When you think of going on an epic outdoor holiday, where’s the first place that comes to mind? Probably somewhere like Costa Rica, New Zealand, or Norway.
Well, we’ve got a new destination to add to your list: China!
Because of its reputation for having a high population density, crazy pollution problems, and world-renowned cities, many people don’t even realize that in China, beautiful places and breathtaking outdoor destinations could be right around the corner.
There are beautiful places to visit in China even for the most passionate nature lover – hiking, trekking, water sports, climbing, caving, cycling – spread out in all different regions of this huge country. Some of the prettiest places in China mean leaving the city far behind.
Here are a few of the Most Beautiful Places in China For Outdoor Lovers!
Zhangjiajie National Park, Hunnan
This was China’s first recognized National Forest Park and is located in the northern Hunan province in south-eastern China. The rock formations that make up this park have come to be known as the “Avatar Mountains” (because they inspired the scenery in the movie Avatar a few years back) and are out of this world.
This park is easily accessible for any and all nature lovers – there are buses, trams, and gondolas throughout the park (which is how locals prefer to explore).
The hiking trails are beautiful and usually pretty empty! Another unique feature of this park is the Bailong Lift – the tallest elevator in the world!
Huang Shan (Yellow Mountains), Anhui
Don’t let the name of these mountains fool you – they aren’t at all yellow! The area was named after the famous Yellow Emperor. Legend has it that he resided in these mountains, and it is here that he became an immortal being.
The area is known for its “four natural wonders”: the epic pine trees, crazy rock formations, the seas of clouds and the famous hot springs. Experiencing all four of these wonders at once is a must – and to do so you need to visit between May and September.
To reach the peak of the Yellow Mountains, you’ll need to do an overnight trek. There are a bunch of hotels at the top of the mountain, so you won’t have to carry camping gear with you. Proper footwear is imperative on this trek – although the mountain has a paved stone path, it is very worn and can be slippery when wet (which is often).
Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan
If you’re looking for the ultimate trek in China, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the best places to visit in China. The Gorge requires a small entrance fee, but your ticket stays valid for the duration of your visit.
The trek starts in a tiny town called Qiaotao located 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Lijiang City in Northwest China. Depending on how much time you have, it can take 1-3 days from start to finish. The more time you give yourself, the more opportunity you have to take in the incredible scenery and see all that the Gorge has to offer.
Yangshuo and Li River, Guanxi
Located just a short train ride from Shenzhen (in the south of China, near to Hong Kong), Yangshuo is considered to be one of the top outdoor destinations in all of China because of the variety of scenery and activities available. It would be easy to spend a week here and experience all the region has to offer.
Li River, Yangshuo, ChinaThe Li River is a beautiful destination that is highly regulated – the only way to get into the water is bamboo rafting. Alternatively, you can venture to Li River’s “Secret Beach” from town and spend a day lounging and swimming amongst the beautiful China scenery.
You can rent a bike for cheap in Yangshuo and explore the Yulong River and karst mountains nearby. They’re some of the best places to visit in China for anyone with a passion for climbing, as you can also rock climb and go caving at these destinations. There are countless outdoor companies throughout Yangshuo that are able and willing to help you explore as much of the region as possible.
Stone Forest (Shilin), Yunnan
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is named after its peculiar rock formations, making it one of the more visually incredible China landmarks. They look like something in between petrified trees and stalagmites – but these limestone formations have been created through millions of years of erosion.
Incredible Chinese scenery at Stone Forest (Shilin), Yunnan, ChinaThere are countless hiking trails available all over the Stone Forest – the entire area is over 300 sq km! A few of the most popular destinations within this region are Naigu Stone Forest, Ashima Rock and Suogeyi Village. You could easily spend an entire day hiking around looking at the formations, underground rivers, caves and waterfalls.
There are countless hiking trails available all over the Stone Forest – the entire area is over 300 sq km! A few of the most popular destinations within this region are Naigu Stone Forest, Ashima Rock and Suogeyi Village. You could easily spend an entire day hiking around looking at the formations, underground rivers, caves and waterfalls.
This destination is not for the faint of heart. Dubbed the “world’s most dangerous hike,” this mountain clocks in at over 2000 meters, and features five peaks. It’s considered one of China’s five most sacred peaks – there are many Taoist temples all over the mountain. If you’re not good with heights, there are likely better places to go in China.
There is a cable car that you can take a bit of the way up the mountain – so those of you who still want to experience Hua Shan without the danger, have no fear! But the real trek starts just after the cable car station. There are countless steep staircases, narrow pathways and even the infamous 50m (164 f) plank walk.
The entire trek can be done in a day – just be sure to start early and get back in time for the last bus out at 7 p.m. If you’re adventurous and can stomach the danger, it’s one of the best places to go in China.
Emei Shan, Sichuan
This National Park is located in Leshan City, Sichuan Province. You can easily access it from Chengdu and Leshan by high-speed train or bus – the journey ranging from 1 to 3 hours.
Emei Shan is a National Park surrounding Mount Emei. The park and mountain are both pretty massive, but there are loads of monasteries to visit inside the park. Many of them charge as little as $2USD a night (and it’s recommended you stay at least 2 days in order to experience the whole park).
The main attractions in the park, making it one of the best places to go in China, is the Golden Stupa located at the summit inside the park, but for many, the journey to the top and the views along the way are just as big of an attraction as the stupa. The summit can be reached in a day for fast-movers – two days for a more leisurely pace, and you can stay at one of the monasteries at the top.
You can supplement parts of the hike with cable cars, buses, or sedan chairs. There is also skiing available near the summit of Emei during winter months!
The Great Wall of China
Without a doubt, there are countless amazing China landmarks, but the Great Wall is the most famous attraction in China. For the history alone, it’s one of the best places to see in China. While there are places you can visit it easily (like a quick excursion from the Beijing Airport) – there are also more outdoor-friendly, adventurous ways to experience The Wall.
There are two distinct parts of the wall – the easily accessible tourist side, and The Wild Wall.
This unkempt, overgrown part of the wall is where you should head if you’re looking to hike and explore a bit farther. Though unpreserved, the Wild Wall is still easy to hike – no guide necessary!
While most sections of the Wall could be considered amazing places in China, a few key sections of the Great Wall that are especially worth a visit are Mutianyu (Upkept, but lesser-visited) Huang Hua Chen, Jinshanling, and Simatai (which is the only part of the wall completely preserved in its original form). Along much of the Wild Wall, you can hike for hours without running into any other tourists.
Tibet – Everest
Though Tibet is a disputed territory, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in China ! Especially if you want to experience the tallest mountain in the world – Mt Everest.
Upwards of 70% of Everest’s area is located in the Mt. Everest National Nature Reserve in Tibet. You can access the North Everest Base Camp from here. Unlike the Nepalese side of Everest, Tibet’s Base Camp can be reached by tour bus (as opposed to only via trekking in Nepal). Adversely, the Tibetan trek to Everest’s summit is much more difficult than the Nepalese face.
There are many other trekking options throughout Tibet – most of which are multi-day hikes. Keep in mind that while visiting Tibet, no independent travel is allowed.
* You can only visit this part of the country with a guide – treks included. Whatever tour you choose, there will definitely be some beautiful scenic hiking within sight of the Himalayas!
As one of the largest and most populated countries in the world, you can experience completely different cultures and traditions everywhere that you choose to visit. As you plan your next big outdoor adventure, consider China and her many breathtaking natural destinations!