The Upper Trail Hike – Day 1 – Yunnan Province, China

Upper Trail hike tiger leaping gorge china

The Epic Upper Trail Hike in Yunnan Province in China. Totally outstanding!

As hikes, landscapes and experiences go, you won’t get much better than this I assure you. Escape the popularity on your travels and you’ll be rewarded with outstanding views, everlasting memories and unusual culture. For whatever cards life had dealt me, I found myself in China’s Yunnan Province at the tail end of last year. A province steeped in diversity, history and the unknown, this province is where you can really see China. If you only ever go to one province in China in your lifetime, please please do yourselves a favour and make sure it’s Yunnan. You won’t be disappointed. Here is my report on my 2 day hike near Tiger Leaping Gorge – the Upper Hike Trail Day 1.

Tiger Leaping Gorge Yunnan Province China

Admiring Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan before doing the Upper Trail Hike.

And after the magic of seeing Lijiang’s Old Town, spending a couple of nights in Shuhe and seeing the inspiring Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Upper Trail hike began in earnest.

Signpost to mark the start of the Upper Trail Hike

Where does the Upper Trail Hike Start? At this sign of course!

Myself and Travelling Hong Kong Girl clock up the miles and we started off by finding a driver to drop us off at the start of the Upper Trail hike. In true off the beaten track fashion, you wouldn’t even know it’s the start of the hike. There are no signs, no pointers and no telling notices to let you know. A persistent Chinese local and his annoying horse are your welcomes as you walk up gravel tracks deep into the mountains. OK well there is a very small sign written in Chinese and apparently that’s the start of the hike! The river where the Tiger Leaping Gorge sits are down below in the valleys and the epic mountains cape of these particular Yunnan mountains.

How to get to the Upper Trail Hike

Get a bus from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge, You’ll need a good knowledge of Chinese to get all this on the cheap, or else have your hostel in Lijiang jot you down the Chinese characters telling the bus workers just to drop you off at a hostel which is close to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Once you’ve seen Tiger Leaping Gorge up close and personal (a trip to the viewing platform by bus or car can be done in less than 2 hours), then it’s time for the hike.

bus from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge

Boarding my bus in the freezing cold Lijiang City heading for Tiger Leaping Gorge!

Where exactly does the Upper Trail Hike start?

Again this is debated as there isn’t really a significant signpost or official entrance. The village of Qiaotou is probably the base you will be using (a lot of hikers leave their large backpacks there to pick up after the hike) and this is where the ticket office sits. Your driver will stop off to allow you to buy your tickets. Or you can walk it – if you’re walking out of Qiaotou you will see Jane’s Guesthouse on the left hand side with the ticket office just after it. A lot of backpackers also stay here, but Jane’s Guesthouse is seen as the place where the hike starts.

Janes Guesthouse Upper Trail hike Yunnan

Jane’s Guesthouse, Qiaotou – this is right at the start of the Upper Trail Hike.

From Jane’s continue walking and head up left on the paved gravel road and that’s the start of the hike! There’s a very small sign and an arrow and you might want to carry a map. If you’ve read my Tuesday Travel Essentials you will know I love carrying travel guide books and I must admit the Lonely Planet’s guide to this area is spot on.

How Much Does It Cost To Do The Upper Trail Hike?

Officially you will need the permit for access to the actual park though to be honest you will never be asked to show this. If you’re a real tight cheapskate you could probably wangle it and get the entire hike for free. Despite being a cheapskate at the best of times, I’m fairly respectful of the local people’s efforts and so buying a ticket for the Tiger Leaping Gorge viewing platform is worth doing. This ticket encompasses your entrance to the Upper Trail Hike. The cost is 65 RMB. The price is written on the ticket and is non negotiable.

tiger leaping gorge ticket

Ticket for Tiger Leaping Gorge, includes the national park.

In essence it’s free to hike it, but please just buy a ticket and do it the proper way. Karma, friendly locals and all that…

What should you pack for the Upper Trail hike?

Warm clothes, gloves and hats etc. are a must especially when the sun goes down. However the temperature drop is staggering. You can literally get burnt to the skin in the daytime and freeze at night. There is some contrast. A bit of a shock to me but I was well prepared clothes wise anyway.

Jonny Blair on the Upper Trail Hike

At the start of the Upper Trail Hike it was actually quite cold and at night it is freezing!

Food is essential – there are no stop off points whatsoever on day one – so bring some snacks such as bananas, cereal bars, crisps etc.

Snack break on the Upper Trail Hike Yunnan

Take some snacks with you – there are NO restaurants, shops or vendors on the route by the way! Bananas and crisps were good enough for us!

Water is a must. I carried a 2 litre bottle and drank it all. I also took a bottle of Coke. Please be well prepared.

An overview of Day 1 on the Upper Trail Hike in Yunnan Province

It was about an 8 hour hike for us from the entrance point until arrival at the Halfway House Guesthouse. We didn’t start early though so the last 2 hours or so we were hiking in darkness, I don’t recommend that by the way but it’s the way we ended up doing it on our busy schedule! Here’s a rough timeline of our day:

12.30 pm – Started the hike, heading past numerous local houses on gravel tracks. Often with chickens and horses. Not well marked or signposted and there is a guessing game. About 2.5 kilometres after starting the hike, there is a Guesthouse called Sunrise Guesthouse (though it’s all written in Chinese) and from here you turn a corner and the mountain views get suddenly more incredible.

Amazing view of the river in Yunnan China

This is the marvellous view you are faced with at the very start of the Upper Trail Hike – who wouldn’t want to spend their days staring at this landscape!

2.30 pm – This was the time we sat down and snacked and started to see the epic views of the Yunnan Mountains.

Epic view of Yunnan Mountains

Once you round the corner and reach this point you will just stop in awe of the mountains! Cannot recommend this hike enough!

We were followed by a local Chinese guy on a horse right up to this point which had me furious sometimes. How many times did we have to tell him we don’t want a ride on his damn horse!

Followed by a horse guy in Yunnan China

This crazy Chinese “horse guy” followed us at the start of the hike – so annoying we couldn’t get rid of him for the first two hours or so!

3 – 4 pm – This was the toughest upward ascent on day 1 on an area called the 28 Bends. I’ve recently hiked the Inca Trail and to Mount Kinabalu, but I’ll be honest and say the 28 Bends was a tough test for the knees.

28 bends Upper Trail hike China

Totally inspired by the mountains on the Upper Trail Hike just before negotiating the 28 Bends!

After by passing goats, horses and loads of SHIT on the path, you will reach a “village” known as Nuoyu, after this it’s the 28 Bends.

Mountains in Yunnan China

Just before you hit the 28 bends, this is the view you get!

5pm – By 5pm we had reached our peak for the day – views continued to be immense the entire way round and we were now watching the sinking sun on the final 3 hours of our descent.

28 bends yunnan upper trail hike

This hut is just before the 28 Bends, one of the rare marker points on the route.

6pm – We arrived at the first potential mountain village where you can stay the night, known as Yacha. However we decided to get ahead of the game and keep walking to the next one. I bought a well needed Coke at this mountain base in Yacha and spoke to some fellow hikers, who had decided to stay there for the night.

Yacha Yunnan Mountains Upper Trail Hike China

The rest house at Yacha just before sunset – we decided to head onwards to the halfway house though.

6.30 pm – The sun was now almost gone so inspired by torchlight we headed on down to the Halfway House, expecting to make it by 7.30 pm.

Upper Trail hike in moonrise

The moon had come out as we entered the final ascent down to Bendiwan and the Half Way House.

After 8pm – Finally arrived at our base – the Halfway House. Absolute bliss – beer, food, bed and guess what travelling Northern Irishman took time out to do some travel blogging here?!

Beer and Blog in China Yunnan Mountains

Relaxing in the Halfway House at Bendiwan on the Upper Trail Hike and having a beer updating my travel blog!

Where to stay on the Upper Trail Hike

As we saw it you have three main options depending on your hiking speed and what time you start. If you start early you could easily make it beyond where we did and spend your first night at Tina’s Guesthouse, which sits by the lower river.

halfway house upper trail hike

The courtyard in the brilliant Halfway House Guesthouse in Bendiwan.

You could stay at Halfway House like we did – this is the most popular option. They had comfortable beds, food, beer, coffee and even hot showers!!! We paid for the luxury of the hot shower and a double room which cost 200 RMB, but you can get it a lot cheaper if you go in the dorm and get access to the communal cold showers. At night time this place is freezing by the way! The next morning you will love the breakfast and view of sunrise. That will follow in my report on Day 2…

mountains of Yunnan tiger leaping gorge

Jumping for Joy in Yunnan – one of the better days on life’s corridor…

My last point is simple – head to Yunnan and do the Upper Trail Hike – it’s absolutely amazing – I want to give a mention to a fellow hiker and proper traveller Greg Rodgers of Vagabonding Life who also loved this hike. Two world travellers can’t be wrong about this place – it’s stunning…

Some of My Videos from the Upper Trail Hike Day 1:

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