Where are good places off the beaten-path to go hiking in China?
Getting off the beaten-path in China at first glance seems impossible. After all, the environments that most Chinese will recommend you go to like Huangshan or Taishan or any of the well known places will in the end just be a bunch of paved concrete steps with five star hotels along the way. Plus you’ll still have to battle your way through the 人海!
But don’t forget that China is BIG. Real big. And just like many places in the US, the most beautiful and authentic places will often be those that very little Chinese people know about or have gone to themselves!
So, if you want to get off the beaten-path and go hiking or backpacking in China, you’ll first have to throw Google out the window. Google search will allow you to find some beautiful places, but it won’t let you find the most beautiful and natural places that only the serious Chinese hikers visit. So, yes, you’ll need to have a grasp of at lest intermediate Chinese and instead use Baidu.com, China’s Google equivalent. 百度一下.
Doing some of my own trips around China, my favorite so far being Hebei’s 小五台山 (the highest peak in Hebei in which both times I’ve gone I’ve spent days without seeing or hearing other people!) I’ve stumbled across some GREAT websites that will get you started on planning some amazing and truly authentic China hiking experiences:
My favorite being likefar.com, these websites are full of trip summaries from previous backpackers’ experiences in some of the most remote and beautiful places in China, complete with estimated cost, things to bring, route maps, driver numbers, etc.
For example, here’s likefar’s route plan of 小五台山, the mountain I mentioned before: http://www.likefar.com/route/5690/
If you’re in the Beijing area, here are some hikes that are also off the beaten path: http://www.likefar.com/route/6278/ and http://www.likefar.com/route/7694/
If you want a truly authentic China experience and to get away from both the crowds of Chinese and foreign tourists, you will have to have an already good grasp of the language. Reading Chinese hiking websites is hard, you’ll stumble across a ton of vocab that are not in your textbooks, but installing a Chinese pop-up dictionary like “Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary” in Google Chrome helps a lot! China is also generally a really safe place in my experience, and as long as you are careful and optimistic, the worst thing that will happen is that you’ll come back with some really interesting stories!
Most importantly, don’t stop exploring!
You can read more about where I’ve been going and see some pictures of 小五台山 on my website here: http://www.kyleobermannphoto.com/blog/
Wow, Kyle Obermann’s post is absolutely incredible, and something I will be using when I return to China. My experience was pretty similar to Kyle’s, in that I tried to skip some of the most well known hiking areas.
Staying in Shanghai, I decided to try and go as far as possible on a 5 day weekend, which ended up being in Jiangxi, specifically Wuyuan county, 婺源县. There are some tourist traps even in this area, but an adventurous French backpacker had been to some of the better routes and posted it on the internet. The route starts in a small village, and ends in another, with the second named Guankeng (forgot the hanzi, sorry). Unfortunately I lost the website, but with a little googling it could probably be found. Those instructions are more detailed, but just broad enough to allow people to get a little lost.
A level of intermediate Chinese is definitely needed on little excursions like this, but any of the children in the towns you pass through will be more than happy to show off their English :).
That is the picture of Guankeng, which I had been hiking for a couple hours to get to at that point. It was my first true experience backpacking anywhere, and I cannot wait to do it again. The next stop might be 小五台山 thanks to Kyle!