To hike Tiger Leaping Gorge, you’ll need to be fit, carrying full weatherproof gear, a torch and a first-aid pack, and to be stocked up with snacks and a water bottle. Solid boots are a plus but, as long as your shoes have a firm grip, not essential. Weather can be warm enough in summer to hike in a T-shirt, but don’t count on it; winters are cold. Accommodation along the way is in guesthouses, so you won’t need a tent. Two days is the minimum time needed for a hike; give yourself an extra day to make the most of the scenery.
Originally there were two trails through the gorge, but the former Lower Path has been surfaced to handle tour buses, and isn’t suitable for hiking anymore – though it’s useful if you’re looking for a quick ride out at the end of your trek. The remaining Upper Path is the route described below. End points are at westerly Qiaotou, on the Lijiang to Shangri-La road, and easterly Daju, a small township on a back route to Lijiang. Most people hike from Qiaotou to the midpoint around Walnut Garden – which covers the best of the scenery – and then catch transport back to Qiaotou and thence on to Lijiang or Shangri-La; the advantage here is that you can leave heavy bags at Qiaotou. Alternatively, you can continue on from Walnut Garden to Daju, or – with a guide – north to Baishui Tai. Before you arrive, try to pick up the home-made maps that float around cafés in Lijiang and Shangri-La.
There seem to be almost continual roadworks going on in the gorge, connected with ongoing construction of a hydro dam across the river and regular seasonal landslides, a potentially lethal hazard; do not hike in bad weather or during the June–September rainy season. There have been a couple of knifepoint muggings of solo travellers in past years, so try not to walk alone. For current information, check www.tigerleapinggorge.com, maintained by Sean’s Guesthouse in Walnut Garden.