5 Fantastic Mountain Scenes in Xinjiang, China

April 20 | 20 Comments

If you were ever under the impression that people only travel to Xinjiang to ride a camel in the desert, think again, my friend.  Early last year I profiled the top lakes in Xinjiang, each of which are off the beaten path and  provide some of the best opportunities to day-hike.

This next set of natural wonders might be a little more difficult to hike in a day.

#1 K2 in Xinjiang 乔戈里峰

K2 mountain in Xinjiang, the 2nd highest in the world

You’d never know it from this picture, but K2 – the peak in the distant left – comes in second place for both the “world’s highest” category (after Mt. Everest) and the “world’s deadliest” (which is held by Annapurna).  K2, part of the Karakmoram mountain range, is located in the southwest corner of Xinjiang along the borders of Pakistan and China.

#2 Tian Shan 天山

Tian Shan (天山) in Xinjiang, China

The Tian Shan mountains slice through the middle of the Xinjiang province dividing it into the northern half (北疆) and southern half (南疆). It is this mountain range that travelers are likely to see out their airplane window and also provide the backdrop for the beautiful Heavenly Lake.
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#3 Muztagh Ata 慕士塔格峰

Muztag Ata in Xinjiang, China

Muztagh Ata towers above the equally famous Karakul Lake, a beautiful one-night detour along the Karakoram Highway.  This isn’t a terribly high mountain so it is possible to hire a guide to climb it, but the fatality rate – according to the locals – has not been good the past couple of years.

#4 The Flaming Mountains of Turpan 火焰山

Flaming Mountains of Turpan in Xinjiang, China

Rising out of the Turpan Basin, the 2nd lowest point in all the world, is this oddly-shaped set of mountains.  During certain times of the day the rocks glow a brilliant red and orange, hence the name “flaming” mountains.  These mountains were made famous in the fanciful novel based on the journey of  Chinese monk Xuan Zang.

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#5 Altai Mountains 阿尔泰山脉

Altai Mountains in Xinjiang, China

This set of towering rocks create a border divide between China, Russian, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.  The name literally means “mountains of gold” and the area is well-known for the minerals – including gold – that it provides.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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  1. K2 is in Pakistan Josh.

    There are many other great mountains in Xinjiang.

    Your only scratching the surface.

    You should also mention that all passes/visa’s government Ok to climb mountains over 3000mtrs for foreigners where stopped last year and I believe are still on hold.

    Remember the Russians who got caught out trekking/climbing/skiing in a remote mountain range in Xinjiang last October with out the legal documents.


    Josh on April 20th, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I’m pretty sure K2 is right on the border between Pakistan and China, similar to the way Everest divides Tibet and Nepal.

    I agree, I’m only scratching the surface, but these were the most recognizable. I wasn’t aware that climbing has been halted, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    For those who don’t know what Damo is talking about with the Russian hikers, read this article about <a href="https://www.farwestchina.com/2009/10/mystery-of-russian-hikers-and-other.html"the mystery of the Russian hikers.


    jason on November 17th, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Josh and the blogger who posted the pictures are right. Damo is wrong. the original blogger clearly stated that K2 is located along the “borders of China and Pakistan”. the geo political map clearly shows that.
    Damo was wrong to state that “K2 is in Pakistan” because it is not, it locates BOTH in Pakistan and China.

  2. Josh Muztagh Ata at 7546 mtrs(24,757 ft) is one high mountain peak.If that isn’t a “terribly high mountain” I don’t know what is.

    It is not technically difficult to climb but the altitude makes it a dangerous climb.

    You still have to know what you are doing climbing it.

    There is no one to help you if you get into trouble.


    Josh on April 26th, 2010 at 3:55 am

    7,546 meters FROM SEA LEVEL, not of actual climbing. I’ll grant you the fact that it’s still a mountain, and any mountain presents plenty of difficulties, but with the company of such mountains like K2 and the Altai Mnts, this is one of the smaller ones.

    Would you climb it?


    damo on April 26th, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Josh they are all are “FROM SEA LEVEL”.

    I attempted to climb and ski down it six years ago.Not successful.

    What do you mean not of actual climbing.

    It is 7546mtrs to the peak.The peak is what most people aim for to say they where successful in climbing a mountain.

    Alot of places are below sea level in Xinjaing.

    Josh on April 26th, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Ok, I was wondering why you were being such a stickler about this mountain, but it makes sense if you’ve personally tried to climb it.

    If you’ve successfully climbed this mountain, that’s definitely something to be proud of and I’m not taking that away from you. I’m just making the point that by the time you make it to the base of the mountain you’re already thousands of feet above sea level. That’s what makes the Karakoram Highway so beautiful.

    So if you drive up 3,000 meters and then climb another 4,546 meters, can you claim that you’ve climbed 7,546 meters?

    damo on April 26th, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Everest two base camps at 5300mtrs and 5200mtrs.So your going to tell the people they didn’t really climb 8848mtrs they only climbed 3600mtrs.

    You can helicopter into base camp at Everest.

    Josh on April 26th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I give up! You win, Damo :) Although it does seem pretty counter-intuitive for people to take a chopper up to Everest base camp.

  3. Hi, wish to ask that when flying to Urumqi (from Guangzhou), which side of the plane I shall sit, so that I can have the nice view of Tian Shan?


    Josh on July 19th, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Quite frankly you should be able to sit on either side and get a good view of the mountains. Urumqi is basically surrounded on all sides by the Tian Shan.


  4. I’ve been to all of the places shown in the photos and found the photos just as breathtaking as my initial experiences were. Great job capturing the essence of the landscape. I hail from Colorado, USA, with mountains in my backyard, but still fell in love with Xinjiang. It’s a fascinating place and I can totally understand your passion, Josh. Kudos to you for exploring Xinjiang with such wanderlust and interest. I’ve taught Cultural Geography for years and never fail to get excited when I get to teach about and grapple with the many wonders of Xinjiang.


    Josh on March 15th, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Cristine, thanks so much for your kind words! I’m glad to hear that Xinjiang gets plenty of attention in a cultural geography class. It is definitely deserved, if not for the incredible scenery then at least for the fact that it has such a variety of scenery.

    I appreciate the time you spent reading through this article. If there’s anything more I can provide you about the region that you don’t already have, let me know!


  5. Dear Josh

    If I want to travel to Xinjiang and to enjoy the sceneries of Muztagh Ata, Altai Mountains and K2. Where Should I start, whats is the suggested route and which travel company should I use and How many days you suggesting that I would need in order to visit all above?

    Thank you very very much in advance!


  6. hi josh
    beautiful writeups and photos
    ive seen muztagh ata and it was beautiful

    i love seeing the kunlun mountains as well; they looked so close to the karakoram highway so i dont know if it was just an illusion or i can walk towards the mountain haha

    im curious where was the photo of K2 taken from?

    and the altai mountain? it looks so close!



  7. Am interested in the shamans and traditional animistic cultures of Altai. Have travelled and done ceremony with traditional people in Siberian and Mongolian Altai. If possible, would like to next go to Chinese Altai. Would appreciate whatever help you could give.
    Thanks, Hal Litoff