Gorges, mountainscapes and neon caves at the western border of Beijing
Yesanpo ( 野三坡) is a charming cluster of villages and gateway to some spectacular peaks just over the Hebei border. Nestled in a less-frequented stretch of mountain country than throbbing Shidu, Yesanpo is home to some spectacular mountain-based tourism, most of which is has been left to impress in comparatively natural condition.
Yesanpo Scenic Area encompasses several major tourism nodes including Bailixia Gorge, the Juma River, Baicaopan Forest, Yugu Cave and more. Realistically, one day won’t be enough time to cover all that Yesanpo has to offer, but if you leave Beijing early enough you should be able to squeeze a traipse around Bailixia Gorge and a lurk through Yugu Cave into a proper go-getting day trip.
The main event in Yesanpo, and therefore the busiest, is Bailixia Gorge – a 50km maze of stunning rock formations, valleys and peaks. Visitors can grade their experience according to fitness, with a 2,800-step climb to the tallest section of the gorge a highlight for those willing.
A few clicks along the highway by car (negotiate for one at the car park if you don’t have a driver) is Yugu Cave (Yugudong, 魚谷洞). While seasoned spelunkers mightn’t get a massive kick out of Yugu’s manicured pathways and stairs, the cave is nonetheless an exhilarating 40-minute journey from start to finish. The neon lights spotlighting the cave’s more interesting formations are strangely effective, and if you time it right you’ll be by yourself for the entire eerie walk; as if simply being in Hebei wasn’t eerie enough.
Getting there Here’s the catch, getting to Yesanpo isn’t entirely straightforward, but the best adventures never are. There is one train per day from Beijing West and one back, but as the former leaves at 5.45pm and the latter at 9.30am, you'll need two nights in Yesanpo to do anything other than sleep. Opt instead for the 917 bus (on the hour from 6am) from Tianqiao bus station (there are two 917 stops, you want the one to the west of the Beiwei Lu and Dongjing Lu intersection), and take it to Shidu. From Shidu, there are minibuses heading periodically to Yesanpo, but you will need to flag one down – speak to a local as to where best to do this. Our minibus stopped right at Yugu Cave, and not far from Bailixia Gorge, but you will need to communicate this clearly to your driver. The last bus leaves from Yugu Cave at 4.30pm, but alas, so does the bus from Shidu to Beijing, so you will need to make well-considered arrangements as to leave enough time to make it back to the capital. Hiring cars between sights is also a good, if more expensive, option, and if you need to spend a night in Yesanpo (we did), well, at least you can sample the local take on yangrou chaun'r.
Travel time 3 hours to Shidu; 45 minutes to Yesanpo.
Cost 21RMB to Shidu. 15RMB in a minibus to Yesanpo. 65RMB for Yugu Cave.