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Stunning China Mountains (only found in Xinjiang)

February 20 | 20 Comments

China is known for some unique landscapes, but none are quite as breathtaking as the various China mountains. What most people don’t know, though, is that some of the most scenic mountains in China are found in the remote western region known as “Xinjiang”.

China mountains found in Xinjiang

If you were ever under the impression that people only travel to Xinjiang, China’s remote western region, to ride a camel in the desert…

…think again.

Over the past decade, I’ve had a chance to explore the mountains all around here both by traditional means as well as by cycling around Xinjiang. I’ve come away with some fantastic memories and beautiful photos.

While I’ve spent time hiking around many of the breathtaking lakes around Xinjiang, each of which are off the beaten path, I’m going to turn our attention today to the grand China mountains.

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

K2 in Xinjiang 乔戈里峰

K2 is not only the highest point in the Karakoram mountain range, it’s also the highest point in both Pakistan and Xinjiang, where the two regions share a border.

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).

Climbers pay vast sums of money to summit this deadly peak, and historically have been able do so both from the Pakistani side and the China side.

Currently, due to geo-political sensitivites, it’s much harder to start the expedition from inside Xinjiang.

TianShan China Mountains 天山

The Tianshan, or “Heavenly Mountains” are a range that slice through the middle of the Xinjiang region, divicing it into the northern half (北疆 or “Bei zhang”) and southern half (南疆 or “Nan zhang”).

Tian Shan (天山) in Xinjiang, China

Any flight into or out of the capital of Urumqi will put the stunning peaks of the Tianshan on display outside your airplane window. It’s pretty much impossible to miss as the city is situated in a valley of the range.

One of the most famous peaks within this range of China mountains is Bogda, a peak that towers over the popular Heavenly Lake.

It’s possible to do quite a bit of hiking around this range, and there are also a few places that make for great places to ski or snowboard in Xinjiang.

Muztagh Ata 慕士塔格峰 (Kunlun)

The Kunlun mountains, which run together with the Pamir mountains on the western border of Xinjiang, offer some of the most stunning scenes anywhere in China.

Tent camping in Xinjiang next to Karakul Lake

Muztagh Ata towers above the equally famous Karakul Lake, a beautiful one-night detour along the Karakoram Highway.

Technically, this isn’t a terribly high mountain, which makes it popular among climbers, but it also has a reputation for high fatality rates.

Flaming Mountains 火焰山 (Turpan)

The Flaming Mountains of Xinjiang are an oddly-shaped geological feature rising out of the Turpan Basin, the 2nd lowest point in all the world.

Turpan Flaming Mountains in Xinjiang, China

During certain seasons and specific times of the day (namely dawn and dusk) the rocks glow a brilliant red and orange, hence the name “flaming” mountains.

Hiking the mountains is possible (there’s even a desert race that has happened here) but care is required as the heat here can reach record levels. I’m talking world record heat of 120F+!

These China mountains were made famous in the fanciful novel based on the journey of  Chinese monk Xuan Zang. His trip through the desert oasis of Turpan is legendary.

Altai Mountains 阿尔泰山脉

On the northern end of Xinjiang, where China shares a small border with Russia, another mountain range fills the map: the Altai Mountains (also spelled “Altay Mountains”).

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.

Of course, this area also boasts Kanas Lake, home to the famous Kanas Lake Monster (which I’ve listed among other interesting facts about Xinjiang here).

Beautiful China Mountains in Xinjiang

From the Tianshan to the Kunlun; from the Altai to the Pamir. The China mountains in Xinjiang represent some of the most beautiful in all the world.

They may not be the easiest to climb nor are they particularly conducive to hiking, but they offer amazing views from airplane windows and unbelievable experiences on the roads that snake between them.

When you travel to Xinjiang, you’ll certainly find that the region is covered in huge deserts like the Gobi and the Taklamakan…

…but you’ll also get to see that these deserts are guarded by some spectacular mountain ranges.

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.


    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