Jiuzhaigou Valley is located in the Aba and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, about 510 kilometers away from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, eight and a half hours' drive away. Jiuzhaigou is one of the most beautiful national parks in China, which features dense forests, tranquil grasslands, snowy mountains, and clear water ponds, lakes, streams and waterfalls. There are 108 ponds inside the park.
Jiuzhaigou means "Valley of Nine Villages", and there are nine villages spread around the valley within the park. It is an ideal park for photography-lovers, especially those who have a love for waterscapes and primeval forests. Here are the top three recommended places for photography-lovers:
Shuzheng Valley is the main valley of Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area, and is the gateway to the amazing scenery of Jiuzhaigou Valley. Shuzheng Valley is 13.8 kilometers long. There are more than 40 lakes of different forms, accounting for nearly 40% of the whole scenic area. They are as crystalline as precious mirrors, extending along the valley for five or six thousand kilometers.
The first photography location there is Reed Lake （芦苇海） which grows rare beautiful alpine reeds along both sides. Standing on the top of a ten-meter hillock at the sharp right turning of the road, photography-lovers can have the best view of the lake. Usually, in summer and autumn, the sun shines on the lake at 9am because of the dense primitive forests.
Walking along the Shuzheng Valley, there are other sites from which to take good photographs, such as Sparking Lake, the Shuzheng Lakes, Tiger Lake and Rhinoceros Lake.
Sparking Lake is a beautiful lake between the Twin-dragon Lake and Wolong Lake, with smooth blue water. The lake is surrounded by dense trees, which makes the lake look like a gleaming emerald. When the early morning mist clears and the sun rises, rays from the sun slant on the lake. Reflected light jumps and flashes on the lake, looking somewhat like sparks.
Best times: 9am-10am
The Shuzheng Lakes consist of 19 lakes of different shapes and sizes. With green and clear water, the lakes look like emeralds inlaid into the mountains. Together with green trees and silver-colored waterfalls, the lakes create a necklace of emeralds decorating Shuzheng Village.
Best time: about 9.30am
The Shuzheng Waterfalls are the first waterfalls in Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic Area. Lakes stretching for nearly seven kilometers appear to be step-shaped waterfalls. The waterfalls are made by the water from the lakes on the upper step flowing down to the lower lakes. Therefore, the number of lakes reflects how many waterfalls there are. The smallest fall is about one or two meters whilst the largest one may reach 30 meters high.
Best time: 11am
In late autumn, the leaves turn red and the forests are ablaze with color. The reflection of those colorful leaves and forests in the water, like tiger stripes, creates an amazing view.
Best time: 11am
Rhinoceros Lake is the biggest lake in Shuzheng Valley, and it is the lake with the most changeable views. The reflections in the water are so real that it seems that the lake, the sky, the earth and the forest all blend into each other.
Best time: about 9.30
At the end of Shuzenggou is the famous Nuorilang Fall which is 300 meters wide, cascading down from a 20-meter hillock. It is one of the favorite sites from which to take photographs.
Best times: 10am-12am (the waterfall is in the shadows in the afternoon).
From Nuorilang Waterfall, Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic Area is divided into two parts by the sightseeing passage. Going deep to the south, Zechawa Valley will be seen. The valley is nearly 18 kilometers long, which is the longest well-developed valley. The main scenic sites there are Long Lake, Five Colors Pond and the Seasonal Lakes.
At the end of the Zechawa Valley is Long Lake; it is over 3,100 meters above the sea level and about 600 meters in width. The water can be over 100 meters deep. Therefore, Long Lake is the widest and deepest lake. On the shore lines are green hills and old trees.
Beyond Long Lake is Five Colors Pond. It is believed that it is the soul of lakes in Jiuzhaigou Valley because it is the richest in color. It is at a high elevation of 2,995 meters, is 6.6 meters deep and covers an area of 5,645 square meters. The lake is hidden in the upstanding trees, which make it blaze with colors, such as green, light blue and grey. As the sun shines on the water, if someone pats it, the lake momentarily ripples gently with various colors.
The Seasonal Lakes consist of the Lower, Middle and Upper Lakes. They are far away from each other and have their own features. The water in the Seasonal Lakes varies in the seasons. In autumn, the water is full because of abundant rainfall. In winter and spring, the water becomes less and in summer the lakes run dry and are covered with grass.
Upper Seasonal Lake is close to Five Color Pond, surrounded by the cliffs. In autumn, when the rain comes, the lake rises and looks azure blue; while in summer, the lake is emerald green because the water level is reduced.
Middle Seasonal Lake is in the middle section of Zechawa Valley. With forests around and scattering mosses, the blue lake looks like a magical gemstone.
Nearby the Zechawa Village, the Lower Seasonal Lake is the bluest lake. The water there is as light blue as ink. The side of the lake is lined by a field of birches. When the autumn comes, the yellow leaves appear to set the birches flaming in the sun.
Rize Valley is 18 kilometers long, between Nuorilang Waterfall and Primeval Forest. The changing scenery there makes it the most beautiful valley in Jiuzhaigou Valley. The main scenic sites:
Mirror Lake, one of the famous sites, is as smooth as a mirror. When rosy blushes of morning begin to mantle in the east, the blue sky, white clouds, hills, trees and snowy mountains are mirrored on the lake. The scenery in and out of the water is so closely joined that it is hard to tell which part is real.
Best time: before 8am. (The lake is peaceful before 8am, and the reflection cannot be taken after the sun rises because it is windy).
Pearl Shoal is 2,443 meters above the sea level, and the waterfall is 21 meters high and 162 meters wide. The shoal and waterfall form a typical waterscape in Jiuzhaigou Valley. The magnificent waterfall is created by the water rushing down from the upper terrace to the lower Danzu Valley. The falls have a drop of 40 meters at their maximum point.
Best times: 10am-2pm. (The waterfall is under sunlight during that time, and it will be covered by shadows afterwards).
The upper Pearl Shoal Waterfall is at the Five Flowers Lake, located in a place which is 2,472 meters above the sea level. The water there is clean and clear so that people can see the parts of the trees which are underwater. The lake is generally turquoise in color but the color varies in different sections, changing from yellow to green then to blue, showing its multicolored beauty.
Moving towards the south-east along the ring road, people can see a big rock called Tiger Rock. Standing on it, people can get a view of the whole of the Five Flowers Lake.
Best times: morning and noon. (At 9am, photography-lovers can take pictures on the side of the lake; at 4pm, they can take pictures of the panorama of the lake at the Tiger Mouth Cliff).
Swan Lake is at an elevation of 2,905 meters and remains as semi-marshland. The lake is freely covered by different colored waterweeds. Many floating algae decorate the clear water, which enhances its attractiveness. Adding to its natural beauty are many bluish green woods and mountains, with flourishing flowers all around, as well as thick firs and cedars. In autumn, walking down along the road from there, people can enjoy the most wonderful red leaves at the stream on the roadside.
Best times: 2pm-3pm. (The sun shines on the birches under the opposite cliff and the mountains behind it look dark).
Rhinoceros Lake/Sparking Lake—Long Lake—Five Colors Lake—Panda Lake—Mirror Lake
Photography-lovers can arrive at Rhinoceros Lake/Sparking Lake before 8am to wait for the sunlight. At that time, the waterfowl are very active and they can only be taken using a telephoto lens that's more than 300 millimeters. After that, move on to Long Lake then walk to Five Colors Pond. Take a rest in the afternoon. In the afternoon, take pictures at Panda Lake. As the evening approaches, Mirror Lake is a good choice if there is no wind.
Swan Lake—Arrow Bamboo Lake—Panda Lake Waterfall—Shuzheng Lakes
Take the bus to Swan Lake in the early morning, and then move to Arrow Bamboo Lake; you can take photos at any time when you are surrounded by so much beauty. Near the mountain at the Panda Lake site, there is a lane that is worth a visit. You can take perfect pictures if you choose specific locations to frame on the way. In the afternoon, you can go to the Shuzheng Lakes. Photography-lovers can overlook the lakes as a whole when on a hill on the side of the road to Shuzhenghai, or on the opposite side when standing on the highest one.
Autumn is the best season for taking photographs. Among these months, from the middle of October to the end of it,is the best time. During that time, the leaves present different colors and it begins to snow in some places at high altitudes. The sun rises there 30 minutes late and sets 30 minutes earlier than outside of the scenic area. Therefore, it is the best time when the sun shines on the scenery.
Photos can also be taken when the sky is overcast because the scenery can be shown in wonderful colors and is well-balanced. On the contrary, the shadowed areas are shown in photos without gradation. However, photography-lovers should avoid getting the sky in focus and the exposure should be based on the shadowed areas of the scenery.
The most convenient way is to take a flight from Chengdu or Chongqing to Jiuhuang Airport (40 minutes from Chengdu and one hour from Chongqing). There are over 20 flights from Chengdu each day while there are only a few from Chongqing, however, you may get a better discount in Chongqing. Jiuzhaigou is 88 kilometers away from Jiuhuang Airport which serves Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Parks ; it's about 1.5 to 2 hours' drive.
If tourists want to visit by bus, they can take the environmental tour buses. Tourists can buy a ticket, which costs 90 yuan, at the Ticket Window and it is valid only in the valley and cannot be used for a second time. The tour buses run from 8am to 7pm, however, out of season, the buses stop at 5pm. The buses run among the three valleys (Shuzheng, Zechawa, and Rize) in a circular manner.
Jiuzhaigou is very popular among Chinese tourists and is extremely crowded during the peak travel season from May to October (it received 30,000 travelers each day during China's National Holiday in 2013), so get up early and get to the park before it opens at 7am.
The ticket is only valid for the day.
Take a warm coat, even during a hot summer, as it gets chilly in the mornings and evenings.