Tucked away in one of China's remotest border areas, where Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the People's Republic converge, Kanas Lake (Hanasi Hu) stretches between the rugged peaks of the Altai Mountains, deep, cold, clear and full of mystery. Remote Kanas has in recent years become a significant tourist destination, though its distance from the closest city of any size, Urumqi, combined with the deserts and mountains in between have, to date, kept it from the usual swarm-treatment experienced by more accessible sites. This very novelty—unspoiled natural beauty is increasingly rare in the PRC—is part of its allure, along with the rumors of huge lake monsters and the hospitable and colorful culture of the semi-nomadic Kazakhs and Tuvans who live in the vicinity.
The lake is surrounded by the extensive Nature Reserve, which is home to an amazing range of landscapes, from desert to alpine forest to grasslands. This part of China is unlike any other, having more similarity to Siberian taiga (evergreen forests) than anything found in the PRC. This all makes for some brilliant hiking and climbing opportunities, with the view from the lofty Guanyu Ting (Guanyu Pavilion) and the glacial expanse of Friendship Peak (Youyi Feng) where three international borders meet, being among the highlights.
In addition to the birch, spruce, larch and elm forests (aflame with color in the autumn) and the diverse fauna, the local human inhabitants, mostly Tuvan and Kazakh, make a trip to Kanas a unique pleasure. You can visit villages and, if you're up for it, stay with hospitable families. If you'd somewhat more modern accommodations, you can stay in the town of Bu'erjin outside of the Nature Reserve or bunk down in the Tuvan village inside the reserve. Entrance to the reserve itself will set you back RMB 100.