A Summary of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is one of China’s best national parks (or national level scenic areas). It contains the essence of Zhangjiajie scenery: the towering sandstone pillars, sometimes in seas of cloud, rich wildlife, and tranquil streams. Check a Zhangjiajie video playlist to learn more about Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
- Chinese: 张家界国家森林公园Zhāngjiājiè Guójiā Sēnlín Gōngyuán /jung-jyaa-jyeah gwor-jyaa snn-lin gong-ywen/
- Popular activities: mountain hiking, gazing at mesas, and photography
- Must-see areas: Yuanjiajie, Yangjiajie, Tianzi Mountain
- Suited to: outdoor activity lovers, photography lovers, and adventurous people
- Entrance fee: 248 yuan
- Time needed: 2–3 days
- Location: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is in Wulingyuan Scenic Area, about 40 minutes’ drive north of downtown Zhangjiajie.
The Main Areas of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has four areas: Gold Whip Stream in the south, closest to Zhangjiajie City; Yuanjiajie in the middle, accessed from Suoxiyu Town to the east; Tianzi Mountain in the north, and Yangjiajie in the west, most recently developed. Each has its own star scenic attractions. See below.
- 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 contains “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain”. Named in 2010, it is now the most popular sight in Zhangjiajie. A little crowded during peak travel season (July, August, May 1–3, and October 1–7), when you may find it hard to find a place free of people for photos.
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’.
The First Bridge under Heaven
You can cross this bridge and walk around a circle path to get some fantastic views to the valley. This bridge and the views means there are always crowds in this section, but our guide will select a time of day when people are leaving or moved to other sections; but in summer it is still quite busy.
Avatar Hallelujah Mountain
Near to The First Bridge of the world you will soon come to a metal suspension bridge, giving you a view down to Heavenly Pillar, called Avatar Hallelujah Mountain since the movie, and the top section features in some posters.
Mihun Tai (Mihun: Lost Souls, Tai: Platform)
About 800 meters into Yuanjiajie there is a trail zigzagging its way southward up to the top of Wuyanding Platform, which provides panoramic views of ‘Lost Souls Platform’ (Mihun Tai 迷魂台).
You can see many mesas of various shapes and sizes that may be partly hidden in wispy clouds, especially after rain, just like you are standing in a celestial wonderland.
Visitors fascinated by the beautiful and mysterious scenery there are said to have forgotten the way back. That’s why it got the name ‘Lost Souls Platform’.
Bailong Dragon Elevator
Bailong Elevator (Bailong means Hundred Dragon) is a non-recommended way to the heights of Yuanjiajie, due to typical 2-hour lines for the 2-minute ride.
335 meters in height, it consists of the machinery inside the mountain and three glass elevator cars clinging to the mountainside. Running side-by-side, they give passengers a view of Spirit Soldiers’ Gathering.
- Time needed: 2 hours
- Fitness needed: moderate
The reason Tianzi Mountain takes the spotlight is this area is its height. At 1,182 meters (3,878 feet), it offers the best chance of photographing the sea of clouds, mainly during the spring and early autumn. There is a cable car up to this area and it is popular with photographers.
Tianzi Mountain (天子山 ‘Heaven Son Mountain’) is sometimes translated as “Emperor Mountain”. Emperors were thought to be descendants of heaven, and the peaks, like floating islands in swirling mists, are the traditional image of heavenly realms.
‘Nod-to-the-General Platform’ (Dian Jiang Tai 点将台) is in a gorge full of curling clouds, where there are many tall rock pillars of different shapes. The tallest one, sitting in the middle, is called the “emperor”.
In front of it is the “herald” who is reading an imperial edict to the “soldiers”. The two “prime ministers” are “bending down” and stand on the left and right. It is said that the emperor of Xiang once reviewed his troops there.
By a modern building in the style of a pagoda, this view is what some Western photographers have called “The Emperor’s Pens”. They feature on some of China’s stamps, as they resemble calligraphy pens.
This is a place with a cute ground level monorail train that winds its way up 5km valley to a stream, with 3 finger like mountains towering over it. Once you arrive (by train or foot) just head up right, and you can hike all the way up to Tianzi Mountain; not recommended in summer!
If the river has water flower it could be a lovely photo, but unless that river has water I would recommend skipping this small up and down valley.
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 toilets in Yangjiajie are very natural — a hole in the ground with squat boards in a small hut.
The Natural Great Wall
The highlight of Yangjiajie Scenic 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.
Tianbo House is at the top of the mountain above Oolong Village (乌龙寨). The ten high, parallel, stone walls of General Yang’s family house look magnificent.
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, between Yuanjiajie and Tianzi Mountain. It is best reached by local hired van from Yuanjiaje, as it is well off the ordinary travel route.
The scenery in the area is incredibly beautiful and overwhelming. Sun rise in Laowuchang is considered by photographers to be the must-shoot scene in Zhangjiajie.
Paddies in the Sky
‘Sky Field Garden’ (Kongzhong Tianyuan 空中田园) 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.
Spirit Soldiers’ Gathering
Walking down from Kongzhong Tianyuan, you will find ‘Spirit Soldiers’ Gathering’ (Shenbing Juhui 神兵聚会), opposite Bailong Elevator. There are 48 rocky towers like soldiers standing in the formation.
It’s a unique sight in the area; and if you’re a photographer it brings a diversity to your Zhangjiajie photos. The walk down to a nearer viewing point offers some nice shots of the valley formations, and in summer there is fairly good tree cover.
Golden 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 mountain. It is about 7½ km (4½ miles) long, about two hours’ walk. It is an easy and relaxing walk along the stream, even if there are noisy Chinese groups. There is not much to do. It your time is limited, we suggest you skip this.
Gold Whip Cliff, a 400-meter-high cliff by Gold Whip Stream, is grand, towering, and angular. It was once the most famous attraction in Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
Patterns are all over the cliff, like the joints on a huge whip. At sunset the cliff looks like a huge golden whip stuck in the earth. “Gold Whip at Sunset” is a famous Zhangjiajie image.
Yellow Stone Village
‘Yellow Stone Village’ (Huangshi Zhai 黄石寨) is 2 km north of Gold Whip Stream. This large mountain village is another essential tourist sight. The main attractions include the Trail in Fir Woods, Imperial Edict and the Precious Box, Needle Peak, the Southern Gate to Heaven, and Five-Finger Peak.
How to Visit Zhangjiajie National Park Without Hiking Too Much
Zhangjiajie is a popular destination for those who like to get close to nature. Generally speaking, a medium level of fitnessis required for hiking around Zhangjiajie. However, kids and seniors (or anyone else who is not so keen on hiking) also can visit the park easily if they get a well organized tour.
In Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
In Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, cable cars, elevators, a tram, and shuttle buses are available. Walking is not hard at the main attractions, where concrete paths and steps have been built.
The recommended attractions are:
- Golden Whip Stream: Tourists can enjoy an easy and relaxing walk on the paved road alongside the stream.
- Yuanjiajie: The Hundred Dragons Elevator takes tourists up and down the mountain.
- Tianzi Mountain: The cable car can help you to save 2–3 hours of walking.
- Ten Miles Gallery: A tram takes tourists to enjoy the scenery slowly.
The Best Time to Explore Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Generally speaking, it’s suitable to visit Zhangjiajie from April to October. April to June is the rainy season with extensive fog, adding an enchanting atmosphere to the scenery. From September to October the autumn foliage becomes colorful. The best time to visit Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is September and October, when the weather is comfortable, and also not crowd in the park.
Climate: Zhangjiajie enjoys a subtropical humid monsoon climate, and its weather is characterized by four distinct seasons with summer highs of around 35°C and winter lows of around freezing.
If you plan to visit during China’s public holidays (Labor Day on May 1–3 and National Day on October 1–7) and China’s summer holiday season (July and August), please book well in advance because the train/flight tickets and hotels are sold out quickly.
From December to February, it may snow or become icy. It is cold in the mountains, with slippery roads, so access may be restricted. The average temperature is around freezing or just above. The park is not available for one week in February for routine maintenance.
Winter travelers will encounter chilly weather, but possibly see the rare snowy mountain scenery. Prices are lower than in peak season.
To protect environment, many hostels operated by local people in the forest park have been closed. We don’t recommend our guests to stay those hostels beacuse their facilities and service can not meet requirments. Hotels adjacent to the forest park, at the Suoxiyu Town and south entrances, are picked by some visitors. For better hotels, we recommend you to stay in Wulingyuan.
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. If you can eat at a restaurant close to the attraction you are visiting, you won’t need to waste time in walking.
Alternatively we can arrange a picnic lunch for you if you don’t want to eat at a local restaurant. We will ask your hotel to pack a lunch box for you. And there is a McDonald’s at Tianzi Mountain.
Local villages sell food like corn, fruit, and cucumber on the mountain, and there are small snack stalls selling water and snacks.
There are maintained squat toilets at every major sight, but you must bring your own toilet paper. Queues are quite common in the peak travel season from April to October.
Free Shuttle Bus
There are free shuttle buses serving all the scenic areas except for Lao Wu Chang. It is confusing as the buses don’t have numbers or English signage.
Some drivers are helpful, but some may turn a deaf ear when be asked for directions. The fighting for a seat is fierce. We recommend taking a tour with us with private transport and guide.
Scenic Area Access and Prices
There are three cableways inside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, an elevator, and an electric cart (also called the mini train). The 248-yuan entry ticket doesn’t include these.
- Yellow Stone Village Cableway: 65 yuan for a single trip, 118 yuan for a round trip, it saves 1½– 2 hours walking for a single trip
- Tianzi Mountain Cableway: 67 yuan for a single trip, 104 yuan for a round trip, saving 2–3 hours walking one way
- Bailong Elevator: 72 yuan for a single trip, 112 yuan for a round trip, saving 1½–2 hours one way up to Yuanjiajie: always crowded — avoid if possible.
- Yangjiajie Cable Car: 79 yuan for a single trip, quiet, up to Yangjiajie.
- Ten-Li Gallery Mini Train: 38 yuan for a single trip, 52 yuan for a round trip, we recommend the 1–1½-hour walk at the foot of Tianzi Mountain instead.
The Main Entrances to the Scenic Area
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has three main entrances, from which a 3-day through ticket is available, including all attractions inside.
- Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Gate: The first gate off the road from Zhangjiajie City to Suoxiyu Town, it is the southwest gate at Gold Whip Stream.
- Wulingyuan Gate: Most hotels are at Wulingyuan District’s main town — Suoxiyu. Enter here for the Bailong Elevator and Tianzi Mountain Cable Way.
- Tianzi Mountain Gate: Requiring a long trip round to the north of the park, it accesses the mountain top by road, saving the expense of a cable car. Little used.
Queues are normal in the forest park, so please be patient.
Bailong Elevator is the worst place (waiting time: 1–2 hours, sometimes even 4 hours!). Avoid lines by hiking 1–1½ hours, or arrive before 7am and descend before 4 pm.
Tianzi Mountain Cable Car (waiting time: 1–1½ hours or longer), you can avoid walk up about 9,000 steps (2–3 hours). Alternatively get to the cableway before 7 am for a shorter queue, and descending before 4 pm you may avoid a line altogether.
How to Get from Downtown Zhangjiajie to Wulingyuan town
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is about 30 km (18 mi) from downtown Zhangjiajie. The best way to go from the city to Wulingyuan Scenic Area is by taking a local bus.
There is no direct bus from the airport/train station to Wulingyuan Scenic Area, so you need to go to Zhangjiajie City Central Bus Station (张家界市中心汽车站) first.
- From the airport: Take a taxi. Or take public bus 4 to Guanliping Zhuanpan (官黎坪转盘), then a local bus from there to Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
- From Zhangjiajie Train Station: The train station is very close to the central bus station, turn left and walk 150 meters for Zhangjiajie City Central Bus Station.
At Zhangjiajie City Central Bus Station, buy a ticket to Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The journey is about 40 minutes and costs about 12 yuan.