An Epic Travel Run with Stunning Views of the Lake and Historic Monuments
- Difficulty: Easy
- Terrain: Paved trails
- Length: 13km loop
- Flow: Great
- Scenery: Stunning views of Hangzhou Lake and surrounding gardens and monuments
- Safety Issues: None
- Bathrooms: Yes (free!)
- Drinking water: There was bottle water for sale at street stands for a reasonable price.
- Transit Access: Yes
- Parking: Not sure
- Night Access: Yes
- Special Features: An amazing beautiful run in a historic but tranquil setting – a wonderful tourist attraction in its own rite.
- Nearby Attractions: National Tea Museum
When I was planning a trip to China I never imagined I would have a run that would make my best runs ever list. I imagined crowded streets and lots of pollution. I was happily surprised to find out how wrong I was! I will be posting all of my China runs in the next few weeks, but I had to start with my favourite: the beautiful trail around Westlake in Hangzhou.
As soon as I got to Hangzhou and saw the paths around the lake all I could think about was running it! I knew I would get my chance the next morning but my anticipation was palatable! As we toured the sites on our arrival day my mind kept wandering to my upcoming run. This place was meant for running. In fact suddenly I knew my whole reason for ending up here was so I could run around this beautiful lake.
Hangzhou has a mix of modernity, serene natural beautiful, stunningly manicured gardens and beautiful Chinese monuments that I never could have imagined. It has its own unique charm, which draws you in immediately. I was amazed at how the neon lights and high rise skyline in town, could seem to fit in beside near-ancient pagodas and delicate stone bridges amid flowers and trees lining the lake. The way new and old, commercial and spiritual, developed and natural, populous and quiet, all coexist is stunning. It’s an easy place to fall in love with.
I woke up just before sunrise at 5am. It wasn’t even a hard to get up; I was so excited. My usual argument in my head (get up and run, no you can sleep more) didn’t happen: I couldn’t wait to get up and run!
Apparently, June is always wet hot and humid but I had asked the universe for a dry morning and I got one. (For reference March and April are supposed to be cooler and sunny!) Feeling grateful, I left my hotel and headed out into the morning mist. The streets were quiet but not empty. As I had expected (from my previous few days in China), even at 5am people were out walking and doing their morning exercise. But where the day before the paths had been crowded and full, in the early morning there were hardly any people in comparison. Right from the start I knew I would have an epic run. I had barely run 200m before I had to stop to take photos. I felt like this for most of the run. Run. Oh I need to take a picture. Run. Wait, what’s that? A cool pagoda. Stop for a picture. It was very overcast but the fog and mist gave everything a surreal mystical quality. The scenery is simply stunning. The paths meander along the lake and in through lovely trees and gardens. There are statues and pagodas and viewing platforms. In early July there were flowers in bloom to add a little colour. The people doing their exercises just add to the wonderful experience; I especially loved the slow rhythmic dance of the people practicing tai chi.
It was pretty easy to find my way as I mostly just followed the edge of the lake but I did check my location on my downloaded google map a few times because there were some causeways that crossed the lake and I was trying to stick to the edge so I could run the whole circuit. I had decided I wanted to get a 16km run in. According to the map our hotel gave me there is a bicycle circuit that’s 12.8km. I knew I was going a bit further because of taking the winding paths near the water instead of sticking to the more direct bicycle circuit road. I did enjoy taking quite a few side paths to add on some distance so I could get in my planned 16km. In the end, I only had to repeat about 500m after I completed my loop around to get to 16km, which I was pretty happy with.
The trails are paved with stones, and even though it was quite wet outside I didn’t find them slippery. Most of the paths were quite wide, making it easy to pass even groups of people. In the early morning it wasn’t too crowded anyways. A few side paths had very low-lying tree branches, which were beautiful, but even being only 5’2” I still had to duck! Overall, the trails are quite flat with virtually no elevation change on the loop.
The trail stays pretty close to the lake but I did pass through an area that bordered the town and had some more commercial buildings and restaurants… even a few that may be familiar to North Americans!
I wasn’t sure if there would be water available along the route (you can’t drink tap water on China and I haven’t seen very many potable drinking fountains) so I brought a bottle of water with me. It was essential for the length of my run in the extreme humidity. But by 6am I did see like stores open along the way where you could buy water for a few Yuen.
I also noticed there were several toilets around the lake. The toilets are free and they were open by 5:30am I didn’t check earlier than that. They are clean squat style bathroom stalls and you must bring your own tp!
There are many hotels near Westlake.it is easy to find one to meet any criteria and budget. I would recommend staying within walking distance to the lake though. It was so nice to wake up in the morning and walk literally steps from my door to be on the lake path. From what I could see it didn’t really matter in terms of running where along the lake you stay, but obviously some hotels are closer to the town than others. We chose to stay at the Sofitel and it was lovely but it was expensive for China; it was located right on the edge of town beside the lake and it was convenient for everything we wanted to do.
While there are some well known Chinese monuments in the area that are definitely worth checking out, I think the Chinese National Tea Museum is an often overlooked but excellent tourist attraction. The Tea Museum is completely free. It has several rooms with displays that provide a detailed explanation of how tea is grown, how it is properly prepared, historical trade routes, the way it was used and consumed in different historical periods and much more! Really it explains everything you could possibly want to know about tea! After leaving the main museum building we visited the official Tea Museum tearoom, where we had our first Chinese tea ceremony and tasted many teas, all for free! It was pretty cool. There is a store at the end, but there wasn’t too much pressure to buy, which was nice. At the end of our trip, some members of our group rated the Tea Museum as one of their favourite experiences.
This is truly a special run. It is one of the most beautiful epic travel runs I have ever done. I loved it so much that I want to go back. It’s less than 2 hours by train to get to Hangzhou from Shanghai. If you have the opportunity to run here, don’t miss it!
I took so many pictures, that I added a bunch more below. Looking through them I am remembering how many different things there were to see and experience on this amazing run!