Why Visit the Yellow Mountains in China: Yellow Mountains Travel Guide

Of all the notable mountains in China, the Yellow Mountain (also called Huangshan) is probably the most famous and it is deeply rooted in Chinese folklore and history. The Yellow Mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of China’s major tourist destinations. It is located in the south of Anhui Province and it is believed by many Chinese to be the most beautiful mountain in the Middle Kingdom.

Why the Yellow Mountains are so popular: history and legends

The Chinese name of the Yellow Mountain(s) is Huangshan (黄山). “Huang” (黄) is the Chinese pronunciation of “yellow” and “shan” (山) means “mountain”. Originally the mountain was called Mt. Yishan but in 747 AD it was renamed Huangshan (the Yellow Mountain(s)) in honor of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di). The Yellow Emperor is a legendary figure in Chinese history. It is believed that he is the first Chinese ruler who united the tribes of the Yellow River and the common ancestor of all Chinese people.

According to the legends the Yellow Emperor made magic pills for immortality here. Another popular legend states that Huangshan was the place where the Yellow Emperor found enlightenment and ascended to Heaven. Since the mountain was officially renamed in the 6th century it gradually gained popularity and started to get mentioned in more and more poems and artworks. Many temples were built in the area.

The Yellow Mountain is also known for its stone steps, carved into the side of the mountain. According to Wikipedia, there may be more than 60,000 steps throughout the area. The date at which work on the steps began is unknown, but some may be more than 1,500 years old.

What to see in The Yellow Mountains?

Today the Yellow Mountain is popular for its beauty and its “four wonders”: its odd-shaped pines, grotesque rock formations, mystical seas of clouds, and its crystal-clear hot springs. 

The pine trees

pine tree yellow mountains
The West Sea Grand Canyon in Huangshan

The Yellow Mountains are famous and well known for its beautiful pine trees. They are a variation of the Chinese Pine, but the pines in Yellow mountains are somehow unique due to the special topography and climate in the mountain. These pines grow in areas that are 800 meters above sea level and on very steep slopes.

The Greeting Guest Pine is undoubtedly the most famous tree in China and the one must-see pine tree the Yellow Mountains. It’s depicted in many traditional Chinese paintings and poems. It is 10-meter (33 ft) high and similar to many famous rock formations, it’s named by its shape and appearance. Apparently, according to many people (and official tourist information), this tree looks like a man standing by the path and stretching out his hand to guests in a greeting gesture…hm…

The pines in Huangshan are green all year round.

The oddly-shaped rocks and their stories

Stone Monkey Watching over the Sea

If this is your first mountain trip in China, you may be surprised to see that many of the rocks in the Yellow Mountains get their names from their appearance but also from different legends related to them. Each famous rock formation in the mountain has a name, a story, and a tourist plate to go with it. This creates a rich backstory about the mountain and shows, once again, that the Yellow Mountain is deeply rooted in Chinese history and legends.

In fact, the tradition of naming rocks and rock formations according to their appearance is not particular only to Huangshan: it is a common practice in most Chinese mountains where I’ve travelled.

The Cloud seas (Seas of Cloud)

There are hundreds of peaks, thousands of ravines, and five seas of cloud in the Yellow Mountains.

The “seas of clouds” are mountain areas, where during some cloudy days, tourists can observe a beautiful natural phenomenon: when the sky is very cloudy some higher peaks are above the clouds and look like islands in the sky. The best time to appreciate this phenomenon is from November to May, especially after rainy days, at sunrise or sunset.

You can read more about the five seas of clouds here.

The hot springs

At the foot of the mountain, there are several hot springs. It is believed that this is where the Yellow Emperor was bathing to become younger. So, today they are known for their healing reputation.

Huangshan’s most popRoutes and Tips

Celestial Capital Peak (1,800m/5,900ft), Lotus Peak (1,873m/6,145ft), and Bright Top (1,841m/6,040ft) are the three tallest peaks, and best locations to see the stunning seas of cloud.

Huangshan Hiking Routes and Tips

There are three very popular hiking routes in Huangshan Mountain – the Western Steps Route, Eastern Steps Route and West Sea Grand Canyon Route. They are all connected to each other but only the Western and Eastern Routes are used to climb your way up to the mountain top. Another, more unpopular road is the to climb up to the top of the mountain is the Northern Road. If you want to avoid the crowds, the Northern Road is probably the best option.

All these routes meet in the mountaintop hotel area. The central location of the mountain is called Bright Top. It’s also the second highest peak on the mountain (1860 m).

Most hiking trips would start from Western or Eastern Steps Routes.

In addition to the many hiking routes, Huashang has multiple cable cars:

  • Yuping Cableway
  • Yungu Cableway
  • Taiping Telpher
  • Grand Canyon monorail (funicular)

The Western Steps Route: from the Yuping Cableway

This route is 15 km long and it takes 8-9 hours. To take it you need to access the mountain from the South Gate and take the mountain shuttle bus to Yuping cable car station.

The route starts from Mercy Light Pavilion (慈光阁) and goes up to Bright Top (光明顶). But you can save about 8 kilomiters of hiking if you take the cable car from Mercy Light Pavilion to Jade Screen Pavilion (玉屏楼).

This is a very popular road because you will pass by some of the most famous sites in Huashang: the Greeting-guests Pine (迎客松)Celestial Capital Peak (天都峰)Lotus Peak(莲花峰) and The Bright Top (1860 m).

Lotus Peak

The Eastern Steps Route: from the Yungu Cableway

The Eastern route is also reachable from the South Gate of the mountain, you’ll need to take the shuttle bus to Yungu cable car.

This hiking route is around 14 km long and it takes about 7 hours.

The route starts from Yungu Temple (云谷寺) and goes all the way up to White Goose Ridge(白鹅岭). From the White Goose Ridge the road separates in two, but you should continue hiking up to Beihai Hotel: this is another central location and a tourist centre on the mountain top. Here you can find different shops for food and other supplies.

From Beihai hotel you can take another short hiking route that will take you to Lion Peak(狮子峰) and to the Stone Monkey Watching over the Sea (猴子观海). This is a very beautiful site and a great place to see Clouds Sea and a popular spot to watch the sunrise. Some photos below.

On this road there is also a cableway (the Yungu Cable car) that can save you almost the entire hike: you can take it from hours of hiking.

The Northern Route: from the Taiping Telpher

The Northern Road is accessible from the North gate of Huangshan Scenic. This hiking route starts from the first station of the Taiping Telpher called Pine Valley Nunnery (Songgu Nunnery) and goes all the way up to Beihai Hotel. This is the most unpopular and least crowded way to hike up to the top.

The reason why this road is more unpopular is that the North gate of The Yellow mountain is further away from Huangshan city so you need to drive further to go there and start the hike. At the same time, there are few “famous” rocks and trees to see on the way :D. As you can see on the map above, there are no points of interest marked on it.

Fun fact: Taiping Telpher is Asia’s longest telpher. It is 3,709 m long and can take up to 100 passengers. It runs from Songgu An Nunnery (at the foot of the mountain) all the way up to the West Sea Grand Canyon. This is more than 1,000 m of elevation.

The West Sea Grand Canyon Route

The West Sea Grand Canyon is also called Xihai Grand Canyon (西海大峡谷). This is the must-see spot in Huangshan and the highlight of all hiking trips in the mountain. This route is not very long and it takes less than half-day hiking (about 2.5-3 hours).

It is a circle that starts from Dispelling Cloud Pavilion(排云亭), goes through the 1st Ring(一环) and the 2nd Ring(二环), and returns to Dispelling Cloud Pavilion.

This route is not very steep and it’s entirely paved in small stairs and It feels more like taking a walk on the top of the mountain than hiking a mountain. The scenery is very beautiful and majestic. This was probably my favourite route in terms of views and viewing spots.

For those who don’t want to hike, there is a small tram (a.k.a monorail or funicular) that runs from the bottom of West Sea Grand Canyon directly to upper cableway station of the near Baiyun Hotel. It will cost 100 RMB, but I really won’t recommend it, because the Grand Canyon Route is already quite easy and not that long to hike.

How do you plan your hiking trip in Huashang?

Decide how many days you’ll stay

If you have only one day to visit you won’t be able to do all the hiking routes and you’ll definitely need to use the cable cars to make your way up or down the mountain. You won’t be able to see the sunrise.

During a two-day visit, you’ll be able to see most of the famous sites. If you stay overnight in one of the mountaintop hotels you’ll be able to see the sunset and the sun sire in the Yellow mountains.

During a three-day visit, you’ll be able to do all the hiking routes on your own pace and without using the cable cars, if you don’t want to.

Book a hotel on the mountain top

During the summer and official holidays, the mountain gets very busy. Even though you have several hotels on the mountain top to choose from, it’s wiser to first check the availabilities and book your room in advance.

Choose your itinerary based on your hotel location

Once you’ve chosen your hotel, you can tailor-make your itinerary around your hotel location, which will become your starting point for your hikes.

Avoid the crowds

It’s impossible to avoid crowds of tourists in Huashang: after all this is the most popular mountain in China and one of the top 5 tourist destinations in the country.

But there are a few areas that are always very packed and you should have that in mind when planning your trip. These are mainly

  • The Lotus peak and the path from Yuping Cable car station to the peak
  • The Lion peak area
  • The Bright top (especially on sunrise and sunset)
  • The areas around Beihai Hotel and Baiyun Hotel

How much does it cost to visit Huashang?

As of 2020, a two-day hiking trip in the Yellow Mountain would cost you around 2500-3000 RMB. But if you are not staying at a hotel on the mountain top, your budget can be at least 1200 RMB lower. Hotels and train tickets will be your highest expenses.

The high-speed train ticket from Shanghai to Huangshan city costs around 300 RMB. The round trip would be around 600 RMB (second class seat).

The entry ticket to Huashang is 230 RMB in high season or 150 RMB in low season December and January.

The shuttle buses that connect the main gates of the Huashang scenic area to the cable car stations cost around 15-19 RMB in each direction.

The cable car tickets from the foot of the mountain to the top cost between 80 to 100 RMB in each direction and depending on the station you get off. In case you only have one day to visit, you may need to take the cable car at least once.

The funicular from the bottom station of the Grand Canyon to the Baiyun Hotel is 100 RMB.

A double room in a mountaintop hotel would cost around 1100 – 1300 RMB for a double room, in high season. It doesn’t really matter which hotel you’ll book. According to my research, most of them have similar prices. I stayed in Shilin Hotel and the double room was 1400 RMB per night.

On the other hand, the hotels that are at the foot of the mountain and outside the scenic area are much cheaper: from 300 RMB per night. However, you won’t be able to see the sunrise and do all the hiking paths, if you’re not staying in the mountain overnight.

When is the best time to visit the Yellow Mountains?

The best time to visit HuangShan is from March to October. It is possible to visit in the winter months as well, but Lotus Peak and West Sea Grand Canyon are closed from December to March. it often drizzles a lot in March in this mountain, so it’s hard to see the sunrise and the sea of clouds is also not as beautiful as that from Dec. to Feb.

You should avoid visiting during Chinese official holidays and especially during the National Day Golden Week (from October 1 to October 8). I visited HuangShan during the School summer holidays (in July) and some areas of the mountain were also busy.

Avoid visiting the mountain on rainy days, because besides getting wet you won’t be able to enjoy the view in Xihai Grand Canyon.

If you want to avoid the crowds and still enjoy good weather, the best time to visit would be from April to June.

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