Disclaimer: Baima Snow Mountain is a protected area (保护区) and, thankfully for all of us, they are serious about that designation and are very strict about activities that go on inside. As such, everyone who wishes to hike here must have a permit (通行证), which can be obtained at this office in Shangri-La: https://j.map.baidu.com/2f/NdQ. We didn't know this, and so learned the hard way--by going in without one and subsequently being kicked out by a forest ranger--so we can't provide any intel on the actual process of getting the permit, only a location. If you go through this process, let us know so we can update this disclaimer.
Disclaimer #2: For the reasons stated above, we weren't able to complete our planned route, and actually didn't even enter the alpine zone, so most of the information on this page is secondhand--DO NOT RELY ENTIRELY ON THIS POST if you plan a trip here. Use this to spark ideas, but do research on your own, find your own routes, etc. (And then tell us what you do).
This is an incredible hiking area in Northern Yunnan between Shangri-La and Deqin. Below we briefly present three hiking "options", but we have only done the first one which descends down the main valley for a few kilometers. If you want to do #2 or #3, make sure you do some additional research first, or just be prepared for a potential route-finding challenges and be extra cautious. All of the paths start in the same place, right along the G214 highway that connects Shangri-La and Deqin.
Route 1: Baima Snow Mountain main valley. If you're looking for an easier trail without a lot of elevation gain and a beautiful and pristine forest/river combination, this trail is perfect. You can't really spend too much time here (we only hiked down a few kilometers and then returned before getting kicked out), but you could combine it with some of the other hiking areas, head up random valleys, and just use it as a base to explore. This valley had some of the nicest, most untouched forest we've seen in all of China, likely because the government is serious about protecting it.
Like the other routes, the trail begins on G214 right after the first long tunnel, underneath a bridge that spans two tunnels. Instead of heading down on the right side of the bridge, head to the left side and begin descending down into the valley.
You can theoretically go down into the valley from either side, as the trails all connect once in the valley. There are some signs warning hikers of animals, but we didn't see any. Likely for that reason, though, dogs are NOT allowed in the protected area, another rule we unknowingly broke.
Following the trail down the main valley is a wonderful hiking experience, as the slope is gradual and the vegetation changes from conifer to deciduous to subtropical as you descend ever so gradually. There's no real stopping point, but the GPX track ends right around a nice flat wooded area that would be nice for camping (pictured above). Make sure you stay on the river LEFT side of the river (the East side of the river), and don't cross any of the many bridges, if you want to stay on this trail and not end up bush-wacking.
I imagine that the trail goes down this valley indefinitely, which would open up seemingly infinite trekking possibilities. However, a few more kilometers down and it enters the "Core Protected Area", which is even more strictly managed than where we were, which is the "Buffer Zone". If you're interested in going further, talk to the management office in Shangri-La when getting your permit and see what they say.
Route 2: Climb the valley directly beneath Baima snow mountain. Again, we DID NOT hike this valley, but based on some pictures we've seen on the 两步 APP, it seems like a nice hiking and camping option. There is supposed to be a research station in this valley, so the trails/facilities might be a little more developed.
We were unable to find the pictures we've seen on the 两步 APP, but the above low-resolution picture from chinatoday.com.cn shows the mountain on a clear day. The GPX track heads up the valley just beneath the main peak (in the center of the photo).
Route 3: Traverse the entire range and end in Hongpo Village (红破村). ~23 kilometers; ~700 feet of elevation gain.
This is the route we had hoped to complete before we got removed from the protected area, and we would like to go back to do it someday. We pulled the GPX track from user 随山随水随行云 from 两步户外助手 APP, and all of the pictures below (except for the first one), are from his profile on the APP. The route can also be found by following this link:
You can access the valleys in both Routes 2 and 3 from the main valley (Route 1) by crossing the bridge in the above picture. In the GPX file, this is the offshoot of the main route that occurs about one-third of the way down the trail.
Above are some photos taken from the 两步 APP. The views would likely be spectacular, especially in clear weather, and once you cross the pass (4,700 meters or so), you would have views of the Meili Snow Mountain massif (梅里雪山).
The above photo is taken from the G214 highway. The valley on the left side is Route 2 and contains the research station, and the valley on the right side is the beginning of Route 3, which traverses the range.
Getting to the Trail Head
This trailhead is a little bit tricky. When we went, the main highway (G214) was closed for construction/repair, so we had to drive up the winding road above the tunnels. We were able to find a dirt road that lead down to the tunnel/bridge where the trails begin, which contained a nice parking area near some old huts. Actually, once the main road opens again, it may be difficult to park near the trailhead, as there aren't any large pullouts on the bridge, and no access to the small dirt road, so you may have to problem solve if you are driving yourself. If you are being driven, however, you should just be able to get dropped off. The locations below are where we parked, and following the directions on the map should take you above the tunnels and down the small dirt road (which, disclaimer, was a bit difficult to drive out of).
GPS Coordinates: 28°20'53.77"N 99°3'29.53"E (28.34827, 99.05598)
Baidu Maps: http://j.map.baidu.com/c5/ZiQ
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/vEchWRtuhqyCL9b26