The Qinling mountain range is one of the largest in China and many people are surprised to see how close they are on a clear day in Xian. Hua Shan’s jagged peaks and stunning landscape are one-of-a-kind and hiking Huashan Mountain is definitely worth adding to your Xian itinerary. For the adventure seeker, it also holds one stretch of trail that is often dubbed as the most dangerous hike in the world!
What To Expect:
People and exercise! Many beautiful areas in China have been made accessible for the masses. On one hand, this is great because it encourages people to get out and see the highlights of each region. On the other hand, it can mean that nature becomes a tourist attraction. You should expect paved trails, stairs, cable cars and many other Chinese tourists taking in the scenery and altitude. The views are incredible and it is an excellent chance to experience the local tourist culture (hint: think women hiking in heels and men in suits!).
What Not to Expect:
You will not be hiking rugged dirt paths and switch-backing up snow-capped mountain passes in remote areas. You will also not be alone, no matter when you go.
When to Go:
The mountain is open and available all year long. Our favorite time to go is in winter because the crowds are significantly lower, but of course you’ll need to prepare for very cold temperatures. Summer will be busy, but as long as you know what to expect then you’ll have a great time. As with any tourist attraction in China, avoid public holidays whenever possible.
Hua Shan Facts:
First, let’s get the basics covered. Hua means flower and Shan means mountain. So in English, this is Floral Mountain. The mountain is one of five Great Mountains known all over China for having a long history of religions significance, which add to its popularity. Five separate peaks make up the area, which are:
– North Peak: 1614m (5298 feet)
– Central Peak: 2042m (6699 feet)
– East Peak: 2096m (6877 feet)
– South Peak: 2154m (7067 feet)
– West Peak: 2082m (6831 feet)
How to Hike Hua Shan:
1. Take the Fast Train from Xi’an North Station to Hua Shan Station
We’ve tried every possible way to get to the mountain, and this is by far the easiest most efficient. The ride will take about 30 minutes and the route is very straight forward. Trains start around 7am and leave approx. every 45 minutes. You can purchase your ticket at the station, but it’s better to buy ahead of time to avoid waiting around for the next available train if trains are full. We suggest purchasing a one-way ticket so you won’t worry all day about catching a specific train back.
Xian North Station: Xī’ān běi, 西安北
Hua Shan Station: Huàshān, 华山
One-Way Ticket: Dānchéng piào, 单程票
Round-Trip Ticket: Wǎngfǎn piào, 往返票
2. Hua Shan Station to Hua Shan Visitors Center
The train station isn’t large, and you’ll exit into a large concrete plaza. As you walk through the plaza, there will be a taxi queue at the end along with a few mini-busses. The mini-busses are there to take people directly to the visitors center. They are very cheap and will make multiple stops on the way. For those looking for a direct ride, a taxi will take about 10 minutes and cost approx. 15 RMB.
3. Plan Your Route
You can decide to hike up the mountain, or take one of two cable cars to save some energy. Keep in mind that once you get to the top, there are still 5 peaks to visit with a decent amount of up and down, so you’ll still get plenty of hiking in if you take the cable car. We recommend taking the North Peak Cable Car up the mountain and the West Peak Cable Car down the mountain. It is important to decide here because you’ll need to jump on a shuttle from the Visitors Center to either cable car.
For those strong and adventurous types, hiking (well, more like stair climbing) is definitely an option. The most straight forward route is to take the shuttle to the North Peak Cable Car station and take the trail that starts at the station. It’s easy to spot (it’s the only trail that has stairs going up as far as you can see). The hike will take a fit person about 2 hours to reach the top of the Cable Car.
There is one other trail available to hike, but it will require more time and stamina. It starts from Huashan village and also ends at the North Peak via a different route through Huashan Gorge. The trail climbs for roughly 6km and is a popular route for hiking at night in order to reach East Peak for for sunrise.
4. Buy Your Tickets
Everyone needs to buy a ticket to allow you access into the park. If you decide to take our suggestion, you’ll also need to purchase a shuttle ticket to North Peak Cable Car Station. Once there, you can purchase your ticket for the Cable Car (or hike for free). You will purchase your shuttle ticket back the Visitors Center on the mountain after you hike or take the cable car down.
5. North Peak Cable Car Station
The shuttle ride is stunning, so don’t forget to look at the window and enjoy the views as you enter a steep canyon surrounded by dramatic cliff walls. You’ll be dropped off just below the cable car station. You’ll walk through some shops to the station where you can purchase your ticket to get up the mountain. We recommend purchasing a one-way ticket in case you decide to change your plans on top.
6. Hike & Explore!
The North Peak Cable Car will drop you off a bit below the peak, so follow signs to North Peak to bag your first summit. The views here are incredible and you can look south to get the lay of the land for the rest of the mountain.
The signage on the mountain can be confusing. Often, a sign will point in two different directions for the same destination. It’s all part of the fun, but following our general guide below should help…
North Peak to Central Peak: From North Peak, descend south to the visibly lower pass and then climb 300m (984 feet) up the long spine-like ridge toward the rest of the mountain. Don’t forget to look behind you as you climb for great views of North Peak and beyond. Follow signs for Central Peak, which is more of a rocky plateu with a temple than a peak, and definitely a good spot for a break.
Central Peak to East Peak: You’ll need to backtrack for a few minutes to the trail junction that will continue you to East Peak. Continue climbing and follow signs to the Sunrise Viewing Area that takes you along the top of a long cliff-face with great views. East Peak is the best place to view the sunrise, and there is a decent guest house here if you’d like to stay overnight although you should plan ahead during busy times.
East Peak to the Plank Walk: Hua Shan’s plank walk is often called the most dangerous hike in the world. This is completely avoidable for the faint-of-heart, but a must for any adrenaline junky! As you continue on the trail, you’ll walk around the guesthouse and descend from East Peak. At the bottom, there is a trail junction, so make sure you go toward the Hanging Plank Walk. When you get to a small snack shop, head left toward a temple-like building and follow the narrow trail along the cliff to the plank walk.
Plank Walk: This is an out-and-back trail, so don’t worry about getting separated from your group if they don’t all do it. You’ll need to pay 25 RMB to get harnessed and then you’ll climb straight down a cliff face on rebar stairs drilled into the rock. At the end of the stairs, the plank walk starts and continues for about 20 meters across a cliff to a natural platform with a small temple. Just enough space for you to relax before doing the same thing back. Keep in mind that since this is an out-and-back trail, people will be crossing you going the opposite direction.
Plank Walk to South Peak: When you get back to the small snack bar, continue straight on the trail toward South Peak. This is the highest part of the mountain and definitely worth a snap at the top!
South Peak to West Peak: As you continue heading the same direction, you’ll descend before walking along another rocky ridge up to West Peak. This is the most touristy area, complete with a coffee shop, meteorological center and temple with guesthouse. Climb through the temple area and continue up the stairs to reach the peak.
West Peak Cable Car or Continue Hiking? From here you can decide if you want to take the cable car down, or continue back to North Peak to make a full loop. The trail does continue and allow you to make a full loop back to Central Peak which then takes you down the same spine-like ridge you climbed up. Otherwise, the West Peak Cable Car is quite a ride! It starts in a tunnel in the mountain, and spits you out the other side hundreds of feet in the air. Tickets can be purchased outside the tunnel before entering.
Whether you decided to head down from the West or North peak, you’ll need to take the shuttle back to the main Visitors Center. Tickets can be purchased before you jump on the shuttle, and the shuttles will take you to the same place you started. From there, you can have a taxi to take you back to the train station. If you have some extra time to kill, you can also walk back to the station and explore the small town a bit.
7. Go Back to Xian
When you reach the train station, go to buy your tickets first so you know what time you’ll be departing. You can grab some food and/or a cold beer from one of the shops surrounding the plaza in front of the station while you wait.
There is no better way to work up an apetite for one of our Xian Food Tours than climbing a mountain! The best part? Your feet can relax in one of our private tuktuks as you whiz around to eat the best food in Xian. Join a Lost Plate Food Tour and eat where the locals eat…Book a Tour Today!