When traveling in China, it is always nice to break up the big cities with some trips in the countryside. For most travelers, this usually means venturing to Guangxi, Yunnan, or points further afield.
What many don't realize is that there are spectacular, off-the-beaten-track places a lot closer than they think-- just a few hours from Shanghai.
From Hangzhou, you can do all the hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking you want without having to fly to far-away corners of China.
Just outside of Hangzhou, JKL sits at at 700 - 900m on Hongtao Mountain, where all the clean streams flow into a set of large reservoirs at the base of the mountain. Friendly villages with fresh food are at both ends of the hike.
While not the most spectacular scenery around, JKL gorge is the closest you can be to Hangzhou and still be away from it all. The pollution does not make it out here. It's also relatively easy to hike. JKL gorge can be done in a day, but it is worth spending one night in order to go at a more leisurely pace, enjoy the food and village, and catch a heavy sleep. No air conditioning out here, not needed. Wild raspberries available in early May, plus some delicious bamboo.
Many centuries ago, a bunch of monks built a temple on Tianmu Mountain west of Hangzhou. They also planted a series of cedar trees along the path up the mountain.
What the parades of Tianmu day trippers do not realize is that on the back side of Tianmu Shan, there are a series of waterfalls and streams flowing down from the Peak of the Immortals. A challenge to climb up, this area offers some of the best scenery in Zhejiang Province, as well as some great cliff jumping and swimming holes. Keep your eyes peeled for wild boar, pheasants, some weasel-like thing, deer and other wildlife that you would not expect to see outside of a restaurant.
After climbing up the back side, you can also head to the Kingdom of Trees and check out the more touristed sites on the front side easily.
Whether trying to keep up with the Chinese Olympic Team on their course up Dragon King Mountain, or heading to more remote roads that the Olympic team only wishes they knew about, Zhejiang is full of great bike routes.
After taking narrow side roads up a nearby mountain to where the road dead ends, you can then blaze down 20 kilometers of downhill roadway on the other side of that mountain. Unlike riding in China's cities, you can count the number of cars you see on one hand. Some of these roads seem almost made for biking.
72 Peaks... That's the actual name of this scenic spot. There is a ticketed entrance area at the top that has a climbing wall, rope suspension bridges, possibly laser tag... But this is to be avoided. One can bike, hike or drive to the top of the mountain past the scenic spot, where the road dead ends at beautiful Shiling Village.
Here there is a hydro station, and above the station more waterfalls and hiking. If you hike north and west to an the village of Dongling, another of those remote, untouched villages with good food. From Dongling, the hiking and biking opportunities are in all directions. You can bike 20+km of downhill back down into the heart of Anji county's bamboo sea, or bike part-way down and go up the back of another mountain to the Tianhuangping mountain-top reservoir.
Tianhuangping is a reservoir that sits at 1000m altitude and visibly changes depth throughout the day according to how much hydro electricity is being used (more hydro power is used during the day than the night). It then fills back up again through a series of sluices. Pretty cool.
There is a road down the front side of the mountain. It is about 20km long and has a vertical drop of ~800 meters-- exhilarating biking.
In the other direction, you can hike down from Dongling into Lin'an county, the back side of Tianmushan, where there is the famous Tianmu Gorge and Pingxi Village whitewater. The locals will be surprised to see you emerging from the woods. If you go in October, look out for the small wild kiwis that grow on the mountain and are bursting with flavor.
The Tianmu Gorge is usually a busy tourist spot, but we enter from the upper/back door, further up than the crowds make it
One mountain west of the 72 Peaks of Dahan, and one mountain north of Tianmu Mountain, is Dragon King Mountain. Besides being where the Chinese Olympic Bike team practices their hills, this mountain is one of the tallest in western Zhejiang and the tallest in Anji County. Because of its size and remoteness, there is plenty of hiking available.
Getting to the top, the road becomes a series of switchbacks and landslides once you hit the 20km point, and the only option is to hike or bike the rest of the way. From the peak, the entire south-facing side is a large nature reserve with plenty of trails and streams.
If Woolf is taking you down the south-facing side, he will probably try to get you to the Tianmu Mountain area for further exploration. You can spend days in this area and find all kinds of amazing scenery, but camping may be required some nights.
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