Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and if you are planning a trip to China I absolutely recommend putting it on your itinerary. I promise it will leave you as speechless (if not more) as The Great Wall. Here is all you need to know before visiting Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
First things first, Zhangjiajie is a scary looking word… how do I pronounce it?? Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty easy to pronounce once you know how! I’m not going to attempt any phonetic transcription, so it’s probably best to listen to the pronunciation on Youtube.
OK, moving on.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is actually only one part of the vast Wulingyuan Scenic Area, which includes other areas, too. The Zhangjiajie National Park is the most visited one but you that doesn’t mean it’s the only one you should see. One ticket allows you to enter Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve and Yangjiajie Scenic Area.
If you have extra time, there is a separate park close to Zhangjiajie city called the Tianmen Mountains. I didn’t make it there but I’ve heard it’s beautiful. You can read Richelle’s experience at Adventures around Asia!
Entrance to the National Park is valid for 4 consecutive days and the cost was ¥245 in May 2018. However, it looks like the price has just recently (September 2018) been reduced to ¥225 and ¥115 for low season. Your fingerprint will be scanned upon entry so the ticket cannot be resold.
The ticket enables you to ride the free bus inside of the park but cable cars and lifts are not included in your ticket. Be prepared to pay another ¥70 for each cable car you are planning to take.
Food and drinks are sold in the park but I recommend having snacks with you. (The whole cucumbers sold in the park are really refreshing on a hot day though!)
Also, expect monkeys. And watch your food.
Getting to Zhangjiajie
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park lies in the northwest of the Hunan province and the closest city is Zhangjiajie (population of only about 1.5 million so basically a small town in China’s terms). You can either come by train or on a domestic flight.
There are trains to Zhangjiajie from many big cities including Beijing and Shanghai. I arrived from Changsha, the closest bigger city (I don’t recommend stopping there though, it’s a depressing place with nothing to do 😀 ). This website has information about trains going to and from Zhangjiajie to help you plan your trip.
There are two main entrances to the national park, the Wulingyuan gate (East) and the Zhangjiajie gate (Southwest). Wulingyuan gate is the busier out of the two with more attractions closer to it. For this reason many people choose their hotels directly in the Wulingyuan town, rather than Zhangjiajie city located about 40 km away.
However, if you stay in Wulingyuan, it will be harder for you to get to the west side of the park because the free bus running in the park doesn’t connect the Wulingyuan and Zhangjiajie gates. (There is supposed to be a local bus outside of the park going from one gate to another but at the time I was visiting the road was closed for a longer period of time. I don’t know if this is still the case.) It is, however, possible to get from one entrance to the other with some cable cars and hiking.
Taking the Bus to Zhangjiajie National Park from Zhangjiajie City
If you are staying in Zhangjiajie city, you can take a public minibus to the national park, which takes about one hour (and it’s a fun local experience!). It costs ¥12 to get to the West gate or ¥20 to Wulingyuan. Wulingyuan is slightly further and you also have to walk about 1km to the actual gate once the bus drops you off.
The bus station in Zhangjiajie is located just next to the train station. To find your bus, enter the station and go left where you see platforms with the small local buses. They don’t have numbers so you have to ask someone to point you to the right bus. And by ask (assuming you don’t speak Chinese) I mean show them the Chinese name of your destination.
For the main Zhangjiajie (southwest) gate, try 森林公园门票站 (the name of the main gate) or just 张家界国家森林公园 (Zhangjiajie National Park). If you are going to Wulingyuan, look for 武陵源. It’s useful to have offline Google translator on your phone!
Buses leave quite frequently, as long as there are passengers. No need to buy tickets beforehand, at some point during the journey a ticket seller will hop on board collecting money from all passengers.
Getting Around Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
The whole Wulingyuan Scenic Area is enormous so you will need to make use of the free buses. Once you enter one of the gates, you will find bus stops for different places (especially the Wulingyuan gate has many routes). Destinations are mostly displayed in English as well as Chinese but ask around if you are unsure which bus to take. Again, it’s a good idea to have the Chinese name of wherever you want to go.
You can find many maps of the Zhangjiajie National Park online but they are not super accurate. They usually include paths going on top of the mountains as well as on ground level, which can be super confusing and makes it hard to imagine the area before you arrive. (Reading maps is normally one of my strengths but even I was struggling a little) I recommend getting the official hand drawn map at the gate when you’re buying your tickets, I found them very useful and easy to read.
Tip: It’s also handy to have Maps.Me installed on your phone! You can find trails and viewpoints on the map and it will be impossible to get lost. I actually use Maps.Me all the time when I travel and I can’t recommend it enough. Many people say it works better than Google Maps, which must be especially true for China!
What Not to Miss in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Since the ticket gives you access to the park for 4 days, it would be almost silly not to use it. I recommend giving yourself at least 3 days to visit everything. There is so much to see and one day will not be enough.
I will give you a short overview of a few areas in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park that should not be missed. You can then find my 3 day itinerary below.
Yuanjiajie (Avatar Mountains)
The most popular part of Zhangjiajie. Unofficially called Avatar Mountains because the landscapes here were the inspiration behind Hallelujah Mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar movie. It’s a good place to start exploring the national park but be prepared for a lot of tourists. The easiest way to get there is taking the Bailong Elevator up and then a short bus. Bailong Elevator is actually the highest elevator in the world but going up was super fast, so not much time to enjoy the views. Hiking to Yuanjiajie is also possible and should take about two hours but I haven’t tried it.
Once up there, you can walk on the path with amazing views and doing a loop. You will pass the famous Hallelujah Mountain at some point (named after the Avatar movie of course) and walk across the Natural Bridge (First Bridge under Heaven).
Tip: Once you have finished the main tourist path, ask around the bus area to be taken to the Natural Bridge Observing Point. Buses stop there but not many people seem to know about it. You will have a great view of the bridge from the distance and no crowds to fight (we actually had this viewpoint all to ourselves for a while).
Huangshi (Yellow Stone Village)
Huangshi is located near the west gate to Zhangjiajie National Park. You can just enter the gate and start hiking up or you can take a bus to the cable car station. It’s not necessary to use the cable car though, I hiked both up and down. It’s a lot of stairs leading through a forest but manageable. It took us less than two hours to walk up in a relaxed tempo and we didn’t see almost anyone else along the way.
Huangshi is much less crowded than Yuanjiajie but just as beautiful! You can also walk on top of the mountains in a loop, enjoying the stunning views. The main thing to see up here is the iconic Five Fingers Peak (and lots of other peaks). Many monkeys in this area!
Tianzi Mountain has more stunning views but the top can get very busy. However, once you take the bus towards Yuanjiajie (takes about 1 hour if you want to do these two areas in one day), you can get off at a few scenic spots only about 5-10 min drive away. Most people don’t bother doing that but these were the best viewpoints and almost empty! You can ask or look for the “Nod-to-the-General Platform”.
There is a cable car to Tianzi Mountain, reachable by the free bus from Wulingyuan gate. If you want to hike, be prepared for a difficult climb with A LOT of steep stairs. I did it in about 2.5 hours and honestly, it was exhausting. (Pack a clean T-shirt to change once you reach the top…)
Golden Whip Stream
Down in the valley, you can take a 7.5 km stroll along the Golden Whip Stream. It’s an easy walk connecting the west and east parts of the park. No spectacular views this time (though you can look up at all the mountains above you), just a lot of nature. We saw many monkeys on this path. There can be a lot of tourists on both ends of the path but most of them don’t bother walking the entire route.
MY 3 DAY ZHANGJIAJIE ITINERARY
DAY 1: Bailong Elevator, Yuanjiajie, Golden Whip Stream
I took the Bailong Elevator and walked around Yuanjiajie for a few hours. Afterwards I took a bus to the Natural Bridge Observing Point. After enjoying the views there, I took a path going to the valley (I followed Maps.Me) which ended up exactly in the middle of the Golden Whip Stream route. I then followed the Golden Whip Stream route east, which eventually ends next to a parking lot with bus stops (buses go back to Wulingyuan). The whole walk back actually took over 3 hours in total.
DAY 2: Huangshi
Starting at the west gate of the park, I hiked up to the Huangshi Village, walked the loop there and then almost ran back down when a thunderstorm was approaching (it never actually came).
DAY 3: Tianzi Mountain
I took the bus from Wulingyuan gate and got off by the 10 miles gallery train. I didn’t actually take the train but walked along the tracks for about 20 mins (don’t waste your money on this train), then continued all the way up to Tianzi Mountain. After checking out all the scenic viewpoints, I was too exhausted to walk back and took the cable car down. Which was great because no one else was going down on the cable car 😀
There are even more areas to explore so if you feel like you still want to see more, you can find more information here.
Planning a trip to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park can feel overwhelming (I’ve been there!) so I did my best to put together a comprehensive guide to make your job easier. If you still have any questions about visiting Zhangjiajie, let me know in the comments 😉
Have you also seen my photos from the exciting Hong Kong??
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