The name Huangshan is much abused and misused. This article is about Huangshan Scenic Area - otherwise known as Mount Huangshan. Its fame is such that almost everything in the area has adopted the same name. Most confusingly, the nearest big town, Tunxi has re-branded itself as Huangshan City or, often, just Huangshan. Without care, you will find that your train to Huangshan takes you to a different town to your Huangshan hotel and that neither is in the Huangshan Scenic Area.
Huangshan itself does not have good transportation links. Moreover accommodation (and everything else!) within the scenic area is expensive. Consequently most travelers stop in either Tangkou or Tunxi for the nights before and after a visit to Huangshan. Assuming you go back to the same hotel you will be able to leave the bulk of your luggage with them and only take a day pack up the mountain.
Huangshan is a granite massif consisting of 36 separate peaks, rising above 1,800 m. Famous throughout Chinese artistic history, Huangshan represents the typical mountain in Chinese paintings. Frequently shrouded in mist, the many peaks appear to float on clouds and have very fanciful names such as 18 Arhats Worshipping the South Sea, Lotus Flower Peak, Celestial Capital, Paint Brush, etc.
Jagged granite peaks clothed in uniquely shaped pine trees create a spectacular landscape of great interest to artists and photographers.
Flora and fauna
Over 1,450 kinds of plant are found within the Park. The most spectacular tree is the unique Pinus huangshanensis which grows precariously clinging to rock faces. Many of the trees have names such as the Welcoming Guest and the Seeing-off Guest Pines. Carpinus, Cornus, Enkianthus, Fraxinus, Rhododendron and Weigelia are some of the species of flowering tree to be seen. 470 species of animals have been recorded. The most frequently seen ground animals are squirrels and small skinks.
In summer it is cool at night, in winter cold.
The main entrance to Huangshan is the southern one near Tangkou however it is some distance from here to the paths on the mountain. You cannot enter by taxi: only the National Express shuttle buses are allowed into the scenic area. You can walk in, but it is better to save your energy for the mountain. Shuttle buses go from Tangkou to either Mercy Light Temple for the Yuping (aka Jade Screen) Cable Car or to Yungu (aka Cloud Valley or Yungu New) Cable Car. Buses leave approximately every 20 minutes, cost ¥19 and take around 20 minutes.
From the lower cable car stations you can either walk to the top or use the cable car. Cable car tickets can generally be purchased 6:30 to 16:30 but hours may be extended occasionally.
There is also an entrance and cable car in the north at Taiping from Songgu Nunnery near the bottom of the valley up to Purple Cloud Peak.
An entry fee of ¥230 applies (off-season entry fee is ¥150, e.g. early December), a 50% discount is available for students with IDs and seniors. ( 35 Yuan discount offseason| This discount is also available to foreign students. The fee is paid inside the scenic area where the shuttle bus drops off.
If you take the cable car to the top, it costs ¥80 each way. 65 yuan off~season.)
There are no roads, buses or taxis on the mountain. You can use a cable car to reach the top but, once there, walking is the name of the game.
The walkways in Huangshan mountain area are properly engineered 2m wide paved paths. Handrails and parapets are done well, and that's a good thing because when you look over the side of some of these paths, you will see a long sheer drop. You'd better be willing to climb a lot of steps - there are said to be a total of 60,000 steps on the paths. You'll be sharing these paths with a lot of other people including many loud tour guides, but it is really worth while making the effort.
If you are not fit, you can take one of the sedan chairs in which you are carried by two porters. Porter stations are dotted around the mountain. However the paths are well enough made for most people to walk, if slowly.
- Celestial Capital Peak trail is closed until 2014 (a 5 year closure that started in 2009).
- The Xihai Grand Canyon is closed from the end of the 2nd loop.
The main thing to do in Huangshan is walk around and take photographs of the scenery which is spectacular, beautiful, different and varying in appearance with every change of weather. The same view looks quite different by day in fine weather or with cloud, early morning or late evening. Sunrise and sunset are renowned but, of course, dependent on the weather.
All of the scenic area is gorgeous but the following spots are highlights: Lotus Peak, Narrow Cliff, Fair-walking Bridge, Cloud-dispelling Pavillion, the rings/loops north of Xihai Grand Canyon, Refreshing Terrace, Beginning to Believe Peak and White Goose Ridge.
Many walk Huangshan in a single day. Typically one would start early from Tangkou (or very early from Tunxi) and take the shuttle bus to Yungu cable car and then use the cable car to the top. From the top station walk anti-clockwise via Black Tiger Pine, Dawn Pavilion, Cloud-dispelling Pavilion, Flying-over Rock and Bright Top to Yuping (Jade Screen) cable car station and then take the cable car and shuttle bus back to Tangkou. Hiking the mountain like this in one day requires some fitness but is quite feasible for most. The fit can reasonably add on some detours as well - see the two day itinerary for suggestions.
Starting from Yungu cable car and ending at Yuping has the advantage that there is slightly more down hill than up but the difference is not great so the opposite order is quite reasonable.
For those with a bit more time and money a two day itinerary is very worthwhile - particularly if you doubt your fitness! It will allow seeing more of the area without time pressure and also allow you to enjoy sunset and sunrise. It is best to plan where you will sleep on the mountain - see Sleep. Yungu Cable way delivers you near to Beihai and Shilin hotels. Yuping Cable way delivers you near to Yupinglou Hotel. Taiping Cable way delivers you near to Cloud Dispelling Hotel.
With the extra time you can easily detour to Lotus Peak, Lion Peak, Beginning to Believe Peak and White Goose Ridge. If time and energy permit, you can also consider:
- Fairy-walking Bridge. Peace and quiet (a rarity in China) and stunning scenery.
- The first ring/loop north of Xihai Grand Canyon. As of 2013 it is not possible to continue all the way around Xihai Grand Canyon. See Trail Closures
- Forgo one of the cable cars in favour of walking. From the Yuping Cable Car/Mercy Light Temple entrance the "Western Steps" lead up for about 14km over spectacular terrain. Allow 6-7 hours for the ascent. From the Yungu Cable Car carpark the ascent by the "Eastern Steps" is easier, taking as little as 2-3 hours. If you choose to descend by the Eastern Steps you can extend the hike by including the Nine Dragon Waterfall area (Jiulongpu) for an additional charge.
Those who are very unfit should consider forgoing the walk from one cable car to the other. Instead, catch a cable car up, walk around as much or as little as you want and then take the same cable car back. The cable car trips are breathtaking on their own and the areas around the top stations are well worth a look.
The maps attached to the right are probably the best you will find. Print them out and take them with you.
Many local couples buy padlocks and inscribe their names on them, then lock them to various places on top of the mountain. Others buy medals commemorating their successful summit of the peak.
Food options are limited on the mountain. There are (expensive) restaurants in all the hotels but it is hard for a solo traveller to find cheap food. There are several small grocery stores selling snacks & drinks. Stinky tofu of a particularly stinky variety seems to be popular as well. On top of the mountain in peak season, water was ¥6-10, beer ¥10, meat sticks 3 for ¥10, instant noodles ¥10, cucumbers 2 for ¥6.
Take plenty of water as the price rises steeply on the mountain (up to ¥10 per 600ml bottle). Local beer, such as Huangshan Beer (黄山啤酒), costs ¥10-20.
On Huangshan, many tourists choose to stay overnight at one of several hotels in the Beihai region of the mountain to watch the sunset and sunrise.
- Beihai Hotel. Expensive hotel, and we were only offered dormitory style rooms. OK buffet restaurant but quite expensive. On the mountain top near the Shilin Hotel, about 1km from Yungu Cablecar station. Also has small tents where you get an airmatress, a filthy sleeping bag and an extra blanket, but no pillows, and there are no facilities, except for a public toilet, if you want a shower you can get one for extra money. 200-2000. edit
- Baiyun Hotel. Expensive hotel, but well equipped modern rooms and a central location from which to walk. About 3km walking (lots of steps) from either Yungu cablecar station or Yuping cablecar station. Food court nearby or breakfast 70RMB. 200-2000 RMB. edit
- Yupinglou Hotel. Expensive hotel, but well equipped modern rooms. Restaurant. Only about 500 metres from the top of the Yuping Cableway though still lots of steps. Great views over the surrounding mountains and valleys. 200-2000. edit
- Shilin Hotel. Also has a bunkhouse with very primitive facilities. On the mountain top near the Beihai Hotel, about 1km from Yungu Cablecar station. ¥200-2,000 for doubles, ¥150-200 for dorms. edit
- Other hotels on the mountain top. For completeness, the following hotels are also shown on the area map and you can probably find them through directories:- 1. Xihai Hotel (stylish and probably expensive). 2. Cloud Dispelling Hotel. 3. Dormitory style hotel next to the meteorology centre with the white dome that you can see from most areas of the mouuntain top. edit
It is possible to camp on the top of the mountain for around ¥180, but conditions involve tightly-packed camping is on concrete flooring space in mist is so heavy that most wake up cold and wet. Dorm beds in a relatively clean place cost ¥200, which may be a better option.
Huangshan is one of the most famous mountains in China, and as a result you will have to deal with the masses that come visit it every day. At the prime hours on a weekend, queues for the gondola can take up to 2 hours. If you choose to take the gondola up, you may find your self completely surrounded by tourists. The crowd will disperse if you walk to the grand canyon area. Still, if you are the type of adventurist that is looking for that peaceful, natural hike, then Huangshan may not be your place. Nevertheless, the mountain is extraordinary and is well worth the visit.
Be sure to check trail closures before you begin. It may be that you walk on a four hour loop, only to find that after 3 hours the last section is closed.
Many maps of Huangshan are outdated. Moreover even signs on the mountain may be incomplete or outdated. If lost it's best to ask one of the workers where to go.
Mount Huangshan can get very cold in winter so be sure to bring appropriate clothing including boots that that can deal with icy paths.