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Best Time for Sichuan Tibet Overland Tour

As one of the most popular overland tours from mainland China to Tibet, the run along the Sichuan Tibet Highway is an adventure like any other. Stretching for more than 2,000 kilometers from Chengdu to Lhasa, this epic journey is best done in either spring or autumn, from March to May and September to November, when the weather is more suitable and road conditions are at their best.

Best Time for Chengdu-Lhasa Overland Tour - Spring (Mar.-May) and Autumn - (Sept.-Nov.)

What’s the weather like and what to pack?

There are two periods of the year when it is better to tackle the overland adventure of traveling along the Sichuan Tibet Highway to Lhasa. Spring, from March to May, and autumn, from September to November, are the best times of year to travel this route for the best weather conditions.

Spring view along Sichuan Tibet HighwaySpring view along Sichuan Tibet Highway

Generally, spring and autumn have somewhat similar weather conditions. Both seasons have dry weather with warm and comfortable temperatures, without it being too hot. Early spring and late autumn can be a little chilly, compared to the rest of these seasons, but the temperatures are well above freezing during the daytime when you are traveling. Clear skies abound during spring and autumn, with almost no rain at all for most of the seasons. And with drier and more suitable road conditions at these times of year, it makes sense to drive from Sichuan to Lhasa in the spring or autumn.

While it may be warmer than in winter, it is still a little chilly at times, especially at night when you get up onto the plateau. You will need to bring some warm sweaters or jackets with you to keep out the chill in the early morning and late evenings. The sun can also be quite strong as you rise onto the plateau, so sun block may be a useful addition. You may also find that the winds can be biting and cold, even in the later spring, so bring along some moisturizer for your face and lip balm. You should also bring along a good pair of hiking shoes or boots for when you get out to explore. Many of the attractions along the route are still fairly rough and rocky, with almost no paved car parking. A good pair of boots will help you manage the rough terrain better.

How about road condition?

Road conditions in spring and autumn are at their best for this renowned “dangerous” road to Tibet. The surfaces are mostly all dry throughout the extent of the journey, though you can expect some showers wetting the roads in late May and early September. At these times, the roads can get slippery, and muddy in those few places where the roads are just gravel and dirt. For the rest of the time, you should find that the road conditions are moderate, for the type of road. Much of it has now been asphalted, with only a few stretches that are still gravel or dirt roads. And these are easier to drive along now. However, much of the route through the mountains, once you get up out of the Sichuan Basin, is single-lane road, which can be too narrow for two large vehicles to pass. Be prepared to stop for oncoming traffic along the narrow sections of the route.

Nu Jiang 72 Turns, the stunning part of Sichuan Tibet HighwayNu Jiang 72 Turns, the stunning part of Sichuan Tibet Highway

Highlights Along Sichuan Tibet Road in Spring and Autumn

The trip along this amazing highway in the spring and autumn brings you the best of the seasonal scenery of this outstanding route to Tibet. Crossing various passes and dipping down into the verdant valleys of the lower plateau regions, this is one of the most scenic and beautiful roads in the world. Outside the rainy and cold seasons, the Ranwu Lake is an amazing sight as you draw closer to Lhasa, and Basum tso is the most beautiful lake in the area, especially when the leaves change color in the autumn. And if you time it right in the spring, you can pass through Nyingchi just as the peach blossoms are in full bloom, making this the perfect time to travel. - See more about Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival in Spring

Peach blossom in NyingchiYou are able to enjoy the breathtaking view of peach blossom in Nyingchi.

Travel from Chengdu to Lhasa in the Rainy Season - Summer (Jun.-Aug.)

What’s the weather like and what to pack?

June to August is not always the best time to travel along this road, as this is the rainy season in Southwest China and the southeastern edge of the plateau. And with lower altitudes than in Lhasa, it does tend to rain a bit more than in the capital. Rain is more frequent in the period from June to August, and the latter part of summer has the heaviest rain. And while the tendency of the monsoon rains is to fall in the late afternoon, there are days when it can rain the whole day, making travel even harder than usual.

Drive from Sichuan to Lhasa passing Xinduqiao in summerDrive from Sichuan to Lhasa passing Xinduqiao in summer

If you are planning a summer trip along the route to Lhasa, best to bring along rainproof gear to wear or carry with you, as showers can come with little to no notice. However, the warmer weather means less need for heavy thick clothes, though bring a sweater for the chilly nights once you get up to the plateau. Good boots are necessary, and you should bring plenty of sun block, as the intense rays of the sun can easily burn your skin if unprotected. And a wide-brimmed hat helps keep the UV rays off your head.

How about road condition?

Roads along the route to Lhasa from Chengdu can be slippery and dangerous, especially as you get higher into the mountains of the plateau and along those sections that have poor road conditions. Generally, the road can become dangerous, and it is not recommended to drive along this route if you are not a very experienced driver.

Get to Lhasa from Sichuan Tibet HighwayYou need a very experienced driver get to Lhasa from Sichuan Tibet Highway

Highlights Along Sichuan Tibet Highway in Summer

That said, the scenery of the route in the summer months is one of the most brilliant of the year, with green landscapes and beautiful scenery. Summer is also the time of the gesang blossoming along the valleys on the route to Tibet. These summer prairie blossoms fill the grassy areas of the valleys with red, pink, lilac, and white flowers that are a wonder to behold.

Avoid Overlanding from Chengdu to Lhasa - Winter (Dec.- Feb.)

What’s the weather like and what to pack?

The winter months, from December to February, are not recommended for this trip to Lhasa, due to the heavy snow that can fall in the eastern Himalayas along this route. However, while it can be more dangerous and icy to travel this route in winter, it is still possible with a good experienced driver in command. The colder weather will mean that you will need to bring plenty of warm clothing, especially hats and gloves and sweaters. Nights can drop to well below freezing, especially as you get higher up onto the plateau.

The spectacular view of Ranwu Lake in winterThe spectacular view of Ranwu Lake in winter

How about road condition?

The roads along the route can be dangerous and icy in the winter months, and you may find some passes temporarily closed due to excessive snow. Before traveling this route in the winter months, you should make sure that you have planned well, including ensuring you have anti-slip measures such as snow and ice tires on the vehicle.

Highlights Along Sichuan Tibet Highway in Winter

However, winter is a popular time to travel for those that enjoy extreme adventures, and there is no drive more extreme in the winter of China’s southwest. And the skies at this time of year and clear and crisp, with plenty of sunshine hours to keep you warmer. For those that love the scenic winter landscapes, the glaciers along the route are well worth visiting, and the winter wonderland landscape is spectacular. As one of the least popular winter drives to Tibet, this is an adventurous route that should not be attempted by the faint-hearted.

Conclusion

The road to Lhasa from Chengdu is one of the longest and most scenic routes to Tibet that there is. Taking you through some of the region’s most outstanding landscapes and scenery, this amazing 2,000 kilometer long drive to Tibet is an adventure of epic proportions. So if you are planning an overland trip to Tibet from mainland China, this could be the best option for you this spring.

Master Kungga Dundruk

About the Author - Master Kungga Dundruk

The Lhasa-born prodigy used to study business overseas, and got his Bachelor of Business in Nepal and India before moving back to his homeland.With pure passion for life and unlimited love for Tibet, Kunga started his guide career as early as 1997.

Responsible, considerate and humorous, he devoted his entire life guiding and serving international tourists travelling in Tibet.As a legendary Tibetan travel guru with 20-year pro guide experience , he once had an exclusive interview with the US media. Currently he is working in Tibet Vista as the Tour Operating Director. Whenever our clients run into troubles, he is your first call and will offer prompt support.

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