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Tiger Leaping Gorge: The Trek of the Titans

It’s hard to appreciate an amazing view when you’re gasping for air. The 28 bends is the most notorious section of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, one of China’s top multi-day hikes. I thought I’d struggled around at least 15 bends when I saw a depressing red 1 painted on a rock – it had just began and I was already exhausted.

If you are backpacking through Yunnan you’ll probably be tempted to get out of the hectic Chinese cities and into some nature, and tackling the Tiger Leaping Gorge is a great way to achieve that.  There are a few tough sections but it isn’t too bad, and the peace and quiet, not to mention the views, makes it a trek not to be missed. Legend has it that a mutant tiger jumped from one side of the gorge to the other, I can’t remember hearing about a catapult but I’m pretty sure that’s the only way a tiger could make that journey, they tend to leave the mechanics out of these sorts of legends.

Day 1: Starting the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek

I got dropped off in a grim little town called Qiaotou on a road with 3 options. I walked up, then down, and after being lost for a half an hour in a 2 street town I finally found the start of the trek. After a quick meal of bland fried rice, I was on my way. I was quickly joined by a group of French guys and their Chinese friend. The first section is pretty easy, taking you above the town and on to the start of the gorge. After an hour or so it got a bit tougher, and the Chinese guy was struggling. He eventually gave up and hitched a ride with a mule. Mules act as taxis on the track, rescuing people who bite off a bit more than they can chew. Just over 2 hours after starting we reached Naxi Family Guesthouse, an old-style Chinese building surrounded by imposing peaks. Since I was in no hurry at all I decided to stay the night, and I’m glad I did. The guesthouse sits amid a peaceful little village filled with far more farm animals than people. I wandered around the village and then got an early night, the 28 bends I’d heard so much about entrenched in the back of my mind.

looking back towards Qiaotou at the start of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, Yunnan, ChinaThe start of Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, Yunnan, ChinaA village along Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan, ChinaNaxi Family Guesthouse on the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, Yunnan, ChinaNaxi Family Guesthouse

Day 2

After half an hour of walking I came across a weathered old Chinese man frantically pointing me in the opposite direction. I’d missed a turn off  and I’m still not sure how, as there are red arrows constantly directing the way. It wasn’t the ideal preparation for the 28 bends, but I eventually got back on track and inched my way up the winding path. I needed a break every couple of minutes, but I was pleased to get to the top, because what goes up must come down, and the next hour or 2 was a cruise downhill towards the Tea Horse Guesthouse.  This is another guesthouse set amongst some amazing mountain scenery and was a great place to unwind for the rest of the afternoon.

A great view along the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek in Yunnan, ChinaThe Tea Horse Guesthouse halfway along Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, Yunnan. ChinaTea Horse Guesthouse

Day 3

This was always going to be the easiest day, a 3 hour stroll down to Tina’s Guesthouse, which marks the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. The views weren’t quite as good but it was still a nice walk. I arrived at Tina’s, grabbed a quick meal and decided to head down to the river, the very bottom of what is possibly (there is some debate about it) the tallest gorge in the world. It was a lot further down than it looked, and about half way down I realised the return journey would be even harder than the dreaded 28 bends. It wasn’t all that impressive down by the river and you could probably skip this part and relax over lunch and a few beers while you wait for the bus to Shangri-La or Lijiang. If you crave some adrenaline, head down to the river, but when you reach a sign which says “ladder this way” and “safe way this way” you should go for the ladder. I had a look and it didn’t seem appealing at all – a vertical metal ladder heading high up into the sky, and it doesn’t even save you much time. An hour or so after I’d arrived back at Tina’s I was on a bus headed for Shangri-La, the fabled paradise. Instead I found a dusty, depressing city which had been drastically misnamed, but more on that next time.

Mules on the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, Yunnan, ChinaTiger Leaping Stone, the end point of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trekTiger Leaping Gorge trek ladder, China

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a popular stop on the Yunnan tourist trail, but you won’t see many other people, instead you’ll see amazing mountain views at every turn and you’ll get the chance to stay at some of the better guesthouses in the area. It’s not a tough trek and it’s easy to find your way – just follow the arrows and try not to fall into the river below.

Further reading: Do you agree with this “10 best hiking trails in the world” post?

Have you done the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek? How does it compare to other treks around the world? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. June 7, 2014 at 9:50 pm — Reply

    Great photos! Sounds like a great adventure, we’d love to do that hike one day.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • June 8, 2014 at 12:13 pm — Reply

      Cheers Frank, it’s a great few days.

  2. June 8, 2014 at 12:47 am — Reply

    This is great. Thanks for sharing, Jon.

  3. July 1, 2014 at 8:19 pm — Reply

    The mountains are beautiful there. Never heard of this tiger leaping gorge before.
    Not sure if I would step onto this ladder. Looks like it leads into nowhere… 😀

    • September 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm — Reply

      Haha yeah, it’d probably only save you a couple of minutes as well so it’s really not worth it.

  4. Zhang Bozheng
    September 27, 2014 at 9:11 pm — Reply

    I am a Chinese residing in Singapore. Been on the exact same trek as you! That ladder was pretty scary and I just climbed it without looking back. Exhausting but magnificent trek!

    • September 28, 2014 at 1:16 pm — Reply

      You’re braver than I am!

  5. November 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm — Reply

    What a journey? I’m glad the views were worth it. The scenery looks magnificent. The ladder looks as scary as!! I’ve heard of the Tiger Leaping Gorge but thought you could only see it from a boat? That’s the way I would be travelling. Thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  6. Edwin Ng
    November 20, 2014 at 10:28 pm — Reply

    Nice read! I’m from Singapore and I’m visiting Tiger Leaping Gorge next week. Gotta be pretty cold in December. Will love to follow your itinerary as I’ve 6days in Lijiang. Will it be a tough trek carrying a backpack as you travel from one location to another. I’m planning to stay in ShuHe for 2 nights, Tiger Leaping Gorge 2 nights, and last night in Lijiang. What do you recommend?

  7. January 14, 2015 at 9:19 am — Reply

    I am going to be in Yunnan in May/June and I may end up here. Your pictures look so amazing, except for that ladder. That looks frightening.

  8. January 19, 2015 at 9:20 pm — Reply

    This looks amazing – I think we need to head down to Yunnan (living in Sichuan now) for the next long weekend. I’ve heard of Tiger Leaping Gorge before but didn’t realise it was such a short trek, which makes it easy to squeeze into a short break!

    • January 22, 2015 at 7:55 pm — Reply

      Cheers Audrey, I was thinking of heading up to Sichuan as well but ran out of time, I’ve heard great things though!

  9. April 15, 2017 at 5:21 pm — Reply

    Hi Jon great posts about Yunnan! I’m planning to complete TLG in 2D1N, which guesthouse would you recommend to spend the night? 🙂

    • April 18, 2017 at 9:50 am — Reply

      Hey Ryn, I’d stay at the Tea Horse Guesthouse if you’re only spending one night on the trail. I’m pretty sure that’s what most people do and it’s a really cool guesthouse. Enjoy your trip!

  10. Raphael
    May 16, 2017 at 6:10 pm — Reply

    Hey Jon, what a great trip! I’m going to Yunnan next week and I’ll try to follow some of your steps. =D

    I have a question, how did you get to Qiaotou? Did you go on a tour or by yourself?

    I’m doing it solo and I would like to know if there’s anything I should prepare in advance.


  11. Kumar Vivek
    July 16, 2018 at 4:24 pm — Reply

    Did you carry your backpack while trekking. I wondering if one is not fit enough, it may take the life out of you.

    • July 24, 2018 at 12:57 pm — Reply

      Hey Kumar, yeah I did and I’m pretty sure I even brought my laptop along for some reason! It wasn’t that heavy though and you do get used to it. I did a 4 day trek once with around 10 kg and it was tough — definitely pack as light as you can. You don’t need to bring food / bedding as there are places to stay and eat along the way so you shouldn’t need much. I left a few things at a guesthouse near the start of the trek so that’s a good option too.

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