You have probably seen photos of tourists hanging off the side of a stunning mountain. Or walking across a few thin planks bolted into a mountainside, their faces animated with adrenaline or fear.
If you’re in Xi’an for the famous Terracotta Warriors, why not take a day-trip to Huayin (45-minutes from Xi’an by train). Here lies Hua Shan, also known as “The Most Dangerous Hike In The World”, and one of the five sacred mountains of China. Its very steep landscapes, trees growing amidst cliffs and its thousands of carved steps have made it popular tourist attractions in China.
With the highest peak at 2,154-meters above sea-level, the mountain is split into different pathways heading off towards various temples and five main peaks. You can reach via vertical stairs dug into rocks allowed access to higher points, sometimes with only steel bars or chains for support, but often with nothing to arrest your fall.
Ways to Hike Hua Shan
Easy: Take Cable Car to West Peak
The easiest way is to take the main cable car all the way to West Peak (2,087-meters). From there you can hike up 30-40 minutes to reach the South Peak and the plank walk. The East and Middle peaks are all pretty close, so it’s not too difficult of a hike if you want to explore. However, to get to the North Peak where the second cable car is, you’ll need at least an hour to hike down the thousands of stairs to reach this lower area.
Cable car ticket: (not inclusive of entrance to Hua Shan)
Mar. – Nov.: CNY 280 for a round trip; CNY 140 for a one-way trip
Dec. – Feb.: CNY 240 for a round trip; CNY 120 for a one-way trip
Medium: Take Cable Car to North Peak
If you’re feeling more adventurous, try taking the cable car to the North Peak and hike your way up. It’s a pretty strenuous hike, so allow yourself about four hours to get to the East Peak if you want to take rests.
Since the North Peak cable car is shorter, this trip will be a bit cheaper than heading all the way to the West Peak, which is great if you need to save some money. I took a one-way trip down to the bottom after my hike.
Cable car ticket: (not inclusive of entrance to Hua Shan)
Mar. – Nov.: CNY 150 for a round trip; CNY 80 for a one-way trip
Dec. – Feb.: CNY 80 for a round trip; CNY 45 for a one-way trip
Hard: Hike from the bottom
Hiking to the top of this sacred mountain is a BIG adventure itself. The first 1.5-kilometers is an enjoyable climb on a paved path, but it doesn’t take long until you reach the never-ending steep steps that are carved into the mountain cliffs. Nevertheless, the views along the trail are fantastic and the fulfillment of hiking is awesome.
After passing through “Thousand-Feet Canyon” and “High Lord Furrow”, you’ve arrived at the North Peak. From here, you just have to continue walking to the other peaks which are towering in front of you. Take the Mount Hua’s “Knife-Edge Ridge” where you’ll need to conquer “The Heavenly Stairs”, more steps and vertical ladders that help you reach the top. I spotted a sign leading towards the “Plank Walk In The Sky” and ignored other peaks.
Once you reached the plank walk, a man in military uniform was issuing compulsory harnesses for RMB30. The body harness doesn’t look dependable, and it comes with a pair of lanyards with carabiners. Just be sure to only undo one clip at a time, so you’re securely attached by at least one carabiner.
The plank walk is a 2-way traffic so the fun part is to stand at the edge to let another person pass you! To me, the fear was putting my trust in ancient Chinese engineering and the equipment used being made in China.
What if I don’t want to do the plank?
Hua Shan is still worth visiting even without the plank walk. The view is absolutely phenomenal, especially the cable cars you can take to get up the mountain. There are tiny Taoist temples lining the hike, and stunning sights at every turn. Furthermore, it is already an adventure itself to watch people embarking on the plank walk.
Is Hua Shan Really Dangerous?
Many sources claim that 100 people die per year hiking Hua Shan, but these deaths mostly occur from overcrowding on the narrow staircases in summer months, rather than doing the plank walk. Nowadays, people are focusing too much on their cameras and phones rather than the stairs ahead of them. In some spots, one small slip can be the end not only yourself, but others as well.
Getting to Hua Shan
High Speed Train From Xian To Huashan
- Head to the Xi’an North Railway Station and catch a high speed train to Huashan North Station (华山火车北站). This train is on the Zhengzhou-Luoyang-Xian line, and should cost between 34 and 55 RMB. The journey will be less than 45 minutes.
- When you get off at Huashan North jump on one of the green minibuses and it will take you directly to the mountain. This minibus is free.
Regular Train From Xian To Huashan
- Make your way to the Xi’an Railway Station and catch a regular train to Huashan Railway Station (华山火车站). This train should cost between 17 and 20 RMB. The journey will be about 2 hours.
- At Huashan Railway Station take a taxi or minivan to the mountain.
Entrance Fee: (Valid for 2 days)
Mar. – Nov.: CNY 160; Dec. – Feb.: CNY 100
Tips For Hiking Hua Shan:
- Bring big bottle of water. You can buy bottled water on the mountain itself, but it is ridiculously expensive.
- Bring your own snacks.
- If you’re doing a day trip, take an early train from Xi’an.
- Wear proper footwear.
- Bring layers with you, and wet weather gear. The climate can change quickly up on the mountain.
- It is possible to do this in winter. Be aware that snow and ice will make things slippery and more dangerous.
- If you are trying to catch the last bus back to Xi’an then you might want to consider taking the cable car down around 1800hrs.