After an unbelievable day exploring Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie city, we made our way to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park where we would spend our next three days. This UNESCO World heritage site is probably the most impressive one I have seen to date. Otherwise known as the Avatar Mountains this part of China is not easy to get to, but when you get there it is spectacular.
We easily hiked over 10km a day here, but sore calves and throbbing feet never felt more satisfying! The whole park is absolutely breath-taking (the pictures should do the talking). That being said, the park is also absolutely HUGE so you will need to plan your days carefully to make sure you see all the best bits! In this post I will share which routes we covered, where we stayed and some general tips so that you can have the best possible experience.
Where Did We Stay?
WuLingYuan is a small town located right beside the National Park, so this general area is a good place to stay. You can also stay in the park itself, but this can be quite expensive. Some people stay in Zhangjiajie city but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s just too far away in my opinion (1-2 hour drive).
We stayed in a hotel called ‘Longquan Inn’, located a two minute walk from the Yangjiajie entrance. The hotel was more like a homestay as it was family owned and ran. The rooms were very comfortable and spacious. In general, this hotel was perfect for us once we got over a few mishaps! If you do decide to stay here (which I recommend you do), here are a few tips to take in to consideration first.
First of all, nobody speaks any English in Zhangjiajie or in any of the hotels. This was our first problem. When we checked in, the man at reception charged us an additional 120CNY on top of our room charge and we didn’t know what it was for. This was frustrating for everyone involved because we just couldn’t communicate. Eventually we found out that it was for the cable cars in the park, which are normally 150CNY but the hotel was giving us a discount. So if you choose to stay here, that’s what the money is for!
We also booked half board with the hotel online which included two meals a day. However, when we tried to explain this to the family they insisted that half board meant two meals only. Moral of the story… just don’t book or pay for half board here! The food was, well interesting. Not something we would like to have again, put it that way haha. I would strongly recommend eating in the park as there is nothing you will recognise in the town! Unless you are feeling adventurous that is, plenty of fish eyes to go round! The air conditioning in the room only works from 7pm to 7am. We had to figure this out for ourselves, but it wasn’t actually a problem considering we were in the park for most of the day anyway. Just something to keep in mind. When you get to the hotel ask to speak to Wendy. She is the owner and we found several reviews on TripAdvisor recommending speaking with her. She was so friendly and helpful. She turned our whole experience of the hotel around in just 10 minutes. She explained everything to us and helped us to plan out our routes around the park each day. We wouldn’t have got to see everything we did without her.
How did we get there?
The best way to get here from Zhangjiajie city is by taxi or bus. However if you choose to stay in the hotel above then I would recommend getting a taxi. The reason is because the bus drops you to the opposite side of the park to where the hotel is. You would then need to make your own way to the hotel from there which may prove difficult when there are no taxis in the village!
The taxi should cost no more than 200CNY from the city. If it does, you are getting ripped off and trust me they will try it! Four taxi’s later, we found one that would bring us for 200.
DAY 1: Huangshi Village
We spent our first day exploring Huangshi Village and to be honest, this was my favourite section of the park. From the Yangjiajie entrance we got two buses up to the Dragon and Phoenix Nunnery. From here we walked down through a forest along a stone path. There are A LOT of monkeys in this forest so be careful not to carry any food with you. The monkeys here are pretty harmless and are well used to local Chinese tourists shoving a camera in their face (although I don’t recommend this of course!). So don’t be freaked out by them, they are super chilled monkeys.
When we got to the bottom, we hopped on yet another bus which brought us to the Lower Station of Huangshi Village. From here we got a cable car straight up to the top. The views from the cable car where absolutely incredible. I mean if we thought the cable car to Tianmen Mountain was impressive, this was on a whole other level. I’ve never experienced anything like it! Huge limestone pillars sprung high into the air from the jungle beneath and we were travelling up into the clouds with them. It was amazing.
When we got to the top it was about 3pm. This seemed to be a perfect time to visit this village as it was practically empty! You can do the entire loop in under two hours, but take your time. This place deserves your full attention. I have never seen anything so magnificent. Observing the various vertical rock pillars from above was a feeling like no other. Pictures will never do this place justice but I tried to capture its endearing beauty as best as I could. I am defiantly not a photographer, but taking photos was easy when this was your view! I will let the photos speak for themselves here.
Day 2: Tianzi Mountain, Da guan Tai & Yuanjiajie (Avatar Mountains)
The next day we got up bright and early to visit Tianzi Mountain. I would massively recommend you do the same. The park is huge and can become very crowded so the earlier you go the better your experience will be. We got a series of buses from the Yangjiajie entrance up to Helong Park at Tianzi bus station. Here you can walk around and visit different viewpoints such as YunQing Rock, Persona Rock and Tianzi Pavilion.
In my honest opinion, I would actually skip going here. I found this section of the park incredibly crowded and had the least impressive scenery. The main reason we went here was for the Mc Donald’s haha. We hadn’t eaten anything in two days so the trek up here just for the MC Donald’s alone was completely worth it!! As I mentioned previously, the food situation in china and especially in Zhangjiajie can be very difficult. I would strongly recommend eating in the park during the day. So when you see a Mc Donald’s or KFC embrace it with open arms!
Da guan Tai
After our feast of nuggets and fries, we made our way towards Da guan Tai station via bus. There are loads of different viewpoints and routes here to explore but due to time, we only covered one. From the bus station we walked down the hill and turned left. We continued walking down a few hundred steps until we reached the bottom (coming back up was as fun as it sounds, talk about working off the nuggets!). We then turned ‘low left’ (it will make sense when you are there ha) towards the Sheng Ji Zhuo Shi viewpoint.
We continued walking down a series of steps until we reached the viewpoint. It was worth the trek of course, the views yet again were incredible. Seriously wow. Myself and Darragh just sat there on a bench in awe for a solid half hour.
Yuanjiajie (Avatar Mountains)
Next we hopped back on a bus and went to Yuanjiajie Station. If you are stuck about which place to see, make it here. Here you have the very famous Avatar Inspired ‘Hallelujah Mountains’ and the World’s Greatest Natural Bridge. The route can take about 2 hours to complete and has the coolest scenery of all – breath-taking!!
Day 3: Golden Whip Stream
After observing the stunning scenery from the mountains above, we decided that we would now admire it from the ground up. We spent our last day in the park walking the lower lanes through the forest and between the 400 metres vertical pillars, gazing up at them.
The best place to do this is along the Golden Whip Stream route. To get here we got two buses up to the Dragon and Phoenix Nunnery, walked through the monkey forest, hopped on another bus and then got off at the main Zhangjiajie National Park Entrance. I told you this park was complicated! Unfortunately the weather was not our friend today and the heavens opened. The thick fog and mist obstructed our view for sure but I’d imagine on a clear day this walk is stunning. On the plus side, the rain caused a thick fog to form around the mountains making the view from the ground even better in the rain! Check it out above.
What to Prepare
It is SO important to be organised for your trip here, trust me I know! Here are a few tips to save you the absolute STRESS we experienced on our first few days:
• CASH IS KING. I cannot stress this enough. We were short 5YUAN, 5!!! In cash to pay the entrance fee and would they take card? Of course not! Where there any ATMS in the town? Yes there was one a 30minute walk away but would it accept any of our cards? No! We had a very bad start here and were left stranded without any money and couldn’t get into the park. Disaster! We were told that we would have to get a taxi back into Zhangjiajie city to get money which was a 2 hour drive away. This was just not an option for me, so in the end I managed to convince the receptionist via Google translate to lend us the money and we would pay her back once we got to the ATM in the park. The original problem was that we couldn’t get in. Moral of the rant… just bring cash for a stress free life.
• Bring snacks. The food in the park is actually quite reasonable but you may be hours into a trek when hunger strikes so it’s best to be prepared.
• Screenshot Google translate phrases you may need. “Which way to the cable cars?” etc.
• Bring a map. You can get this from the hotel. The last thing you want to do is spend your day backtracking or getting lost!
• Stock up on food in the park. As I said earlier, unless you are adventurous with local foods then you will want to do this. No fish skin soup for me thanks! Ha
• Go to the parks early to beat the crowds and get the most out of your day.
• Bring lots of water, you’ll be doing a lot of hiking here so stay hydrated!
• Don’t carry food around the monkeys! I once was the proud owner of a chicken burger until two insanely broad monkeys had other ideas…
So that completes my Zhangjiajie Travel Guide. You can read about our trip to Tianmen Mountain here. If you have any other questions please feel free to ask.
I hope you enjoyed and thanks so much for reading!