Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Yunnan is a hiking paradise for those looking to experience China’s most stunning nature and wildlife. WildChina’s Jenny Zhao shares her off-the-beaten-track experience and highlights from her recent trip there to help you discover this hidden gem.
The unspoiled valley, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Three Parallel Rivers Park, shares a border with Myanmar to the west and is a 6-hour drive from Baoshan or an 8-hour drive from Dali from the east. Visiting Nujiang isn’t something to do in the spare of the moment but, if you have the time, you won’t regret making the journey.
Nujiang is considered one of the most biodiverse regions of China. The area is bursting with pristine hiking trails, gin-clear rivers, snowcapped peaks, and rare wildlife. The valley is also home to several ethnic groups, including Lisu, Nu, and Tibetan communities. You might even stumble across a Burmese trader or two passing through.
If you love hiking, nature, or are keen to learn more about the influence of European missionaries in China, Nujiang is for you. Here are some of Jenny’s highlights from her visit in December 2020.
Located on the banks of the Nu River, Fugong offers the mildest climate in the Nujiang Valley. The area is home to a diverse set of ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Lisu. You won’t be able to miss the colorful and eye-catching Lisu minority clothing, particularly on women. One of the highlights of visiting Fugong is joining the villagers in church (80% of Lisu are Christian). If you’re looking to head really off-the-beaten-path this Christmas, consider joining Lisu’s lively festivals in December.
Jenny’s highlight: “Being invited to a Lisu family’s home and sharing stories over green tea, rice cakes, and Yunnan ham.”
Dimaluo to Cizhong
Our favorite hike in the region, journey along the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Route on your way from Dimaluo Village to Cizhong, a rustic town situated on the banks of the Lancang River. A 3 to 4-day trek takes you high into Biluo Snow Mountain, traversing through canyons and alpine valleys. Along the way, you can stop at Lisu and Nu villages, as well as monasteries and cathedrals that were built by European missionaries over a century ago.
Jenny’s highlight: “This is by far the most picturesque hike, with stunning views of the Nu River’s crystalline azure waters and snow peaks in the distance. You also occasionally hear the gentle clacking of passing horses and their horsemen.”
Gongshan County is the northernmost part of the Nujiang Prefecture and is situated among three mountain ranges and two rivers – the Nu and Dulong. A wide variety of species including rare monkeys, bears, and mountain goats call this area home. Pass along the first bend of the Nu River and hike along a depth-defying trail erected from the sides of sheer cliffs – made for caravans on the Ancient Tea and Horse Road. You can journey onward into Tibet once you reach Bingzhongluo.
Jenny’s highlight: “Hiking along the narrow, cliff-side caravan trails. Slightly dizzying, but absolutely in awe of the engineering feat.”
Planning a Journey to Nujiang
You can reach Nujiang from Kunming, Dali, or Baoshan. The quickest route involves flying into Baoshan and then driving (around 6 hours) to Nujiang. We recommend hiring a local driver rather than trying to drive yourself as the road conditions can be bad.
Planning your itinerary:
Don’t try to explore Nujiang Valley without a guide. The hiking trails are not marked and it’s dangerous to attempt the routes we’ve mentioned without some insider knowledge and support.
Where to Stay:
If you’re hiking the trails between Dimaluo and Cizhong, you’ll be camping as there are no guesthouses en route. Don’t worry though, this was the route that WildChina founder Mei Zhang took on the company’s first-ever trip. The setup by porters will be simple but thoughtful and comfortable. In Dimaluo, there is a guesthouse to stay in that is basic but clean. In Bingzhongluo, you’ll find more accommodation options though they are all a similar level of comfort.
When to go:
Avoid summer during the wet season and be aware that there’s always a large drop in temperature at night. Apart from that, Nujiang is great to visit at most times of the year. Consider visiting in December like Jenny if you’d like to join the Lisu festivities.
Photos courtesy of Jenny Zhao