China's two biggest and most famous national parks are Zhangjiajie and Jiuzhaigou. Which is best for you to visit? You could perhaps make a decision in 2 minutes with our initial summaries, or read to the end for a Zhangjiajie vs Jiuzhaigou comparison of the main travel aspects to help you choose.
For expert advice, without reading and comparing, just tell your requirements, and we will help you plan a trip according to your interests.
Zhangjiajie or Jiuzhaigou: Summary
Both Zhangjiajie and Jiuzhaigou and the nearby Huanglong Valley offer natural wonders and great hiking, but they differ substantially in elevation, remoteness, and ethnic culture.
Very different scenery: Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong are high mountain valleys reminiscent of both Yosemite and Yellowstone. They have hot springs and colorful karst pools. Zhangjiajie is lower with river valleys and sandstone pillars more spectacular than Bryce Canyon in the US.
Zhangjiajie is best for exciting mountain experiences. If you particularly want to see the "Avatar mountains" then Zhangjiajie is for you. It is better for comfort than Jiuzhaigou.
Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong are best for amazing Alpine scenery in China. However, the area has only just reopened (Sep. 2019) following the Aug. 8, 2017 earthquake.
|Recommended Days||3-4 Days||3-5 Days|
|Best Time to Visit||May to November to avoid the freezing weather||April to November|
|Activities||Walking along the park paths, photography, experiencing all the fantastic colors||Mountain hiking, photography, record-breaking high-up experiences|
|Tour Cost||220 USD/day||210 USD/day|
|Travel Comfort||Good accommodations, but altitude and long journey times are drawbacks||Challenging at times|
|Suited to Whom||Healthy high-mountain-beauty-seekers, photographers, hikers||People who seek adventure, photographers, hikers|
|Definitely Not Suited To||Winter visits, people with high blood pressure or susceptible to altitude sickness, tight schedules, going without tickets purchased well beforehand||Small children, people who have difficulty walking, people who can't endure queuing|
We Recommend These Travelers Choose Zhangjiajie:
- First-time travelers: We suggest you choose Zhangjiajie over Jiuzhaigou because it's much closer to the eastern large cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, and a visit is more leisurely.
- Adventure lovers: there are many steep drops, glass cliffside skywalks, the tallest and fastest outdoor elevator, and the longest cable car with a 70+degree incline.
- Avatar fans: If you were inspired by the mountains of Pandora in Avatar, this is the closest you'll find to them on Earth.
- Serious mountain hikers: Zhangjiajie National Forest has gorgeous steep hiking trails up and down mountains with or without steps for you too.
- Those who aren't easily travel-sick and don't suffer from vertigo: there are many winding roads and steep drops!
Decided to choose Zhangjiajie? See our Zhangjiajie itineraries for more inspiration.
We Recommend These Travelers Choose Jiuzhaigou:
- People on a Sichuan tour
- People on a return China visit
- Those who love high mountain scenery
- Those who aren't easily travel-sick or altitude-sick
Decided to choose Jiuzhaigou? See our most popular Jiuzhaigou tours.
These Travelers May Consider Visiting Both:
- Nature and outdoor lovers
- People who want to see the most beautiful places in China
- Those whose travel time is longer than 8 days
Transport between the two: Even by flying, travel between Zhangjiajie and Jiuzhaigou takes a whole day. But a private driver can make the trip much faster and more convenient than otherwise. You can use our Create My Trip Service to arrange transportation and everything else in the best way for you.
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Zhangjiajie vs Jiuzhaigou: Detailed Comparison
If you still want more information, we've compared Zhangjiajie and Jiuzhaigou for: 1. popularity, 2. things to do / activities, 3. photography, 4. accessibility to main attractions and travel costs, 5. travel comfort, 6. hotel quality/options, 7. walking difficulty, and 8. food.
Though Jiuzhaigou is more of a classic destination, Zhangjiajie gained international fame since Zhangjiajie's rock pinnacles inspired Avatar in 2009. Now , Zhangjiajie is much more visited and popular than Jiuzhaigou.
On major travel sites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, Jiuzhaigou has dropped far down the rankings: it's been closed for 2 years after the 2017 earthquake devastation. As it starts to receive visitors again, numbers are limited to 5,000/day.
2. Things to Do / Activities
Zhangjiajie's attractions focus on the tall, steep and extreme, with Pandora's peaks and steep drops at Tianmen Mountain. For the adventurous, there is the Grand Canyon and Glass Bridge.
Jiuzhaigou's attractions are high, deep, and full of bright color. Jiuzhaigou and its sister valley called Huanglong offer colorful waters and autumn foliage. Blue skies above the 4,500 meter (14,800) valley and green trees complement Jiuzhaigou's gorgeous costume.
Zhangjiajie has Tujia villages and their exotic food and the Jiuzhaigou area has Tibetan markets and culture.
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Both areas are naturally photogenic but vastly different. It is helpful to have a local expert guide who'll guide you to them at the best times.
Jiuzhaigou photography features colorful lakes and huge mountains.
Our Zhangjiajie photography tour provides local expert photographers who'll guide and instruct you on the best ways to capture the sheer rock formations.
4. Ease of Accessibility and Travel Costs
Jiuzhaigou transport is more expensive and takes longer since it is about 9 hours away from the nearest international airport. The local airport offers limited and somewhat expensive domestic flights from mainly Chengdu (1 hour, about 300 USD). Taxis from the airport to Jiuzhaigou take about 2 hours (40 USD). Huanglong is 144 km (89 miles) from Jiuzhaigou. See Jiuzhaigou Transportation.
Limited Jiuzhaigou admittance: There was a major earthquake in Jiuzhai Valley in 2017, and now admittance is limited to 5,000 a day. To enter during high season, you might need to book tickets through a tour company such as ours. Contact our travel consultants for availability.
Zhangjiajie International Airport is conveniently only 40 km (25 miles) from the park. It has limited flights to big cities in China and some cities abroad. You'll probably first have to travel to Changsha. See Zhangjiajie Transportation.
- Zhangjiajie entry fee: about $40 (not including cableways etc. at about $8 a ride)
- Jiuzhaigou entry fee: around $50 (not including $12 for a 2-day bus pass)
5. Travel Comfort
Travel comfort: Zhangjiajie is more comfortable for travel since it is near an airport and city. Jiuzhaigou is more remote, and the famous scenic points are more crowded, though there's far more queuing in Zhangjiajie.
Altitude sickness: Jiuzhaigou's entrance is at 2,000 meters, and the airport is at 3,500 meters. Huanglong Valley is 3,200 to 3,600 meters (10,500 to 11,800 feet) high. Most people will get altitude sickness. We recommend an overnight stay to rest before walking excursions
6. Hotel Quality / Options
Outside Jiuzhaigou park, there's a range of accommodations including 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels and international hotels such as the Sheraton. Small Tibetan hotels and guesthouses are also available.
Zhangjiajie's options are more numerous, less expensive, and more comfortable, though still lower your expectations compared to big cities. There's a lack of big-name chains in Zhangjiajie.
7. Walking Difficulty
Zhangjiajie does have a lot of winding roads to the main sights, as well as cable cars, an elevator, and escalators inside a mountain. However, the big park is about 700 sq km (270 square miles) in area and some parts need hours of walking and climbing steps to see the best places.
Where most sights are on steep cliffsides in Zhangjiajie, in Jiuzhaigou you can stay on the valley floor.
People need not climb so many steps or steep paths around Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou because of valley floor roads with regular shuttle buses right up to the viewpoints. If you do walk though, the altitude might make it feel unusually strenuous.
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8. Cuisine and Food
Zhangjiajie food and restaurants feature either hot Hunan cuisine or Tujia ethnic cuisine that is similar but adds some exotic ingredients.
Sichuan cuisine is hot too, but tourists love it more. Tibetan food is traditionally salty, fatty, simple and high in dairy and meat.
We Can Help You Tour Zhangjiajie/Jiuzhaigou or Both
Choosing the most suitable destinations doesn't always mean a better travel experience. You are still only on the very first step, 100+ steps away from an enjoyable China tour. We can take away all the hassle of researching, comparing, and booking. Just tell us your ideas and let us create a unique trip for you.
Get inspired by our most popular Jiuzhaigou and Zhangjiajie itineraries:
For both Zhangjiajie and Jiuzhaigou, we recommend our customizable China Natural Wonders Discovery: Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, Zhangjiajie, and Shanghai in 14 days.