From geography class in school, I learned the top 5 mountains in China and have always been wanting to visit one. Since we were visiting Xi’an, I researched on the possibility to check out Huashan. Honestly, I had subconscious fear because Huashan is known as “the steepest in China”. The whole Huashan trip took us whole 12 hours, as it involved many steps of transportations to get there. We left early 6am from our hotel in Xi’an to catch Gaotie (high speed railway), and back to hotel around 6pm.
I read a bunch of guides to hike Huashan without burning out, since we still had more than a week of travel. Huashan has five main peaks (west, south, east, central, west), and it is recommended to decide on a route beforehand. Two ends of Huashan are west and north peaks, and it is mostly downhills from west to north. Even we picked the easiest route from west to north, it was still about 4-5 hours of walking that left my legs sore for a few days 😅.
- *Recommended for casual hikers* west up, north down with cable cars both ways. Even though most of the trails were generally downhill, there are still many steps up and down.
- For serious hikers, the reverse would be a good challenge. To add more difficulty, consider not taking cable cars either or both ways.
- For hikers who want to chase the sunrise, try staying near the mountain and starting the hike in the evening to the east peak.
What we did – west up, north down, cable cars
- From Gaotie Huashan North station, we took free shuttle located outside of the station (following people getting off this stop) to visitor center.
- We purchased shuttle ticket to west peak cable car at visitor center along with park entrance ticket, then headed to shuttle stop to cable car entrance (about 30-40 minutes).
- After shuttle ride, we purchased west peak cable car ticket at ticket office, then walked over for a few flights of stairs to the actual cable car entrance.
- Cable car ride to west peak! The view along the ride was crazy and my heartbeat went up quite a bit, amazed by the infrastructure.
- After exiting cable car, we landed on the west peak. There was an option to climb to a vista point. From here, we checked the map sign and followed route to the south peak.
- After reaching the south peak, there was an option to take the challenge of “plank in the sky” (Chang Kong Zhan Dao 長空棧道), a popular detour similar to “Yao Zi flipping over” (Yao Zi Fan Shen 鷂子翻身) later at the east peak. During high season, some wait at both challenge spots could be expected.
- We followed map to the east peak after the south peak. From the “east peak restaurant”, we observed dare devils “flipping over” (Yao Zi flipping over) to the famous chess pavilion like in the cover photo. “Yao Zi flipping over” is the only way to get to the chess pavilion, where a chess game is still left unfinished from Song founding Zhao Kuangyin betting with Taoist priest Chen living in the mountain. (Restored after cultural revolution)
- Shortly after we arrived at the central peak. Then we walked toward the last peak, north peak, where the cable car awaited.
- Finally we reached the north peak cable car station, purchased ticket for the ride down, then taking the shuttle again back to the park entrance.
The most efficient way from Xi’an downtown to Huashan was high speed railway from Xi’an north station to Huashan North station. There are certain trains that have no stops in between and take about 30 minutes, we took 7:38-8:08am train. From Huashan North station, there are free shuttles (number 1 and 2 both go) or DiDi for 8-30 RMB to Huashan visitor center. We hopped on shuttle #2 to a 110% packed bus, it was over crowded from hikers off the same train. It took about 15-20 minutes to the park area, making a few stops but it was so full that some locals couldn’t even get on. From the park entrance near lotus tower, we walked to ticket office for entrance fee and cable car to west peak.
Is it safe?
I debated a bit whether to go or not, after reading how steep it is from posts and pictures. Even though not that many accidents have been publicly reported, walking from one peak to another was scary enough given its steepness. After hiking Huashan myself, I would say it is very safe if staying to the paths and stairs, and never walking without looking at the path (like taking photos while walking). The paths are well paved and there are rails in the majority of trails.
Cost (June 2018)
- Gaotie (high speed railway) from Xi’an North to Huashan North: 54.5 RMB each way, 109 RMB round trip
- Up to the west peak:
- Gaotie Huashan north station to Huashan visitor center: free for shuttle, 8-30 RMB for DiDi
- Huashan entrance fee: 160 RMB + insurance 10 RMB = 170 RMB (official reference)
- Visitor center to west peak cable car (purchase at visitor center together with entrance fee): 140 RMB
- On the mountain
- Lunch 60 RMB – overpriced but everything is brought onto the mountain. Bring Your Own Lunch recommended.
- “Yao Zi flipping over” at the east peak or “plank in the sky” at the south peak are both 30 RMB.
- Down from the North peak
- Huashan north peak cable car one way (downward): 80 RMB
- Bus from cable car dropoff to visitor center: 40 RMB
- Overall, about 800 RMB would be safe (we almost ran out of cash!).
After spending the whole day in Huashan, we sat down with a great meal at HaiDiLao! And shaved ice dessert afterward.
Huashan was a breath taking nature scene that I have not seen elsewhere before, similar but so different from Yosemite National Park in California. A long journey, but well worth the trip. There are many temples, good luck charms along the path, and rock calligraphy, tracing back to its long history.