Even though I lived in China for about six years, I didn’t consider hiking the Yellow Mountains until one of my students who was born and raised in Tunxi, which is another name for Huangshan City (Yellow Mountain Town) brought them to my attention, arousing my curiosity. Hiking the Yellow Mountains is an activity as popular among Chinese nationals to the same extent as it’s underrated by the foreign traveler.
The Yellow Mountains aren’t even typically included in a trip to China! However, if you go to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree travel forum, you’ll find at least one user recommending them: that’s me!). Let’s say they’re still off the beaten path for the non-Chinese traveler, but the Chinese love them very much, and the government has set facilities in the area in order to organize the flow of visitors and to make the sightseeing accessible in the most efficient way.
WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER HIKING THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS
The trip is a perfect counterpoint to the visit to three historical cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou, which are not so far away. I miss traveling in China! If I had two weeks free, I’d fly there and visit the Shanghai-Suzhou-Hangzhou-Yellow Mountain route again. A friend and I arranged to hike the Yellow Mountains as an outdoor detour from our hitchhiking trip on the developed, metropolitan Chinese coast from Xiamen to Shanghai. The variety of options at this destination will satisfy even the pickiest traveler. You can hike along the thousands of steps and observe the cliffs which, in their different sizes and shapes, scream their uniqueness to the sky. If you prefer to fly over the mountains, just get on one of the four cable-car lines which have been built to bring you to different sightseeing spots. At the foot of the mountain, there’s even a hot-spring park, just in case you find out you feel more stressed than adventurousIt’s not easy to find a reason why you shouldn’t include the Yellow Mountains in your travel plans in China, or why you shouldn’t make it your holiday/weekend destination, if you’re an expat living in China. I myself was quite surprised that we didn’t meet any other foreign travelers in the area! I’d certainly avoid the hike if the weather was very bad, if I didn’t have shoes with a decent grip, or if I was traveling with small, wild kids.
TIPS FOR HIKING THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS IN CHINA
If you’re an expert, a fast hiker in a hurry, you might also try and hike up and down the Mountains on the very same day, but I wouldn’t do that! It’s such a pity to fail to dedicate at least a day and a half to the landscape which has enchanted Chinese painters and which is still one of the top destinations in the eyes of the local traveler. And this brings us to one of the possible downsides of this beloved natural park – its great popularity. If you envision to hiking in a solitary, meditative way, meeting as few people as possible, you should certainly go during the off-season and avoid the weekends. We went during the tourist season. We didn’t expect to find such grandness: the mountains´ beauty is grand, the organization is grand, and the turnout was grand, even if, surprisingly, it was possible to reach dangerous rocks which might be slippery and don´t have enough protection, (I’d be a bit anxious if I was visiting with unpredictable kids).
WHAT WE DID ON A 2-DAY HIKING TRIP TO THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS
We had a great time hiking the Yellow Mountain! You might do like we did.
ARRIVE IN TOWN (Tunxi/Huangshan City) BY THE LATE AFTERNOON OR EVENING
We reached Tunxi (Yellow Mountain City) from Hangzhou and explored the Old Street area, which is a complex of alleys and squares spreading out from a larger walking street featuring charming traditional architecture and decorations, with shops, workshops and local delicacies for any budget. That was an awesome way to get accustomed to local vibes before a day of hiking, and to try the local tofu delicacies (mao doufu 毛豆腐). We hadn’t booked a hotel for the first night, as we were on a hitchhiking trip in which it was very difficult to predict exactly what would happen and when we would arrive. However, we entered a few traditional style guesthouses on the Old Street and we found them beautiful and welcoming, and I’m quite sure you’d be able to sleep in one of them for about 50 USD/double, if they aren’t full. But the ones we could afford where fully booked, and we preferred to watch our budget and sleep for 20 USD in a double room at the Pudding Hotel (Buding Jiudian), which was just off the Old Street. If you read Chinese, and have an active Taobao account, nothing can stop you from booking a room there. Taobao is a kind of Chinese Ebay, where you can find any product or service advertised, often at bargain prices. You might also check for deals using the dedicated section in the Wechat App (again, you should have a Wechat account).
START HIKING THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS IN THE EARLY AFTERNOON
I’m not a crowd lover, and I visited the Yellow Mountain in mid-August, which is high tourist season, but I was still able to appreciate the hike fully. This was possible because after we had spent the night in Tunxi, we failed to wake up early and we arrived at the foot of the mountain at around 2 PM, which turned out to be the perfect time us to hike without too many other visitors around. It took us about 4 hours to hike up to the Baiyun Guesthouse at a calm but steady pace, stopping many times to take pictures of the wilderness.
I managed to book two beds in the Baiyun Guesthouse Dorms at the top of the mountain by calling the Elong customer service, which will be able to communicate with you in English, if you are patient. The Elong helps you book a room anywhere in China, for any budget and taking a very small commission, if any, and you pay on arrival, but they need your international card number as a reference. The Baiyun guesthouse is very cozy and warm, and I recommend it. We were able to book 2 beds for a bit more than 20 USD each, which is a fair price considering the season and the spot. I suggest you book your beds in advance, if you don’t want to miss your chance to sleep on the mountain. However, there are more accommodating options, as you can see on the map at the end of this post: at least three more hotels plus the hotel at the hot springs´ spa. The visit to the Yellow Mountains isn’t only a healthy activity in natural surroundings, but also a hunt for the spots which have been portrayed by famous Chinese painters! The “Four Essentials of the Yellow Mountains”, as the locals call them, are: the Odd Pine, the Grotesque Rock, the Ocean of Clouds, and the Hot Spring. My favorite sight instead, is the Monkey Rock.
THE SECOND DAY OF HIKING ON THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS, CHINA
The following morning, I woke up to the sounds of the other guests in the dorms, who started setting out way before the sunrise. My friend and I went with the flow on a 10-minutes hike to a spot where you can see the sunrise. The sun came out and made his way through clouds and morning mist while a hundred or more people were trying to get a good shot. We spent more hours following the signs to special sightseeing spots. The visit to the Yellow Mountains isn’t only a healthy activity in natural surroundings, but also a hunt for the spots which have been portrayed by famous Chinese painters! The “Four Essentials of the Yellow Mountains”, as the locals call them, are: the Odd Pine, the Grotesque Rock, the Ocean of Clouds, and the Hot Spring. My favorite sight instead, is the Monkey Rock. The entire way was paved and accessible: a few look out points were even too accessible, I guess…
Later, we started going down the mountain with a lot of other people, and it got quite annoying. We took a different route than the way we had climbed up, which was way more marvelous in terms of the view, but the trails were quite narrow in some parts and we were stuck in a queue under the sun. After the queue, we got tempted to go down too fast, and in the end we were both exhausted and had stiff legs! I’m not a pro hiker, but I do yoga at home and I exercise regularly, while the friend who hiked with me was a sporty guy, but even so, we suffered for a whole week as a result of a day and a half of hiking in the Yellow Mountains.
TRANSPORT AND PRICES OF FOOD ON THE YELLOW MOUNTAINS
Public buses run from the Tunxi high-speed train station, Tunxi main train station and long -distance bus station to the mountains scenic area’s transfer station, which is the first gate for entering the natural reserve, from 6:30 AM to 5:30 PM. The ride costs 17-20 RMB and takes about one hour. Once at the transfer station, you can take the official bus, which stops at the main gates of the reserve, at the hot spring and at the cable-car stations and costs around 20 RMB.
Here‘s a map of the area in both Chinese and English, from one of the official Chinese websites about Huangshan Scenic Area.
The price of food and water on the mountain are more than double the standard Chinese price (especially water, for which we paid 10 RMB [Renminbi, equal to the Yuan – about 6 RMB to $1 USD], compared with the normal 2 RMB).
High/tourist season (March 1 – Novembere 30): 230 RMB
Low/off season (December/January/February/December): 150 RMB
Cable Car (one -way):
High/tourist season: 80-100 RMB
Low/off season: 65-80 RMB
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