Zhangjiajie, home to the Tianmen Mountain, is considered one of the most beautiful places in China and I can completely see why. Located northwest of Shanghai, it is renowned all over the world for its spectacular rock pillar landscape. It’s concentration of thousands of jagged quartzite sandstone pillars rise from the subtropical forests beneath. Some rise over 200 metres, stretching far up into the clouds above. The dramatic scenery is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is absolutely incredible to see and somewhere I think everyone should visit.
Zhangjiajie’s natural scenic beauty and rich ethnic culture make for an extremely memorable trip. However, if not researched and adequately planned this trip of a lifetime can quickly turn into a very stressful experience. Traveling to Zhangjiajie can be very confusing at first and this is mainly down to the lack of English. Without proper communication you can find yourself wandering around aimlessly not knowing where to go or how to get there. After experiencing this first hand, I’ve put together two posts outlining all the things I wish I knew before travelling to Zhangjiajie. You can read my other post about our trip to Zhangjiajie National Park here.
First things first, the main things you are here to see is the Tianmen Mountains and the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It is important to note that these are separate sights and are located about an hour to an hour and 30 minutes apart. Something we didn’t realise. So with that in mind, here is how we planned out our trip so that we could cover everything we wanted to see and do in four days.
Day 1: Tianmen Mountains
Tianmen Mountain is not in the Zhangjiajie National Park. It is located in Zhangjiajie City and can be accessed via cable car from the ticket office entrance in the city. This is something a lot of people get confused by. I would recommend spending one full day here, it was amazing!
Where did we stay?
We stayed in a hotel called “Zhangjiajie Yijiaqin Hotel” located directly in the city. This was perfect for our one night stay. It was clean, comfortable and spacious. More importantly, it was only a short 10 minute walk to the cable cars and the owner actually spoke a little English! They next morning we got up bright and early for our trip to the mountains… or so we thought.
Book your ticket for the Tianmen Mountains in advance! I couldn’t find anywhere where tourists can book them online, so I would suggest physically going into the office the day before and booking it for the next day. Or if you arrive late, get up extra early on the day you want to go and get your tickets. The reason I am stressing this is because it works on time slots. Basically, when you buy your ticket it will tell you a time to come back when you can get your cable car up. The confusion doesn’t stop there. You NEED to get here early to beat the crowds so that your time slot won’t be too late in the day. The earlier you buy your ticket, the earlier you can get up the mountain. Trust me, you want a full day up there to get the most out of your visit, it’s incredible!
When you arrive at the cable cars at your allocated time slot, don’t expect to hop straight on! You can queue anywhere in between one to three hours depending on the crowds. Crazy I know!! Basically my point is to get there early. We went here during the summer so it was also the Chinese holidays. Bad idea!! The crowds were just crazy. Try and avoid going here during this period if possible. I’m not sure if the extent of the queues will be the same during the rest of the year, but as it is a major tourist attraction I would still go early. Better safe than sorry!
Obviously we knew none of this, and there was no warnings online for us either. So the whole morning was extremely stressful! Luckily we got up by 2pm (a big difference from our planned 9am start) and still managed to see everything. But a little more time would have been better.
The park opens at 8am but the ticket office opens earlier. You can purchase tickets from 7-7:30am. When you are buying your tickets you will be asked to choose the A, B or C line. There is no written translation for these so I will explain the difference here:
Line A: Go up the mountain in the cable car and return by bus along the famous “99 Bends” mountain road.
Line B: Go up the mountain via bus along the ’99 Bends’ mountain road returning via cable car.
Line C: Go up and down the mountain the same way, via bus on the ’99 Bends’ mountain road.
We went with the ‘line A’ option. Both routes are an experience in itself, you won’t forget it anytime soon! Tickets cost 258CNY during March to November and 225CNY for the rest of the year. Don’t forget to bring your passports with you as you will need it when passing security.
Top Things to Do at Tianmen Mountain
Tianmen Mountain is such a thrilling and beautiful place to visit. To have the best possible experience here, you need to take a trip in the world’s longest cable cars, walk the narrow plank cliff paths, take a walk of faith across the world’s highest glass walkway and climb the 999 steps to heaven’s door.
Tianmen Cable Car
The Tianmen cable car ride was probably the highlight of my whole day here! It is the longest cable car system in the world. Spanning across seven kilometres, it takes about 30 minutes to get up. The journey up was a lot more thrilling than I was expecting. It starts off flat across Zhangjiajie city and farmland, then begins to ascent steeply up along the vertical cliffs into the mountains above. The views from the cable car are absolutely STUNNING!!
As you approach the top, you get a picture perfect view of the stairway to heaven and the ’99 bends’ mountain road.
The Cliff Edge Walkway
They say you need four hours in the park but I recommend a full day. This way you can enjoy the stunning surroundings without rushing to fit everything in before the park closes. There are many different routes around the park and there are maps everywhere to help you decide which way to go. We actually completed all three routes in one day so you will have plenty of time to do this. The cliff edge walkways make up part of these routes. Basically, it is a plank road walkway secured to the side of the vertical cliffs, with nothing underneath it but air! It is defiantly not for the faint hearted as it is a long way down to the bottom, 1400 meters in fact!
Heights don’t tend to bother me, but looking over that railing down into the valleys below sent a little shiver down my spine! It’s a thrilling experience with incredible views.
The Walk of Faith: The Glass Sky Walkway
The park has three glass cliff hanging sky walkways. One of which is on the highest point of the cliff and is 60metres long and 1.6metres wide. This was defiantly the most crowded section of the park which slightly took away from the experience for us. I would really recommend doing the skywalk on the yellow route. We basically had this to ourselves which made it a lot better. Sitting down on the glass as you look 4600 feet beneath is as scary as it sounds! It was hilarious to watch people grabbing on to cliff side as they crawled across in fear, Darragh being one of them haha. It is defiantly not for the faint hearted, but it’s an absolute must do!
The Stairway to Heaven
The stairway to heaven or “heaven’s door” is a large, water eroded hole between two cliff peaks. It resembles a huge doorway in the cliff face and has 999 steep and narrow steps leading up to the cave. I remember watching a documentary about this stairway a few years ago and thinking “I need to get there one day!”. It just looked so impressive to me and it didn’t disappoint in my opinion.
You can get a series of escalators from the top of the mountain down to the cave. The views from the cave itself are quite plain and it can be very crowded here. The best option is to walk down the 999 steps and take pictures looking back towards the cave for the best shots.
Drive one of the World’s Most Dangerous Roads
With 99 sharp bends, Tongtian Highway is considered one of China’s most dangerous roads. The road was built solely for tourist use, taking tourists to and from Tianmen Cave. The journey takes about 20 minutes, driving down steep vertical cliffs with sharp turns too close for comfort to the edge. The bus drivers aren’t exactly cautious either, they FLY down the mountain and towards the cliff edges at a ridiculous speed! We were happy to make it down alive haha.
Suggested Travel Route
I would suggest organising your day as follows:
• Get cable car up to the very top of the mountain. This takes about 30 minutes.
• Walk around the cliff hanging walkways and take in the seriously impressive views.
• Take a chairlift across to the summit to get the best bird’s eye mountain views.
• Get the escalators down to Tianmen Cave and walk down the 999 steps of the stairway to heaven.
• Take the bus down along the 99 bends mountain road back down to the ticket office to complete your day.
Things to Remember
• The best time to visit the Tianmen Mountains is April to October. The temperature tends to be comfortable and dry. If you are travelling here outside of these months, be sure to check the weather beforehand. The last thing you want to happen is turning up to the top of mountain and not being able to see anything due to fog or mist. It’s all about the views so choose your day wisely.
• The top of the mountain is a few degrees cooler than at the bottom. So make sure you pack enough warm clothes if needed. We were here in August so we didn’t have that problem, it was ROASTING haha.
• No English is spoken and there are no English signs on the mountain so it can be hard to find your way around. To overcome this, I would strongly recommend screenshotting Chinese translations of different phrases you might need throughout the day. For example, “which way to the escalators?” or “What time is the last cable car at?” etc.
• Bring your own toilet paper! This applies to most of Asia to be honest, why don’t they ever have toilet paper???
• Not everything is included in your ticket price. The glass walkways are extra and cost 5yen per person and the chairlifts are 25 yen per person. The cable car, escalators and bus are all included in your ticket.
How to Get to Zhangjiajie
We flew directly to Zhangjiajie from Beijing but you can also go by train or bus depending on your route. All I know is that the flight was less than 3 hours and other methods of transportation can be LONG. It was worth the extra money in our opinion!
Tianmen Mountain was incredible! (once we got over the initial stress of the morning). I would 100% recommend putting it on your itinerary when visiting Zhangjiajie. However if you think this looked impressive, the Zhangjiajie National Park is on a whole other level! Few places on this earth can match the extraordinary rock formations on display here. Just insane!
Later that day we made our way to our next hotel “Longquan Inn” near the Zhangjiajie National Park, where we would spend our next 3 days. Read about our amazing visit there in my blog post here! If it doesn’t make you want to book a flight straight to Zhangjiajie, I don’t know what will!
Thank you, as always for reading!