Cloud Traveller’s Path
The path, called Cloud Traveller’s Path, is extremely well built and in a better condition than many sidewalks in Chinese cities. It’s supposed to be at an altitude of 2,500 m (8,202 ft). Most signs along the way are in Chinese and English. There is a cablecar at Gantong Temple. The path is occasionally closed due to rockfalls, particularly in the section between the Seven Dragon Pools and the Phoenix Eye cave, as was the case for large portions of 2012.
Start at Zhonghe
From Zhonghe Temple you have a choice of paths running north or south, with each offering equally spectacular views of the mountains, valley and lake. The entrance to the walking path (the chairlift no longer runs to Zhonghe temple) is at walking distance from the city / Lily Pad / Jade Emu, although the start is hard to find (ask at your guesthouse or hotel).
The northern route of 6 km- (4 mi-) of path offers one of the sharpest cliff views of the entire Dali valley, and on a clear day you can see Jizu Mountain well beyond Erhai Lake. At the bend in the main valley it also offers a path up the mountains for 2 km (1 mi) which ends at a mountain pool where you can take a swim on a warm day.
Northern view on the Cloud Path in the Cangshan Mountains
The southern route winds down for 11 km (7 mi) through a few valleys to Gantong temple. This hike will lead you to most of the sights mentioned below and will take 3-4 hours. At Gantong temple, you have an option to ride the chairlift down or to hike down one hour along the well built path. You can even turn this into an 8-hr hike if you continue southwards Xiaguan along good paths (with several early exit points down the mountain) and enjoy the spectacular view.
Cangshan Gorge Starts at the southern end of the Cloud Travellers Path (Gantong cable car). The path is entrance is well marked by a viewing platform sign, 100m south of the 1st Gantong Cable car path (if approached from the north) and another path down to the cable car starts directly opposite. The viewing platform is only 20m from the main path and well worth the small flight of stairs. A cobbled path continues beyond, it passes three small pavilions, before becoming more overgrown (but still easy to follow) for about 20 minutes past the viewing platform up the valley terminating in the river bed. For the adventurous it is possible to continue up the river bed by clambering over boulders. The gorge offers arguably the best scenary accessible from the cloud travellers path.
A suggested route would be to hike up to Zhonghe Temple, take the northern path for 3 km (2 mi) enjoying the clearest view of the entire valley, then head back south past Zhonghe Temple towards Gantong Temple. You can buy refreshments at the temple, so take a break, then keep walking the full 11km until you reach Gangtong. Continue 100m past the first ropeway sign south and checkout the changshan gorge viewing platform (and if you still have time and energy do the walk – see above). If you are not up to the full walk, you can exit the mountain about 3km past Zhonghe Temple down a well made stairway behind Dali Tianlongbabu TV City.
Start at Gantong
You can also start Gantong Temple and go the opposite direction. This seems to be the common way for tourists. If you go by public transport, take bus 4 (¥2) and stop at Quanyintang (near a temple), after you need to walk about 30 min up to go to south chairlift.
Start at Cangshan Cable Car
It’s very tempting to stay in Dali but I decide I’ll instead do better research and return more prepared on my next visit to China. So many inventive uses for the iPad. Quan has sent me instructions written in Chinese,” Take me to the Train station”. I can pull up that and a picture of a map, my taxi driver has no trouble understanding what I want. Line up for tickets on the first level, then on to the upper level for the train. It’s surprisingly easy to pick out the correct destination. I buy a sleeper car ticket, $9.00 instead of $5.00. I am the only person to turn right, the crowd goes left toward coach. An extraordinary deal for a bit of room and vastly more comfortable than the bus, I share the entire rail car with 6 other individuals. Four hours past rice paddies and farmland and I’m in Shuhe, a small tourist village about 7 km north of the much busier World Heritage site of Lijiang. I’ve again picked my accommodation based on the online booking agency’s indication that the manager is fluent in English, The Bruce Chalet. . Despite my map the taxi driver has difficulty finding the place, it’s in the village proper, all dusty cobbled lanes, some blocks from the tourist area. She stops at the areas renowned spa hotel, the young doorman speaks English , I’m able to clarify the location of my hotel for her. It’s 3rd time lucky, Bruce’s English is impeccable. After settling he arranges a taxi to take me to the imposing massive in the background, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The full day hire is $30. I spend the evening wandering though the tourist area, a microcosm of Lijiang. My meal is uninspired along the main line of restaurants, chosen at random.