We visited the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China as we traveled the north of the Yunnan province from Dali and Lijiang. Our stay in the Gorge lasted two days, which gave us the opportunity to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site under different angles.

While the beauty of the Tiger Leaping Gorge cannot be contested, we were not impressed by the overall experience there. Of course, no destination is perfect, and everyone has a highly individual appreciation of what they like and dislike. And we are always trying to be mindful in explaining why we don’t like something, because the same reasons might be what other people are looking for.

During our trip to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, we talked to other travelers that were thrilled about their visits. So again, you might love it if you decide to visit.

Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge Viewing Platform

Most people visiting the Gorge come as a day trip from Linjiang or as part of a tour exploring Yunnan. And they head to the Tiger Leaping Gorge Viewing Platform shortly after you enter the Gorge.

What we found is a huge parking lot made to accommodate a dozen of large buses. From there, two wooden stairways lead down the cliffs of the Gorge to a monstrous concrete platform along the river.

We visited the Gorge offseason and luckily, only a few buses came that day. However, the platform was quite crowded already, and the two stairways were packed.

Why is it Called Tiger Leaping Gorge

The name is said to come from a local legend, where a tiger tried to jump (or leap!) across the gorge’s narrowest section. In that part of the gorge, a mere 100 feet (30 meters) separated the two sides along the Yangtze River (also called Golden Sand River by the locals).

A tall tiger statue stands by the platform as a representation of that legend, adding to the artificial effect of the platform.

Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike

After staying for about one hour at the platform, we headed to the start of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike for what we were hoping was a trek through pristine scenery that made this UNESCO World Heritage Site famous.

Unfortunately, the next two days saw us hiking by runway mining deposits, water pipelines, telephone posts, and graffiti after graffiti of hotels promoting their establishments. While we understand why modernities reached villages in the form of electricity and telephone cables, the obvious lack of environmental considerations was constant every step of the way.

With plenty of hiking and trekking opportunities in Asia, we were saddened by the overexploitation of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail.

A UNESCO Fiasco?

Tiger Leaping Gorge is considered to be part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, and which includes the Yangtze (Jinsha), Mekong and Salween rivers. With such a recognized endorsement, we were indeed expecting a “protected area” and what we saw was dismal.

The sheer volume of domestic tourism does call for management of the flow of visitors on a grand scale, but the covering of the cliffs by concrete does feel right. The mining and power lines that line up the trail should not be part of the picture at all.

Whether the Tiger Leaping Gorge is a victim of its popular UNESCO status or the unbridled economical development that China sees, the results don’t match what we personally expected for a UNESCO site.

Let’s hope that other UNESCO World Heritages Sites in China like the Wulingyuan Scenic Area home to the popular Zhangjiajie National Forest Park won’t face the same challenges.

How to Get to Tiger Leaping Gorge in China?

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is best reached from Lijiang in the Yunnan province. The gorge stretches along the Jinsha River, the Chinese name for the upper sections of the Yangtze River.

Depending on what you want to see, two roads split at the beginning of the gorge. The left side of the gorge takes you to the viewing platform and the hiking trail. The right side brings you to a manmade walking path along the river.

Again, why we were disappointed by our trip doesn’t mean everyone will. We will add the information needed to organize your own trip and how to travel to the Tiger Leaping George shortly. Sign-up to our newsletters to receive the latest update!

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