Tengger Desert Lakes, Inner Mongolia (5 days)

Travel by foot and jeep through the desert, visit desert lakes, ride camels, camp two nights in the desert, and more.

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A person walks through the sandy dunes of the Tengger Desert
Dunes as far as the eye can see.

Tengger Desert and Alashan Plateau

This breathtaking region attracts visitors with its unique desert landscape, vibrant cultural diversity, and rich history. Alashan is located in the westernmost part of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, bordered in the north by Mongolia, in the south and west by Gansu province. This area encompasses several different deserts, including the Badanjilin, the Ulan Buh, and the Tengger. Hundreds of saltwater and freshwater lakes can be found in these deserts, including a few which we will be visiting.

Historical evidence of human presence in Alashan dates back as far as 6,000 years ago, when the Mandela Mountain Rock Paintings were carved. 28 ethnic groups including Han, Mongolian and Hui people inhabit this 270,000-square-kilometer (104,247 square miles) land. Reputed as the ‘hometown of the camel’, Alashan is abundant in two-humped camels and the down producing goat. The former were very important as pack animals along the Silk Road.

Trip overview

Day One
Travel to Bayanhaote via Yinchuan
Visit to the Desert Geological Park Museum and the Stone Market
Stay at 4-star hotel in Bayanhaote
Day Two
Hiking and jeep travel between desert lakes and oases
Camp in tents overnight
Day Three
Hiking and travel by jeep between desert lakes and oases
Visit a nomad’s small settlement
Camp in tents overnight
Day Four
Hiking and travel by jeep and camel between desert lakes and oases
Back to the 4-star hotel in Bayanhaote
Day Five
Visit the Western Xia Imperial Tombs
Fly from Yinchuan to Beijing


A person walks through the sandy dunes of the Tengger Desert

The dunes of the Tengger Desert stretch to the horizon.

The Tengger Desert

The name of the Tengger Desert comes from the Mongolian word for “sky.” The Tengger is classic sand desert: endless waves of sand dunes broken only by the occasional rocky crag.  Located in the south-eastern part of Alashan, with an area of about 30,000 square kilometers, this desert is the fourth largest of its kind in China.

Many of the dunes found in the Tengger Desert are crescent-shaped, formed by winds that mostly blow in the same direction. Because of this, the Tengger is China’s fastest moving desert, frequently threatening to bury railway lines as its dunes shift across the land. We’ll get deep into the desert, where it’s sand dunes in every direction, as far as the eye can see—quite a sensation!

A tiny settlement by a lake in the Tengger Desert

A tiny settlement by a lake, deep in the Tengger Desert.

Lakes and Oases

Somewhat surprisingly, more than 500 fresh- and salt-water lakes and oases can be found in the Alashan Desert. On this trip we will visit or pass by Nuoritu Lake, Yellow Grass Lake, Moon Lake, and Temotu Lake, where we will set up camp.


One of the mausolem’ of the Western Xia Imperial Tombs

One of the pyramid-shaped tombs of the Western Xia. Click for a larger photo »

Western Xia Imperial Tombs

The Western Xia Dynasty (1036–1227 AD) was completely extinguished by the Mongolian army of Genghis Khan and his sons, leaving only the pyramid-shaped tombs of the early kings.

The near-total destruction of their capital and records means that little is known about the Tangut nomads who founded the Western Xia Dynasty.

Much of what is known is based on records of the neighbouring Liao (907-1125 AD) and Song (960–1279 AD) Dynasties, as well as the results of excavation of the tombs.

The capital of the Western Xia was sited very close to Yinchuan, and the tombs are around 40km west of the city, on the way to the desert. To date, nine king’s mausoleums and 250 smaller associated tombs have been discovered, and one of the main tombs has been opened to visits.

The story of the Western Xia is interesting—a fierce beginning, consolidation of an empire, then a gradual decay due to scheming and corruption, and then an extended finale featuring 20 years of attacks by the Mongolian army, during which it’s said Genghis Khan received a mortal wound. The site of the tombs features an excellent exhibit that uses life-size models and murals to tell the entire story.


The temperature in deserts will usually vary greatly between the night time and daytime. At this time of year we expect daytime temperatures of around 28–30°C, and temperatures of around 8–12°C at night. Even though it is a sandy desert, please be prepared to dress warmly. It is not expected to rain, although rain is not impossible. At this time of year the chance of sandstorms is low, but we still need to be prepared.

Hikers relax at the campsite in the desert

More photos of the campsite

  1. Looking down from the dunes

Hikers relax at the campsite in the desert. Click for a larger photo »




We will spend two nights in the local 4-star hotel*, and two nights camping in the desert under the stars! Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, and ground mats will be supplied by Beijing Hikers, and we’ll provide one tent per person.

You’ll be sharing a room at the hotel with another hiker. If you’d like a hotel room to yourself, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 500 RMB for the two nights in the hotel, 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.

* They say it’s a 5-star hotel, but we don’t think it quite meets that standard. Perhaps they are applying a different standard!

Flights and transport

We’ll be traveling by plane from Beijing to Yinchuan and back again at the end of the trip. We’ll hire a private bus to transit between destinations. There will also be a section of the trip that will include jeep travel through the desert, perhaps a rough ride if you are prone to motion sickness.

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.


Simple breakfast and picnic lunches will be provided on two days in the desert, as will dinner at camp on day two. At other times, we will take our meals at the hotel in Bayanhaote, or in Yinchuan. Bring some spending money for snacks during the trip. We’ll be eating Chinese-style food. Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.

More photos

Hikers and a campfire in the Tengger Desert

Relaxing by a bonfire at our campsite.

Things to bring

Aside from a few changes of clothes and regular hiking gear, the following equipment and clothes will make desert hiking much more comfortable:

  • hat with wide brim
  • sunglasses and suncream
  • facemask to protect from blowing sand
  • quick-dry/wicking clothing to prevent chafing from sweat
  • day pack for carrying water and snacks while hiking. Other luggage can be left on the jeeps or at the hotel.

Included with this trip

  • Return flight tickets
  • Transport by private bus
  • Jeep support in desert (transport luggage, some driving)
  • Entrance tickets
  • 4-star hotel (two to a room), tents for two nights of desert camping
  • Meals as described
  • Water
  • Local tour guides

Full itinerary

  1. Day 1
    08:00 – Meet at Beijing Capital Airport for flight to Yinchuan, in Ningxia Province
    10:20 – Take off
    12:20 – Arrive at Yinchuan Airport, lunch in Yinchuan
    14:00 – Drive to Bayanhaote, in Inner Mongolia
    16:00 – Visit the Bayanhaote Museum, Stone Market visit optional
    17:30 – Check in to the hotel
    18:30 – Dinner at restaurant
    19:30 – Free time

  2. Day 2
    08:00 – Breakfast at the hotel
    08:30 – Drive to the desert
    10:00 – Arrive at the edge of the desert
    10:30 – Hike/drive through desert to Nuoritu Lake
    12:30 – Arrive at lake for lunch
    13:30 – Hike around the lake and head on to Temotu Lake
    17:30 – Set up camp at Temotu Lake
    18:30 – Climb up dunes for sunset
    19:30 – Dinner and free time, bonfire after dinner

  3. Day 3
    05:00 – Wake up for sunrise (optional)
    08:00 – Pack up the tents after breakfast
    08:30 – Hike/drive through desert on the way to Big Swan Lake
    12:30 – Picnic lunch at Big Swan Lake
    13:30 – Continue to the nomad’s settlement near Yellow Grass Lake
    17:00 – Set up the campsite near the lake, free time
    18:30 – Dinner at the nomad’s house
    19:30 – Bonfire and free time after dinner

  4. Day 4
    05:00 – Wake up for sunrise (optional)
    08:30 – Breakfast, and then pack up the tents
    09:30 – Set out for Mosquito Lake
    11:30 – Camel ride to Moon Lake
    12:30 – Lunch at Moon Lake
    13:30 – Drive out of the desert
    15:30 – Arrive at the edge of the desert and drive back to Bayanhaote
    16:30 – Check in the hotel in Bayanhaote and wash up
    19:00 – Dinner at the hotel

  5. Day 5
    08:30 – Breakfast at hotel
    09:00 – Check out of hotel, drive back to Yinchuan
    10:30 – Visit Western Xia Imperial Tombs
    12:30 – Lunch 14:00 – Have lunch in Yinchuan
    16:00 – Arrive at the airport and check in
    18:20 – Fly back to Beijing
    20:10 – Arrive at the Beijing Capital Airport
    All times are approximate, and depend on our speed of movement


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