When asking around among those who have hiked in China, they’ll tell you that the scenes are magnificent, but he walks are fairly easy. What’s an experienced hiker to do? Here’s our list of the most difficult hikes in the middle kingdom for those who are brave enough to try.
Here are five of our favorite challenging hikes in China for the brave of heart:
The Great Wall at Jiankou, Beijing
Unrestored, crumbling and impossibly steep in parts, this section of the Great Wall twists about a precipitous ridgeline, making it both magnificent and terrifying. If one is not careful, they could easily twist an ankle, or worse.
This section of the wall is not too far from Beijing, only 80 km north of the city and is easily accessible through one of our Beijing tours. It stretches over 20km, connecting Mutianyu and Huanghuacheng. Compared with the more popular areas, this one provides more of a challenge because it is completely unrestored and has been ravaged by time. Some areas are connected only by treacherously thin ledges or reduced to scree slopes. In short: bring appropriate footwear and whatever courage you have.
The Great Wall at Jiankou | Source: Ian Bruce via Flickr
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It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) out of white dolomite stone from the surrounding countryside. There is also a section aptly referred to as the “Stairway to Heaven”, which boasts an 80-degree ascent.
Hikers can select from the choice of a popular four-hour hike to a restored section of the wall or the much more intense two-day hike from the furthest western sections. Either way, you’d better bring your camera to capture some of the spectacular views.
A hike along the wildest of all walls in Beijing can be organized with WildChina’s great wall expert, William Lindesay.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan
Found snuggly between towering Himalayan peaks, Tiger Leaping Gorge is 16km long and reaches a maximum depth of 3900m, firmly making it China’s deepest gorge – and one of the most accessible treks in the country.
No matter where you look, spectacular scenery is visible in all directions, from lofty snowcapped mountains to the glint of the rushing river thousands of meters below. The Jinsha river roars through 34 rapids in just under 15km, making for some note-worthy action shots.
The gorge’s name comes from a local legend which not surprisingly describes a tiger leaping across the river to escape hunters.
Tiger Leaping Gorge| Source: Alexander Savin via Flickr
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This hike can be enjoyed as a two-day extension to another Yunnan journey. What’s more, it’s relatively peaceful, with only the odd farmer and the rush of the river to keep you company. In addition, you’ll have the option of coming into contact with many ethnic minorities along the way as you can stop in at minority-run guest houses and villages of the Naxi and Tibetan people.
If you’re so inclined, you can even traverse the gorge in WildChina fashion, spending time with a local family in a village after your long day of hiking on our Trekking through Tiger Leaping Gorge tour .
Hua Shan, Shaanxi Province
Mount Hua is known as “the number one steep mountain under heaven,” and for good reason, as it regularly tops online rankings of the world’s most dangerous hikes. It was said that emperors had to climb the mountain as one of their feats to show their worthiness to rule, but failure would imply that they were not fit. With such high stakes, some opted to skip it.
Many did, however, successfully climb it, along with one very note-able non-emperor: Lao Tzu, father of Taoism. Lao Tzu is said to have made the mountain his home, which is why many beautiful temples can be found along this hike.
Thanks to Lao Tzu, it is considered one of China’s great holy peaks and has been an important site of pilgrimage for Tao Buddhists over the millennia. Nowadays, however, most people come for the raw scenery and death-defying trails.
The world-famous Plank Walk in Hua Shan | Source: Ian Armstrong via Flickr
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There are five separate peaks, each famous for its own special feature. The South Peak boasts the world-famous Plank Walk, a hair-raising traverse of a creaking plank path that well and truly stares oblivion in the face – perfect for adrenaline junkies. Of course, you could join the crowd in choosing a cable car to the top of each…but where’s the fun in that?
China’s number one peak, the south one, for thrill-seekers can be climbed with our Xi’an: Warriors and Emperor tour. After braving the plank walk, you’re sure to be hungry, and our local WildChina guide will take you inside the best restaurants in Xi’an’s fragrant Muslim Quarter.
Ganden to Samye, Tibet
With desolate high passes, lakes and even desert dunes, this trek offers genuine adventure among the unbound wilds of Tibet.
The trailhead begins just 50km east of Lhasa and offers a four- to five-day, 80km hike between Ganden and Samye, two important Tibetan monasteries.
Exploring the majestic temples along this route offers fantastic opportunities to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, and you’ll get to experience nomadic culture up close and personal on the highland pasture.
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The trail climbs to over 5,000m in altitude, so it’s always best to pace oneself to avoid mountain sickness, as there is no medical help in the high passes. Yet while the thin air may be breathtaking, we’re confident that the scenery will be too.
Spending several days acclimatizing in Lhasa is the ideal way to prepare for this epic expedition, made easier with our Escape to Lhasa tour. Here you’ll enjoy special extras like a picnic by the freshwater Yamdrok Tso Lake, a holy lake of clear blue surrounded by softly rolling mountains.
Yading Nature Reserve, Sichuan
When James Hilton penned Lost Horizon, he never did name the exact location of his fabled Tibetan utopia, creating speculation that Yading Nature Reserve could be the true “Shangri-la”.
Yading matches his descriptions well: evergreen forests teeming with life, sparkling lakes, and rivers, lying in the shadows of soaring, snow-crowned peaks.
Among those peaks are three of Tibet’s most sacred mountains: Chenresig (6,032 meters), Jambeyang (5,958 meters), and Chanadorje (5,958 meters), thought to represent compassion, wisdom, and energy respectively.
Yading Nature Reserve | Source: Raymond Ling via Flickr
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This trek follows the same path as a two-day 35km kora, a holy Tibetan pilgrimage route. You’ll trek around the base of 6,000m Mount Chenresig, the highest peak in the park. Stiff necks are guaranteed, as hikers struggle to keep their eyes from the mountain’s majestic slopes during this multi-day voyage.
There are two ways you can choose to go around it: a 1-2 day hike around the base of the tallest mountain, Mt. Chenresig, or the more intimidating 7-8 day trip around all three of the peaks, bringing you face-to-face with more of the incredible scenery by going off the beaten path.
Attractions include verdant grasslands, together with the green and blue waters of the park’s glacier-fed lakes. Good preparation and camping gear is essential, as there are no hotels in the reserve. It’s due to this under-development that you’ll find yourself one of the few tourists who will actually brave their way through this challenge.
Shangri-la or not, our On the Trail of Pilgrims tour offers hikers unforgettable experiences in this little-known jewel of southwest China.
With your piqued sense of adventure and challenge, now is the time to organize an expedition on China’s most challenging trails. We can customize any of our journeys to meet your each and every whim. Get started planning your trip.