Xinjiang's Kanas Lake | Traveler's Guide (with side trip to Keketuohai!)

A Visit to Xinjiang’s Kanas Lake and Keketuohai

August 7 | 29 Comments

Are you planning to visit Kanas Lake or Keketuohai Park in northern Xinjiang? If so, you’ll want to check out the photos, tips and advice from traveler Chris Milton, a Scot who has been living in China and teaching English for a number of years.

View of beautiful Kanas Lake in Xinjiang, China

Kanas lake is simply stunning.

I found myself so many times just sitting, staring at this picturesque scene in awe.

I have hiked in Scotland, Canada, America, and Indonesia, but this place is special. The way the pine-covered mountains reflect off the turquoise lake is something I will remember for the rest of my life.

My name is Chris, and I come from a small city in the northeast of Scotland. I arrived in Urumqi in October 2014 on a bit of a whim; a friend who lived here recommended it to me because of my love for outdoor sports and photography.

Don’t Miss Out! If you’ll be traveling to Kanas Lake – or anywhere in Xinjiang – you’ll want a copy of the FarWestChina Xinjiang Travel Guide. It has over 400 pages of helpful tips and details, as well as access to an exclusive Facebook group where hundreds of Xinjiang travelers like Chris answer questions.

Traveling up to Xinjiang’s Altay

At the beginning of September, a friend and I took the overnight sleeper bus from Urumqi to Buerjin (布尔津). Being almost 6ft tall I wasn’t optimistic about sleeping on those tiny coach beds, but surprisingly I had a great night’s sleep and woke up to see the desert sunrise.

Editor’s Note: Although Chris took the bus, it is possible to take an overnight train from Urumqi to Buerjin. In fact, it is recommended since it’s a more comfortable and reliable mode of transportation in Xinjiang.

18 hours on a bus sounds horrendous, but it really wasn’t that bad….

We had just about enough time in Buerjin to have some fruit for breakfast before our next bus left. I was greeted by a golden-toothed fruit seller who turned out to be as deaf as a door post but we managed a quick conversation and it turned out I was the first Scottish person he had seen (this would become a theme on this trip).

The bus from Buerjin to Kanas took four hours, but we travelled through some breathtaking scenery (again, another theme of the trip). The road goes from grasslands to high mountainous passes that at times had me holding on tight to my armrest.

Visiting the Kanas Lake Nature Preserve

Eventually we arrived at the gates to Kanas National Park after travelling a total of 18 hours from Urumqi. That much time on a bus sounds horrendous, but surprisingly it wasn’t that bad.

When we got off the bus there were plenty of locals offering us places to stay in hotels both inside and outside the park. My friend managed to negotiate a hotel inside the Kanas park for 500RMB, so with our accommodation sorted and tickets bought, we were on our way.

Travel Tip: Check Ctrip.com for a variety of hotel options inside and outside the park!

Beautiful bend in the river near Kanas Lake

I was incredibly excited. Ever since I thought about coming to Xinjiang I have imagined how wonderful it would be to photograph Kanas. That excitement faded slightly as the bus took us to the centre village without stopping to take in the beautiful scenery.

I was really shocked at how developed Kanas was….”

I was really shocked at how developed Kanas was: a large parking area with 30-odd buses, tourist information centre and many types of Chinese restaurants. These were, however, built very tastefully with timber.

When we got to our hotel they doubled the price, saying the rooms we wanted were all occupied. Obviously this made us very angry but as we stormed out they agreed to let us stay for the agreed price.

Travel TipThis type of scam is prevalent across China. Hold your ground and fight back. More often than not, those who are trying to extort you will back down.

A quick shower and we were ready to explore. The lake was very busy with other tourists, so we decided to walk north to get away from the selfie sticks. This was definitely a great idea as I was able to then take photos in peace and quiet.

We walked for hours; with my curious nature I always want to see what is over the next hill or around the next corner.

Another beautiful view of Kanas lake from the shoreline

The next morning we woke up early to go to the Kanas fish pavilion (a viewing deck near the lake). This costs an extra 120RMB per person, but I promise that you won’t be disappointed. I am running out of adjectives to describe the scene. It is a panoramic view of the lake and the river.

If photographers had a Mecca, then this would be it….”

If photographers had a Mecca, then this would be it. It was exquisite.

It was time to leave Kanas but we had no solid plan about where we would go next. The locals had put us off travelling to Hemu or Baihaba. Then a Kazakh local told us Buerjin had the best barbequed fish in the world. After I insulted him by telling him he was wrong and that Scottish fish was the best in the world, I felt I needed to try it.

The fish was tasty but definitely not the best in the world. The night market in Buerjin is a great place to eat, with lots of kebabs and noodle dishes.

Exploring Altay’s Keketuohai (Koktokay)

The next morning we headed to Keketuohai National Park, referred to locally as “Koktokay.”

This trip involved buses from Buerjin to Beitun, Beitun to Fuyun, then one final bus to Keketuohai village. In total it took around 7 hours. We wanted to stay in a yurt at Keketuohai but my friend was ill, so we opted for the only hotel that accepts foreign guests. This costs about 250RMB.

They call it the “Yosemite of China”….

The village is built at the end of a lake between some interesting rock formations. That evening we hiked up those rocks to catch the sunset over the mountains with the lake in the distance.

We weren’t disappointed. The views were excellent as the landscape was alive with color: orange from the sunset, green from the pine trees, brown from the rocks, and blue from the lake. This was an unexpected highlight of the trip.

Keketuohai-Village
We woke up and made our way to Keketuohai National Park. I hadn’t heard of it until friends in Urumqi recommended it to me. They call it the Yosemite of China. On our approach the building was very impressive with a grass roof that gave an environmental look.

This time it was an oversized golf cart that would take us into the park. Be warned it is extremely cold in the mornings and the cart offers no protection from the elements. We got to the stop, and my first thought was this could actually be Yosemite. We were faced with a high rock tower that seems to rise from nowhere.

Beautiful granite mountain in Xinjiangs Keketuohai Park

We hiked up to the viewing platform to get an amazing view of the valley, green pines on the side of the mountains and the blue river flowing past these giant rocks.

At Keketuohai, visitors have a choice either to stay on the golf cart or make their own way along the river. We chose to walk as I don’t want to be a spectator to nature; I want to feel it. Walking along the river gave me opportunities to take many photos of what I regard as some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

River running through Keketuohai Park in Xinjiang, China

At the end of the hike you come to the Mongolian border–well, so I was told. They are building a spa at the end of the trail, and I would imagine that in the future there will be some type of lodgings there in the future. Now it was time to take the golf cart back to the beginning and get the bus back to Urumqi.

View of Keketuohai Park in Xinjiang, China

Summing up the Trip

To summarize the trip, I would say that a visit to Kanas and Keketuohai is a must for anyone living or travelling in Xinjiang.

If you can look past the long travelling distances and crowds then you will have an amazing trip that you will never forget.

Personally I enjoyed Keketuohai better due to the fewer people, the more varied scenery, and the cheaper cost. This trip gave me the chance to show my friends and family how beautiful Xinjiang is, and if you are willing to put in the effort you will be rewarded with great photos and memories.

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Hi Josh

    Nice piece , thanks . I was in Xinjiang (north and south) in the Fall of 1979 and have wanted to go back , especially to the area you describe here . Question : did you meet anyone who knew anything about fishing in that area ? I am an avid catch and release fly fisherman and would really like to find an expert source and/or guide . Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated . Many thanks .
    Tom Gorman
    Hong Kong

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    Josh Summers on October 8th, 2015 at 5:38 am

    Hey Tom, thanks for the comment! I would love to see your pictures from ’79…I’m absolutely fascinated by seeing this area from decades ago.

    As for fly fishing…I might have something for you. I’m working with a guy who is trying to get such fly fishing expeditions set up. Are there many people you know who would be interested?

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  2. Hi, Josh

    Perfect description. It really forces to point these places as top priority for anyone’s visits.

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  3. Beautiful place and well written article. Qinghai has similar beautiful mountain scenery but cannot match the blue/green tinted water that Chris captures at Kanas.

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  4. Outstanding pics! I wish we would’ve had an opportunity to visit Kanas while we lived in Urumqi! So, Josh, when are you going? :-)

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  5. Very interesting and beautiful pictures. I appreciate your trips and pictures that you send. Love hearing from you.

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  6. Hi josh, I was disappointed when I went to Kanas. Winter came early this year in September 2015.. Wanted to stay at Hemu and take spectacular photos of the village. Where did you find the sleeper bus from Urumqi? Can you advise ?

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  7. Hi Josh, thanks very much for this post. I had read that we can take a flight from Urumqi to Buerjin, and then take a bus to the national park. Just wondering aside from hotels, are there “lodges” or B&Bs that we could stay in? And in Keketuohai are there places to stay or is it just camping? Thank you!

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    Josh Summers on December 16th, 2015 at 2:14 am

    Plenty of hotels, as you can imagine, but there are still places where you can do a “homestay”-style lodging which includes both traditional yurts and more modern homes. Nothing that I would really call a B&B, but similar.

    Make sense?

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  8. hi josh, i stumbled on your website while search for some information for my up-coming trip to xinjiang. really enjoy reading your stories. a quick question.. is it safe to travel to kashgar? do you know any tour guide or perhaps you can direct me to any website that provides a 1-day tour for the city? i heard it’s safer to travel with a tour. (we have 3 girls). thanks for your help in advance.

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    Josh Summers on April 8th, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Hi, Emmy! Thanks for the comment. While there’s always some risk wherever you travel, I am confident to say for my own family that I feel safe traveling to Kashgar.

    Have you seen my city guide to Kashgar? It has a lot of good advice on visiting the city as well as contact information for all my recommended tour guides.

    Have a wonderful trip! You’re going to love it ;)

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  9. Hi Josh. Thanks for sharing your trip. I’m visiting north xinjiang in 3rd week of Oct. Will the autumn foliage at Hemu all gone by then? Will there be snow? Cheers.

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  10. Hey Josh, anything come out of the fly fishing question Tom asked a couple years ago?

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    Josh Summers on June 6th, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I sent him an email a while back. The gist of the answer is that there is no organized fly fishing that happens here in Xinjiang. It’s not entirely clear if there’s even a good place to do so, although I know many people who are convinced that this northern part of Xinjiang would be the perfect place (albeit you’d have to hike quite a bit). Nobody knows for sure…that’s the best answer I can give you.

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  11. Hey there, thanks for sharing this! I just moved to Shanghai and am thinking of taking a trip out to Xinjiang during the Oct national holidays. This is a trip of many firsts for me – my first oct national holiday in China, my first trip to Xinjiang, and my first time out of Shanghai so you can imagine the number of questions I have and how exciting i must be :)

    If you don’t mind, I will like to have your advice on a few things: how is Xinjiang like in Oct (specifically, will it be crowded with other Chinese holidayers?); should we arrange for a local guide, or plan the entire trip ourselves (there are abt 4 of us); and what are the, in your opinion, the must see places?

    Thanks in advance for your help there!

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    Josh Summers on July 30th, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Hi Genevieve! So glad to hear that you’ll be coming out this way. I get this question more often than you might imagine, so I’ve put together a travel guide for this region that might be very useful for you. You can download a free planning chapter and then decide if you think it’s worth buying the rest of the guide.

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  12. Hi Josh, thanks for sharing your experience. Just like you, we try to avoid big crowds. Is it possible or legal to do wild camping along the trails around the lake ? Thanks

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    Josh Summers on August 20th, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Hey Donald. Technically, no. You’re not supposed to be able to camp without registering. That said, I know many people who have done it. You just need to be very discreet and stay away from open areas where you can be seen.

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  13. Hi Josh,

    Im planning to go xinjiang but there’s limited info to read about for travelling from one location to another. Maybe u can help me?

    I’m planning to fly in Lanzhou and travel up to dunhuang,turpan(flaming mountain, bezeklik caves,grape valley), Urumqi (tianshan,grand bazaar) yining(sayram lake),Kanas lake, ghost city.

    Do u think with 12 days I can do with the plan?

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    Josh Summers on January 15th, 2018 at 12:29 am

    Hi Sophia, thanks for the comment! Check out the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide where I give you almost all the information you need. Plus, you’ll get access to a closed Facebook group where you can ask other Xinjiang travelers about their experiences.

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  14. Hi!

    Where is the best place to spend the night near the park (just outside)? And is trip.com (formerly ctrip.com) a good place to book a hotel in the area? I know foreigners can’t stay wherever they like because of some rules. I don’t want to make an online booking and then get turned away because I’m not Chinese. Which site did you book your hotel through? Btw I’m planning on visiting a day or so before the October holiday.

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    Josh Summers on August 7th, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Hi Joshua, there are plenty of hotels just outside the park gates and in my opinion they’re all pretty much the same. If I were you, I’d rather spend the night inside the park if you can. Hike in and camp or stay at a local home (with authority approval).

    Trip.com works for booking – they’ll have the best options to choose from of any OTA.

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  15. Love this piece. Will be visiting Xinjiang in October but I read that Keketuohai is closed off for foreigners. Is that still the case?

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    Josh Summers on August 27th, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Hi Benedict, last I heard it wasn’t closed. I recommend you ask other Xinjiang travelers who might have been there recently. If you purchase a copy of the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide you’ll also get access to a private Facebook group with over 700 Xinjiang travelers. If you ask there, you might find somebody who’s been there recently and can tell you.

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