South of the Clouds: Hiking Cangshan Mountains, Dali, Yunnan, China

Gadling introduced you to Dali, in Yunnan Province, the other day, and touched on a few activities and sights there. Out of all of them, hiking the Jade Belt Road (also called the Cloud Road) in the Cangshan mountains was our favorite.

Green furry mountains rise out of Dali’s back door, and are an easy escape from the town. A mostly flat, paved walking path winds in and out of valleys about two-thirds of the way up the mountains, making a lovely day hike. If you don’t feel like working too hard, an old-school chairlift can carry you up on one side, and a fancy-time, Austrian-built gondola 11.5 kilometers to the south can take you down – or vice versa. The path also extends beyond the lifts on either side, but we only explored the terrain in-between.

We chose to climb to the main trail by following a sometimes-muddy, often-slick path up under the chairlift. It took us the better part of an hour to climb up the steep mountain, and we arrived at the top of the lift sweaty and out of breath. The top of the chairlift, and the path that leaves from it, sit at 2500 meters (or roughly 8000 feet), high enough for us to feel it in our lungs.

%Gallery-111568%At the top of the chairlift sits Zhonghe Temple, a quiet spot with refreshments and a pleasant view of Dali and Erhai Lake. We paused for a snack and some photos, then began our walk south.

The path is paved with flat, square stones, and is better than most sidewalks. Mostly flat, it snakes in and out of valleys, across steep streams, and along vertical cliffs. We were in a foggy cloud, so a light mist constantly rained. Be sure to carry clothing for all types of weather; what might be a sunny day down in Dali could be a damp slog up in the mountains.

The walk to the gondola should take you a couple of hours. Once there, you’ll find Gantong Temple, as well as a giant chessboard (see gallery). From here, take the gondola down; taxis will be waiting at the base to take to back to Dali.

Read more about my travels in Yunnan here.