China’s Top National Parks
Do you love national parks? You probably know the national parks in your own country, like Yellowstone in the U.S., the Lake District in the U.K., Uluru in Australia, etc. China has national parks too, 225 in total! They cover both scenic and historic preservation areas. Here we concentrate on China's top scenic national parks, featuring five chosen for outstanding scenery and reputation.
1. Wulingyuan National Park — Zhangjiajie's Precipitous Pillars
Wulingyuan is usually the only one of China's national parks to make it to a top-in-the-world list. It features some awesome towering geology, alongside rich wildlife. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park makes up most of it. Its inspiration for the floating rocks in Avatar has added to its fame.
Want a non-touristy route? 5-Day Zhangjiajie Hiking and Biking Tour for Any Level is a good choice.
Bungee jumping at Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge is available. Contact us to arrange an adventure tailored for you.
- Popular activities: hiking, mountain climbing, photography, rafting, and Halleluyah Mountain dreams?!
- Access: From Zhangjiajie take a bus or private transport 1 hour north to Wulingyuan. From there hike or take local transport on park roads.
- Suitable for: able hikers, with enough to tire the fitter and more adventurous
- Best time(s) to visit: October is the best month, with cooler temperatures and fall foliage; but for summer activities like rafting go in the early summer to beat the rain.
- Popularity: Expect crowding at the major view points at peak times, otherwise there's moderate to low visitor concentration.
- Facilities: two cableways, an elevator, and electric cart; farm houses and small tourist shops provide food and snacks inside the park
- Accommodation: The best hotels are in Zhangjiajie, otherwise there are some good hotels in Suoxiyu and the west gate, but farmers' guesthouses inside the park can be quite rudimentary.
- Days needed for a classic tour: 3 days are needed to see the main attractions in the park.
- Entry fee: about $40 (not including cableways etc. at about $8 a ride)
2. Jiuzhaigou National Park — Multicolored Mountain Lakes
Jiuzhaigou ("Nine-Village Valley") National Park is known for its colorful lakes in high-altitude valleys, with waterfalls, snowy peaks, forested slopes, and Tibetan villages. It's a classic national park.
- Popular activities: Hiking, photography, marveling at lakes and reflected mountains
- Access: flight or 8-hour bus ride from Chengdu; then 50 km of good park roads are plied by buses and hikers
- Suitable for: All who can tolerate mountain bus journeys will enjoy it. Altitudes over 3,000 m in the upper valleys shouldn't trouble very fit hikers; others should be prepared to take it easy.
- Best time(s) to visit: The fall colors reflected in the lakes is when the park is at its prettiest. Winter is harsh there and travel is unadvisable.
- Popularity: Avoiding the Chinese holiday crowds (especially Oct. 1-7), when the park in overrun, it is still difficult to get away from tourists at the main speak times.
- Facilities: good valley roads, guest houses, and Tibetan-family-run shops/eateries
- Accommodation: better hotels outside the park gate; much simpler guest houses inside
- Days needed for a classic tour: 2+ days to hike the main sights, 1 day with transport
- Entry fee: around $50 (not including $12 for a 2-day bus pass)
- 3-Day Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Highlights Tour
- 6-Day Essential Chengdu and In-Depth Jiuzhaigou Tour
- 7-Day Chengdu, Mount Emei and Jiuzhaigou Scenic Tour
3. Guilin Li River National Park — Karst Landscapes
More of a scenic area, with not much of a national park feel, the Li River National Park has no entrance and fee to get in. It covers the 80-km (50-mile) stretch of river between Guilin and Yangshuo, bounded by classic sheer karst hills, which have inspired many a poem and ink painting.
Maybe challenge yourself to an SUP (stand-up paddleboard, i.e. a mini raft) on the Yulong River, take a bamboo raft, have a cycling tour into the countryside or take an exciting drive with an all-terrain vehicle.
- Top features: Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Yellow Cloth Shoal, 20-Yuan-Bill Hill, Xingping Ancient Town
- Popular activities: cruises, hiking, photography, hill climbing
- Access: from Guilin, take a Li River cruise, or visit villages along the river by mountain/rural roads
- Suitable for: Anyone can take a cruise or vehicle to see this amazing limestone and water scenery.
- Best time(s) to visit: summer for misty peak views after the rain; fall for drier, cooler weather
- Popularity: Immensely popular, dozens of tour boats ply the river daily, but you can find quieter villages and hills to enjoy relative peace
- Facilities: Cruise boats serve buffet lunches, bamboo rafts offer another way to see the river; Guilin and Yangshuo offer everything from Western food to local specialties, while farmer restaurants along the river provide simple local fare.
- Accommodation: hotels in Guilin and Yangshuo are the mainstay with all price ranges, though more modest lodging is offered in Xingping and other riverside resorts
- Days needed for a classic tour: 1 day for the main sights + 1/2 days to explore Guilin and Yangshuo
- Entry fee: none
- 4-Day Guilin Scenic and Ethnic Discovery
- 5-Day Dynamic Guilin and Yangshuo Tour
- 6-Day Guilin, Yangshuo, and Longsheng Tour
4. Lijiang Yulong Xueshan National Park — with Tiger Leaping Gorge
You can take a cable car up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for a fantastic view of the glaciated peak or skip the cable car, hike through the bushes and wade across a little stream to enjoy the exclusive views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain that only hikers can.
- Popular activities: hiking, photography; viewing glaciers, yaks, and snowy peaks, imagining tigers leaping the cataract?!
- Access: The gate is 15 km north of central Lijiang. Trams go up to 4,500 m (14,800 ft) where the glacier park is and to other mountain sights. Take the G214 to 40 km (25 mi) north of Lijiang to access 30-km-long Tiger Leaping Gorge.
- Suitable for: The gorge hike is strenuous but enjoyable for those of normal fitness. A trip up the mountain, especially with physical exertion, should be viewed with caution, due to altitude sickness, especially at Glacier Park.
- Best time(s) to visit: from February to June is the best time to visit the snow mountain.
- Popularity: you can visit Yunnan all year round, but avoid the Chinese holiday crowds (especially Oct. 1-7).
- Facilities: Tiger Leaping Gorge is well-developed for hiking tourists with plenty of shops and hostels. Trams, oxygen, and the usual range of day-visit facilities are available on Yulong Mountain.
- Accommodation: good hostels on the gorge hiking route, and plenty of hotels in Lijiang
- Days needed for a classic tour: The Tiger Leaping Gorge hike is best done over two days. Take one day to explore Jade Dragon Mountain.
- Entry fee: The Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge are entered separately. $30 for snow mountain (entry ticket and environmental car are included), $12 for Tiger Leaping Gorge
5. Huangshan National Park — the Legendary Yellow Mountains
Surrounded in myths of ancient immortals, the Yellow Mountains have some bizarrely charming geomorphology. Compact and complex, this National Park has it all in a small area.
You can walk or bike among ancient villages, stay in a typical Hui-style inn, and see how artists turn this small area into a rural paradise on canvas. Canola flowers in spring can be the icing on a cake.
- Top features: the seas of clouds, bizarre rocks like "Monkey Watching the Sea", and strange pines like Welcoming Guest Pine
- Popular activities: trekking the mountain paths, photography, gazing out over the swirling mists and island-like peaks, getting up before dawn to see the sun rise
- Access: 3 hours by coach from Hangzhou or 1 hour from Huangshan to the main gate; there are taxis in the park to take you to the cableways, but from there it's by foot on narrow concrete paths and steps.
- Suitable for: Avoiding the steepest climbs and the long hikes, most of the top sights are accessible even by those of low fitness.
- Best time(s) to visit: Summer is best for weather, but crowded; winter beautiful and peaceful, but treacherous underfoot and closed in places. The intermediate seasons offer a compromise.
- Popularity: Crowds peak in the summer, when the narrowest of passes become queuing places, as lines of tourists march up and down alternately, and Welcoming Guest Pine becomes clogged with hundreds trying to snap themselves in front of it.
- Facilities: Three cableways, including Asia's longest telpher, and a monorail provide access from every side. The mountainside is well-signed, and there are plentiful (though expensive) restaurants and shops. There's a hot-spring spa at the mountain foot.
- Accommodation: The mountain-top hotels offer everything from 4* to dorms, all at least twice the price of those at the mountain bottom. An overnight stay is recommended to catch the dawn and to save time going up and down.
- Days needed for a classic tour: Typically 2 days are spent on the mountain (though 3 or 4 days are needed to see everything)
- Entry fee: about $40 in peak season, $25 in low season, not including cableways or monorail.
- Read more about How to Plan a Huangshan Tour.
- 3-Day Ancient Villages and Yellow Mountains Tour
- 3-Day Escape to Huangshan from Shanghai or Hangzhou
- 4-Day Trekking in the Yellow Mountains
Other Famous Chinese National Parks
Yunnan Shilin National Park — Yunnan's Stone Forest
The Stone Forest is another classic national park, but not quite as outstanding and full of interesting features as the featured five above. There are various gatherings of pointy stone projections, caves, and lakes. The Yi and Suni peoples live in this sizable 350 sq km park.
Hong Kong's "National Parks"
Hong Kong has some amazing preserved coastline and hiking opportunities in its 30 country parks, but the closest thing Hong Kong has to a national park is Hong Kong Global Geopark (once Hong Kong National Geopark), which captures HK's most visually stunning geology.
Taiwan's National Parks
Taroko and Kenting, the cream of Taiwan's National parks, should definitely be given a mention. Taroko Gorge National Park, the most popular one, has a distinctly ethic feel, with hiking and gorge trekking opportunities following ancient tribal paths. Adventurous pursuits abound.
Kenting National Park is Taiwan's oldest and largest, featuring delightful weather, plentiful facilities, ocean views, coral reefs, tropical forests rich in plant and bird species, old temples, prehistoric sites, and caves.
If you venture northwest on the Silk Road in search of desert scenery China's desert national parks capture some of the best. Kumtag Desert National Park, Xinjiang, has vast and beautiful shifting sands and is growing!
It is bettered however by Mingshashan-Yueyaquan National Park, which has more facilities and activities and is more accessible being only 5 km (3 mi) outside Dunhuang. Mingshashan ("Singing-Sands Mountain") has pristine dunes with camel rides, and Yueyaquan ("Crescent Spring") is a mini oasis.
- 6-Day Zhangye and Dunhuang Photography Tour
- 8-Day Qinghai Lake, Zhangye, and Dunhuang Tour
- 11-Day Tour from Xi’an to Kashgar including Zhangye
Check out more Silk Road Tours.
Tibetan National Parks
Tibet has four national parks, but could have many more with its abundance of pristine wilderness. The most famous and visitable scenic one is Nyainqêntanglha Shan National Park, around Lake Nam, the highest saline lake in the world, and Tibet's largest lake. The crystal blue waters surrounded by towering snowy peaks are a haven for wildlife, and once a place of pilgrimage.
Tibet doesn’t accept independent travelers. Traveling with a travel agency is required. Contact us to explore the main highlights from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp. Consider a top Tibet trekking trip, Everest Base Camp trek, if you’d love a more outdoorsy experience.
- 4-Day Lhasa Highlights Comfort Tour
- 5-Day Lhasa Highlights and Lake Yamdrok Tour
- 8-Days Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Tour
Famous Mountain National Parks
Other top national parks in China protect some of China's most famous mountains, like Mt. Emei, Mt. Hua, Mt. Tai, Mt. Putuo, and the Danxia Mountains in Guangdong.
Touring China's National Parks
If you are interested in exploring any one of the nationa parks mentioned above, please see our popular tours below for inspiration:
- To Wulingyuan National Park: 4-Day Essence of Zhangjiajie Tour
- To Jiuzhaigou National Park: 5-Day Scenic Tour to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong
- To Guilin Li River National Park: 3-Day Essence of Guilin
- To Lijiang Yulong Xueshan National Park: 5-Day Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking Tour
- To Huangshan National Park: 3-Day Essence of Huangshan Tour
Or you can just tell us your interests and requirements, and we will help you tailor-make a China tour to discover China in your way.