Yugu Snow Mountain, Gansu Province
Views from up on the Yugu Snow Mountain.

Yugu Snow Mountain, Zhangye Danxia Landform, and Jiayuguan (7 days)

Hike at high altitude at the Yugu Snow Mountain; see the fantastically-coloured mountains and cliffs of the Zhangye Danxia Landform; visit Horse Hoofprint Temple, Jiayuguan Fortress, and more.

Level 3
Reasonably easy hiking but at high altitude. (Can I do it?)

This trip is not currently scheduled

Contact us for schedule updates or set up a private trip

Trip overview
Day One main activities Meet up in Jiayuguan for lunch, tour of the Jiayuguan Fortress, drive to Sunan, dinner and overnight in a hotel.
Day Two main activities Drive up to the higher basecamp (4,000m elevation), a hike before lunch and a hike after lunch. Back to the hotel in Sunan, or camping on the mountain if that’s possible.
Day Three main activities Hiking in the Yugu Gorge and valleys, drive to Zhangye. Overnight in Zhangye
Day Four main activities Hiking in Danxia Landform, visit Zhangye’s Giant Buddha Temple; overnight in Zhangye.
Day Five main activities Hiking in Binggou Rock area, hiking in White Stone Valley area, overnight in Zhangye.
Day Six main activities Visit Horse Hoof Temple, hike in the hills behind the temple, private bus to Jiayuguan, overnight in Jiayuguan.
Day Seven main activities Visit First Beacon Tower of Ming Dynasty Great Wall and Xuanbi “Overhanging” Great Wall, trip finishes mid-afternoon.

Highlights

Yugu Snow Mountain

Yugu Snow Mountain, Gansu Province photo #2
Views down to the plains far below.

A newly-opened scenic area on the mountain has high and low basecamps and hiking tracks that show superb snowy scenery—a glacier at 4,000m above sea level, long views down valleys to flat plains far below, and alpine meadows.

We’ll stay in a hotel in the nearest town, and visit the mountain for two days of walks: one day up at high altitude, and one day in the canyons and valleys in the foothills. (If you’re feeling good with the altitude, and the weather permits, we might be able to organise a night in a tent for you at one of the basecamps.)

Zhangye Danxia Landform

The coloured hills of the Zhangye Danxia Landform
A road cuts through the coloured hills of the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geopark. (Click for larger image)

China boasts many different kinds of unique and beautiful landscapes, from towering limestone karst mountains to expansive grasslands that reach as far as the eye can see. Formed from red sandstone beds by combination of erosion and uplift, the Danxia Landforms are also spectacular sights. Some Danxia Landforms have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

By arrangement with the operators of the Zhangye Danxia Geopark we will visit a beautiful area in the middle of the landform, far away from any crowds. Regular tourist groups don’t go here because it increases their cost, and it’s not an option for solo travellers because of requirements for group size and early booking. It’s worth it, though—the area reminds us of how the landform was naturally before it was developed for mass tourism, a stunning sight.

Danxia landforms are sandstone formations, known for being very dramatic and colorful. The landform near Zhangye City has colourful and magnificent cliffs in a hilly and mountainous land. Danxia refers to isolated peaks, steep pillars, ravines, mountains and hills that have formed after a long period of erosion by wind and running water. Unlike limestone karst, Danxia landforms are composed of red sandstone, which gives them their characteristic crimson colouration. Several Danxia Landforms are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites because of their profound natural and aesthetic value. The area we’re visiting boasts majestic, multi-coloured slopes that give you the sensation of walking into a painting.

The Zhangye Danxia Landform is characterized by magnificently multi-coloured sandstone hills and mountains that ripple away towards the horizon. The area we’ll be visiting was used as the backdrop for the Zhang Yimou film, “A Woman, A Gun, and A Noodleshop.”

Temples and Buddhist sites near Zhangye

The cliffside chambers of Horse Hoof Temple, near Zhangye, Gansu
The cliffside chambers of Horse Hoof Temple, near Zhangye, Gansu. (Click for larger image)

The Silk Road passed through Zhangye, bringing many travellers, but nowadays many choose to head straight to Jiayuguan. While in Zhangye, we’ll visit the Giant Buddha Temple, and the Horse-Hoof Temple and Caves.

Horse Hoof Temple and Caves

The site of the Horse Hoof Temple has been in use since at least the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420 AD), and the snowy Qilian Mountain range makes a beautiful backdrop. It’s best known for its Hanging Temple and grottoes, and is a little similar to the famous Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, although less-visited. Some caves and relics were damaged by treasure-hunters, and damage was also done during the Cultural Revolution.

We'll explore the caves and temples before heading out for a hike in the high-altitude meadows in the nearby mountains.

Giant Buddha Temple

Built in 1098 AD, and extended and renovated during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Zhangye’s Giant Buddha Temple houses the largest indoor reclining Buddha in China—nearly 35 metres from head to toe. The reclining pose signifies entry into nirvana. We’ll also see a variety of architectural styles in the temple, with the Ming and Qing Dynasties represented, amongst others.

The temple was built here after the Emperor of the time’s tutor in Buddhism followed the sound of heavenly music and found buried an ancient statue of Buddha, reclining in the same nirvana pose of the Buddha we’ll see in the temple.

Han Dynasty and Ming Dynasty relics near Jiayuguan

The fortress at Jiayuguan, seen from the outside
The fortress at Jiayuguan, seen from the outside. (Click for larger image)

Some of the earliest Great Wall was built during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), including a line of rammed earth ramparts that stretched out into the desert. It’s said that these fortifications, and the soldiers stationed on them to repel attacks from nomadic tribes and bandits, played a large role in making the Silk Road safer for travelers and increasing the volume of trade along the way.

The Fortress at Jiayuguan

Jiayuguan Fortress is known as the westernmost end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, and was one of the most important fortifications of its time, guarding the western entrance to China from the Hexi Corridor. The fortress has three defense lines – a moat, an outer city wall, and an inner city wall. There are gates on the east and west side. The fortress looks spectacular, with Great Wall climbing from it to the mountains in the north and south, and multi-storey towers and halls inside the walls and moat. We’ll visit the fortress on the first day of the trip.

In ancient times, banishment was a common form of punishment. If you were banished ‘to the West’, it's out through the west gate of the Jiayuguan Fortress that you'd pass.

Although the fortress at Jiayuguan marked the western end of the main line of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) Great Wall, more watch towers were built further to the west. Near a deep canyon, we’ll find ‘The First Beacon Tower’, built to give early warning, via smoke signal, of approaching attackers.

Getting to Jiayuguan and back home again

You’ll meet your guides at the airport in Jiayuguan around midday on the first day of the trip.

The itinerary will finish in Jiayuguan at approximately 2:30pm on the last day of the trip, and we’re aiming to have you at the Jiayuguan airport by 3pm.

Please don’t purchase your flights until we are able to confirm the departure of the trip.

Related content

More Explore China trips

See all the trips  In the calendar / in a list