Getting Away from it All at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
When I arrived in Lìjiāng, I had never heard of the awesomely named Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yùlóngxuě Shān 玉龙雪山) . One of the pleasures of traveling in China with Chinese travel companions (shortly after to simply be known as friends) is that they introduce you to places that aren’t popular with Westerners. They might be well known domestically, but they just haven’t been picked up by foreign audiences. After hearing about a mountain with such an incredibly powerful sounding name, I was excited to check it out.
The trick about getting to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (I just love how it sounds!), which probably keeps some travelers away, is that you really need to have a car. Unlike most destinations in China, there isn’t a public bus, so you either need to drive or hire a driver which can cost upwards of 200 Yuan. Add to that the entrance fee, which is 130 Yuan, and it can be an expensive day trip for this part of the country.
Since I didn’t know anything about the mountain before we arrived, and since my only information during the trip was what I could piece together from my Mandarin speaking friends, I knew that we were going to see a beautiful mountain where we would go to a very high elevation (yes, I actually do know that word) and there would be water and ice that we could look at. Given that this was after a fluke snow storm, I thought the ice was obvious.
What I was missing from my vocabulary, was that this ice was actually a glacier which is visible year round, but due absolutely natural causes that having nothing to do with humans/factories/pollution, is quickly disappearing. Luckily for me, everything was clearly explained by handy English translations on the signage like this one:
Going somewhere with zero expectations is really the best. We arrived after a somewhat treacherous drive on snowy roads from Lìjiāng, and made our way onto empty tourist trams to the first stop. What I saw there was comparable to the famous waters of Jiuzhaigou: turquoise pools that looked pure and ice cold. The vibrant hue was something out of an Instagram filter. It absolutely surpassed any expectations I had about the “water that is nice to look at”.
On this snowy day, we saw the limited crowds heading north, up the mountain base to what I would later discover was a pricey cable car. Leading up there, and after the 2 mile long cable car, would be strict rules forcing guests to stay on the wooden pathways. Given that I had already missed out on hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, and completely invigorated by the fresh winter air, we decided to ditch the crowd and make our own hiking path along the dried up river path. (Ironically, I would later learn that the mountain base that I was hiking on was actually the back side of one of the mountains that makes up Tiger Leaping Gorge.)
Breaking away from the path felt incredibly freeing, gone were the viewing platforms and instead we wandered up the side of the mountain, following the riverbed. We set our sights on a distant structure, which possibly was a building though we weren’t quite certain.
It turned out to be an enormous dam, which seemed entirely out of place since there wasn’t any water nearby. The snowy steps were quite a challenge to climb up but the view at the top was worth it. From the top I wondered if perhaps this wasn’t a dam at all and instead was meant to stop avalanches? That would mean that rather than hiking in a dried of riverbed, were hiking along a path created for avalanches.
We spent the day hiking around the area and only later learned that everyone else had jetted over to the cable car and made the steep ascent to view the glacier. Given how refreshed we were after a day of off the path hiking, we didn’t miss it all. Luckily, the views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain were beautiful regardless of where we were.
Want to visit?
If you find yourself in Lìjiāng for a few days, I highly recommend making a trip out to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. If the weather has prevented you from hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge like it did for me,or if a two or three day hike doesn’t appeal to you, this is a great way to still experience the beautiful mountains vistas in a manageable day hike. I also highly recommend breaking off from the crowds and finding a little peace and quiet in the park.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is located about 15 km from Lìjiāng in Yúnnán 云南 Province but you’ll need a car to get there. It’s best to stay in Lìjiāng and make this a day trip- I didn’t see any accommodations in the immediate area. If you don’t drive, your guest house should be able to arrange a driver for you.
There’s a mandatory tourist tram that will take you from the parking lot to the base of the pools. From there, you can take a second tram to the base of the cable car. The tram ticket was an additional 20 Yuan. Though I didn’t take the cable car to the top viewing area, I believe that it’s an additional hefty fee (in the rang of 130 Yuan).
If you want to hike, I suggest taking lots of water and avoiding anything that looks like an avalanche path.