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Hiking in Dali, Yunnan: Cangshan Mountain
With its summit ridge shrouded in cloud, Cangshan Mountain towers over the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple on the edge of Dali Old Town.
Hiking Cangshan Mountain:
Towering over Dali Old Town, Cangshan Mountain is arguably the most striking natural feature of the Dali region, alongside nearby Erhai Lake. It’s also an excellent hiking destination for people of all skill and endurance levels. Stretching for nearly 20 kilometres from north to south, Cangshan Mountain reaches an average elevation of almost 4000 metres for nearly 10 kilometres. The highest peak, Malong Feng is 4,122 metres above sea level but there are 18 other peaks over 3500 metres, including 6 above 4000 metres.
Whether exploring the many spectacular gorges at lower elevations, or hiking to the very top of the mountain and even traversing along the summit ridge, Cangshan offers amazing natural beauty and scenery. Rich in biodiversity, especially exotic flowers and birds, Cangshan also boasts dozens of gushing streams and waterfalls of crystal clear snowmelt that can be drank straight from the source.
The Cangshan range offers an abundance of easily accessible trails for all hiking enthusiasts and nature lovers. Created over centuries by local villagers searching for rare mushrooms and medical herbs, the trails are well-worn and easy to navigate but expect to see very few people, if any, during the course of your hike! We conduct our hikes exclusively on “Wild Cangshan”, which means areas of the mountain without any of the unpleasant crowds, loud speakers, entrance fees and heaps of trash that have to be endured when hiking directly behind Dali Old Town. Unlike the heavily touristed areas behind Dali Old Town, our hikes are also conducted on narrow foot paths or wider donkey trails; there are absolutely no paved walkways, cement stairs or (god forbid) cable cars!
1 Day Hikes, Cangshan Mountain, Dali, Yunnan Province
Black Dragon Pools Hike (1 Day)
A challenging but very rewarding high altitude hike that begins at the base of Cangshan Mountain at just over 2000 metres above sea level and takes you far up the mountain to a group of pristine alpine ponds located at 3750 metres (12,300 feet)! This is an 18 km hike with a total elevation gain of approximately 1700 metres (5,577 feet), so you need to be in strong physical condition. Serious hikers willing to challenge themselves will be rewarded with spectacular scenery, stunning views and a real sense of accomplishment!
From our meeting point in front of the West Gate of Dali Old Town (大理古城西门) our van takes us 9 km north to a small farming village at the foot of Cangshan Mountain called Heyang Cun (literally “Sun Crane Village”). The hike begins at the top of Heyang Village at an elevation of about 2050 metres above sea level. From our drop off point, it’s a short walk past scenic terraced fields, up into the foothills of Cangshan Mountain. Once in the hills we meander through a tea plantation overlooking Heyang Village and are afforded our first panoramic views of Erhai Lake.
Next we dip down into a little gully before arriving at the mouth of a narrow mountain gorge with a small but fast flowing river gushing out of it.
We cross the river, then start hiking straight uphill through a tranquil pine forest on the mountainside. After a short but vigorous hike, we emerge out of the forest at the edge of an overhanging cliff one hundred metres above the gorge where we are rewarded with spectacular views down to the river and up to the high reaches of the mountain.
From here the trail turns steeply upwards as it hugs the edge of the gorge. As we begin to gain in elevation rapidly, the terrain on this section of the hike is slightly demanding but we continue to be rewarded with breathtaking views deep into the gorge and back towards the lake. The trail eventually turns away from the edge of the gorge and back into the forest where we pass by the narrow opening to a deep cave that seems to suddenly appear out of nowhere. We continue to hike through dense, lush forest for another 30 minutes before arriving at a plateau at about 2,450 metres (8,038 feet). Here we take a short rest before following a well-worn donkey trail used by local villagers who hike into the hills to harvest various wild forest products, such as bamboo, mushrooms and medicinal herbs.
After hiking along the donkey trail for about 2 hours, we emerge onto a small plateau at an altitude of approximately 3100 metres (10,170 feet), which offers spectacular panoramic views of the entire Dali region. Here we rest for a while and have lunch while taking in the views.
This spot offers sweeping views of rural Dali and Erhai Lake. At 250 square kilometers and 40 kilometres in length, Erhai lake is the 9th largest freshwater lake in China. At 1,972 metres above sea-level, it’s also the 2nd largest alpine lake in the entire country.
In addition to spectacular panoramic views of the entire Dali region, this spot also offers fantastic, ever-changing views of the Cangshan mountain range in either direction.
After lunch we continue hiking up the mountain for about 2 hours, before reaching a large forested plateau at approximately 3750 metres (12,300 feet) above sea-level. After a short walk through the forest we arrive at a pond located at the base of a huge cliff face. Surrounded by wind-swept pine trees and massive rhododendron bushes, this high altitude pond is truly a place of serene natural beauty.
We take a much-deserved rest at the first pond before walking over to two other nearby ponds located at the same elevation. The setting of these lakes is absolutely stunning and the views are spectacular. It definitely isn’t easy to get here in one day, but the reward for doing so makes the effort well worth it!
The ponds at sunset:
The ponds covered in snow:
After 5-6 hours of hiking steadily uphill (and 1700 metres of elevation gain!), we relax and enjoy the tranquil alpine atmosphere for a while before beginning our decent back down the way we came. Depending on pace and conditions on the mountain (snow or no snow), it takes between 3-4 hours to make it all the way back down to Heyang village. Our driver will be waiting for us in the village to drive us back to Dali Old Town.
This hike can also be done as an overnight camping trip (insert link), which combines climbing to a 4000+ metre high summit on the mountain!
Important notice: Snow is common at elevations over 3000 metres from November through May, so please remember to dress accordingly. Proper hiking boots, a warm jacket, warm socks and walking sticks are recommended. If needed, gators can be rented for 20 RMB.
Are you planning far ahead but your favorite trip is not on our schedule at the time you’re coming to China? Are you an indepentdant traveler that wants to keep the costs as low as possible? Just let us know your favorite trip and starting date at least 6 weeks in advance and we will add your trip to our hiking agenda. As soon as we have 6 people joining the trip we are good to go!
Are you planning far ahead but your favorite trip is not on our schedule at the time you’re coming to China?
Are you an independent traveler that wants to keep the costs as low as possible?
Just let us know your favorite trip and starting date at least 6 weeks in advance and we will add your trip to our hiking agenda.
As soon as we have 6 people joining the trip we are good to go!
Private tours are great ways to travel if you have a group of friends, family or colleagues ready to explore nature together.
Also for school trips or company team building activities, a private tour is the way to go.
We have experience guiding trips with up to 60 people from international schools and companies.
Price for private tours will vary depending on the number of people, the chosen transportation and accommodation.
Let us know your desires and we will customize a trip for you.