Mount Sanqing (三清山) – wow!

On the Southeast Circuit path

The Guanyin Rock towers above the cable car as it approaches the upper station

There’s no doubt about it; whatever you feel about the regime there, the rudeness of the people, and everything else, China is one of the world’s most extraordinary, amazing, friggin’ mind-blowing destinations! 

The Goddess Rock, on the Southeast Circuit path, is the symbol of Mount Sanqing

On the trail

I’ve just come back from my fifth (or was it sixth?) trip, and although at less than three weeks it was about half the length of most of my previous trips, it was AWESOME as ever! Forget Beijing (too modernized), the Wall (too popular), Guilin (too spoilt) , Tiger-Leaping Gorge (over-rated); those might be fab for a first-time visit, but this outrageously well-endowed nation has tons of places we’ve all never heard of that are just waiting to blow our socks off. I do very trustrated every time – and make no apology for saying so here (WordPress is banned in the People’s Republic anyway)  one of the great ironies that so many of the world’s most extraordinary sights are crammed into this country. On the other hand they’re learning to respect their astonishing cultural and natural heritage better these days (if only because by not ruining it they can get more money from tourism), and its getting easy for us tourists to visit these other-worldly landscapes.

The Cobra rock, 128 meters high

On the West Coast Path

Anyway, this summer four of us hikers had 19 days to do six hikes on six mountains and scenic areas between Xiamen and Xian. My goal was to explore places I hadn’t been before, but try as I might I couldn’t be in the area and not revisit two of my favorites from past trips – the notorious Mount Hua  (華山) and Zhangjiajie (張家界), where we managed to replicate the longest single day hike I ever did (13 hours non-stop).

Cliffs on the Southeast Circuit

More on those two in later blogs, but I before all that, our first hike of the trip. It’s almost a bad thing to begin any trip to China with Mount Sanqing in northeastern Jiangxi Province, because the scenery of this  (amazingly little-known) mountain is just so awesome that it could easily spoil us for the rest of the trip, had not the other places on our route also been amazing in their different ways as well.

On the path

The whole mountain is a series of sheer cliffs

Off a 12-hour night train from Xiamen (where a couple of us had arrived on the ferry from Kinmen), we arrived at the town of Yushan (玉山; yep, the same characters as Taiwan’s highest peak) , the jumping-off point for Mount Sanqing. Immediately on our guard against locals trying to rip us off, the driver who offered to drive us up to the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain seemed so easy-going that it was hard to disbelieve the reasonable price he gave us. And he stuck to his word: for RMB100 the four of us were whisked the hour from Yushan town through some lovely hilly countryside to the little collection of hotels at the Southern Cable Car, at the foot of the mountain. Some places were still being built – this place is only just getting up on its feet as a tourist destination.

The view from the cable car

We found a very comfortable place there with great rooms for about RMB150 a twin, and decided, since the weather was so good, that we’d head straight up there-and-then.

Getting up the mountain there’s either a stepped footpath or (of course – this is China!) a cable car. To make the most of the afternoon we broke our usual rules and for once took the cable car up.

From the bottom it’s hard to see what’s so great about Mount Sanqing, as there’s nothing to see but a wooded ridge above. As the car rises, however, it glides over the ridge and the main mountain appears above – a breathtaking wall of crazy pinnacles, towers and needles.

A rock pinnacle on the Southeast Circuit path

From the top cable car station (we took the footpath back down from here at the end of the day, and it was a monotonous, knee-aching 45 minutes – would be a good bit longer going up) trails head off in different directions, and we needed the whole afternoon and all the following day to do even most of them.  There’s a lot to see, divided into three main areas: the Western Ocean Path, the Sunshine Coast Path, and the longevity Garden/ Southeast Circuit.

It’s a long climb up to the Western Ocean Trail from the top of the cable car line, but once there, for its whole length the level trail (an easy stroll from here onwards) juts spectacularly out over the sheer cliffs of the mountain, commanding jaw-dropping views over the crazy, otherworldly landscape of Mount Sanqing as it follows the western cliffs of the mountain. Finally it leaves the cliffs and enters the woods to reach a couple of atmospheric (and old) Daoist temples. Beyond those it joins up with the Sunshine Coast Path. On the way is a swaying rope suspension bridge called the Immortals Bridge, on which some immature locals were jumping as we passed, scaring the ladies in their group. Just north of this (and it took us a second visit to find it) a smaller path (marked ‘No Entry’) climbs uphill, soon becoming steps, and leads all the way to the highest point of Mt Sanqing. From a distance the peak looks quite inaccessible; in fact the final ten meters up the rocky summit is a little tricky, involving a stride of faith from one rock to another that was a bit too much for me. Standing on the rocky outcrop  next to it though, just a meter or two lower and thirty meters away, the view was almost as exceptional.

The summit of Mount Sanqing (yes, you can climb to it!)

Beyond the summit path, the route becomes the Sunshine Coast Path – more fantastic views, a few sections of hanging trail fastened into the huge precipices, and lots and lots of weird and magnificent rock formations. It’s a long descent on steps back to the cable car from here, but with fabulous views every step of the way.

The third main trail (which we saved for the second day) starts at the upper station of the cable car and has the advantage of plunging straight into the fabulous scenery without the long climb of the other two paths. The loop around the Longevity Garden is much lower than the other trails on the mountain, but equally magnificent, twisting around umpteen strange and spectacular rock formations, and climbing up several rock faces via steep, foot-hold-like steps. At the far side a link path climbs up to join the magnificent Southeast Circuit.  On this trail (which eventually reaches the top station of the Eastern Cable Car) we’re once again suspended the whole time on a path jutting out of vertical cliffs, and if anything the scenery is even more spectacular than on the Western Ocean.

The Immortals Bridge

At the end we completed a second loop by returning once again along the Sunshine Trail. By the time we reached the cable car at the end there was still a couple of hours light left, but although not a really hard walk, we’d already climbed a couple of thousand steps during the day, and were quite happy with what we’d already seen.

Mount Sanqing is an instant classic – it’s every bit as stunning as anything you’ll find on Huangshan (黃山), that infinitely more famous mountain not so far away to the north, but with the tiniest fraction of the crowds. Don’t wait too long before going though – this places is going to be HUGE when everyone finds out about it….


Details for getting there (it’s straightforward) are in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet China, the first to include Mount Sanqing. That’s not so surprising though; I was in Jiangxi Province on my last visit to China, four years ago, and only heard a few rumors about the place – it wasn’t famous then.

For loads more photos, see my Flickr page here.

In Longevity Garden

13 thoughts on “Mount Sanqing (三清山) – wow!

  1. WOW! wow is right. great pictures & great story, as usual. i’m in switzerland right now, also looking at astonishing scenery… thanks & best regards.

  2. Is it that some parts of the Wall are “too popular” or that it’s just done by too many in general? As there should certainly be plenty of Wall like there are plenty of peaks, some places more popular than the others.

    • The Wall is such a vast tourist attraction that most of the relatively accessible places have been at least partially restored, and are crawling with tourists every time I’ve been (and I’ve been to four or five sections of the wall, both around Beijing and out west). Elsewhere I’ve seen the wall completely unrestored in several places, but there it’s just a pile of rubble or an earthwork, and difficult to appreciate.
      Of course there are countless probably very lovely peaks in China, but I can guarentee there are very, very few others like Mount Sanqing (at least not ones that are open to tourism or accessible by foreigners of any ability – many places in China remain out-of-bounds to foreign tourists to this day). What’s so wonderful about Mt Sanqing in the end, and what I tried to get across in my ramblings is that it’s as easily accessible as the ‘popular’ parts of the Wall, yet has yet to succome to mass tourism, and all its ill effects.

    • Not quite sure if you’re asking for the time or the price of the trip. From the top of the cable car you really need the best part of the day to explore all the main paths, although you could get to some great spots and back in a couple of hours. It also depends which cable car you ascend by. We ascended on the south, which I think was closer to much of the best scenery that we saw. If you climb along the path up the mountain that lies under the southern cable car it’ll take possibly 2 hours or more. We only went down this trail though.
      To get to the trail and cable car start from the railway line we took a taxi from (I think it was) Yushan (‘jade mountain’) station, which has quite good connections with the nearby big cities; from there it’s less than an hour to the lower cable car station (our taxi driver was pretty fast!). It’s well worth spending a night in one of the hotels springing up at the lower cable car station though, and starting early the next day on the climb if possible, as the weather may be better in the morning, plus there’s a lot to see up there! We found taxi drivers are quite used to travellers passing through en route to Mount Sanqing, and had no trouble finding a ride. Speaking Chinese, the fare seemed reasonable, although I forgot how much (it wasn’t a lot). Hope this answers your question!

      • Hey, thanks for the detailed answer. I was looking for time, not the price. The problem is that it’s winter now and the sun sets around 4 pm already, so I’m afraid one day is not enough. On the other hand, we are on a budget so I don’t think sleeping overnight and using cable car both ways will be an option for us.

  3. In winter hotels (if open) could well be pretty cheap – we were on a fairly tight budget and got somewhere pretty reasonable in July! It’s still a ‘new’ destination and the hotels, at least around the southern route lower terminal, were still being built and the one that was open was pretty amazing value (can’t remember how much but it was pretty cheap). If you only have a day up-down, I’d start at the southern route, as some of the best scenery was close to the top of that – especially the Western Sea route – amazing!

  4. Dear Paul

    Thanks for all the information in your blog. The Sanqing Shan National Park looks very nice and I will try to visit it during my trip to Jiangxi next month. I was writing to ask you a quick question. From your entry, I understood that you took a hostel at the bottom of the mountain but spent 2-3 days hiking around the top: 1) Are those hotels at the bottom of the mountain, inside or outside the park? Do you have to pay the entrance ticket twice? and 2) If the hotel is at the bottom, do you have to hike up/down (or take the cable car) twice?

    Best regards


    • Hi Steven, thanks for writing and sorry about the delay in replying! It was a few years ago now, but we paid for a 2 (or 3) day ticket, which gives entry into the park for the period. The hotels (which were still being built when we were there) are all outside the entrance; I don’t think there was/is any accommodation inside. We took the cable car up twice and down once. There’s a trail down (which shadows the cablecar and is nice but not madly scenic after the wonders up top. Going down it’s not a very hard walk, and saves a cable car fare! Hope you have a great trip when you go – Sanqingshan is quite amazing!!

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