Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is the most famous part of one of China’s best national parks (or national level scenic areas) — Wulingyuan. China’s first national forest park contains the essence of Zhangjiajie scenery: the towering sandstone pillars, sometimes in seas of cloud, rich wildlife, and tranquil streams.
The Park can be split into four areas: Gold Whip Stream in the south, closest to Zhangjiajie City; Yuanjiajie in the middle, accessed from Suoxiyu Town to the east; Tianzi Mountain in the north, and Yangjiajie in the west, most recently developed. Each has its own star scenic attractions. See below.
Yuanjiajie ('Yuan Family Territory' 袁家界) contains "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain". Named in 2010, it is now the most popular sight in Zhangjiajie. It is usually crowded, especially during peak travel season (July, August, May 1–3, and October 1–7), when you may find it hard to find a place free of people for photos.
Yuanjiajie is a butte (steep-sided platform mountain), surrounded by higher peaks, grotesque rock pillars and deep valleys. The highlights of Yuanjiajie include: the First Bridge under Heaven, Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, and 'Lost Souls Platform'.
You can cross this bridge and walk around a circle path to get some fantastic views to the valley. This bridge and the views means there are always crowds in this section, but our guide will select a time of day when people are leaving or moved to other sections; but in summer it is still quite busy.
Near to The First Bridge of the world you will soon come to a metal suspension bridge, giving you a view down to Heavenly Pillar, called Avatar Hallelujah Mountain since the movie, and the top section features in some posters.
About 800 meters into Yuanjiajie there is a trail zigzagging its way southward up to the top of Wuyanding Platform, which provides panoramic views of 'Lost Souls Platform' (Mihun Tai迷魂台). You can see many mesas of various shapes and sizes that may be partly hidden in wispy clouds, especially after rain, just like you are standing in a celestial wonderland.
Visitors fascinated by the beautiful and mysterious scenery there are said to have forgotten the way back. That's why it got the name 'Lost Souls Platform'.
Hundred Dragon Elevator (Bailong Elevator 白龙天梯) is a non-recommended way to the heights of Yuanjiajie, due to typical 2-hour lines for the 2-minute ride. 335 meters in height, it consists of the machinery inside the mountain and three glass elevator cars clinging to the mountainside. Running side-by-side, they give passengers a view of Spirit Soldiers’ Gathering.
The reason Tianzi Mountain takes the spotlight is this area is its height. At 1,182 meters (3,878 feet), it offers the best chance of photographing the sea of clouds, mainly during the spring and early autumn. There is a cable car up to this area and it is popular with photographers.
Tianzi Mountain (天子山 'Heaven Son Mountain') is sometimes translated as “Emperor Mountain”. Emperors were thought to be descendants of heaven, and the peaks, like floating islands in swirling mists, are the traditional image of heavenly realms.
‘Nod-to-the-General Platform’ (Dian Jiang Tai 点将台) is in a gorge full of curling clouds, where there are many tall rock pillars of different shapes. The tallest one, sitting in the middle, is called the "emperor". In front of it is the "herald" who is reading an imperial edict to the "soldiers". The two "prime ministers" are "bending down" and stand on the left and right. It is said that the emperor of Xiang once reviewed his troops there.
By a modern building in the style of a pagoda, this view is what some Western photographers have called “The Emperor’s Pens”. They feature on some of China’s stamps, as they resemble calligraphy pens.
This is a place with a cute ground level monorail train that winds its way up 5k valley to a stream, with 3 finger like mountains towering over it. Once you arrive (by train or foot) just head up right, and you can hike all the way up to Tianzi Mountain; not recommended in summer! If the river has water flower it could be a lovely photo, but unless that river has water I would recommend skipping this small up and down valley.
Yangjiajie ('Yang Family Territory' 杨家界) is a newly developed area of the park. It is the least-crowded area, with spectacular scenery, and challenging hiking.
Yangjiajie Scenic Area involves a lot of hard and steep climbing — about 2 hours up. The steepest path is made up of slippery stone steps, going up at 70 degrees, and only allowing people to pass sideways.
The toilets in Yangjiajie are very natural — a hole in the ground with squat boards in a small hut.
The highlight of Yangjiajie Scenic Area is its ‘Natural Great Wall’, towering walls of rock snake through the landscape like the Great Wall of China, quite different to the pillars in the rest of the national park.
Tianbo House is at the top of the mountain above Oolong Village (乌龙寨). The ten high, parallel, stone walls of General Yang’s family house look magnificent.
‘Old House Area’ (Laowu Chang 老屋场) is an undeveloped part of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, between Yuanjiajie and Tianzi Mountain. It is best reached by local hired van from Yuanjiaje, as it is well off the ordinary travel route.
The scenery in the area is incredibly beautiful and overwhelming. Sun rise in Laowuchang is considered by photographers to be the must-shoot scene in Zhangjiajie.
'Sky Field Garden' (Kongzhong Tianyuan 空中田园) is a small area of paddy fields, seemingly hanging on an outcrop surrounded by Zhangjiajie’s typical peaks. The paddy fields are farmed by local ethnic people.
Walking down from Kongzhong Tianyuan, you will find 'Spirit Soldiers' Gathering' (Shenbing Juhui 神兵聚会), opposite Bailong Elevator. There are 48 rocky towers like soldiers standing in the formation.
It’s a unique sight in the area; and if you’re a photographer it brings a diversity to your Zhangjiajie photos. The walk down to a nearer viewing point offers some nice shots of the valley formations, and in summer there is fairly good tree cover.
Gold Whip Stream (Jinbian Xi 金鞭溪) is a brook at the foot of the mountain. It is about 7½ km (4½ miles) long, about two hours’ walk. It is an easy and relaxing walk along the stream, even if there are noisy Chinese groups. There is not much to do. It your time is limited, we suggest you skip this.
Gold Whip Cliff, a 400-meter-high cliff by Gold Whip Stream, is grand, towering, and angular. It was once the most famous attraction in Wulingyuan Scenic Area. Patterns are all over the cliff, like the joints on a huge whip. At sunset the cliff looks like a huge golden whip stuck in the earth. "Gold Whip at Sunset" is a famous Zhangjiajie image.
'Yellow Stone Village' (Huangshi Zhai 黄石寨) is 2 km north of Gold Whip Stream.
Located just north of Gold Whip Stream, this large mountain village is another essential tourist sight. The main attractions include the Trail in Fir Woods, Imperial Edict and the Precious Box, Needle Peak, the Southern Gate to Heaven, and Five-Finger Peak.
The best time to visit the park is September and October, when the weather is comfortable, and it is not crowded in the park. April to June is the rainy season when roads in the mountains are slippery and the mountains get the best cloud cover.
Climate: Zhangjiajie enjoys a subtropical humid monsoon climate, and its weather is characterized by four distinct seasons with summer highs of around 35°C and winter lows of around freezing.
Avoid the crowds: China’s summer holidays (July and August) and China’s National Holidays (Labor day holiday from May 1 to 3 and National Holiday from October 1 to 7) see the biggest crowds.
Winter is not recommended: From December to February it may snow or become frozen. It is very cold in the mountainous area, and with slippery roads and paths it is not very safe. The forest park is closed for one week in February for routine maintenance.
There are many small hostels operated by local people in the forest park. The facilities of these hotels are simple with small rooms. Hot water is supplied 24 hours, but some hotels may not supply hair dryers, etc. Breakfast is Chinese style with steamed bread, boiled eggs, and rice porridge.
Hotels adjacent to the forest park, at the Suoxiyu Town and south entrances, are much better.
There are only small restaurants scattered around each scenic area, which serves simple local food. Your guide will choose the best available restaurant based on your requirements. If you can eat at a restaurant close to the attraction you are visiting, you won’t need to waste time in walking.
Alternatively we can arrange a picnic lunch for you if you don’t want to eat at a local restaurant. We will ask your hotel to pack a lunch box for you. And there is a McDonald's at Tianzi Mountain.
Local villages sell food like corn, fruit, and cucumber on the mountain, and there are small snack stalls selling water and snacks.
There are maintained squat toilets at every major sight, but you must bring your own toilet paper. Queues are quite common in the peak travel season from April to October.
There are free shuttle buses serving all the scenic areas except for Lao Wu Chang. It is confusing as the buses don’t have numbers or English signage. Some drivers are helpful, but some may turn a deaf ear when be asked for directions. The fighting for a seat is fierce. We recommend taking a tour with us with private transport and guide.
There are three cableways inside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, an elevator, and an electric cart (also called the mini train). The 248-yuan entry ticket doesn't include these.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has three main entrances, from which a 3-day through ticket is available, including all attractions inside.
Queues are normal in the forest park, so please be patient.
Bailong Elevator is the worst place (waiting time: 1–2 hours, sometimes even 4 hours!). Avoid lines by hiking 1–1½ hours, or arrive before 7am and descend before 4 pm.
Tianzi Mountain Cable Car (waiting time: 1–1½ hours or longer) can be avoided by walking up about 9,000 steps (2–3 hours). Alternatively get to the cableway before 7 am for a shorter queue, and descending before 4 pm you may avoid a line altogether.
Zhangjiajie Forest Park is big, access is convoluted, and people in the park cannot speak English. In order to avoid hassles, a guide is recommended. The guide can show you around the park and help you find good places for hiking, photos, food, etc.
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