Huangshan or the Yellow Mountain lies in Anhui Province not too far from Shanghai. There is even supposed to be high speed rail in the works to connect both places. Till then there are flights from across China to Tunxi airport nearby and many buses from Hangzhou plus one or two from Shanghai. Below the mountain is Tangkou, which for all intensive purposes is where you want to go. Tunxi is still over an hour away, while Tangkou is literally at the base of the mountain. Nevertheless, from Tangkou a bus must be taken to the hiking trail and tram (the same bus station you would arrive at). Due to this Ala Hotel (which ranks #1 on tripadvisor) costs almost nothing and provides both luxury and location to the bus station.
For this Huangshan offers two options. The first is to stay in Tangkou and take the tram up at maybe 6 am or something (locals don’t know, but the tram opens very early). Around 5 you must get back down (5:30 is the last bus back to Tangkou). This is more than enough time to see much of the mountain and have enough rest from the knee breaking stairs. The second option is to go directly up and spend a night or two up there. For the more adventurous there are quite challenging
stairs trails going kilometers out, in, and around the area. For Chinese tourists this is a must, because it is a sure fire way to see the mountains during the sunrise. For the more classic view it should rain a bit too in order to get the sunrise and clouds. The downside to this option is having to lug your bags up and down many stairs till you finally get to your hotel (although you can leave your luggage down at Tangkou for the night or two at a restaurant).
There are still many more options. For a more adventurous route, there are two more entrances. One is coming in from Taiping, if you take the tram its high capacity, but doesn’t run so often. Or you can hike in from the Nunnery. All options give you the chance to either hike up or take the tram. The best route is likely coming up from Yungu on the tram straight to the top. It saves time if you are up for only one day. At the top we were first aghast to the little respect local tourists had for their national natural monument. Immediately after getting off the tram a man threw his empty bottle off the mountain in delight. Ever so often people would ignore the no smoking signs, and once even a man bullied a police officer (with his gangster friends) for asking him to put the cigarette out. There is trash everywhere, a truly sad sight at a place so remarkable.
From the tram you can continue around till you get to Cloud Dispelling Pavillion, which you will notice few tour groups bother to venture. The tour groups are incredibly loud with blaring megaphones ruining any aspect of peace (although the concept of going on such a tour through nature is foreign to me). Furthermore behind them is a long trail of trash and cigarette butts, and even further behind a line of attendants that are scurrying around the park cleaning after misbehaving tourists. At Cloud Dispelling, one is presented two options. The first is impossible unless you are staying on top of the mountain, which is the Grand Canyon of the West Sea.
The Grand Canyon of the West Sea is popular with foreign adventurers Opened around April and closed by December, this is a knee wrenching but throughly enjoyable hike (from what I’ve heard). It goes deep down into the bottom of the mountains’ center and then back up again, looping twice and taking one all the way around to the other side of the park at Fairy Walking Bridge. The path is supposed to offer tranquility and true nature far away from the overdevelopment at the top of the mountain. Until now. A new vehicular was built in April that takes tour groups right down to the bottom of the canyon, where the trail leads. I am unsure how the path works from there, but it should change the entire landscape of the canyon. If this trail is not taken, you must return to the tour groups by turning around and going up many many many stairs to the
TV tower Meteorological Center. From there you go back down to Baiyun Hotel. Here you will join the many exhausted tourists.
If you really want peace and quiet and a worthwhile hike go behind the hotel and walk straight (also new trails are popping up over there so try going downish not up). Few venture out this far, so expect some parts of the
stairs trail to be a bit more dangerous. It is a much longer walk than expected and it will kill your knees just the same, but I think its worthwhile. The Fairy Walking Bridge is pretty cool and is also the starting/ending point to the West Sea Canyon. Also one can continue to the Nunnery from here…a very long and lonely walk down.
After the bridge you return to Baiyun Hotel and continue down (or return from where you came from). If you continue down you will face probably the most ambitious steps down, but the greatest views. The path to Jade Screen offers the best views, in my opinion. Unfortunately signage here, like anywhere else on this mountain is terrible and numerous names are used. Here is Turtle Peak and the very ambitious Ladder on the Clouds (the name says it all, but you can skip it if you make a left and go underneath). Finally you will make it to Jade something (the name is always changing) and take the tram back down to the bus stop. If you have the money you can have the bus drop you off at the spa/hot springs at the entrance.
Overall Huangshan is quite a beautiful mountain and scenic area. Prices are a bit steep when taking into account the prices for the buses and trams. The lack of respect is a bit discerning too, as were the numerous fire hydrants which seems to show that maybe cigarette fires are quite the norm. Since there are so many paths, it may as well be better to spend a couple days running some adventures. It is also highly recommended after the pain and suffering that you buy yourself a self engraved medal. They are super cheap, personalized, and really funny.