Tianchi Lake in Tianshan Tianchi National Park is a scenic highlight about 1.5 to 2 hours out of Urumqi. It is a small lake in high mountains. The northwestern area is highly developed and even has a mall. But the eastern and southern areas have a trail and beautiful hiking. If you like nature and ethnic culture, it is a place to go, and you can find economical accommodations and meals in the Kazakh yurts. Some of the yurts are beautiful inside with lots of brightly colored and decorated rugs, quilts and wall hangings. They sort of remind me of camping in American Indian wigwams that were probably made similarly. Because of the ready and fairly inexpensive ethnic accommodations in a high-mountain national park, the Tianchi Lake is a great place to camp.
The lake itself is about 3 kilometers long and averages about 600 or 700 meters wide (2 miles by less than half a mile). It is surrounded by many rugged and forested valleys that lead down to the lake from closely surrounding peaks that reach about 2,400 meters (7,800 feet). The surface of the lake itself is at an altitude of about 2,000 meters or about 6,600 feet, and it is about 100 meters at the deepest point. There is a hiking trail that goes around it. The yurt accommodations are on the northwest side near the road and the entrance.
To really enjoy the place, it is best to stay overnight so as to have the time to hike around and to be there when the crowds are gone and the speed boats and tour boats are retired. The tour buses often arrive around noon and leave by three or 4 pm to take groups to restaurants or back to Urumqi. Staying in an authentic Kazakh yurt is a cultural experience. Once the tour buses and crowds leave in the late afternoon, the lake and the valley becomes quiet. People can go for strolls on the mountain paths, and they can hike or ride a horse up to the glacier plains where the scenery is simply stunning. If the sky is clear, you can enjoy the stunning celestial display and maybe campfires or meals with your Kazakh hosts.
1. Location : Tianshan Tianchi National Park in the Tianshan range near Urumqi. As a bird flies, it is only about 50 kilometers due west of Urumqi. The S111 Provincial Road goes to it up from Fukang, and it follows the northwest shoreline a short distance.
2. Season : It is best to go in the late spring, summer and early fall when it isn’t freezing. Even in the summers however, there might be frost in the early mornings, and the yurts feel cold unless you have an electrically heated bed or something like that. The area is dangerously cold in the winters.
3. Accommodations : During the summers, there are a lot of economical Kazakh-owned yurts. If you find the right Kazakh hosts, inexpensive authentic yurts might be beautifully decorated with expensive rugs and tapestries that will boggle your minds and be worth sending pictures back home about, and they might have electricity and wood or coal stoves, and the food will be wonderful. So check around and get the feel for the accommodations. The yurts are generally away from the park entrance area and a little way up from the lake.
4. What to bring : Bring a heavy coat for cold nights. Temperature is lower than in city area. It might be a good idea to bring clean sheets or your own sleeping bag. You can rent coats and ethnic costumes there. As you go near Mount Tianshan, the altitude rises gradually to 1600 meters. The roads wind along, carsickness pills should be prepared if you suffer from carsickness.
5. Local Transportation : From the parking lot up to the lake area entrance, there are gondolas and small buses. You can also walk up to the lake area on a trail. There are tourist buses at Tourist Center of Heavenly Lake at the foot of Mount Tianshan that go to Urumqi.