You don’t have to fly all the way to Switzerland to enjoy breathtaking nature. Here are the best nature spots in Yunnan, China!

First published: 8 Dec 2019

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (From Tiger Leaping Gorge) - Yunnan Nature

Yunnan province in China, just 4 hours from Singapore, is home to some of the best views mother nature has to offer. As an outdoor lover myself, I wasn’t too hot about Yunnan initially because I thought it’d just be yet another bunch of cities packed with buildings.

But that could not be further from the truth! For those who don’t know, Yunnan is actually famous in China for its breathtaking landscapes and amazing hikes. The sceptic in me couldn’t believe somewhere so close by could be that beautiful.

Read also: A Different Side to China — 9 Reasons Why Yunnan Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List

Tiger Leaping Gorge - Yunnan Nature

Tiger Leaping Gorge

From turquoise lakes to snow-capped mountains and vast national parks, Yunnan has it all. Here’s the ultimate Yunnan nature bucket list for you outdoor lovers!

1) Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山)

Location: Lijiang
Altitude: 5,596m
Best time to visit: Nov – Mar

Impression Lijiang - Yunnan Nature

Ah, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. This mountain dominated our itinerary in Lijiang. Getting tickets was quite a hassle but this is one landmark you have to see when you visit Lijiang.

Considered sacred among the local Naxi people, this beast of a mountain has 13 peaks. The highest peak is Shanzidou, which is unfortunately not accessible by the public. You can, however, take a cable car up to an altitude of 4,506m before ascending up a series of steps to reach Glacier Park at 4,680m.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Glacier Park) - Yunnan Nature

Photo credit: China Discovery

The quick change in elevation during the cablecar ride gives rise to altitude sickness (not fun). Don’t be surprised to see tourists chugging oxygen from cans like their lives depended on it. Jokes aside, the mountain’s vast blanket of white is spectacular and will make you feel like you’re venturing beyond the wall in Game of Thrones.

*Note: Only 10,000 tickets are released each day online on a first-come-first-serve basis, and you can only pay via WeChat. We advise booking tickets through a tour (which includes transport) or asking your hostel owner to help you.

Entrance fee: 130RMB for entrance, extra 180RMB for cable car ride
Opening hours:
7AM – 6PM (Ticketing ends at 4PM)
Yulong Naxi Autonomous County, Lijiang, Yunnan, China

2) Blue Moon Valley (丽江蓝月谷)

Location: Lijiang
Altitude: 3,000m
Best time to visit: Nov – Mar

Blue Moon Valley - Yunnan Nature

Photo credit: Yunnan Exploration

Located near the base of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is Blue Moon Valley, also known as White Water River. Fun fact: the valley got the name from its unique crescent shape!

The valley has a famous legend — when two Naxi youngsters fall in love, the boy must prove his commitment by standing barefoot in the freezing river during winter. The holy snow mountain will then bless their love to be everlasting! Ladies, time to bring yo man here.

Entrance fee: Included in Jade Dragon Snow Mountain entrance fee (130RMB)
Opening hours:
9:30AM – 4PM
Yulong Naxi Autonomous County, Lijiang, Yunnan, China


3) Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡)

Location: Between Lijiang and Shangri-la
Altitude: 2,700m
Best time to visit: May, Oct, Nov

Situated between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain is the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world. The famous Upper Trail hike starts at Qiaotau bridge (1,900m elevation) and stretches for 26km.

Tiger Leaping Gorge (28 bends) - Yunnan Nature

Most people tackle the trail over two or three days; we chose the former. The steepest part of the trail is the infamous “28 bends” where you’ll ascend 453m over 2.5km. As travellers with average (read: questionable) fitness, we felt the first part of the hike was way worse.

Tiger Leaping Gorge (Upper Trekking Route) - Yunnan Nature

On the second day, we woke up bright and early to catch the sunrise before embarking on the final stretch of our hike. The rest of the trail was pretty manageable, with the majority of it being flat.

Tiger Leaping Gorge (Waterfall) - Yunnan China

The views throughout the two days were truly breathtaking. It felt like we were on a quest to find Aslan in Narnia. Verdict: 10/10 would recommend! This hike was the highlight of our Yunnan adventure.

Entrance fee: 45RMB (22.5RMB for students under 24)
Opening hours:
Address: Hutiaoxia Town, Shangri-La County 674402, Yunnan, China
How to get there:
A bus ride from Lijiang Ancient Town costs 50RMB per pax and took 1.5hrs. Ask your hostel owner to help arrange transport!

Read also: 12D Yunnan Itinerary: China’s Best Kept Secrets — Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-la

4) Black Dragon Pool Park (黑龙潭)

Location: Lijiang
Altitude: 2,400m
Best time to visit: May – Nov

Black Dragon Pool Park - Yunnan Nature

Famous for its crystal clear waters and as a viewing spot for the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Black Dragon Pool Park is up there on Lijiang’s list of iconic landmarks.

The story behind its name? Legend says there were 10 dragons wreaking havoc in the city. An immortal captured nine of them, ordering the remaining dragon to protect the local people in exchange for its freedom. This last dragon is said to still be living in Black Dragon Pool Park, watching over the people of Lijiang.

If you’re looking to get some exercise in, opt for the trail up Elephant Hill within the pool park. The trail involves 300m of elevation and takes about an hour!

Entrance fee: 50RMB
Opening hours:
7AM – 9:30PM
1 Minzhu Rd, Gucheng, Lijiang, Yunnan, China

5) Lugu Lake (泸沽湖)

Location: 200km from Lijiang
Altitude: 2,690m
Best time to visit: Mar – Oct

Lugu Lake - Things to do in China

Photo credit: China Discovery

Lugu Lake is an alpine lake located at the base of the Hengduan Mountain System. It’s home to several ethnic minority groups, the largest proportion being the Mosuo people.

Photo credit: China Discovery

The area is known as “The Kingdom of Women” as the Mosuo women are typically the head of the household. Here you can try different activities like canoeing, cycling or visiting a local Mosuo home!

Entrance fee: 80RMB
Opening hours:
Yongning Town, Ninglang County, Lijiang 674300, China

6) Balagezong Scenic Area (巴拉格宗风景区)

Location: 50km northwest of Shangri-la
Altitude: Average elevation of 3545m
Best time to visit: All year round

Balagezong Scenic Area (Glass Walkway) - Yunnan China

A 1.5hr drive from Shangri-la takes you to the Balagezong Scenic Area, an amazing display of natural landscapes. Think canyons, rivers and snow-capped mountains!

Balagezong Scenic Area (Tongtian Canyon) - Things to do in China

Two must-sees include the Balagezong Snow Mountain and Balagezong Grand Canyon. At 5,545m, the mountain is the tallest in Shangri-La and is considered sacred amongst Tibetans.

Balagezong Scenic Area (Rafting) - Yunnan China

If you want to do more than just hiking, zip-lining (120RMB), a glass walkway (1RMB) and river rafting (120RMB) are some of the activities available here!

Cost: 290RMB for a tour (incl. round trip transport, transport within the scenic area and entrance fees)
Opening hours: 8AM – 5PM
How to get there: Daily shuttle buses from Shangri-La’s Dukezong Ancient Town depart at 9AM and leave Balagezong around 4PM. Ask your hostel staff to help you book a tour.

7) Napa Lake Grasslands (纳帕海)

Location: 8km from Shangri-la
Altitude: 3,270m
Best time to visit: Jun – Nov

Horses by the Lake - Things to do in China

Photo credit:

Napa Lake translates to “the lake beside the forest”, which pretty much sums up what this place is. The lake is seasonal — during the summer, snow from the mountains melts into the lake which becomes a huge grassland during the dry season. You’ll find horses, ducks and other animals roaming the area!

Napa Lake Road Trip - Yunnan Nature

The entire area is massive (660sqkm to be exact!), and difficult to cover without a car so it’s best to hire one when you visit.

Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours: 24hrs
Address: Shangri-la County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, China

8) Dongchuan Red Land (东川红土地)

Location: 250km from Kunming city centre
Altitude: 2,600m
Best time to visit: May – Jun, Sep – Nov

Dongchuan Red Land (250km from Kunming) - Yunnan Nature

Photo credit: Wonders of Yunnan

Dongchuan Red Land was given the nickname “God’s Magic Palette”, and it’s no surprise why. A photographer’s dream, the vast mountains are painted in vibrant autumn colours.

Dongchuan Red Land (Gods Magic Palette) - Things to do in China

Photo credit: Yunnan Adventure

How does this occur? The soil’s rich red colour comes from the high iron content caused by Dongchuan’s climate. The scenery looks different throughout the year, depending on the farming seasons.

Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours:
Huashitou Country, Xinxiang Town, Dongchuan District, Kunming, Yunnan, China

*Pro-tip: The journey takes 4 to 5 hours from Kunming city centre so it’s best to hire a car!

9) Yuanyang Rice Terrace (元阳梯田)

Location: Honghe, 308km from Kunming
Altitude: 2,000m
Best time to visit: Nov – April

Yuanyang Rice Terraces Ailao Mountain - Yunnan Nature

Photo credit: China Discovery

The Yuanyang Rice Terraces is like a real-life Van Gogh painting — truly a work of art. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, this amazing complex of rice terraces have been developed by the local Hani people over 1,300 years.

Bada Rice Terraces Best Spot for Sunset - Things to do in China

Photo credit: China Discovery

*Pro-tip: Head to the Duoyishu Scenic Spot for the best vantage point to capture the sunrise, and Bada Scenic Area for the sunset!

Entrance fee: 100RMB
Opening hours:
Yuanyang County, Honghe Hani Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, China

10) Nine Dragons Waterfall (九龙瀑布)

Location: 225km from Kunming
Altitude: 1,873m
Best time to visit: Feb – Apr

Nine Dragons Waterfall - Yunnan Nature

Photo credit: Yunnan Adventure

The Nine Dragons Waterfall is one of China’s most famous waterfalls and reminds me of Croatia’s Plitvice National Park. The area is made of 10 waterfalls, with the tallest being 56m high and 110m wide. Clear pools at the base of the waterfalls help to create a picture-perfect backdrop.

Entrance fee: 70RMB
Opening hours:
8:30AM – 5:30PM
Jiulong Waterfall, Luoping, Qujing, China

11) Stone Forest (石林)

Location: 78km from Kunming
Altitude: Highest peak is Bushao Hill at 1,797m
Best time to visit: Mar – Oct

Kunming Stone Forest (Famous Shilin Rock) - Things to do in China

Known amongst locals as the “first wonder of the world”, the Stone Forest is home to China’s largest collection of limestone karst formations. The towering boulders create a fairytale-like maze that’s out of this world.

Kunming Stone Forest (Selfie from Pavilion) - Yunnan Nature

During the annual Torch Festival, the Sani people come together and celebrate with song, dance, bullfighting and other cool traditions.

Entrance fee: 130RMB (65RMB for students under 24)
Opening hours:
7:30AM – 5:30PM
Shilin Town, Shilin County 650000, China

Read also: 15 Things to Do in Kunming — Unexplored Gems in China

12) Jiuxiang Scenic Area (九乡风景区)

Location: 90km from Kunming
Altitude: 1,900m
Best time to visit: All year round

Jiuxiang Scenic Area Valley - Yunnan Nature

A 15-minute drive from the Stone Forest is the Jiuxiang Scenic Area. Known as the “Museum of Karst Caves”, it’s the largest karst cave complex in China. Jackie Chan filmed a movie here, which automatically makes it cool.

Jiuxiang Scenic Area Karst Caves - Things to do in China

Fellow geography geeks, get ready to be blown away. Here you’ll find impressive stalagmites, waterfalls and underground caves that’ll make you feel like you’ve been transported to some sort of subterranean fantasyland.

Entrance fee: 90RMB, extra 30RMB for chairlift
Opening hours:
8AM – 6PM
Kunming, Yiliang, Fenglao Section, Yunnan, China

13) Meili Snow Mountain (梅里雪山)

Location: Diqing, 200km from Shangri-la
Altitude: 6,740m
Best time to visit: Jan – May, Sep – Nov

Meili Snow Mountain Highest Peak in Yunnan - Yunnan Nature

Photo credit: Yunnan Exploration

Meili Snow Mountain is a sacred place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists. This mountain has 13 peaks and its main peak, Kawagebo, is the highest point in Yunnan at 6,740m. No one has yet to summit the mountain due to its rough terrain (we’re not saying you should try).

Meili Snow Mountain Highest Peak in Yunnan Province - Things to do in China

Photo credit: Top China Travel

There are plenty of hiking routes in the area ranging from two to six days long, where you’ll get to see landmarks like Glacier Lake and Mekong River.

Entrance fee: 150RMB
Opening hours:
8AM – 4:30PM
Deqin County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, China

Nature’s Best Just 4 Hours from Singapore

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (ATV Riding) - Things to do in China

Yunnan truly is beautiful. When I showed friends pictures from our recent trip, they were shocked to learn they were taken in China.

Tiger Leaping Gorge Upper Hiking Trail - Yunnan Nature

From crystal-clear emerald lakes to magnificent gorges and snow-capped mountains, this province is definitely worth exploring. Conclusion: You don’t actually have to fly 13 hours to Europe just to get your fill of mother nature. Check out our 12-day Yunnan itinerary for more info!

If you’re looking to explore other parts of China, read our 2-Week China Itinerary — Rail Adventure Across Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou.

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Which hike in our Yunnan nature bucket list are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments section below!

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  1. Thank you for the comprehensive list! may I know which part of the tiger leaping gorge hike has better views? Thinking of skipping 1st part and start the hike at teahorse quest house towards Tina’s Guest House instead. Thank you for your advise!


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