Covered in lush, dripping forests, the sacred mountain of Qīngchéng Shān has been a Taoist spiritual centre for more than 2000 years. Its beautiful trails are lined with ginkgo, plum and palm, and there are caves, pavilions and centuries-old wooden temples to explore.
Visitors can experience two sides of the mountain. The main entrance is on the mountain's front side (前山; Qián Shān) and leads to paths that wind past 11 important Taoist sites. Those interested in hiking will prefer the back mountain (后山; Hòu Shān), accessed 40km northwest. In either case, to actually enjoy the views, avoid major holidays when masses of tourists arrive to pay tribute to their ancestors.
The trails at Qián Shān lead to a summit of only 1260m, a relatively easy climb – four hours up and down, even easier via the cable car (one way/return ¥35/60). Snack stands are scattered along the mountain trails, and several of the major temples have small restaurants.
If you want to spend the night, a few temples on Qián Shān welcome guests. Most atmospheric is the fantastic Shàngqīng Temple, a Qing-dynasty rebuild of the original Jin-dynasty temple in the middle of a forest near the top of the mountain, with guest rooms and a restaurant/teahouse attached. Alternatively, the Tiānshī Cave Temple has slightly less welcoming rooms, but is on a quieter stretch of the mountain.
Hòu Shān, the back of the mountain, has 20km of rugged pathways – expect a seven-hour round-trip hike to the 2128m summit, where you’ll find Báiyún Temple (白云寺; Báiyún Sì); the cable cars at Jīnlī (one way/return ¥30/55) and Báiyún (one way/return ¥45/80) can shave a couple hours off the hike. You can find some guesthouses (山庄; shānzhuāng) at Yòuyī Village (又一村; Yòuyī Cūn), around halfway up the mountain's west side, of which Jiāchún Villa is among the best.