Located 60 kilometers north of Lijiang and part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site is the Tiger Leaping Gorge. At a maximum depth of approximately 3790 meters from river to mountain peak, it’s one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world and I was lucky enough to climb it!
We drove from Lijiang which took around 2 hours. The climb itself took nearly 5 hours, although we stopped for lunch half way up. The trek took a while due to the narrow and rocky pathway and the large number of donkeys/ goats/ sheep trying to cross us on the way down. Local people also trek with donkeys up and down to try and tempt weary tourists to pay $30 for a ride to the top!
Fun Fact: The Gorge is named so due to an old legend which claimed that a tiger once escaped capture by jumping across it!
Gingerly stepping along a trail swept with scree to allow an old fellow with a donkey to pass; resting atop a rock, exhausted, looking up to see the fading sunlight dance between snow-shrouded peaks, then down to see the lingering rays dancing on the rippling waters a thousand metres away; feeling utterly exhilarated. That pretty much sums up Tiger Leaping Gorge, the unmissable trek of southwest China.
Check with cafes and lodgings in Lijiang for trail and weather updates. Most have fairly detailed gorge maps however they are never to scale and most are out of date by now! There are guesthouses all along the trail for hikers – we stayed in an amazing lodge nestled at the very top, submerged within the clouds. Tourists can also opt to tour the gorge area on tour buses along a road at the bottom of the canyon that follows the course of the river.
Although the best hiking train in the Lijiang area, the hike is pretty tough – alongside being a good workout, you also have to deal with the occasional donkey crossing (on often extremely narrow paths!), rock fall and a crumbling, rocky trail. During certain seasons, landslides can be a problem – we luckily just missed a rather nasty one by a couple of days. May and June are deemed the best times to undertake the trek.
I definitely recommend you head to the Gorge if you are in the area – it’s very easy to reach from Lijiang which is a very popular tourist stop! You don’t have to trek all the way to the top, you get some pretty amazing views from the start point, and you could always trek halfway, then turnaround again to avoid an overnight stay.