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The Stone Forest, Kunming

The Stone Forest, Kunming

Written by Sunny XieUpdated Feb. 1, 2021

Known for its remarkable karst formations, the Stone Forest has magnificent, strange, and unique natural scenery. With its touching legend of Ashima and unique minority culture, it is no doubt a must-see for Kunming tourists.

Scroll down and find out what the legend is, what to see, and other travel tips for the Stone Forest.

Stone ForestStone Forest

Basic Facts of the Stone Forest

  • Chinese: 石林 Shílín /shrr-lin/ 'Stone Forest'
  • Area: 400 square Kilometers (150 sq. mi.)
  • Recommended time for a visit: 3–4 hours
  • Open: 8:30am to 6:00pm
  • Popular activities: see the vast stone forest with waterfalls, lakes, and karst caves; discover the life of the Sani (Yi) people
  • Must-sees: The Greater and Lesser Stone Forests, Naigu Stone Forest
  • Suited to: anyone, especially families with children and geology lovers

Why Visit the Stone Forest

Do you want to see all the representative karst stone forest landforms in just one place? Come to Yunnan's Stone Forest.

It is the only karst stone forest in a subtropical plateau region in the world. It is the essence of the world's karst geomorphology and is known as the "Stone Forest Museum" as everything is displayed in one place.

The Stone Forest area is home to Naxi people and Yi people. While making a visit to the Stone Forest, you should not only appreciate its natural beauty but also enjoy the folk customs of the local minorities.

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Minority at the Stone ForestMinority at the Stone Forest

How the Stone Forest was Formed

The Stone Forest is not man-made, but a fantastic natural phenomenon. Geologists theorize that the various limestone shapes were formed due to 270 million years of sedimentation, pressure, uplift, and erosion.

In prehistoric times, the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau was a vast ocean. With a hot climate and abundant rainfall, animals, and plants there grew and decayed rapidly. Their calcium skeletons deposited on the seabed formed a thick layer of fossil sediment.

During the Mesozoic Era (252–66 million years ago), the seabed was elevated, and the fossil-formed limestone, once hidden in the sea, was raised to over 1,000 meters above sea level.

After eons of weathering and dissolving by carbonic and organic acids, the rock was separated by dissolution ditches, forming strange stone wonders such as stone buds, stone pillars, stone gates, and pinnacles. During the formation of the stone forest, its elegance has been preserved from collapse due to the strata’s small inclination angle.

Rain has continually washed away any soil, and hence the stone forest shows its stark face as a world wonder.

The Stone Forest's Romantic Legend

As the legend goes, Ashima, a beautiful girl of the Sani people (a branch of the Yi) was kidnapped by an evil landlord’s son and forced into marriage. Her lover, Ahei, made every effort to save her.

But on the way home, Ashima was swept away by a flood and turned into what is known as the Ashima Rock. You can find this rock in the Lesser Stone Forest. She is seen as a protector of the Sani people.

What to See at the Stone Forest

The Stone Forest Scenic Region boasts numerous scenic areas and spots, such as the Greater and Lesser Stone Forests (also known as the Lizijing Stone Forest), Naigu Stone Forest, Zhiyun Cave, Long Lake, Moon Lake, Qifeng Cave, and the Dadie Waterfalls.

The Greater and Lesser Stone Forests — Like a Theme Park

The Greater and Lesser Stone Forests, covering an area of 12 square kilometers (5 sq. mi.), is the main scenic area. When people say 'the Stone Forest', it always refers to the Greater and Lesser Stone Forests. The stones there are oddly shaped, with pillars magnificently standing erect like a forest.

As you walk through them, you will be amazed at the natural stone masterpieces and be bewitched by the intricate stone formations that are in the shapes of columns, cones, pagodas, and mushrooms, as well as animals, plants, and even human figures. The stones are scattered both densely and sparsely, and some look elegant while others are rugged.

The magnificent, strange, and sheer landscape creates countless sights, including Lotus Peak, Ashima Rock, Sword Peak Pond, Shilin Lake, and 'a Gleam of Sky'.

The Greater and Lesser Stone ForestsThe Greater and Lesser Stone Forests

Naigu Stone Forest — a Geopark, Less-Crowded

If you want to get away from the tourist crowds, Naigu Stone Forest is a good option. It is 8 kilometers (5 miles) northeast of the Greater and Lesser Stone Forest and is older and quieter than the Greater and Lesser Stone Forest. It has been declared a World Heritage site as part of the South China Karst.

Naigu literally means 'ancient black' in the language of the Yi ethnic group. Naigu Stone Forest has a weathered black surface.

Covering an area of 10 square kilometers (4 sq. mi.), Naigu Stone Forest consists of the Eastern Area, Western Area, Baiyun Lake, Baiyun Cave, and Old Battlefield. It features spiky stones, karst caves, a large waterfall, a vast grassland, and an impressive causeway of black volcanic blocks.

If you go there between September and November, you will be mesmerized by a sea of tickseed flowers flanked by the Stone Forest.

Naigu Stone ForestNaigu Stone Forest

The Greater and Lesser Stone Forests vs Naigu Stone Forest — Which One to Choose

  The Greater and 
Lesser Stone Forests
Naigu Stone Forest
Size 12 sq km (5 sq mi) 10 sq km (4 sq mi)
Rock Limestone Dolomite
Color Light gray Dark gray, black
Sights More varied formations, lakes Spiky formations, caves, causeway, waterfall, flower fields
Reputation Very famous Newly growing in popularity
Crowds Very crowde Less crowded
Status Commercial More rustic

The Greater and Lesser Stone Forests is a must-see attraction for Chinese tourists, so countless tourist groups swarm into it during the peak season. We recommend that you see the less-visited Naigu Stone Forest to guarantee a better experience.

Attractions around the Stone Forest

Jiuxiang: Around an hours' drive from the stone Forest, Jiuxiang is known as the "museum of karst caves", which boasts caves that are China's largest in scale, number, and wonders.

Nuohei Village: Around half an hour's drive from the Stone Forest, this unique village was built out of stone cobbles. The local people in the village are of the Yi ethnic minority, the sixth largest minority in China. You will be impressed by walking on the stone-paved road and seeing the stone houses, stone mills, and stone stalls. The senior villagers still wear their traditional dress for daily life. They are still good at their traditional skills, such as the weaving, embroidery, and instrument playing.

Xishan (Western Hills) Forest Park: Just west of Kunming City, and extravagantly dubbed as "the most beautiful place in Yunnan" (it might be the most beautiful place in Kunming Prefecture though), the park is beautiful with lush vegetation, blooming flowers, green grass, and tranquil surroundings.

Yuantong Temple: Located in Kunming city, it is the oldest Buddhist temple in Kunming, and it houses the 3.5-meter (11.5-foot) -tall statue of Shakyamuni.

More on Things to Do in Kunming>>>

Nuohei VillageNuohei Village

The Torch Festival at The Stone Forest

The Torch Festival, one of the most important festivals for the Yi People, is usually celebrated from 24th day to the 26 day of the sixth lunar month of the Yi calendar (similar to China's lunar calendar, around July/August).

Local people carry flaming torches and celebrate the festival with variety of activities. The men play three-stringed instruments while the women kick and clap to the tempo, it provides a great opportunity for young men and women to meet their prospective spouses.

More on Festivals in Yunnan>>>

Torch FestivalTorch Festival

Best Times to Visit the Stone Forest

The Stone Forest Scenic Region is open all year round. As it is an outdoor area, it is better to avoid rainy days. You are recommended to check the weather forecast before setting out. The rainy season lasts from May to October, peaking in July/August. More on Kunming Weather>>>

And try to avoid Chinese public holidays, such as Labor Day (May 1st to 3rd) and National Day (October 1st to 7th), or choose to start your day early so as to avoid crowds.

Getting to the Stone Forest from Kunming

The Stone Forest is in Shilin Yi Autonomous County, around 80 km (50 miles) east from Kunming city.

By Public Transportation

You can take either a 1½-hour coach from Kunming East Bus Station or a 40-minute bullet train to Shilin County Town, and then change to a public bus or taxi to the scenic areas. The whole journey takes at least 2 hours without any English-speaking service.  

By Private Vehicle

The most convenient way is to take a private vehicle, which takes least time at around 1½ hours with a direct transfer from/to your hotel.

As the Stone Forest covers an area of ​​400 square kilometers (150 sq. mi.), you are highly recommended to take a private tour with an experienced English-speaking guide to show you the best sights in a well-planned day trip.

The Stone Forest is normally combined with a tour to the nearby Yuanyang Terraced Rice Fields, which has eye-catching rural vistas that are especially popular among photographers. A private vehicle is particularly important for long-distance drives to remote countryside without direct public transportation.  

Private VehicleTake a private tour with China Highlights.

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Shilin ('Stone Forest') Hotels and Where to Stay

If you are taking a day trip to the Stone Forest from/to Kunming, there are plenty choices of all standards of hotels in Kunming.

If you would like to explore the karst landscapes and experience the local minority culture, staying near the Stone Forest or in Shilin County Town provides more convenience.

Recommended hotels near the Stone Forest:  

  • Sloane Place Hotel Stone Forest (3 star)
  • Shilin Yinruilin International Hotel (4 star)

Touring the Stone Forest with China Highlights

As this scenic area is so vast, you are recommended to have a private guide to avoid getting lost and to get interesting background information as you explore the Stone Forest. We are more than happy to offer a guide service and tailor-make a tour for you.

3-Day Kunming Highlights Tour — including historical sites and unique natural scenery at Naigu Stone Forest

8-Day Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Highlights Tour — taking you to visit the legendary Shangri-La and experience remote minority cultures

Our tours are very flexible. You can alter the itinerary and extend or shorten your tour to suit your price, interests, and schedule. Feel free to tell us your requirements.

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