Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Mountain in Lijiang

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain soars to some 5596m, and the massif's thirteen peaks dominate the skyline of the surrounding regions. Undeniably beautiful, the national park is also undeniably overcrowded – a classic case of over-tourism, compounded by a lack of any nature trails or hiking areas whatsoever. If you're looking for pristine nature, consider Tiger Leaping Gorge or a day hike out of Baisha. If you just want to get up close and personal with peaks, though, visit Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Buses (¥15, one hour) from Lijiang arrive at a parking area where you can purchase tickets for the various cable cars and chairlifts that ascend the mountain, but before you even arrive to the service centre you'll need to pony up ¥100 for the entrance fee. This grants you entrance to the service centre and surrounding Dry Sea Meadow (干海子, Gānhǎizi), but not much more.

This is also where the Impression Lijiang show is held, a mega song-and-dance performance. Note that if you are going to the performance you will also have to pay the park admission fees. Most independent travellers skip this, but those booking an organised tour may find it included in the package price.

From the bus drop-off, a counter on the right sells tickets for separate cable cars to Yak Meadow (牦牛坪, Máoniú Píng) and Spruce Meadow (云杉坪, Yúnshān Píng). Cable-car trips for both Yak Meadow (¥45) and Spruce Meadow (¥40) also require a bus transfer (¥20 round-trip); you could conceivably walk it, but the road to the Yak Meadow cable car is 20km from the visitor centre. Just below the Spruce Meadow cable car station (and served by bus) are the Blue Moon Valley (蓝月谷, Lányuè Gǔ) and the White Water River (白水河, Báishuǐ Hé) that runs through it. In summer, when crowds for the cable cars are long (up to four hours' wait), many travellers just do the trip to the lake and Yak Meadow or Spruce Meadow.

If you have the time to wait for it, the main draw of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is Glacier Park (冰川公园, Bīngchuān Gōngyuán). Ride up nearly 3km of cable car to an elevation of 4506m, where a 200m wooden pathway gets visitors right up next to the mountain's largest glacier. Buy cable car (¥120) and bus transfer (¥20 round-trip) tickets from a separate ticket office east of where buses from Lijiang drop passengers, across from the Impression Lijiang theatre. In the high season, expect to wait an hour or more for a bus transfer to the cable-car station and then a further three to four hours for the cable car itself. It can get cold and windy at the top in midsummer; you'll see plenty of domestic tourists wearing rented down jackets, and you'd be well advised to pack your own warm clothes for the trip.

Buses (¥15, one hour) returning to Lijiang leave every 20 minutes until 5pm from a parking lot just between the Glacier Park ticket office and the Impression Lijiang theatre. The line is not numbered, so look for Yulong Xueshan (玉龙雪山, Yùlóng Xuěshān) in Chinese.