CHINA – A hike through the Potatso national park near Shangri-La

The annual trip (May 2015) with my son brought me this time to China for an itinerary through the Yunnan Province. Now I will share my brief experience I had in Shangri-La, the largest northern city in the Yunnan province. We did a hike there through the Potatso National Park (also called Pudacuo National Park). It’s the best of all Yunnan trekking. This area is where the Tibetan culture starts going up north and towards Tibet (check my 7 days in Lhasa itinerary). Today was the last day that our Yunnan guide would accompany us; we had lots of fun together!

From Lijiang to Shangri-La

It was early morning when I left Lijiang together with my son for a half day drive to Shangri-La; our last destination before heading to Tibet. The roads went up and down the mountain but climbing all the time. The air got thinner when we arrived at 3600 meters, but as we were already a few days in Lijiang we did not have problems with lack of oxygen. That was different when we did the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain hike. When we arrived at the altitude of Shangri-La we had a stop at a small shop along the road to buy some drinks and dried yak meat. Delicious!


Arriving at Potatso National Park

As today would be our only day in Shangri-La we drove directly to the Potatso National Park (also called Pudacuo National Park) where we arrived around lunch time. The entrance was a kind of alley with many food stands where we bought some local yak dishes to have some new energy for the hike ahead. The Potatso National Park is the first national park in China. It is home to both the Bita and the Shudu lakes of which the first is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hike goes along the two lakes over a wooden walkway so that you really get close to the nature without having to climb over trees or walk through mud. If you plan a Yunnan itinerary and you love hiking then a Potatso National Park hike is a must do!

Shudu Lake at Potatso National Park

Busses at the Potatso National Park take you to the first hike at the Shudu Lake. It is just over an hour of walking around it once you arrive there. The path is all covered by a wooden walkway making it easy to navigate and at the same time making you feel one with nature. The first part takes you over some grassland where you will hear and see yaks grazing just next to you. Beautiful views over the lake will amaze you after each turn of the path. The water is crystal clear and you will be able to spot fish swimming in it. The second part takes you along the lake and on the other side with dense pine forest. The smell of the pine trees is intense and very fresh. Squirrels play on the walkway and are not afraid of the visitors. We sat down on one of the benches watching them play for a moment.


Second hike at Bita Lake

At the end of the first walk busses are waiting to take you up the hill for a beautiful view over the fields with hundreds of yaks and horses. From there they can drop you at the start of the second hike or all the way back to the entrance of the Potatso National Park. We decided to also walk the second hike which is just over two hours of walking. It’s so beautiful you should not miss this second hike!

Time was flying and so was the temperature. It got more and more cold in the afternoon and we were just walking in shorts and a t-shirt. The second hike takes you for the most part along the shore of Bita lake which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (part of the Three Parallel River sites inscription). Parts go through forest and grasslands. These grasslands are full with horses and yaks of local farmers. The forests house a big variety of rare animals like pheasants, bulls, leopards and lynxes. The nature is so clean, fresh and beautiful in this park. Compared to some other polluted parts of China or the cities full of smog it’s a real pleasure to walk here.

A cold aftermath with delicious yak meat

After some hours we arrived at the end of the second hike where busses brought us back to the entrance of the Potatso National Park. Our Yunnan guide took us to a family owned restaurant where we tried various dishes of yak. One dish I will never forget: 1/3rd of grinded Yak meat and 2/3rd of chili’s. He also explained us the basics of mahjong on the mahjong table in the dining room.


After dinner it was time to go to our hotel but we a small stop first at the central square for some dancing. We, in our shorts and shirts, however didn’t last long as it was freezing at about 0 degrees Celsius. Everyone was staring at us while wearing thick winter clothing. The same happened in the Chinese hotel we would stay. They must have thought something like: “here come again some stupid western tourists”. Our Shangri-La time was already over as the next day we would fly to Tibet for 7 days. On a next trip the plan is to visit Shangri-La and more of the rural surrounding areas. That’s for another Yunnan itinerary in the future. For now we got a small but good impression.

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Did you visit Shangri-La and visited the Potatso National Park too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Potatso National Park

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.