If you thought Hong Kong was all bright city lights, skyscrapers and shopping, you only know half the story. Whilst it does have all those things in abundance, it also has some of the best urban hiking trails in the world. Once on the trails you feel like you're a million miles from the city and when you reach the peak it's right there in front of you again.
There were so many hiking trails that we wanted to try (sadly we couldn't do them all) but here's a run down of the four tracks we managed to squeeze into our week long trip.
Our big tip would be to avoid walking these trails on the weekend unless you have absolutely no other opportunity. We walked the Lion's Rock track on a Saturday and several sections were pretty slow because of the crowds, which detracted from the overall experience. Whilst it was lovely to see so many people out enjoying the gorgeous nature, we would much prefer to escape the crowds and go at our own pace.
1. Dragon's Back Trail
8.1km one-way track, steep start and moderate climb overall, track in very good condition.
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This is a probably the most famous hiking trail in Hong Kong and for good reason. It is easily accessible by public transport and the views are simply breathtaking. It's also a great choice if you don't like too much uphill climbing. While there are a few hills, they are not as steep as many of the other tracks, making it a great choice for an easier day.
You can hike the Dragon's Back trail by itself or walk it as part of the stage eight section of the Hong Kong Trail. If you have time we recommend the latter as you get to see a bit more of the area, but to be honest by far the most beautiful section is the Dragon's Back itself so if you're time poor you aren't missing out.
The hike is one way and can be walked in either direction. We started from where the bus dropped us off at the intersection of the Hong Kong Trail Section 8. This seemed to be the opposite direction to almost every other walker, but we later found this worked to our benefit as we passed people, but were not trailing behind anyone else. The Dragon's Back is the most popular walking trail in Hong Kong and even on a week day there were a fair few people around, so it's best to go early in the day if you want to experience some solitude.
The trail begins with an immediate uphill climb giving the impression it might be like the rest of Hong Kong's steep trails. However, it soon makes way for a long flat period on a sandy trail under the shade of the trees. We saw so many butterflies on this track, including some really beautiful bright blue ones that reminded us of the Australian Ulysses butterfly.
After the flat section the path begins ascending once more and you come out to some magnificent views. For those who may not want to rush up the climb, there's a conveniently placed bench if you want to sit and admire the view for longer. You can see one of Hong Kong's most beautiful beaches and many of the small islands. Throughout the climb you hug the coast with constant views and it's just a little more uphill to go before you reach the top of the Dragon's Back.
After taking some time out at the top you descend quite steeply all the way to the road where a passing bus or taxi can pick you up. Whilst waiting for the bus we saw wild pigs which was quite a surprise! The descent has some uneven surface but overall the track is really well formed and it's almost impossible to get lost.
If you only have time for one hike in Hong Kong make it this one.
2. Lion Rock Peak
6.5km one-way track, very steep start and mid section to the peak, track in very good condition.
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Before taking this on we read varying reviews as to just how difficult this track is. The truth is it depends on the route you take and if you want an easier ride we recommend starting at Fat Jong Temple (starting here has some flat sections on the way up, whereas the other direction is continuously up and steep).
As with most walks in Hong Kong it begins with an immediate uphill climb. For the first half an hour or so the trail is on a road which you share with cars that are constantly beeping you out the way. I was beginning to think that this hike was a mistake as I hate road hiking and especially being blasted by car horns.
However, as soon as you reach the Lion's Pavilion and the Lion Rock Peak sign you begin walking on the proper trail. Warning: there is only one flat section in the trail and the rest of the trail to the top is onwards and upwards on what feels like never ending stairs! There are some pretty amazing views along the way though and plenty of overhanging crags which are perfect for photography.
The majority of the trail is quite exposed, so we recommend going early in the morning to avoid the heat of the midday sun. Once you reach the sign saying 500m to Lions Rock it is much easier than I'd anticipated. I'd read a blog which had clearly been written about walking the trail from the opposite direction as it said the last 400m would be some of the hardest of your life. Therefore when I saw the 500m sign I was dreading the next leg. That was actually a blessing because it was easier than I'd imagined and it wasn't long before I walked out on to the peak in surprise.
As you can see from the picture below, I wasn't alone.
The views are truly incredible and there are loads of different spots you'll probably want to take photos at so leave yourself plenty of time. The view behind the sign saying go no further was particularly good. : )
You can actually climb on to Lion Rock itself but it was jam packed with people and looked a little dicey with steep drops and a narrow path to the top. I would have given it a go if it was quiet but with long queues I wasn't about to chance it.
The descent is fairly straightforward apart from the initial 10-15 minutes which is on less well-formed track. I found the footing pretty tricky and there was a constant stream of people trying to squeeze past on the narrow path on their way up to the top.
After that, the track goes back to being well-formed steps and it's just a case of skipping down. There are loads of monkeys on this stretch, and they were surprisingly well behaved unlike their counterparts in India and Nepal. I was glad to see no one was feeding them and it was fun just to watch them do their own thing.
Our legs were feeling it a bit as it was the day after our Lantau Peak hike but we were really glad we did it. If you want incredible city views this is definitely the hike for you.
3. Lantau Peak
6.68km one-way track, brutally steep climb (one of the hardest we've done), track in very good condition.
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This hike is our favourite on this list.
It's the hardest of the lot by a very long distance, but the reward is absolutely worth the effort. Very few people were on the track (which is always a bonus) and every single one of them was walking in the opposite direction to us, which was steeper....why?!!
It's a steep track from the off and there are plenty of false peaks which, on a really hot day, sapped my motivation quite a few times. But what always keeps you going is the scenery. This is breathtaking Hong Kong at it's best and it felt like being out in the wilds, which is staggering considering how close it is to the city. One peak even reminded us of Roy's Peak in New Zealand (see below).
It's basically just a case of making your way up the many stair cases. Like the Dragon's Back, it's a well formed track with plenty of signs, so you have no chance to get lost. It is very steep though and the drops on either side would make me very hesitant to walk this track in the rain. I could imagine it becoming very slippery.
It took us a couple of hours to reach the top which is longer than the sign suggested. We'd found the times on the other tracks to be an overestimation so I was surprised how slow we must have been going. I blame it on the heat!
When you do eventually make it to the peak it will be worth every step and ounce of sweat. It is spectacular; the best view in Hong Kong. You can see for miles and the peak is actually really big, so even if the track was busy you could easily find a spot of your own to sit and take it all in.
After taking heaps of photos at the top we needed to start our descent to Ngong Ping. It was fairly late afternoon by this point and it cast a beautiful light over the whole area. You start getting glimpses of the Buddha in the distance and it is gratifying to see it feel closer and closer.
The steps were extremely steep and I did nearly take a fall here which was pretty scary; I wish I'd had my walking poles. The descent takes around 45 minutes but the steep incline was enough to give me jelly legs and a bit of calf ache the next day. Ngong Ping is a wonderful place to end the trail and if you're there late afternoon the crowds have begun to thin.
There's a couple of stalls to get cold drinks and snacks before tackling the 268 steps to the Big Buddha. By now your legs are begging you to give it a miss, but it's well worth making the final push. We watched the beginnings of a beautiful sunset from the top before having to make our way down to catch the last cable car of the day.
Originally I had thought we might have been able to take the walking track back to the MTR rather than the cable car but even if time hadn't been against us I think this would have been too much downhill for my knees! I've heard it's beautiful though and would love to try it next time.
If you're looking for a beautiful and slightly more challenging hike in Hong Kong then you can't go past Lantau Peak. It's unforgettable.
If you want even more detail about this trail, read our blog about tackling Hong Kong's second highest peak.
4. Victoria Peak
3.65km each way (return track), constant but moderate climb, paved path all the way.
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This is a walk that divided us: I was not so keen overall but Joe really enjoyed it. Although we both agree it was far preferable to queuing for ages and then getting in the overcrowded and over priced tram (see the pictures of the queue below).
It is also a great bit of exercise and a good work up towards hikes such as Lantau Peak or Lion Rock. The track is along a concrete path the whole way and at the beginning this runs alongside the tram tracks. Once you leave the tracks behind it does get prettier and the trail heads into shaded green patches with the occasional glimpses of the city beyond.
There are a couple of sections near the very end of the trail where you have to walk along the road with no pavement and there are a few blind corners, so it's good to vigilant. To be fair there were virtually no cars on this stretch when we hiked it, but it still made me feel uncomfortable.
It's a fairly relentlessly steep trail - you may see a theme here with Hong Kong hikes! When you reach the top there's a little shopping centre so you can stop for a coffee and admire the view, which is exceptional. There was also a lovely looking restaurant called The Peak Lookout which we didn't have time to stop at but would have liked to have done.
Overall despite not being enamored with the track, I am glad we walked up. Getting to the top under your own steam did feel good. We'd seen the queues for the tram and it really didn't look appealing. Also, the walk down was a breeze as the whole path is really well made so you can get back to the bottom, and the MTR station in no time.
If you're thinking of travelling to Asia, then why not check out our following blogs:
- Best things to do in Thailand
- Anecdotes from Thailand
- Best things to do in Hong Kong
- Tackling Hong Kong's second highest peak: Lantau Peak
- Anecdotes from India
- Anecdotes from Cambodia
- That time we were attacked by bears
- 10 must-see places in Asia
- Anecdotes from Vietnam
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Want to know more about any of the hikes we've mentioned? Got a favourite that we should do next time? Let us know in the comments.