Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the inspiration of Avatar, is a must-see place for its out-of-this-world scenery. But your experience may be ruined by huge crowds and bad weather if you fail to plan well.
Continue to read for insiders' recommendations and tips coming from thousands of customer feedback forms and our inspection trips.
What to See in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
The whole of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is huge with many different scenic areas. Plan well in advance to maximize your time in the places you are most interested in.
The top-rated scenic areas are Yuanjiajie, Tianzi Mountain, and Gold Whip Stream. These three areas can be visited by tourists any age.
Walking is not hard at the main attractions, where cable cars, elevators, a tram, and shuttle buses are available andconcrete paths and steps have been built.
The off-the-beaten-path scenic areas are quieter but require more hiking: Yangjiajie, Yellow Stone Village, and Old House Area.
- Yuanjiajie (Yuan Family Territory) — the most popular and most crowded area
- Tianzi Mountain (Heaven Son Mountain) — famous for its clouds and mists
- Yangjiajie (Yang Family Territory) — newly discovered, and most steep
- Gold Whip Stream (Jinbian Xi) — easy and relaxing walking
- Yellow Stone Village (Huangshi Zhai) — similar to Yuanjiajie, but less spectacular
- Old House Area (Laowuchang) — undeveloped, quiet and natural, a must for photographers
Yuanjiajie Scenic Area
- Visiting time: 2½ hours
- Fitness needed: Moderate
Yuanjiajie ('Yuan Family Territory' 袁家界) contains "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain". It is the most popular sight in Zhangjiajie.
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'.
Insider tips: The easiest way to get up to Yuanjiajie is by the famous Hundred Dragon Elevator (Bailong Elevator). But we don't recommend it (unless you arrive before 7 am or descend before 4 pm) due to typical 2-hour lines for the 2-minute ride. A 1–1½-hour hike is a better way if you are fit.
The fame of Hallelujah Mountain and the views mean there are always crowds in this area, especially during peak travel season when you may find it hard to find a place free of people for photos.
Our guides select a time of day to visit Yuanjiajie when people are not yet arriving or are moving to other areas based on their experience and real-time information shared by the staff and other guides.
- Time needed: 2 hours
- Fitness needed: moderate
Tianzi Mountain ('Heaven Son Mountain' or 'Emperor Mountain' 天子山Tianzishan) offers the best chance of photographing asea of clouds, mainly during spring or early autumn.
Don't miss the cable car up to this area. The 30-minute ride will take you through the towering formations and give you the opportunity to take great fly-by photos.
If your time permits, you can visit Ten-Mile Gallery where you can take a monorail train. After the train, you can hike up to Tianzi Mountain.
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Gold Whip Stream
- Visiting time: 2 hours
- Fitness needed: low to moderate (easy and relaxing walk)
Gold Whip Stream (Jinbian Xi 金鞭溪) is a brook at the foot of the towering mountains. It is about 7½ km (4½ miles) long, about two hours' walk.
It is an easy and relaxing walk along the stream. It gets quieter as you walk farther from the shuttle bus stop.
The 400-meter-high cliff by Gold Whip Stream is spectacular, especially at sunset. One thing to watch out for is the wild monkeys along the stream.
Yellow Stone Village
- Visiting time: 2 hours
- Fitness needed: moderate
'Yellow Stone Village' (HuangshiZhai 黄石寨) is 2 km north of Gold Whip Stream. This large mountain village is another essential tourist sight. The main attractions include Trail in Fir Woods, Imperial Edict and the Precious Box, Needle Peak, the Southern Gate to Heaven, and Five-Finger Peak.
Yangjiajie Scenic Area
- Time needed: 3 hours
- Fitness needed: serious hill-climbing fitness
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 highlight of this 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.
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Old House Area
- Time needed: 1½ hours
- Fitness needed: low to moderate, for the 30-minute walk on a dirt road
'Old House Area' (Laowu Chang 老屋场) is an undeveloped part of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. As it is well off the ordinary travel route, it is mostly visited by private groups with private cars arranged by travel agencies like us. Contact us to add it to your tour.
The scenery in the area is incredibly beautiful and overwhelming. Sunrise is considered by photographers to be the must-shoot scene in Zhangjiajie.
The highlight of this area is 'Sky Field Garden' or 'Paddies in the Sky' (KongzhongTianyuan 空中田园). It 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.
How Many Days to Spend in the Park
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is so huge that you would need a week to explore all the scenic areas. (Entry tickets are valid for 4 days.)
If your time is limited, we recommend you spend at least 2 days in the park. That would allow you to visit the must-see attractions and would give you a better opportunity to enjoy the scenery if you happen to have fog or bad weather on one day.
You could spend one day on the mountain attractions such as Yuanjiajie and Tianzi Mountain, and the other day at attractions in the valleys such as Gold Whip Stream.
Book a Tour or Go Independently
Can you read or speak some Chinese? If not, going on a private tour with an English-speaking guide is advisable.
Zhangjiajie's forest park is a challenge if you go on your own, because there is a lack of clear signage/maps, and you will waste a lot of time to figure out where to take a bus and where the bus will stop.
Traveling with a private tour you can explore at your own pace, with a flexible itinerary. You can stay longer for great photos in front of "the Hallelujah Mountains" and travel around smartly to avoid the Chinese tour groups. The choice is yours.
If you travel with young kids or don't want to walk so much, your travel advisor and guide will select attractions requiring less hiking. If you are fit and seeking adventure, your guide can recommend more attractions with fewer tourists and stunning scenery.
How to Avoid Tourist Crowds
1. Arrive early. We recommend you to arrive at the park before 7:30 am. Arriving half an hour earlier may save you two hours in line for the cable car or Bailong Elevator.
2. Do more hiking instead of taking the cable car or elevator. There is a little physical effort but you will feel like you have the entire park to yourself in some parts.
3. Visit less-visited attractions. Chinese groups only go to the most famous attractions for a snapshot visit. Areas like Yangjiajie and Yellow Stone Village are much quieter.
4. Visit in the slack seasons, such as winter. It is cold, but you will be rewarded with no crowds and possibly rare snowy mountain scenery.
How to Get to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is about 30 km (18 mi) from central Zhangjiajie. There is no direct bus from the airport or train station to the national park. You can take a taxi or a local bus to get there to save some money if you don't mind spending some extra time.
- From the airport: Take a taxi. Or take public bus 4 to GuanlipingZhuanpan (官黎坪转盘), then a local bus from there to Zhangjiajie Scenic Area.
- From Zhangjiajie Train Station: Take a taxi. Or turn left and walk 150 meters for Zhangjiajie City Bus Station where you can buy a bus ticket to Zhangjiajie National Park. The journey is about 40 minutes.
The most convenient way is to book a tour with private transport. It is the best way especially during peak times when the local buses are filled with tourists and taxis are in high demand and raising their fares.
The Best Time for a Visit
Zhangjiajie National Park can be visited all year round. But when is it best to go? It depends on the experience you're looking for.
For weather, September and October are the best times to go, when the weather is clear and comfortable.
The national park is busy year-round except for winter from December to February. The peak season is from May to October.
The short period from early-November to mid-November is considered to be the perfect time with good weather and without heavy crowds.
If you plan to visit during the busiest periods: May Day Holiday (May 1–3), National Day Holiday (October 1–7), and summer holiday between July and August, book as early as possible and expect massive crowds.
See more detailed information and discover our month-by-month recommendations on Zhangjiajie Weather.
Where to Stay
There are no hotels in the national park, but you can stay in a hotel adjacent to the forest park.
Wulingyuan, a small town next to the park, is a great option. It offers many options, ranging from hostels to 5-star hotels and offers entertainment activities at night. From there you can have the best access options to all the main attractions and hiking trails.
See more detailed information about where to stay.
Where to Eat
Food supplied in the national park is limited. You can find a few restaurants offering local flavors, a McDonald's, and a KFC, although there are often long queues.
Your guide will choose the best available restaurant based on your requirements and select the best time for lunch to avoid the large Chinese groups.
Local villagers sell food like corn and fruit on the mountain, and there are small snack stalls selling water and snacks.
Entry and Other Fees
Entry ticket: 248 yuan (valid for 3 or 4 days)
- Yellow Stone Village Cableway: 65 yuan for a single trip, saving 1½–2 hours walking
- Tianzi Mountain Cableway: 67 yuan for a single trip, saving 2–3 hours walking
- Bailong Elevator: 72 yuan for a single trip, saving 1½–2 hours walking
- Yangjiajie Cable Car: 79 yuan for a single trip
- Ten-Li Gallery Mini Train: 38 yuan for a single trip
Know What's What in Zhangjiajie — Avoid Place Name Confusion
We often have customers who are confused by some of the attraction names. We will give you a brief explanation below.
Wulingyuan Scenic Area or Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
You can treat them as the same large national park. The difference is created by the local government for the management of the areas. Wulingyuan Scenic Area consists of four adjacent areas and the national forest park is the largest of these.
A Glass Bridge, Glass Skywalks, and a Glass Elevator
The Glass Bridge spans two cliffs in Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park's main gate.
The glass skywalks are built along the edges of the summit of Tianmen Mountain, which is in Zhangjiajie city proper.
Bailong Glass Elevator is inside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Built onto the side of a huge cliff, it provides an easy way to ascend to the top of towering cliffs near Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.
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Tour Zhangjiajie with Us
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.
See our popular Zhangjiajie tours for inspiration or contact us to tailor-make a unique tour for you.