Hukou Waterfall (壶口瀑布 [Hǔkǒu Pùbù])

Yellow River, Shaanxi / Shanxi, China

About Hukou Waterfall (壶口瀑布 [Hǔkǒu Pùbù])


Hiking Distance: < 1km round trip
Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Date first visited: 2009-05-04
Date last visited: 2009-05-04

Waterfall Latitude: 36.14788
Waterfall Longitude: 110.44954

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The Hukou Waterfall (壶口瀑布 [Hǔkǒu Pùbù]; Teapot Waterfall or Tea Kettle Spout Waterfall) was one of those waterfalls that had volume and power instead of a tall drop.

This waterfall also struck us as unusual because of its yellowish appearance, which resulted from its presence directly on the Yellow River (黄河 [Huǎng Hé]), China‘s second longest river.

Hukou_014_05032009 - Hukou Waterfall and rainbow
Hukou Waterfall and rainbow

The Yellow River flowed through what seemed to be mostly arid desert lands, which very much reminded me of the Colorado River flowing through the deserts of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.

Such contrasting aspects of the desert’s harsh climate against the river made the Hukou Waterfall all the more memorable.

Of course, the amount of work it took to even reach the Hukou Waterfall also made it quite memorable as well.

The falls was actually shared between both the Shaanxi [陕西; Shǎnxī] Province as well as the Shanxi [山西; Shānxī; “Mountain West”] Province since the Yellow River defined their shared mutual border.

Hukou_005_05032009 - Contextual direct look at the Hukou Waterfall and viewing areas on both sides of the Yellow River
Contextual direct look at the Hukou Waterfall and viewing areas on both sides of the Yellow River

The Shaanxi Province was most notable because it was the province that was the home to the famous Terracota Soldiers [兵马俑; Bīng mǎ yóng] in Xi’an [西安; Xī’ān]).

Experiencing the Hukou Waterfall

We thought it was definitely worth checking out the falls on both sides of the river for the full experience.

Unfortunately for us, we were only able to see the falls from the Shaanxi side because the bridge to the other side was under construction.

We were also running too short on time to make the long detour we would’ve had to take to overcome lack of the nearest traverse.

Hukou_016_05032009 - Context of the viewing area (and closures) around the Shaanxi side of the Hukou Waterfall
Context of the viewing area (and closures) around the Shaanxi side of the Hukou Waterfall

So we really can’t say anything from personal experience regarding the Shanxi side.

Nevertheless, from looking at the overlooks across the river and imagining what the view would be like, the Shanxi side looked to have more frontal views of the Hukou Waterfall.

There was even a path that led down steps (possibly through either a tunnel or narrow passageway) to a lower viewpoint looking almost face up with the falls.

The Shaanxi side (which was all we got to experience) had more top down and comprehensive views.

Hukou_019_05032009 - Looking towards the brink of the Hukou Waterfall
Looking towards the brink of the Hukou Waterfall

We also managed to see some thinner cascades further downstream spilling into the gorge carved out by the Yellow River from the Shaanxi side.

Damage at the Hukou Waterfall

In January 2009, unprecedented ice flows occurred on the Yellow River that caused the closure of this attraction until early April.

We were lucky to see the falls a month after it re-opened, but we could still see that most of the lower viewpoints remained closed.

And that was probably the main reason why we couldn’t take the nearest bridge across to the other side because the ice flow might have damaged it.

The Hukou Waterfall Nomenclature

Hukou_054_05032009 - Closures kept us from getting other views of the falls
Closures kept us from getting other views of the falls

The “teapot” or “tea kettle” metaphor was said to come from the turbulence and pressure caused by the constriction of the Yellow River getting squeezed into a narrow gorge at the Hukou Waterfall.

Apparently, this turbulence reminded someone of the turbulence of boiling hot water in the process of boiling and brewing tea.

The pent up pressure and steam would ultimately result in the whistling tea kettle that we would be familiar with when the water within was brought to a boil.

I’m betting that the falls would be at its highest flow when the floods would arrive during the Summer rains combined with melting snow from the Yellow River’s origins on the Tibetan Plateau.

Hukou_055_05032009 - Looking ahead from the car park towards the viewing area for the Hukou Waterfall on the Shaanxi side, which was the extent of our walking
Looking ahead from the car park towards the viewing area for the Hukou Waterfall on the Shaanxi side, which was the extent of our walking

Our visit coincided with a time when the Yellow River might have been at its lowest flows for the year, which you might be able to tell from the photos on this page (at least when compared to other photos out in the literature).

For all intents and purposes, we considered this to be pretty much a roadside waterfall even though we did have to make a brief walk to get right up to the edge of the river’s bank next to the falls.

It was that walk that compelled me to bump up the difficulty rating by 0.5.

Authorities

The Hukou Waterfall resides near Yichuan in the Shaanxi Province and near Fenxi in the Shanxi Province, China. To my knowledge, I have not found a reliable official government authority administering this area. Therefore, I can’t recommend a particular website belonging to said authority for the latest conditions or other inquiries.

Xian_112_jx_05062009 - Part of the challenge of getting to the falls was fighting traffic to extradite ourselves from the city of Xi'an. The construction work on the public transport system here didn't help matters (but I suppose it was a smart move in the long run on their part)
Hukou_001_05032009 - Going underneath an ornate entranceway as we got closer to the Hukou Waterfall
Hukou_002_05032009 - This was the bridge that we should've crossed to get to the Shanxi side of the Hukou Waterfall, but it was closed during our visit
Hukou_004_05032009 - Looking across the Yellow River towards a giant Hollywood-like sign proclaiming the Shanxi Province on the mountain
Hukou_008_05032009 - Zoomed in direct look at the Hukou Waterfall flanked by viewing areas for both the Shaanxi side (left) and Shanxi side (right)
Hukou_010_05032009 - Another direct look at Hukou Waterfall from the Shaanxi side
Hukou_017_05032009 - Looking further downstream from the Hukou Waterfall at another smaller waterfall
Hukou_018_05032009 - Looking upstream from the Hukou Waterfall near its brink
Hukou_025_05032009 - Looking into the turbulence of the Hukou Waterfall with a rainbow
Hukou_032_05032009 - Zoomed in and focused look at the turbulence of the Hukou Waterfall while throwing up enough mist to yield this nice rainbow
Hukou_044_05032009 - More contextual look at the Hukou Waterfall and rainbow from the Shaanxi side with some buildings backing the Shanxi side
Hukou_050_05032009 - Some Chinese tourists getting their photos of the Hukou Waterfall near its brink
Hukou_053_05032009 - Looking across the little gorge carved out by the Yellow River towards the Shanxi side just below the Hukou Waterfall
Xian_056_05042009 - Contextual look downstream at the narrow gorge channeling the Yellow River while being fed by other segments of the river itself
Xian_005_05042009 - The leaning tower of the Big Goose Pagoda was one of the attractions we saw in Xi'an (just to convince you that we had good reason to base ourselves in Xi'an even though it was a very long day trip to Hukou Waterfall and back)
Xian_128_05052009 - The city center of Xi'an also featured city walls that were really charming and seemingly unique with pagodas and royal buildings perched on top of them
Xian_004_jx_05032009 - The night markets in Xi'an were also really neat to experience

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As for getting to Hukou Waterfall, even though it’s possible to make a long day trip out of Xi’an, it’s actually a bit of a stretch as you’re looking at over 5-6 hours of driving in each direction (traffic notwithstanding; trust us on this one!).

To keep us occupied during the long drive, we did notice quite a few of what appeared to be cave dwellings en route.

Shaanxi_003_05032009 - We spotted what I thought were cave dwellings during the long drive from Xi'an to the Hukou Waterfall
We spotted what I thought were cave dwellings during the long drive from Xi’an to the Hukou Waterfall

Perhaps a more reasonable option would be to base yourself for a night at a town closer to the falls or at one of the nearby hotels we saw on the Shanxi side (note: Taiyuan, Shanxi’s capital, looks like it’s also some 300km away).

So either way, this waterfall is quite remote and requires a bit of effort to access.

From a geographical context, we took a 90-minute flight to Xi’an from Chengdu (742km or nearly 9 hours drive). Xi’an was also 1,377km (14 hours drive or 2.5 hours flight) from Shanghai as well as 1,074km (over 11 hours drive or 2 hours flight) from Beijing.

Comprehensive sweep of the falls looking towards the Shanxi side


Deliberate sweep focusing on the churning water and rainbow


Another sweep this time showing the context of onlookers on the Shanxi side as well as the turbulent Yellow River both above and below the falls

Trip Planning Resources


Nearby Accommodations




Tagged with: hukou, yellow river, shaanxi, shanxi, xi'an, china, waterfall, huang he



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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