Carved into the cliff sides in foothills of the grand Qílián Mountains (Qílián Shān), the venerable Buddhist grottoes of Mǎtí Sì make for a fine short getaway from the hectic small towns along the Héxī Corridor. The tiny tourist village of Mǎtí Xiāng (马蹄乡) serves as a gateway to the temples. There’s excellent hiking in the nearby hills, and a small range of very simple accommodation and food from May to September. Come in July to see the mountain valleys carpeted in blue wildflowers.
There are several good day hikes around Mǎtí Sì, including the five-hour loop through pine forest and talus fields to the Línsōng Waterfall (临松瀑布; Línsōng Pùbù) and back down past Sword Split Stone (剑劈石; Jiànpīshí). For unrivalled panoramas, take the steep ascent of the ridge starting across from the white chörten (Tibetan stupa) just above the village at Sānshísāntiān Shíkū (三十三天石窟).