Climbing Hua Shan, Minus the Crowds

I am often inspired by movies when choosing travel destinations. I am not ashamed to admit that the only reason I discovered Hua Shan (Mt Hua) is that some of the scenes from the modern remake of the film Karate Kid were filmed there.

Visiting Xi’an and the nearby Terracotta Warriors was already on my bucket list, so when I discovered that I could reach this fascinating mountain in province with a 45-minute bullet train ride, I was more than a little excited.

Xian - Mt Hua Shan 48 Jessica Palmer

With an altitude of 2,160 metres, Hua Shan is one of the five holy Taoist mountains in China. It is well known for its temples and five peaks: North (Cloud Terrace Peak), Central (Jade Lady Peak), East, South, and West. You can hike to each of these peaks in a circuit and each are worth the visit if you have the time.

Hua Shan has often been referred to as the most dangerous hiking trail in the world. This title is a little unfair as it refers to sections of the hike that are completely optional. For the adventurous, there are a few via ferrata sections. A via ferrata is a route consisting of anchored cables, rungs and ladders, which allow lesser or inexperienced climbers to face otherwise dangerous but incredibly scenic routes.

Xian - Mt Hua Shan 45 Jessica Palmer

The optional via ferrata on Hua Shan that has gained the most attention is called the Plank Walk. It consists of wooden planks secured to a vertical cliff face on which you walk along, holding yourself close against the wall.

These days there is a cable that you hook onto for safety but this wasn’t always the case. During the summer months, overcrowding increases the danger as there is not enough room to pass people who are heading the opposite direction without hanging half of your body over the edge as you go around them.

No technical climbing skills are needed to experience Hua Shan as there are steps and the paths are well-signed. Don’t let this fool you though! This hike is no walk in the park and you need a decent level of fitness.

I recommend visiting in off-peak or shoulder season to avoid crowds. The end of winter is lovely as the cool weather ensures breathtaking snow-capped scenery. However, certain sections may be closed because of snow.

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The good news is that a cable car is available to take you up to North Peak, avoiding a gruelling two-to-five-hour hike (depending on your fitness level). The hike involves climbing steep stairs from the foot of the mountain up to North Peak at 1,614 metres. You will also be pulling yourself up using chains in some sections.

This path was closed due to snow when I visited and after seeing how steep the path was from the cable car, I was incredibly relieved. If I had completed this hike first, I don’t think I would have made it to the other peaks.

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Xian - Mt Hua Shan 21 Jessica Palmer


Central Peak doesn’t really feel like a peak, it’s kind of a flat section with a lovely temple. This walk sees you descend a little and then climb back up a spine-like ridge.

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Xian - Mt Hua Shan 26-2 Jessica Palmer


East Peak is the place to be at sunrise. This for me was the highlight of Hua Shan due to the unique chess playing pavilion located here. You will need to traverse down a via ferrata section to reach it. This involves clipping yourself into a safety cable and going backwards down the vertical cliff face via a ladder. Unfortunately, this section was closed due to snow when we reached East Peak so I had to be content with admiring it from afar.

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As you head towards South Peak you will see signs to Hanging Plank Walk. You will need to go off-course and return to experience this thrill. There is a fee to walk the plank. If you don’t want to experience this, just follow the signs to South Peak.


You will need to descend and walk along another spine-type ridge to reach West Peak. You’ll find a coffee shop, temple and a guest house here.

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If your legs have had enough of walking at this point, you can take a cable car back down the mountain from here. Alternatively, you can loop back around to North Peak where you started.

If you are travelling to China, there is a good chance you may already have planned a trip to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors. Why not spend an extra day or two and explore beautiful Hua Shan?

Xian - Mt Hua Shan 48 Jessica Palmer

From Xi’an, take the bullet train to Hua Shan town. Green shuttle buses and taxis are available for the short trip from the train station to the Hua Shan entrance.

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