Around sixty kilometers from downtown Kunming lies the hidden gem of Shanying Valley. Whilst it may be relatively unknown compared to nearby Qinglong Gorge, this area is definitely a better option for those looking to avoid crowds of visitors.
If you are driving, the easiest way to reach the area is via Qinglong town, which makes the perfect spot at which to stop for a country lunch. Look out for a restaurant named Guanjing Restaurant (观景饭店), which serves authentic local food and offers a panoramic view over the surrounding mountains.
After a scenic lunch, a drive of only ten minutes or so will take you to the first section of Qinglong Gorge. The landscapes along the way are spectacular and, if you're lucky, you might even glimpse wild buffalo grazing by the riverside. Drive on for another fifteen minutes and you'll soon see a bamboo archway bearing the Chinese name of the valley, 山映谷 (Shanyinggu). Entrance to the scenic area is charged at 20 RMB per person.
Do keep in mind that the mountain roads here are narrow in places, so this is a destination better suited to more confident drivers. There are parking facilities for visitors, and whilst overnight camping is not currently permitted, some small wooden houses are offered as guestrooms for those who want to stay over. The surroundings feel peaceful and isolated, making it a rather wonderful retreat from urban life.
Exploring the Shanying Valley, one of the first things you'll encounter is a small pond across which you can row a wooden raft, looking out for fish swimming in the clear water below. Those with a head for heights can also try the zipline that runs over the site. An onsite restaurant also offers tasty local dishes to those looking for a meal.
But the real attraction here is the chance to hike along the area's twisting walking trails. The main route starts just beyond the campground and runs through woodland for almost five kilometers. If you are traveling with family, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to splash around in the fresh water, hunting for fish and other wildlife. And anyone who makes it to the end of the trail will be rewarded with the wonderful sight of a waterfall, making this the perfect spot at which to reestablish that important connection with mother nature!