A popular stop on the backpacker circuit thanks to its proximity to the natural splendor of Jiuzhaigou, Songpan (Sōngpān, 松潘) is a relaxed little town of ornate gates and bridges that serves as a gateway to the heavily Tibetan regions of northern Sichuan.
The focal activity here is horse-trekking. Popular trips include three to four day treks around ice-capped peak Xuebao Ding, two or three day rides through the Muni Valley with its lakes and waterfalls or longer treks of up to ten days out to scenic Huanglong National Park. Considering the abundance of both territory and guides to choose from, check with other travelers locally before making any decisions if you can; there have been a number of complaints about the quality of treks and behavior of guides/managers in the past.
Within Songpan, proper activities include checking out the Tibetan wares and souvenirs for sale along Shunjiang Lu (Shùnjiāng Lù, 顺江路), checking out views of the city from Guanyin Pavilion (Guānyīn Gé, 观音阁) and admiring the city's impressive North Gate—impressive not for only its size, but also for having survived six earthquakes, Japanese bombs and a fraught history as the final line of defense for the fortified city when it was known as Songzhou.
Sichuan guide | Songpan attractions | Songpan flights (Jiuzhaigou)
Songpan hotels (Chuanzhu Temple) | Songpan on the China Travel Blog