If you were to guess where the biggest waterfall in China is located, what would you say?
China is home to some of the biggest mountains and longest rivers in the world, it would have to be near one of them right? That’s what I would have thought.
An hour Northeast of Guangzhou sits Baishuizhai, a resort and scenic area home to China’s tallest waterfall. The area is famous for it’s waterfall (known as the Fairy Waterfall) and the thousands of steps that lead to the top. More on that later.
The total height from the top of the waterfall to the river below is over 1400 feet over the course of several drops. If you are wondering: Yes, we planned to walk to the top.
Shortly after the entry gate, we spotted one of the giant rubber ducks across the lake. These “rubber” ducks are scattered around the world usually in famous tourist areas. It was my second time seeing one (also in China) and it adds a novelty to the scenery. It’s like seeing the Oscar Meyer Weiner-mobile or the Goodyear blimp. I suppose the lake and surrounding mountains were nice as well.
Hiking the 9999 Steps
There is a path to the top of the waterfall constructed completely with steps, which makes it safer but hard on your knees (and your calves as we found out the next day). From the base of the mountain there are two options to start walking up the mountain: 1) the first of 9999 steps or the more scenic boardwalk along the river. We took the boardwalk to start, but once you walk far enough, the boardwalk ends and you must continue along the steps.
Every so often a step is marked with its corresponding number, always ending in “99”. There are two rest stops along the steps before you reach the top of the waterfall where you can buy water and red bulls. The park sits right along the Tropic of Cancer, so the heat is pretty intense.
I’ll be honest, we didn’t hike 9,999 steps. What a rip-off right? The steps actually stop at 4,099 (still an accomplishment). This was actually above the top of the waterfall a which is all we wanted to see. 4,099 steps takes you to the the reservoir (see map above). The path apparently continues uphill past the reservoir and to the top of another mountain. However we lost the path at the reservoir as it appears that you need to walk along the road to find the remainder of the path. It took about 90 minutes to get to the reservoir, and we figured it would take at least an hour to return to the park entrance.
You didn’t even make it to the top?
We are still not sure on that one. There is apparently a path that leads farther, but we honestly couldn’t find it (no signs). There was construction at step 4,099 (where we made it to), so maybe it was obscured from our view. Looking at the map, it appears that there isn’t much to see past 4,099 anyway.
Another excuse for not making it all the way to step 9,999: It would take most of the day to complete all the steps (if they do exist) anyway. We averaged about 3,000 steps/hour, so 20,000 combined steps (up and down) would take about 7 hours. It would be dark by the time we finished. We did over 8,000 steps in total…close enough to 9,999.
One final excuse: resources, namely water. Combined, two of us consumed about 6 bottles of water. I can’t imagine how much we would need to drink to do all 9,999. The hot and muggy air sucks the sweat out of you.
Should you hike the 9,999 steps?
As I said in the beginning, I would not expect the tallest waterfall in China to be near Guangzhou and Hong Kong. I believe the waterfall is man-made via the reservoir and water diversion. The mountains are big here, but not huge. It was a surprise that this feature was so close to Guangzhou
If you ever find yourself in the area, I recommend going to the 9,999 steps. It’s a bit strenuous, but the steps are nice and even (not like the Great Wall of China). You probably want an interpreter if you don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Baishuizhai is located in the “heartland” of China and you will be hard-pressed to find an English-speaker.