Key information: Stone Forest
- The Stone Forest is a weird crowd of fluted and scoured pillars and towers of heavily eroded karst limestone, set in pleasing countryside south of Kunming in Yunnan. A World Heritage Site.
- Wander along paths that become almost subterranean as you pass under crazily leaning monoliths, passing quiet glades and slightly sinister green, shaded pools, occasionally surfacing to take in the scene from a viewpoint pavillion.
- When it is all getting a bit claustrophobic, the rock jungle disperses and you are in cropped meadows from which the rocks protrude as monoliths. Enjoy an atmospheric picnic, then wander out along the lanes to the nearby villages. Real rural China.
- Be prepared for mass tourism, though. The Stone Forest is famous in China, and the crowds can be depressing. The good thing, though, is that 95% don't go beyond the central sites, so you can still find seclusion.
- Walkopedia rating82
- Natural interest17
- Human interest8
- Negative points5
- Total rating82
- Note: Negs: crowds in places
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: N/A
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Kunming's most famous local attraction is the Stone Forest, 125km to the south-east. It is an extraordinary area of limestone pinnacles and excrescences, none over 100 feet high. Its history is similar to its better-known cousin at Guilin; a layer of limestone formed under an ancient sea subsequently eroded by rain into gulleys, sink-holes and caverns and finally the fantastic shapes we now see. Whereas the Guilin countryside has evolved into the spectacular peaks, often falling sheer into the Li river, which were so loved by Chinese classical painters, the forest's limestone bed must have been thinner or more heavily eroded.
The middle of the forest is fascinating but not beautiful. Paths ascend and drop between bewildering peaks and piles of fallen rock, sometimes virtually impassable to anyone carrying a gut or bosom. From the tops of these pinnacles, when you can get up there, the world is a plain of fluted grey spikes alleviated by occasional trees and distant hills. In the troglodyte innards the sky is almost invisible.
Our first sight in the forest were garishly-clad 'minorities' selling their bright bags, ponchos, cushion covers and hawking rides on camels and zebras. On closer inspection these turned out to be white ponies painted with black stripes. On the face of one the markings came together in an ironic CND sign.
Beyond the encircling track, the world is very different. The spires rise among close-cropped meadows on abandoned rice terraces. Looking back at the forest, now serried like an ancient army, we sat on a slab and ate smoked oysters. Time seemed immaterial here. Over the next ridge, paddy and corn fields alternate with rocky forest outposts. Further out, the plain begins, nestling unspoilt (when we were there) villages. It is classic rural China.
Other accounts: share your experiences
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Section in Southwest China – Lonely Planet: good information and basic map.
Section in Southwest China Off the Beaten Track by K. Mark Stevens and George E. Wehrfritz. Nice hand-drawn map. (1988 – now out of date.)
Section in Sichuan – Mary Holdsworth for Odyssey Guides. (1992 – also out of date, but good depth and quality of information.)
Section in China – Rough Guides.
The routes are fairly obvious, and the plans in the guidebooks will be sufficient for most purposes.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Spring and Autumn.
Yunnan is temperate by Chinese standards, but it can still get uncomfortably cold or hot at certain times.
A couple of hours by bus (or shared taxi) from Kunming.
Foreigners will need to pay an entrance fee.
Wander – away from the crowds.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
Heat and strong sun in summer. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
Harmful animals, including snakes.
Health risks: This is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Most people do this walk independently.
Some people form or join organised/supported groups.. This is not necessary, but some will prefer to do it this way, and walking here with a knowledgeable guide has advantages.
Most people come here for the day from Kunming, where there are loads of places to stay. Have a look at the guidebooks.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
Not specially good online information. A google search will show up some good photos.
Other things to do in the area
Head towards Dali, Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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