As you plan your trip to China’s Yangtze River, part of preparation is awareness of weather. The overall trends, the highs and lows of the temperatures—all of this will affect what you pack but, also, the prices you encounter in booking your trip.
Located in the subtropics, the Yangtze region is typically humid with high winds. Temperatures range from an average of 90° F/30° C in the summer to 50° F/10° C in winter. The wet season runs from June through September, making travel more challenging but bringing out more natural beauty. Meanwhile, the wind is at its highest from November to May.
We advise planning your trip carefully and consulting the temperatures as well as the precipitation levels so that you can budget appropriately.
Spring in the Yangtze River valley runs from March to May. It is the season of flowers in bloom. In the spring, you’ll still experience humidity and a certain amount of cloud cover or mist but, temperatures are at their mildest during these months. Precipitation increases gradually over these months but you’ll also see and feel the sun’s warmth.
All of this combines to make spring the best time for a cruise down the Yangtze. The water level is moderate, allowing easier boat travel to the most popular attractions along your cruise.
We recommend that you pack a mixture of clothing for a spring trip on the Yangtze. The temperatures are moderate but rainfall is increasing over the season. And, with high winds or lower morning temps, you may be glad of at least a jacket. Throw in a long-sleeved shirt for rainy days. Pack footwear that will protect your feet from the damp but also take some lighter options for the warmer days.
Traveling in the Yangtze during summer months will put you there during the rainy season. From July to September, the region averages over 200 mm (8 inches) of rain monthly. Most of this is in the middle and lower sections of the valley but, you’ll likely see thunderstorms and monsoons anywhere along its path.
Flooding is not uncommon during the summer and the water level reaches its highest point in this season.
In addition to the rain, this is also the hottest part of the year. Humidity peaks in these months and you may even experience what are known as plum rains. These somewhat stationary fronts keep the rain localized and, in the subtropics, that can result in health issues for some. Temperatures head above an average 30° C (84° F). Stay hydrated and in the shade as much as possible.
Despite the frequency of summer monsoons, droughts are also common in the southern regions of the Yangtze. Be prepared for stretches of the expected high temperatures and intense sun as well as rain. The weather is extremely unpredictable in the summer. For this reason, you’ll find that summer can be incredibly verdant and lush as well as dry and barren. This is the time to look for bargains on airfare, lodging and other travel costs.
Dress lightly while the summer stretches out. Shorts, t-shirts or short sleeved shirts and sandals work for the sunny days but, pack plenty of rainy day clothes, too. Pack your parkas and galoshes. You’ll need them. We also recommend taking plenty of insect repellant and sunscreen. When it’s not raining, the sun is at its strongest during these months and, given the region’s geography, if you’re unused to the subtropics, heat stroke or sun stroke is entirely possible. Take care to prevent overexposure while traveling.
Autumn is second only to spring on the Yangtze in terms of pleasant travel conditions. The temperatures are reasonable and range from lows of 10° C up to 22° C (50-72° F). While the landscape doesn’t have the blooming beauty of the spring, scenery from September through November is still lush and enjoyable.
This season is a high for the Yangtze valley and all of China in terms of tourism and culture. The national holidays (October 1st-7th) take place in the autumn and, so, traveling the Yangtze will give you a fuller view of many folk traditions and folk music. River traffic is likely to be heavier; if your heart is set on a cruise, book well in advance. You’ll also encounter increased prices in the autumn for travel so, booking that ahead is a good move, too.
In terms of packing, the rain tapers off over the autumn months. You should bring some sweaters, coats or jackets for the colder mornings and days but you can leave most of your heavy rain gear and footwear at home.
Winter, the least popular season for traveling the Yangtze River, covers December through January. While by far the coldest of the four Chinese seasons, it is also the briefest and the most reasonably priced for travel. Cruises on the Yangtze can be half the cost as at other seasons so make sure to take advantage of bargain rates.
Temperatures and water levels are both low at this time of year but, the beauty of winter on the Yangtze is worth piling on the sweaters for. Precipitation is at its lowest point during winter so, despite the presence of snow and mist, it is still quite beautiful out. Nothing quite compares with the snow-covered evergreens along the Yangtze and, the mist as you travel the river makes for many beautiful photo opportunities.
Pack for a winter holiday, making sure to bring snow boots and heavy coats. We also advise that you take along umbrellas and warm sweaters as many of the public buildings along the river are unheated in winter.
The gorges that form much of the Yangtze Valley not only shelter the area but also enclose it. Because of these factors, the Yangtze River is beautiful to see at any season. The changes in temperature and water level mean it just requires planning and adequate packing. Keep in mind that the Yangtze traverses most of China, so the region(s) you visit may be slightly different, regardless of the season.