Hiking China’s Grand Canyon: Pingshanhu
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Spires and columns of brick red sandstone stretch out as far as the eye can see. The landscape is dry and arid, the river that once helped carved this massive canyon long since dried up many years ago. Just wind, wildlife, and the occasional tourist flow through the maze of rock now. We walk the path along the edge of the canyon, peering alternately down into the valleys below and out to the horizon where the canyon meets the mountains in the distance. An 180-degree view of towering rock walls and narrow slot canyons stares back at us, tempting us to explore its depths, which we are only too eager to do.
We pass an entrance that leads to the canyon floor and jump at the chance to see this brilliant natural wonder up close. A staircase drops down and we begin our descent into the vast maze of rock. Letting gravity guide us down the stairs, it didn’t take long to reach the sandy canyon floor. A slot of light and bright blue sky shines above us, the only glimpse of open space lingers above our heads. The sun lights up the canyon walls creating a brilliant fire red hue that illuminates our path.
Winding along the canyon floor the path is easy and flat. The canyon walls twist and turn creating incredible sculptures and patterns in the rock. Rounding a bend in the canyon, the walls open up creating two diverging paths out of the canyon. One leads to a staircase, the other a narrow slot canyon and ladder. Of course, we couldn’t resist the chance to squeeze through holes and climb straight up the canyon wall, and we were definitely not disappointed.
If you like climbing or caving you’ll definitely appreciate taking the ladders. After climbing over and around boulders, squeezing between cracks in the wall and crawling through holes, we arrived at the start of the ladder. Sturdy metal rungs climb straight up the cliff face surrounded by a cage for safety. No attendants are there and no harnesses or other safety equipment is provided, besides the cage that was built around the ladder, so it’s best to only choose this route if you are comfortable climbing up ladders and not afraid of heights.
It’s not a particularly long climb, maybe 10 minutes of climbing and we arrived back at the top of the canyon. Pingshanhu contains a labyrinth of twists and turns to explore, and we couldn’t resist leaving any inch of this incredible place undiscovered. After reaching the top Justin and I decided to make a second loop out of our hike by heading back down into the canyon via the staircase we opted out of originally, and then come back up via the ladders (that route is like an adult playground, we just couldn’t resist crawling and climbing our way through the tiny slot canyon one more time).
Unfortunately, there is only one hiking path through the canyon and one path along the edge (with multiple viewing platforms) so once you’ve conquered those two paths you’ve seen everything a tourist can possibly see, which accounting for Justin and I’s second pass through the canyon, only amounts to 3-4 hours.
Pingshanhu Grand Canyon is one of China’s newest tourist attractions, just opened to the public in 2014, so it’s possible that in the future they could open up more hiking paths creating more of a full day excursion. That being said, it takes almost an hour and half to reach Pingshanhu from the nearest city, Zhangye, so even at only 3-4 hours spent there you’ll still have a pretty full day of exploring.
While not quite as vast as America’s Grand Canyon, the 156 square kilometer area of China’s Pingshanhu Grand Canyon is still impressive. Often compared to the Colorado Canyon in the US, this Grand Canyon is easily the biggest in China. Having never been to a Grand Canyon before, we found Pingshanhu to be super impressive and absolutely worth the drive to go see.
Other places to see in Zhangye:
How to Get to Pingshanhu Grand Canyon
1. Fly to Jiayuguan or Lanzhou + Train to Zhangye City
Your home base for exploring Pingshanhu is the city of Zhangye in Gansu province. Zhangye is a little bit off the beaten path to get to so you’ll most likely have to take multiple forms of transportation just to get to the city. Zhangye does have an airport, but it’s tiny and extremely difficult to find a flight there. You will most likely have to fly into Jiayuguan, a neighboring city 220km northwest of Zhangye.
Check the latest prices and flight availability here.
Jiayuguan is the city where the Great Wall of China ends, so if you have time you should definitely go see the Great Wall and fort at Jiayuguan (just to name a couple attractions) while you’re in the area.
From Jiayuguan your best bet is to take a train to Zhangye. Trains leave from the Jiayuguan train station heading to Zhangye approximately every hour. You can check train schedules on Ctrip here, or download the China Trains app on your phone.
There is no need to book your train tickets ahead of time unless you are traveling on a holiday. As this area is not a super popular tourist destination (yet), we had no trouble showing up at the train station and buying a ticket for the next scheduled train to depart. We never had to wait more than an hour to get on a train.
It’s almost double the price to take the high-speed train, 65 RMB for the high-speed train vs. 37 RMB for the slow train with an allotted time savings of only 15 minutes. Check Ctrip or the China Trains app for times, prices, and station locations to figure out which train you want to take and where it leaves from.
2. Take a Car to Pingshanhu Grand Canyon
Pingshanhu is located 56km away from Zhangye City. As the majority of the road to get there is dirt and home to, shall we say, less than ideal driving conditions, your best bet will be to hire a driver to take you to the canyon and back for the day. Due to the poor road conditions budget 1.5 hours for the drive, one way. Expect to pay your driver 300 RMB for a day trip to Pingshanhu Grand Canyon.
How to Find a Driver
When we were in Zhangye in late March/early April every taxi driver and their mother all friends wanted to drive us around for the day. Literally every taxi driver we got in a car with immediately asked us if we needed a driver to go sightseeing. But, if they don’t volunteer ask. If they’re busy, they’ll call one of their friends and arrange everything for you. Super easy.
Oh, and no worries about having to sit for an hour in a beat-up taxi. They’ll switch out the city taxi for a nice car or SUV when they come to pick you up.
Traveling Inside Pingshanhu Grand Canyon
A park bus will be waiting just inside the entrance to the park to transport tourists to the canyon, 10km down the road. The bus will drop you off at the start of the walkway and viewing platforms at the top of the canyon. Get off and walk along the path at the edge of the canyon, taking your time to admire views and snap photos of course. After you’ve exhausted all the viewing platforms, you’ll come to a staircase leading down into the canyon. There will probably be some sort of park attendant there to direct you down the staircase.
From there it’s literally impossible to get lost as you’re walking in between two towering rock walls with nowhere else to turn. Follow the path walking along the canyon floor until you get to a wide open area with two signs directing you to two different paths out of the canyon, the sky ladder, and the staircase. Having taken both options we would definitely recommend climbing the ladders (as mentioned before). Once you’ve made it back up to the top of the canyon you can feel free to look around some more, go back down for a second loop, or, if you’re done exploring, take a park bus waiting at the closest viewing platform back to the park entrance.
Time at Pingshanhu Grand Canyon
Just taking into account time at the canyon, it’s about a half a day’s excursion, but with the 3 hours of total travel time to get there and back, it’s actually more like a 7-hour outing.
8:00 am – 6:00 pm
When to Go
Anytime from April – November. Just make sure to avoid the bitterly cold winter months.
Where to Stay
There are tons of hotels in Zhangye City, but not all of them accept foreigners. We used Agoda to book our hotels for this trip as it tells you explicitly under each hotel whether or not they allow foreigners to stay, making it really easy for us to know which hotels we should book.
You can check availability and latest prices here.
Ready to get your hike on, at China’s grandest of Grand Canyons? Come explore this incredible place for yourself, we know you won’t be disappointed!
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* This post contains some affiliate links. By purchasing a product or service through these links you are helping to support this blog at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products we personally use and love!
*** This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing a product or service through these links you are helping to support this blog at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products we personally use and love! ***