Northern Vietnam has a climate of its own, and the cooler temperatures make for some of the best hiking spots by Sapa a unique place to explore the outdoors. One of the most prominent features of the north is the tiered rice fields carved and neatly folded across the land, giving visitors something to admire on every trek.
This part of the country is also home to Vietnam’s largest mountain and picturesque Muong Valley.
The best times to visit Sapa are March to May when the landscape gets really green as the warmer months roll in. Additionally, from September thru November, the rice fields turn golden as they get ready to be harvested. The weather this time of year starts to get cooler, but it’s still in that range for nice hiking weather.
Here are the closest and best places to hike in Sapa, with starting points in order of proximity.
Sapa Valley Trail – 1.6 km | 5 minutes
The Sapa Valley Trail is a must-do trek for outdoors enthusiasts who want to see some of northern Vietnam’s most iconic scenery. It takes about three hours to complete. The starting point is located by the parking lot for the Heaven Sapa hostel and has a path that loops for about 9 km/ 5.5 miles. Rated as a “moderate” hike, the Sapa Valley Trail is ideal for people who enjoy seeing views by foot without worrying about scaling natural obstacles.
The highlights of this hike include sweeping views of the rice paddy fields and town. Even though this trek isn’t as demanding as others, it’s still imperative to wear durable clothing and shoes. Much of this course is paved, but it can be slippery after rain. After this hike, some hikers opt to take a taxi back to their accommodations since it concludes where it starts in an area with easy car access.
Cat Cat Village Loop – 2 km | 10 minutes
This walk around the ancient Cat Cat Village is perfect for a morning hike, spanning only 4km/2.6 miles out and back. The loop is rated as an easy one, making it ideal for people or families who want to spend time outdoors without doing anything incredibly strenuous.
On this path, trekkers will pass by a waterfall, bridge, and village views. The least crowded days to do this trail are during the workweek, and an entrance fee is required to hit the path.
Mount Fansipan – 6 km | 15 minutes
One of the most popular places to hike in Sapa is Fansipan, hands down. Known as the “Roof of Indochina,” this mountain is the tallest in Vietnam and offers incredible views from its peak. The elevation of Mt. Fansipan is 3147 meters/10,326 feet, so when the temperatures drop below freezing, ice and patches of snow can form on top.
There are two main ways to experience Fansipan:
Climbing From the Base
Hiking enthusiasts looking for a challenge might enjoy making the entire hike to the top themselves. Visitors often hire a guide to lead the way, but it is possible to do solo with some preparation. Taking this route is around 28 km/17 miles round trip and can take up to 12 hours of hiking to complete out and back.
There are camps to stay at on this trail, as many hikers opt to break the trek into two days and spend the night on the mountain. The weather heavily dictates how easy doing this hike will be, and it’s best to aim to accomplish it during the dry season. Also, if you choose to make this trip without a guide, be aware that locals will ask multiple times to be hired to accompany you and show the way.
Cable Car Ride
The other way to get to the top of Fansipan without exerting as much energy is to take the cable car ride to the summit. Opened in 2016, the cable car course is one of the longest in the world, spanning 6.3 km/3.9 miles long. Leaving from the station in Muong Hoa Valley, this 20-minute ride is the perfect option for people wanting to see the views from atop and make this visit a day trip.
Muong Hoa Valley Loop – 6.5 km | 15 minutes
Starting in Lao Chai, the Muong Hoa Valley Loop is a 12.8 km/8 miles trek that offers hikers an opportunity to see some of the breathtaking nature views around Sapa. On average, the entire loop takes just over 4 hours to complete and is rated as moderate, considering the 615 m/2,020-foot elevation gain.
Some of the top features of this trail include a waterfall, wildflowers, various wildlife, and some forest scenery, too. The path is partially paved, so it’s essential to wear suitable footwear when tackling this route.
Sapa Bamboo Trail – 9 km | 20 minutes
Originating in Lao Cai, the Sapa Bamboo Trail is a 6.6 km/4.1 mile-long loop rated as a moderate hike. This popular trek features beautiful views of the valley and lots of opportunities to see some wildlife.
The trailhead begins right near the Zizi (Surelee) Homestay and gains up to 318 m/1,043 feet in elevation on the course of the route. The pathway and environment can get muddy, especially after rain, so it’s crucial to wear durable attire.
Lao Chai to Ta Van – 10 km | 20 minutes
Tourists looking for a moderate hike with stunning views of the rice fields should consider this 6.4 km/4 miles point-to-point hike between Lao Chai and Ta Vani villages. It’s a good idea to allow at least a half-day to accomplish this trek, as the average out and back time is about 4.5 hours without stopping.
However, it’s also possible to get a ride to Tan Van and hike back to the Lai Chai area right outside Sapa, which would cut the trip in half.
With only a 254 meter/836-foot elevation gain, this path is at a lower altitude that can accumulate some mist if done in the early morning. The trailhead for this hike is right by Lao Chai village and ends at the Tả Van Family Homestay.
Cau May Waterfall & Bamboo Forest Trail – 10.5 km | 30 minutes
This short but moderate hike is on a loop route that takes walkers into a bamboo forest. The total length of this walk is 1.9 km/1.2 miles long, beginning and ending near the Cau May Homestay.
Gaining a slight elevation of 122 m/400 feet, this loop travels past a lovely waterfall and some of northern Vietnam’s famous tiered rice fields. Aside from the already mentioned, a few other features of this hike include wildflowers and wildlife viewing.
Sapa Valley Viewpoint Trial – 10.5 km | 30 minutes
A shorter trek out of Lao Cai is the Sapa Valley Viewpoint Trail, a moderate 2.25 km/1.4 mile path out and back. This route is a hidden gem that features a waterfall, wildflowers, and forests. The trailhead starts and ends by the Cau May Homestay and is excellent for travelers of most experience levels.
King Kong House Loop – 11.5 km | 30 minutes
Visitors looking for a hike that gets the heart going should look at the King Kong House Loop, a moderate 9.3 km/5.8 mile trek in Lao Cai. Known for its winding views of the terraced rice paddies, this path also features a bridge crossing over a stream.
On average, this hike takes about three and a half hours to complete, beginning and ending at the Ta Van Homestay (affiliate link). Not too many tourists take this hidden gem of a path, making it more appealing to those looking to avoid crowds.
Silver Waterfall – 13 km | 20 minutes
While the 15km/9 miles is walkable from downtown Sapa, the route most travelers take is just a cab ride away. At only .3 km/.2 miles long, the main path to the Silver Waterfall is often done the same day as visiting the Love Waterfall. These stunning falls of rushing waters are one of the most popular attractions in the Sapa area, so it does require a fee to enter.
The trek on the path to see the Silver Waterfall is well defined and offers a fantastic view of the 200 meter/656 feet of jungle-like water tumbling down on the rocks below.
Love Waterfall – 15 km | 30 minutes
Love Waterfall is a popular attraction in Sapa, and there are a couple of ways to include it in a hike. From downtown Sapa, hikers can walk 14 km/8.6 miles to the falls and catch a bus ride back, or they can get transportation to a shorter route beginning in Hoang Lien National Park.
The more direct path to see Love Waterfall is only 2km/1.3 miles long and takes about 45 minutes to complete, saving visitors more time in their day or to admire the falls. An entry fee is required to hike, but the path is well defined, leaving little room to get lost.
Hau Thao – 17 km | 45 minutes
The trek from Sapa to Hau Thao is pleasant, stretching 10.1km/ 6.3 miles from point to point on a path that cyclists and pedestrians mainly use. Hikers who choose to hike out and back can expect to make it a day trip, as it takes about 6 hours to complete it.
Those who don’t want to do this all in one day can stay at one of the hostels along the way. This trail offers impressive views of the surrounding nature through Black Hmong villages, especially after crossing the bridge while walking down towards Lao Chau.
Red Dao Village Loop – 19 km | 45 minutes
An excellent, casual short hike is the Red Dao Village Loop, which takes roughly an hour and a half to complete. This easy trail is appropriate for all skill levels and showcases many of the area’s beautiful flowers and terraced rice paddy fields.
Spanning over 4.6 km/2.9 miles out and back, this is the perfect hike for leisurely experiencing the local atmosphere and can be done in a day without a problem. The trailhead begins just to the west of the Topas Ecolodge and gains up to 242 meters/791 feet of elevation on the path.
Multi-Day Hiking Tours
Almost any hike in Sapa can be done with an arranged tour guide, even though many tourists choose to do them solo. Hiking enthusiasts who are up for a more extended and demanding challenge can book one of several multi-day tours.
These tours can cover a lot more ground in one journey, and local guides may provide some little-known secrets that would be missed otherwise. Frequently, hotels or other accommodations are helpful for booking hiking tour arrangements.
On your next trip to Sapa, be sure to carve out some time to explore the world-famous scenery on foot. Whether you’re into casual walking or intense trekking, there is a path that is certain to fit your ability. Consider staying at one of the amazing homestays in Sapa to make your experience extra memorable.