entrance hall. Now you are fully hydrated with the taste of tea on your tongue you are ready to start your hike. Stroll along the road to the little village of Longjing to see all things tea related such as tea shops, men drying tea leaves and woman heading into the hills to pick the famous leaves. Follow the local ladies and wonder upwards along the tea terraces. You will be immersed in a world of green tea leaves. A lovely little walk far away from the crowds around Hangzhou’s West Lake.
3. Great Wall of China
A list of unmissable hikes in China would be incomplete without including an iconic hike on the Great Wall of China.
There are many different sections to visit around Beijing. Depending on your fitness levels and time limitations ask yourself which part would suit you best. Do you want to spend a night on the wall? Would you like to climb up the ‘wild’ great wall or experience a section that has been completely restored?
The Jinshanling section seemed to be the best of both world’s as this section of the great wall is part ‘wild’ and partly restored. Furthermore, as Jingshanling is two to three hours from Beijing it is not as crowded as some of the sections closer to the Chinese capital. Yet if you do not have a whole day to spare you may want to visit a closer section. Which part will you choose?
For an easy journey to this more remote part of the wall join this tour with Beijing Downtown Backpackers. Unlike most other tour guides they do not force you to visit a Jade factory or ‘go shopping’. You are also able to walk at your own pace unaccompanied by a tour guide who will simply meet you at the other end of the wall.
Huashan is home to the world’s most dangerous hike; the Skywalk. Tie yourself into your harness and cautiously walk along a thin strip of wood hundreds of meters above the ground!
Other things to see on Huashan include stairs into heaven, holy bells, peaceful temples, incredible views and thousands of red ribbons coating the railings. A doable day trip from Xi’an or you can stay the night to see the famous sunrise from the top of Huashan.
5. Yellow Mountains
“To enjoy the magnificence of a mountain, you have to look upwards in most cases. To enjoy Mount Huangshan, however, you’ve got to look downward.” Quote by an ancient Chinese writer.
The incredible Yellow Mountains, Huangshan are only five hours from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai (5 hours is a short distance in China!). Make sure you hop on a bus which takes you all the way to Huangshan national park as there is a city called Huangshan which is an hour from the national park.
Avoid weekends if you can as you will literally be squashed against the mountainsides as the crowds filter through this National Park. Read my post regarding my one day hiking in the Yellow Mountains at the weekend for more information about the crowds!
With two cable cars to help you up and down the mountain, you don’t need to have an incredible level of fitness allowing the Yellow Mountains to be enjoyed by everyone!
Hop on the longest cable car in the world and start your adventure on Tianmen Mountain!
Explore the eerie misty, landscape and attempt a skywalk if you dare. Tianmen Mountain is located in the heart of China in Hunan province. Famous for daredevil Red Bull stunts it is a truly adventurous hike.
Ignore your inner acrophobia as you step onto one of the many skywalks. Stare through the glass and see how high in the clouds you really are! After returning to solid ground you descend into a bizarre world of escalators within the mountain! You continue going down until you arrive at a magnificent geological landform: the Tianmen cave. This natural karst cave over 130m tall looks as if it is the entrance to heaven which is what gave this mountain its name (Tian = heaven, men =door/entrance/gate). The scale of this cave is incredible and the view of this natural landform is a perfect end to your hike on Tianmen mountain.
Follow this link to read more about my one day visit on Tianmen Mountain.
Colourful prayer flags sway gently in the wind. The air is fresh up here. The scenery is absolutely stunning. The hike to Yubeng is most definitely worth it.
Yubeng is a secret place tucked away in the Himalayas just a few miles from the Tibetan border. It cannot be reached by car and one must hike for four-six hours to reach Shang Yubeng (upper Yubeng). Battle mild altitude sickness and your efforts will be rewarded.
Yubeng is a beautiful Tibetan town full of colourful prayer flags and friendly locals. There are several hikes to do in Yubeng during your
Hiking in Yubeng is truly a magical experience.
8. Tiger Leaping Gorge
The rushing waters sound ever fainter as you continue your ascent. Locals follow you with donkeys expecting you to give up and need help. Yet you continue upwards and after a few hours, the path flattens allowing you to truly appreciate your surroundings. Rocky peaks tower above you and the river seems very far below you. The trail is suspended perfectly between the two elements.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail takes two days to complete. Follow the raging roar of the waters of the Jinsha River, a main tributary of the famous Yangtze River, along green meadows and cool woodland. Once you have tackled the dreadful 28 bends the hike is fairly flat and the views are unparalleled. Jagged grey peaks cover the skyline and you feel at once empowered and minuscule next to these rocky giants.
Make friends with other backpackers and enjoy a well-deserved beer at the Halfway House. Voted as one of China’s best hikes you cannot miss the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike during your trip to China.
Mount Emei is one of the four holy Buddhist mountains in China. On the summit of Mount Emei stands a proud golden statue of Samantabhadra. Pilgrims from all over China, some carrying large baskets of soil on their backs, hike to reach the golden summit.
There are many temples across the mountain as well as playful waterfalls and mischievous monkeys hiding in the forest. It is possible to see Emeishan in a day if staying at the Teddy Bear Hostel near the base of the park. Buses and cable cars will help you on your way to the summit and around the peaks. Alternatively, challenge yourself to walk like the other pilgrims to the golden statue of Samantabhadra and stay overnight in one of the temples.
The city of Yangshou is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Climbing, cycling, kayaking, rafting there are also some incredible hikes to be discovered.
A steep but short hike to the Moon Cave is a rewarding walk. Your destination is a beautiful natural formation high in the hills.
For a longer day hike journey to nearby Xingping and climb one of its highest peaks to admire the surreal landscape. On your way back to the river stop at one of the most famous views in all of China. Just look on a 20 Yuan note to see the scene.
Finally, just before the sun is starting to set, walk up to the TV tower in the centre of the city of Yangshuo to watch the sunset beneath the mountains.
There are many other fantastic hikes to complete in China but these ten should be on every hiker’s bucket list! Which hike would you like to tackle first?