The Ultimate Travel Guide to Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve, a hidden place in the snow-capped mountains of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, surrounded by snow mountains, glaciers, gorges, forests, alpine meadows, lakes, gold mines, and fresh air. No matter when you come to Yading, and whether you are standing on a viewing platform or trekking on the road, you will be surprised by its extremely spectacular views. There are thousands of mountains, lakes are scattered among the rugged rocks, blue like jade. For every traveler who plans their Sichuan tour, it should not be missed.
"Daocheng" and "Yading" often appear together, so that many people are confused about the relationship between Daocheng and Yading. Daocheng is a "county" under the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province, and Yading is a scenic spot in Daocheng County, 108 kilometers away from it. The most famous scenic spots in Daocheng County is Yading Nature Reserve, many people would regard Yading as Daocheng or tie them together to represent only the Yading Natural Reserve.
Daocheng is located in the Western Sichuan Plateau, with snow-capped mountains and glaciers, meadows and forests, streams and lakes. Yading Nature Reserve is composed of three sacred mountains and surrounding rivers, lakes and alpine meadows. Its scenery maintains the purity that is nearly extinct on the earth, with unique landforms and original natural scenery. This is one of the most complete and primitive alpine natural ecosystems in China.
Traveling to Daocheng Country and Yading Nature Reserve, you will find pastures full of flowers, gurgling streams, simple and deep villages, and holy and towering snow peaks. In addition, you will meet the pure and pious Tibetan people and feel the Tibetan culture.
Best time to travel Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
September to October is the best time to travel to Daocheng and Yading. In the cool autumn season, the golden grassland and the green/yellow poplar forest compete with each other, and the snow-capped mountains are more holy against the blue sky and white clouds.
April to May is the spring of Daocheng and Yading. Although the colors are not as gorgeous as autumn, there is more snow on the mountain than in autumn. Alpine rhododendrons are blooming in this period. As there are fewer tourists, accommodation fees are lower than in summer and autumn.
June to August is the rainy season in Daocheng. It is often rainy, snowy mountains are not easy to see under the rain and fog, and mountain roads are in danger of landslides or mudslides. However, there are still many tourists as this period is during the summer holidays.
November to March is the winter in Daocheng. Due to the extremely cold weather, most hotels will be closed during this period. As bad weather may cause snow-covered roads, travelers should avoid touring Daocheng in winter.
Top things to see and do in Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
Trek to the Milk Lake
Located in the mountain pass of the Yangmaiyong peak, about 4,500 meters above sea level, Milk Lake is an ancient glacial lake and the first of the three holy lakes in Yading. The lake is shaped like a scallop, with blue snow water in the middle and a ring of milky white around it, which is roughly why the Milk Lake gets its name. Travelers must trek (about 5-6 hours for round-trip from Luorong Pasture) to this holy lake as the horse-ride or bus-ride are inaccessible. Upon your arrival, you will be amazed at the magnificent landscape unfolding before your eyes: three sacred mountains seem close at hand, the clouds and mists rise between the snow peaks and glaciers, as ethereal as stars outside the territory.
Five Color Lake
Five Color Lake is located between the two sacred peaks Xiannairi and Yangmaiyong. It is round and 4,600 meters above sea level, which is the highest lake in Yading. The lake is clear, and the bottom of the lake is like a grid drawn with ink and pen, filled with shades of blue pigment. The plants and lake water at the bottom of the lake will show different rays of light under the sunlight, which is ever-changing. Many travelers fail to get to the Five Color Lake or even the Milk lake because it requires about 3-5 hours' trekking on the high altitude area to reach this lake.
The Pearl Lake, 4,100 meters above sea level, is the lowest holy lake in Yading, and it sits right at the bottom of the Xiannairi peak. A long time ago, the Xiannairi peak used to be a large lake. Later, the bank broke and the lake became smaller, leaving only the current Pearl Lake. It is recognized as the best place to take in the reflection of the Xiannairi peak. When Xiannairi’s melting snow hits the rocks, the sun shines like pearls falling into a jade plate, hence the name - Pearl Lake.
Fall Colors at Luorong Pasture
Luorong Pasture is one of the most famous places to stay overnight in the Yading Nature Reserve, the altitude is 4,150 meters. It is an alpine pasture where nearby villagers graze. Flocks of cattle and sheep enjoy plenty of sunshine, green grassland, and pure lake water. It was surrounded by three sacred mountains, the Gongga River shuttles from the pasture, the forest stream gurgling, and the ranch wooden houses complementing each other, forming a primitive and charming scenery. In autumn, the whole pasture is covered by the golden grass and dotted with black and white yaks.
Xiannairi is the sacred mountain closest to the entrance of the Yading Scenic Area. The entire snow-capped mountain is shaped like a circular ice bucket, hence, the mountain peaks always face us no matter travelers view from which side. It is 6,032 meters above sea level, the top of the peak does not melt all the year-round. The shape of the mountain looks like a giant Buddha with his body leaning back. When the sun shines on the Xiannairi peak, everything around it is golden.
Chonggu Temple, 3,880 meters above sea level, is located at the foot of Xiannairi Snow Peak. The temple has been severely destroyed, hence the construction year can not be investigated, now there is only one chapel remains. Every morning and afternoon, lamas and monks would burn incense and chant here, whenever the sound of chanting and the sound of dharma echo in the silent valley, it makes this place more sacred and mysterious.
Overnight in Yading village
In addition to the majestic snow-capped mountains, clear lakes, green meadows, and colorful wildflowers in Daocheng Yading, here also has a beautiful starry sky. There are many hotels/guesthouses in Yading Village where you can enjoy the starry sky. The village at the foot of the snow-capped mountains has low light pollution, and the starry sky is magnificent. The snow-capped mountains can be used as a background for shooting. Moreover, travelers should spend a night inside the park to fully enjoy the top attractions.
Daocheng White Pagoda
Daocheng White Pagoda is located at the head of Daocheng Bridge, behind Daocheng Gas Station, on the road from Litang to Daocheng. When you see this majestic and clean white pagoda, it means the hard long-distance journey will end and travelers will get to their destination soon. It is also known as the White Pagoda Temple and the largest white pagoda in Garze Prefecture.
Red Grass Field
The Red Grass Field is 28 kilometers north of Daocheng County. It is a wetland the size of a football field and is very seasonal. Every autumn here is covered with red water plants, it is gorgeous under the sunlight. On the other side of the wetland stood a row of yellow and green poplars, red grass in the water, the white clouds, blue sky, and distant mountains reflected in each other, creating a beautiful picture of mixed colors.
Haizishan Nature Reserve
Haizishan Nature Reserve is located in Litang and Daocheng counties, with an average elevation of 4,500 meters. It is the largest ancient ice relic on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Its most unique landscape is the stone river, stone sea, and ice-eroded lakes of various shapes composed of large and small gravels.
Bangpu Monastery is the oldest monastery in Daocheng, 30 kilometers away from the county, and 3,940 meters above sea level. It has a history of 900 years. It is a Buddhist monastery of the White sect of Tibetan Buddhism, called the Kagyu School in Tibetan. The dissemination of the White sect mainly relies on "oral inheritance", where the master dictates to his disciples, who practice according to the teachings of the master, and do not rely too much on scripture and books.
How to get to Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
The altitude of Daocheng Yading Airport is 4,411 meters, which is the highest civilian airport in the world. It is about 35km away from Daocheng county and has direct flights to Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Luzhou, Kunming, Xi'an, Kangding, and other places. It is recommended to take the flight from Chengdu to Daocheng Yading Airport as it has the most flights every day, which is about 70 minutes.
To get to Daocheng Yading by driving, most travelers would choose either start from Chengdu in Sichuan or start from Shangri-la in Yunnan. Compared to taking the flight to Yading, it indeed takes a long time but reduces the risk for high altitude sickness by gradually adapting to the high altitude day by day. Moreover, the gorgeous landscape along the driving way is another plus for the overland journey.
- Start from Chengdu in Sichuan: The one-way journey (about 1,100 kilometers) normally takes about 2-3 days bypassing either Mt Siguniang (3,100m) and Danba (1,860m) or Hailuogou (3,500m) and Kangding (2,560m), further to Tagong, Xinduqiao (3,460m), and Litang (4,010m). After sightseeing in Yading, travelers can choose to either make the same driving way or fly back to continue their Chengdu tour. Top highlights along this route include Hailuogou Glacier, Tagong Grassland, Xinduqiao, Litang Monastery, Litang Horse Racing Festival if travel in early August.
- Start from Shangri-la in Yunnan: At present, there are two routes to reach Daocheng Yading from Shangri-la (3,300m), both take a day's driving: One is cross over snow-capped mountains and then directly enter Daocheng via Xiangcheng (2,900m), which takes about 10-12 hours; another is making a detour via Benzilan and Derong (2,700m), and then to Xiangcheng and Daocheng, which takes about 8-10 hours. The detour via Derong is about 100km longer, but the road condition is relatively better.
Recommended itinerary and tours in Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
For Yading Nature Reserve, most travelers spend 2 days to fully enjoy the top highlights, including the driving hours from/to Daocheng (total 4 hours for the round-trip). During this exploration, travelers will see the three holy peaks, alpine meadows, forests, and the dazzling starry sky at night. Please refer to the detailed itinerary as below:
Day 1: After breakfast, ride from the hotel (either near the Yading entrance or Daocheng) to the tourist center station to start your amazing Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve tour.
- Take the scenic sightseeing bus (37 kilometers, about 1.5 hours) to Zhaguanbeng Station and enter the core scenic spot of Yading Nature Reserve. Note: Travelers can get off at Yading village (No. 1-4 station) where their hotel is located to check-in and store luggage first, then ride on the bus to Zhaguanbeng station afterward.
- Walk to Chonggu Temple (500 meters, 20 mins), Chonggu Temple is located at the foot of Xiannairi Mountain (3,880m). It is a great place to enjoy Xiannairi peak.
- Trek to visit Pearl Lake (1.5 kilometers, about 20-30 minutes), it is like an emerald inlaid on a lotus throne, with infinite clarity in the sparkling waves.
- Then trek back to Chonggu temple and further to Zhaguanbeng station to ride the sightseeing bus to Yading village for the night.
Day 2: Adventure to Milk Lake & Five Color Lake
- Ride a bus from Yading village to Zhaguanbeng station, then walk to Chonggu Temple.
- Change to a battery car (about 6.7 kilometers, 1hour/round-way) or hike (about 6.7 kilometers, 3-4 hours/round-way) to Luorong Pasture (4,180m).
- Luorong Pasture is a pasture where Tibetans graze nearby. It is backed by three sacred mountains, which is the best place to watch the 3 holy snow-capped mountains.
- Continue the trip by hiking up to Milk Lake (altitude 4,600m) and Five color lake (altitude 4,700m) (roughly 5-6 hours round trip by hiking) or you can take the horseback riding. It is challenging trekking, but it's all worth it for the spectacular scenery.
- Late afternoon get back to Yading village and take the local sightseeing bus back to entry, and then head to Daocheng overnight.
For most travelers, Chengdu is an ideal start city to make an overland trip to Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve together with other highlights of western Sichuan, such as Danba Tibetan villages, Tagong Grassland, Xinduqiao, Litang, and Kangding. In addition, an overland driving can also help travelers to gradually adapt to the high altitude. This 7 days Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve & Danba tour is a perfect match for the ones who are interested in Tibetan customs and magnificent natural scenery. For travelers who plan to enjoy the hot-spring and glaciers, this 7 days Hailuogou Glacier & Yading Nature Reserve tour could be a good alternative.
Dining and Accommodation in Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
Food and Beverages
There are many restaurants in Daocheng County, mainly Tibetan and Sichuan cuisine. Due to its plateau location and inconvenient transportation, the taste of the food here is just ordinary, the dishes are not so rich, the price will be about twice as expensive as the surrounding cities such as Chengdu. Inside the Yading Nature Reserve, there is only one place that can provide basic and simple food as well as oxygen and water, which is near the Luorong Pasture. The hotels and guesthouses near Yading village would offer charged breakfast and dinner for their guests. It's recommended to prepare some easy-pack foods such as bread, biscuits, chocolate, water, instant noodles, etc., before entering.
Daocheng County has hotels and guesthouses of various grades, with prices ranging from CN¥ 100-2,000 per night per room. The only 5-star Holyland Hotel is near Yading park entrance. There are no formal hotels inside the Yading Nature Reserve, mostly are guesthouses (no elevator) with limited reception capacity and the rooms are generally with private bathrooms, some newly-opened ones are equipped with fancy room facilities. Taking a shower at the hotels/guesthouses inside Yading Nature Reserve should be avoided as it can easily cause a high reaction and increase the burden on the body.
Useful Travel Tips
Yading Nature Reserve Admission:
- Entry ticket: CN¥ 150 Per Person (valid for two days).
- Sightseeing bus from the tourist center to Zhaguanbeng (37KM): CN¥ 120 Per Person (valid for two days), CN¥ 60 Per Person for the second entry.
- Electric car from Chonggu temple to Luorong pasture (6.7KM): CN¥ 80 Per Person for a round-trip, CN¥ 50 Per Person for one-way.
High altitude sickness:
- Visitors should check with their doctors first to confirm their physical condition is okay for the high altitude areas - because Yading Nature Reserve is over 4,000 meters averagely. It's common for everyone to have some high-altitude symptoms like headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and disturbed sleep.
- Before entering the plateau, smoking and drinking are prohibited to prevent upper respiratory tract infections. At the same time, avoid overwork and recharge one week before travel. If travelers have respiratory infections, severe anemia, high blood pressure or heart disease, please do not enter the plateau area.
- Prepare oxygen cylinders and medicines to prevent and treat acute altitude sickness as much as possible. Cold medicines, antibiotics, and vitamins are also indispensable, just in case. There is a big temperature difference between day and night, please make sure to bring enough warm clothes. In addition, travelers will be physically exhausted during travel, hence, please also prepare enough water and easy-to-digest food to supplement the body's necessary water and heat in time.
- Avoid fast walking and running after entering the plateau area, it is best not to take a shower for the first night.
- Clothing: Comfortable hiking boots, warm jacket, quick-dry underwear, hat, scarf and gloves, etc.
- Accessories and Extras: Personal medication including Anti-altitude sickness medicine, personal toiletries including strong sunblock, toothbrush, Sunglasses, Thermos cup, etc.
- Equipment: Trekking poles, raincoat or umbrella, 1-2 cans of portable oxygen cylinders, 1-2 bottles of mineral water, lightweight backpacks, etc.
- The road from Luorong Pasture to Milk Lake is very difficult to hike, and the physical requirements for everyone are relatively high. It takes about 5-6 hours for round-way hiking, and 4 hours round-way if you ride a horse.
- The round-trip horse ride costs about CN¥ 500 per person from Luorong Pasture to Milk Lake (about 5.7KM for one-way). Travelers who weigh over 85KG cannot ride the horse due to the bumpy road condition. Every year in September and October during the peak season, it's not easy to hire a horse as the horses may have been booked in advance.
- The road section from Milk Lake to Five-Color Lake is too narrow and steep to ride a horse. The horseman will wait for you near the Milk Lake. You need to trek for about 20 minutes to get the Five-Color Lake.