Dunhuang and Mogao Grottoes, Gansu Province

Explore the Silk Road sights around Dunhuang, including the amazing Mogao Grottoes and Crescent Lake.

This trip is not currently scheduled

Contact us for schedule updates or set up a private trip

The exterior of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang
The exterior of the Mogao Caves.

Dunhuang, Gansu Province

Dunhuang was a key stop on the northern Silk Road, allowing travelers to stock up on food and water before heading on through the desert. It’s said that a fort was built in Dunhuang around 100 B.C., and the area holds plenty of historical interest – in particular, the Mogao Grottoes, and Crescent Lake.

Trip overview

Day One
Fly to Dunhuang; visit the Mogao Grottoes.
Day Two
Hiking in the Dunhuang National Geopark.
Day Three
Hike through the desert to Crescent Lake and Mingsha Sand Dunes.
Day Four
Visit Dunhuang’s old quarter, midday flight to Beijing.


Mogao Caves

A UNESCO site since 1987, the Mogao Grottoes were dug out by Buddhist monks, starting around 366 AD. Initially, the caves were used as a place to meditate, but, over time, they began to fill up with scriptures and painted murals. Four-hundred and ninety-two caves still remain, containing statues and murals. We’ll visit around 10 of the caves to have a look at the frescoes and statues. The area is a little touristy, but well worth a look. Photography is forbidden inside the caves, but you can get a good look by bringing a torch.

The Mogao Grottoes are one of the main highlights of the trip—consider the amount of work required in construction, and then the fact that they were preserved in mostly pristine condition by being buried by blowing sand, and forgotten about for nearly 400 years.

Crescent Lake, Mingsha Sand Dunes

The other two main sites of interest in Dunhuang are located in the same area. Crescent Lake is a crescent-shaped lake of clear water that has somehow managed to avoid being filled in by the shifting sands of the desert. A temple is located next to it, as well as the Mingsha Sand Dunes. The dunes are known as the Echoing Sand Dunes because of the strange sounds made by wind – and feet! – over the sand. The dunes are around 250m in height, from top to bottom. After climbing up, it’s super-fun to run down!

Hikers sitting on a high up sand dune

Hike through the desert dunes to reach Crescent Lake. See a bigger photo »

Hiking in Dunhuang

On this trip we'll be doing two good hikes: nearly a full day in the Dunhuang National Geopark, and then a hike through the desert dunes to reach Crescent Lake.

Hike in the Dunhuang National Geopark: details to be confirmed.

Hike through the desert: On our scale it’s probably a Level 3+ hike, but hot weather will make it feel more difficult. There are some big sand dunes to climb up, and with the sand it’s 2 steps up, 1 step back. We’ll walk through a small village just before we get to the big dunes.

Hiking over gives us some quiet time in the dunes before we run into all the tourists – and camels! – at the popular Crescent Lake.


In August, the temperature averages around 31°C during the day, but can get up as high as 40°C in extreme circumstances. Night time temperatures average around 15°C. Rain is unlikely at this time of year.


We will be staying in a 4-star hotel in Dunhuang.

You’ll be sharing a room at the hotel with another hiker. If you'd like a room to yourself for the whole trip, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 1,000 RMB, if a room is available—usually not a problem!

Further details about room shares and single supplement can be found in the documents we send you as part of the registration.

Flights and transport

We fly to and from Dunhuang for this trip. Transportation between the various scenic locations will be by private bus.

Frequent flyers: Please let us know if you would like to use your frequent flyer miles or if you are a frequent flyer member. If you would like to organise your own flights, we can provide further details.


We will take most of our meals at restaurants in the areas we visit, or at the hotels or guesthouse. On one of the days we include a picnic lunch for you. Bring some spending money for snacks during the trip. Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.

Things to bring

  • Passport/ID card
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Thermal underwear and other warm clothing (it could get cold!)
  • Gloves
  • Hat
  • Thick socks
  • Hiking boots
  • A day pack to take on outings, suitcases or bigger bags can be left at the hotel
  • Camera and charger, batteries
  • Suncream
  • Torch or headlamp
  • Mobile phone, charger

Full itinerary

  1. Day One
    06:30 – Meet at the Beijing Capital Airport for the flight (exact time TBC)
    11:30 – Arrive at Dunhuang, transfer to hotel by private bus
    12:30 – Check in at hotel
    13:00 – Lunch at hotel
    15:00 – Tour of Mogao Caves
    17:30 – Walk about Dunhuang town
    18:30 – Dinner
    19:30 – Back to hotel

  2. Day Two
    08:00 – Breakfast at hotel
    08:30 – Drive out to the Dunhuang National Geopark (approx. 3 hour drive)
    11:30 – Hiking
    13:30 – Picnic in Dunhuang National Geopark
    14:00 – More hiking
    16:00 – Finish the hike, drive back to Dunhuang
    19:00 – Dinner at the hotel, bed time

  3. Day Three
    09:00 – Breakfast at the hotel
    09:30 – Drive to the start of the desert hike over to Crescent Lake
    10:00 – Transfer to motorbikes to get further into the desert
    11:00 – Hiking in the desert
    13:30 – Reach the top of the dunes behind Crescent Lake
    14:00 – Walk back to the hotel from Crescent Lake (approx. 20 minutes)
    14:30 – Lunch at hotel
    15:30 – Free time
    20:30 – Dinner at hotel

  4. Day Four
    08:00 – Breakfast at hotel, check out
    08:30 – Drive to Dunhuang’s old quarter
    09:00 – Walk about the old quarter
    10:00 – Drive to airport
    10:30 – Flight check-in
    12:00 – Take off for Beijing
    16:00 – Land in Beijing