Yading Nature Reserve is a mountainous paradise that you’ve probably never even heard of, but it was one of the biggest highlights of my recent trip in China. Impressive mountains covered in snow and glaciers tower over forested slopes, grassy meadows, blue glacial lakes, waterfalls, and clear mountain streams. And yet all of this only gets a brief mention in most guidebooks! It’s extremely difficult to find much information in English, but there is really pretty decent infrastructure, so here’s everything you’d need to know about visiting Yading Nature Reserve.Note: You might notice that I have not included pictures in this post aside from two Pinnable photos at the end. The main reason for this is that I don’t want to spoil it for you! If you’re not going to Yading, you can click here to see some stunning photos. If you are going, well, I suggest you let yourself be surprised, but it’s really up to you if you look or not.
Getting to Yading Nature Reserve
Access is via the town of Daocheng, just off the road between Litang and Shangri-La (Zhongdian). I took a shared minivan from Litang to Yading Nature Reserve via Daocheng for 80 yuan per person. The catch is, it doesn’t take you all the way to the reserve entrance; it can only go as far as the ticket office in Shangrilla town (no, not the famous Shangri-La in Yunnan province; this is another one, also known as Aden or Xianggelilazhen). Here you must buy your entrance ticket as well as a ticket for the very scenic bus ride (private vehicles are not allowed to go) that will take you the rest of the way to the park entrance via Yading village. (See the map below if you’re confused!) The first bus leaves the ticket office at 7:30am; the last one back leaves the entrance at 6:30pm, but you’d be best to double check this!
Driving times & distances:
- Daocheng to Shangrilla town – 1.5 – 2 hours by minivan, 50 yuan per person
- Shangrilla town to ticket office – 2km, 30 mins walk, 10 yuan taxi ride
- Ticket office to Yading village – 45 mins bus ride
- Ticket office to Yading Nature Reserve entrance – 1 hour bus ride
- Yading village to Yading Nature Reserve entrance – 3 km, 15 mins bus ride. If you plan to walk from the park entrance to Yading village it will be a long uphill slog along the road.
Walk! It’s worth walking along the river to see the gorgeous scenery.
If you’re tired, lazy, or running short of time you can take an electric cart from near the entrance to Luorong pasture and back. It’s a somewhat wild ride of 15 – 20 minutes each way, and there are a few stops along the way where the road connects with the river walkway.
Activities in Yading Nature Reserve
Hike. The reserve is set up with maps and arrows to guide you to specific scenic areas, and while they seem a bit confusing at times, you can’t really get too lost. Look at the mountains and take tons of pictures!
Walking times & distances (elevation shown in italics):
- Park entrance (3800m) to Chonggu meadow (3900m) – 15 to 20 mins
- Chonggu meadow (3900m) to Zhuoma La (Pearl) lake (4100m) – 45 mins to 1 hour one way. Uphill and steep in parts.
- Chonggu meadow (3900m) to Luorong pasture (4180m) – 6km, 2 to 3 hours one way, depending on how fast you go and how many times you stop to take pictures. It’s uphill but not steep, and it’s much more pleasant to take the riverside walkway than the road so look for it!
- Luorong pasture (4180m) to Milk lake (4600m) – 2 to 2.5 hours one way. Mostly uphill with a couple of very steep sections.
- Milk Lake (4600m) to Five Colour Lake (4700m) – 30 to 45 minutes. Quite steep uphill.
- Kora path around Zhainnari Peak – about 12 hours, best done with a guide and spread over two days.
At such high altitude, the walks are challenging. If you’re well acclimatized it’s ok, but be prepared to take it very slowly, especially going up to Milk Lake and Five Colour Lake.
Ride a horse. If you want to go to the upper lakes but don’t want to walk, there are lots of locals providing horses to ride from Luorong pasture to the lake. Don’t expect to ride the whole way, as I think they make you get off for the steepest parts. This also means that when you’re walking you often have to step off the path to let horses go by, and the smell of manure is something you’ll have to get used to!
Swimming is not allowed in the lakes (they’re sacred) and the upper ones are glacier fed so I doubt you’d want to!
Accommodation at Yading Nature Reserve
Shangrilla town has a YHA hostel. It’s a bit noisy but there are dorm beds for 25 yuan and very friendly staff. They will give you advice on where to go using some rather confusing maps in Chinese and also can store your bags for you if you want to stay in Yading village overnight. There are also plenty of other hotels and guesthouses in town.
Yading village is about 3km from the park entrance and has several guesthouses. We paid 120 yuan for a basic twin room that had mattress heaters, which was great as it was a bit cold at night. The bathroom was shared, with squat toilets and hot showers.
There is no actual accommodation within the park itself. If you want to stay there, take everything you need to be completely self-sufficient. I’m also not sure exactly what the rules are about camping within the park, but pilgrims doing the kora circuit must camp so I think it would be ok.
Shangrilla town has several Chinese and Tibetan restaurants but ordering food can be difficult as English menus are as scarce as English speakers! There were several small shops for stocking up on water and snacks.
Guesthouses in Yading village offer meals, which are a bit more expensive than average but ok. There are also a couple of other small restaurants in the village that may be cheaper than the guesthouses. There is a small shop for snacks and drinks, but don’t expect much of a selection.
There was a small shop at Chonggu meadow near the cart stop which had pot noodles and various other snacks, and there may be one at Luorong but I didn’t go look. Otherwise I didn’t see much by way of food, so take your own!
Costs of visiting Yading Nature Reserve
- Reserve entrance fee – 160 yuan (80 with a student card)
- Return bus ticket from ticket office to park entrance (can also be used from park entrance to Yading village and back if you’re staying overnight in the village) – 120 yuan (no student discount)
- Electric cart from Chonggu meadow to Luorong pasture – 80 yuan return, 50 yuan one way. Keep in mind that you cannot buy a return ticket FROM Luorong pasture.
- You only need to pay once if you’re staying overnight within the park or in Yading village. If you exit the park and go back to Shangrilla town to sleep, you’ll have to pay again the following day for both the bus and admission fee.
At the ticket office there are toilets and you can buy a map for 10 yuan, but it’s only in Chinese so isn’t very helpful to us non-Chinese speakers.
There are toilets at Chonggu meadow and at Lurong pasture, but otherwise you’ll have to use the bushes.
Other Info about Yading Nature Reserve
Very little English is spoken here. At the hostel in Shangrilla there was one employee who spoke English, and at the guesthouse in Yading village the owner did, so that was helpful. Most of the tourists are domestic, and I would not guarantee that anyone will be able to speak English to you, so take a phrasebook!
Make sure you are adequately prepared for any kind of weather. I was there in early June, and when the sun was out, it was really warm, but when it goes behind a cloud and the wind blows, it’s suddenly really cold! And on our second day the storm clouds moved in and we got very, very wet and cold on the walk back from the upper lakes, even with good rain jackets!
That’s it! If you have any other questions, please just email me or leave them in the comments. And now, if you really want to see those pictures, click here. Enjoy your trip to Yading Nature Reserve!
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