Beijing's best day trips: mountains

Escape Beijing's flat terrain with these sky-scraping days out

One of the best ways to see Beijing is from above, and city's the surrounding peaks offer some of the best day trippin' options beyond the ring-road limits. Some of these mountain jaunts are historically significant, some are just bleedin' beautiful and, one way or another, all of them can take your breath away with hearty climbs and stunning views all round.
Yesanpo (野三坡)

Yesanpo (野三坡)

Gorges, mountainscapes and neon caves at the western border of Beijing

Yesanpo ( 野三坡) is a charming cluster of villages and gateway to some spectacular peaks just over the Hebei border. Nestled in a less-frequented stretch of mountain country than throbbing Shidu, Yesanpo is home to some spectacular mountain-based tourism, most of which is has been left to impress in comparatively natural condition.

Yesanpo Scenic Area encompasses several major tourism nodes including Bailixia Gorge, the Juma River, Baicaopan Forest, Yugu Cave and more. Realistically, one day won’t be enough time to cover all that Yesanpo has to offer, but if you leave Beijing early enough you should be able to squeeze a traipse around Bailixia Gorge and a lurk through Yugu Cave into a proper go-getting day trip.

The main event in Yesanpo, and therefore the busiest, is Bailixia Gorge – a 50km maze of stunning rock formations, valleys and peaks. Visitors can grade their experience according to fitness, with a 2,800-step climb to the tallest section of the gorge a highlight for those willing.

A few clicks along the highway by car (negotiate for one at the car park if you don’t have a driver) is Yugu Cave (Yugudong, 鱼谷洞). While seasoned spelunkers mightn’t get a massive kick out of Yugu’s manicured pathways and stairs, the cave is nonetheless an exhilarating 40-minute journey from start to finish. The neon lights spotlighting the cave’s more interesting formations are strangely effective, and if you time it right you’ll be by yourself for the entire eerie walk; as if simply being in Hebei wasn’t eerie enough.

Getting there Here’s the catch, getting to Yesanpo isn’t entirely straightforward, but the best adventures never are. There is one train per day from Beijing West and one back, but as the former leaves at 5.45pm and the latter at 9.30am, you'll need two nights in Yesanpo to do anything other than sleep. Opt instead for the 917 bus (on the hour from 6am) from Tianqiao bus station (there are two 917 stops, you want the one to the west of the Beiwei Lu and Dongjing Lu intersection), and take it to Shidu. From Shidu, there are minibuses heading periodically to Yesanpo, but you will need to flag one down – speak to a local as to where best to do this. Our minibus stopped right at Yugu Cave, and not far from Bailixia Gorge, but you will need to communicate this clearly to your driver. The last bus leaves from Yugu Cave at 4.30pm, but alas, so does the bus from Shidu to Beijing, so you will need to make well-considered arrangements as to leave enough time to make it back to the capital. Hiring cars between sights is also a good, if more expensive, option, and if you need to spend a night in Yesanpo (we did), well, at least you can sample the local take on yangrou chaun'r.

Travel time 3 hours to Shidu; 45 minutes to Yesanpo.

Cost 21RMB to Shidu. 15RMB in a minibus to Yesanpo. 65RMB for Yugu Cave.

Baihe Valley

Baihe Valley

Undisturbed peace in the Hebei countryside

Baihe Valley is a site beloved by Beijing's rock climbers, not just because of the spectacular views of Miyun Reservoir it offers. Because it's not officially a national park, there's no entrance cost, no touristy paraphernalia and mostly, no other people. It's just you and the great outdoors, baby, so be prepared for some serious ambling, wandering and frolicking in the crystal clear water. You can also pick mulberries and plums from the plentiful fruit trees in the area, and in certain spots you can see the Great Wall of China looming in the distance. 

Getting there Public transport doesn't really cut it out here, so we recommend a private car.

Travel time Three or four hours from central Beijing.

Miaofengshan (妙 峰山)

Miaofengshan (妙 峰山)

A spiritual focal point carved into the mountains

Mount Miaofeng (Miaofengshan, 妙 峰山) is the end point of one of the Taoist pilgrimages from Beijing. At its highest peak it reaches 1,291m, which is pretty hard going if you’ve walked all the way from Beijing, but a bit more manageable if you’ve been driven from the end of Line 1.

Once you’ve been dropped off in Miaofengshan village (Miaofengshanzhen, 妙峰山镇), where you can find quaint houses and precisely one local restaurant serving up basic but hearty dishes, it’s time to ascend.  The climb takes about an hour, depending on how often you stop to gawp at the mountainous views behind you. Don’t worry about getting lost; there’s only really one way to go, which is up towards the Miaofeng Temple looming above. 

After a pretty rugged traverse, a more touristy scene awaits you at the top. The ancient and more recent history of the temples are explained in English and Chinese on plenty of helpful signs. There’s not a huge amount to do here, but there is a huge amount to see. Just by the entrance is a small patio set up with some tables and chairs – buy a cup of tea from the woman guarding the fort and soak up the jaw-dropping landscape, which makes you feel a lot further from Beijing than you actually are.

Getting there Line 1 to Pingguoyuan, then either catch the 8.30am 929 bus to Miaofengshan (once a day), or haggle with a local driver for a lift. The return bus is at 4pm.

Travel time One hour from Pingguoyuan by car (or two if you get the bus).

Cost 40RMB for Miaofengshan; around 300RMB  for round trip with private driver from Pingguoyuan (depending on your bartering skills). 4RMB for the bus.

Mangshan National Forest Park

Mangshan National Forest Park

Beijing's biggest forest park

Image credit: Mat Gallagher

Only 40km from the city centre lies Mangshan, the city's largest and most beautiful forest park. The name 'mangshan' means 'python mountain', so called because of the way the mountain range snakes through the surrounding countryside.

After checking out the 1,500 tonnes of granite Buddha on the right of the entrance gate, you can head up the stairs into a spacious, open courtyard, which has several picnic tables, and flanks the pathway through the Health Forest. The thin trail, shrouded in evergreens, is packed with blooming wild flowers and shrubbery.

To delve deeper into the park, follow the signs to the ‘Climbing Steps’. Only the brave need apply for this 1,299-step trek – the longest in Beijing. But their endeavours will be rewarded by a beautiful hike – the mix of evergreens and maple trees turn the mountain a brilliant tapestry of green and red in the autumn. At the top is a commanding view of the mountain range and, to the west, the Ming Tombs Reservoir.

Getting there Take bus 888 (7.30am-8.30pm) from Deshengmen Bus Station (德胜门) and get off at Mangshan Park ( 蟒山国家森林公园), the terminal stop. 

Travel time About 90 minutes.

Cost 20RMB entrance ticket.

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