Do you want to see hovering mountains from “Avatar” movie with your own eyes? Then you need to go to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park also known as Avatar Park. Amazing rock formations of this unique park are prototypes of world-famous “Hallelujah Mountains”. Beauty and unusual nature of the park are incredible. Mountain peaks and caves, streams waterfalls, rare plants and animals. There is no photo that could show splendor and grandeur of this place. Experience your get in the place is much better than you can imagine.
In 1992, Wulingyuan Scenic Area was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most notable geographic features of the park are the pillar-like formations that are seen throughout the park. Although resembling karst terrain, this area is not underlain by limestones and is not the product of chemical dissolution, which is characteristic of limestone karst. They are the result of many years of physical, rather than chemical, erosion. Much of the weathering which forms these pillars are the result of expanding ice in the winter and the plants which grow on them. The weather is moist year round, and as a result, the foliage is very dense. The weathered material is carried away primarily by streams. These formations are a distinct hallmark of Chinese landscape, and can be found in many ancient Chinese paintings.
Zhangjiajie Park Geography
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park known as “Avatar Park”, is located in the northwest of Hunan province in China. It’s a part of Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The nearest airport and train station are located in Zhangjiajie city (张家界 市). However, the park is 50 km away from Zhangjiajie city, so in order to visit park it’s not recommended to stay at the hotels of the city. There is a small town Wulingyuan near the park. It’s also known as Zhangjiajie village. It has perfect infrastructure, including transport, hotels and restaurants.
There are always some difficulties with names in China. They always multiply names and give the same names to different objects. I’m going to explain you what’s going on with the area around Zhangjiajie.
Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源) consists of four parts:
- Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (张家界国家森林公园),
- Tianzi Mountain Natural Resource Reserve (天子山),
- Yuanjiajie Scenic Area (袁家界),
- Suoxiyu Natural Resource Reserve (索溪峪).
Zhangjiajie Park Ticket lets you to visit all the areas mentioned above.
However there are areas in Wulingyuan Scenic Area which require special tickets:
- Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanlong, 黄龙洞) – 100 RMB
- Longwang Dong (龙王洞) – 81 RMB
- Baofang Lake – 98 RMB
- Museums, rafting etc..
In addition to Zhangjiajie park there is Tianmenshan National Forest Park (天门山 森林 区) near by Zhangjiajie city. But it’s located It is located in the opposite side of the Zhangjiajie and is not a part of Wulingyuan Scenic Area. That park is absolutely stunning and breathtaking. With the highest cable car and the highest cave.
Main Areas of Avatar Park
The most picturesque, but full of tourists area of the park. Here you can fins well-known Avatar Hallelujah Mountain (it’s the main attraction of the entire park and it was renamed to “Avatar Mount” in honor of the film), The First Bridge Under Heaven (a natural bridge between two rocks), Lost Souls Platform, Bailong Elevator (the world’s highest elevator).
Bailong Elevator (Hundred Dragon Elevator)
Bailong Elevator is the highest outdoor lift in the world. It brings tourists to the top of 330-meter steep slope in the center of Zhangjiajie Park. The ride in a glass elevator cabin will open stunning views of the valley. The main thing is to get closer to the window, because it could be up to 50 people in the booth, so not everyone is able to enjoy the beauty in front of their eyes.
- Avatar Hallelujah Mountain
- The First Bridge Under Heaven
Avatar Hallelujah Mountain
One of the park’s quartz-sandstone pillars, the 1,080-metre (3,540 ft) Southern Sky Column, had been officially renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” (阿凡达-哈利路亚) in honor of the eponymous film. This pillar is the main attraction of the park.
The First Bridge Under Heaven
The First Bridge Under Heaven (Tianxia Diyi Qiao) is a unique natural creation. At a height of 357 meters it connects two peaks of the rocks. Its length – 50 meters, width – 4 meters, thickness – 5 meters. This is the highest natural bridge in the world.
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. In this area you can find Dian Jiang Tai, Yubi Feng, Ten-Li Gallery.
Ten-Li Gallery is a place with a cute ground level monorail train that winds its way up 5k valley to a stream, with 3 finger like mountains towering over it.
Yellow Stone Village
The area on the north from “Golden Whip Stream”. Famous Five Fingers Peak is located in this area. The area is just as beautiful but less popular than Yuanjiajie. A lot of people go to Five Fingers Peak on foot, without using expensive elevators.
Yangjiajie Scenic Area
This is an area for true researchers. Here you have to walk along dangerous and slippery paths. There is no infrastructure, but no tourists and queues at the same time. The real nature.
Old House Area (Laowuchang | 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. Here you can find Paddies in the Sky rice fields. 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.
Golden Whip Stream
A pleasant walk along the beautiful stream surrounded by incredible mountains makes this route the most popular one in the park. The path is quite long (above 7 km), but is not complicated. Everything is good, except that there are lot of people on the track all the time.
Scenic Area Access and Prices
A ticket to the park costs 248 RMB for 4 days or 298 RMB for a week. Students, seniors and children have to pay 160 RMB and 193 RMB respectively. Children which are lower 1.2 meters go free of charge. The price is rather high, but it’s definitely worth it! You will not regret a penny.
The ticket price includes all the areas and viewing platforms mentioned above, as well as all movements of buses within the park. However, a trip on the funicular, trams and elevators require an additional ticket.
Prices for cable cars and elevators:
- Bailong elevator – 72 RMB.
- Tianzishan Cable Car – 67 RMB one way / 134 RMB round trip.
- Yellow Stone Village Cable Car – 65 RMB one way / 118 RMB round trip.
- Tenli Gallery’s Mini Train – 38 RMB one way / 52 RMB round trip.
The Main Entrances to the Scenic Area
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has two main entrances. The ticket allows you to visit all the attractions located inside.
- Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Gate (A on the map): Southwest entrance. It’s good in case you want to go along the Golden Whip Stream.
- Wulingyuan Gate (B on the map): Close to Wulingyuan hotels. From this gate is convenient to get to the Bailong Elevator, to Tianzi Mountain Cable Way and Ten-Li Gallery mini train.
How Many Time is Needed for Visiting?
I recommend to have 2-5 days for Wulingyuan Scenic Area and a day for Tianmenshan National Forest Park.
We only had 3 days for everything during Chinese holidays (May 1-3). We walked a lot during a 1.5 days and managed to see all main attractions in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. In the afternoon of second day we went to Yellow Dragon Cave. Last day we spent in Tianmenshan National Forest Park.
The Best Time for a Visit
- China’s summer holidays (July and August) and China’s National Holidays (Labor day holiday from May 1 to 3 and National Holiday from October 1 to 7) see the biggest crowds.
- From December to February it may snow or become frozen. It is very cold in the mountainous area, and with slippery roads and paths it is not very safe. The forest park is closed for one week in February for routine maintenance.
- April to June is the rainy season when roads in the mountains are slippery and the mountains get the best cloud cover.
- May to October is a high season. So prices are higher and more crowded in general.
- The best time to visit the park is September and October, when the weather is comfortable, and it is not crowded in the park.
There are only small restaurants scattered around each scenic area, which serves simple local food. 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. 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.
Where to Stay in Zhangjiajie?
I recommend to stay in Wulingyuan Town, also known as Zhangjiajie Village, or inside Zhangjiajie Park. Absolutely no need to stay in Zhangjiajie City, because it’s located quite far from the park (50 km).
Close to the entrance to the park, so you can come early in the morning and return late at night. Infrastructure in Wulingyuan is much better than inside the park. Restaurants, shops, hotels from hostels to 5 star.
- Wulingyuantuniu Youth Hostel. One of the best hostels in Zhangjiajie. Prices from $5, rating 9.2. Clean, neat, great location.
- Xiangxizhilian High-level hotel, classical Chinese flavor and modern comforts, 5 minutes to the park.
- Zhangjiajie State Guest Hotel 5* hotel, outdoor pool, perfect location, beautiful and spacious rooms, Chinese and European cuisine at the restaurant. Everything for relatively cheap price for 5-stars hotel.
- Zhangjiajie Maosao Inn Amazingly beautiful hotel with bright fully equipped rooms, swimming pool, terrace and mountain views. Prices from $ 30.
- Quing Man Hotel 3*, the best combination of price and quality and the highest rating – 9.6! Rooms for less than $ 30.
Hotels Inside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
There are many small hostels operated by local people in the forest park. The facilities of these hotels are simple and room are small. Hot water is supplied 24 hours, but some hotels may not supply hair dryers, etc. Breakfast is Chinese style with steamed bread, boiled eggs, and rice porridge.
How to Get to Avatar Park?
It’s not difficult to get to the famous park:
- Fly to Hunan Airport. There are flights to Zhangjiajie from any big city in China.
- Use taxi or bus to get to the park or to a hotel.
I recommend to use a taxi. It’s not expensive and much more convenient that buses. The price could be 100 RMB – 300 RMB. It depend on time of the day, your skin color, amount of taxis on the parking etc. Normally drivers try do not use taximeters, so please be careful.
If you want to get to the park by bus, then go to the bus station (next to the train station and McDonald’s). You need a bus that goes to the main entrance to the park. The name of the stop is Wulingyuan Menpiaozhan (武陵源 门票 站). It will cost you about 12 RMB.
A Piece of Advice
- Queues are normal in the forest park, so please be patient and try to avoid Chinese national holidays. Bailong Elevator is the worst place (waiting time is 1–2 hours, sometimes even 4 hours!).
- Come to the park early in the morning. Most of the tourists come after 10 am, and the park opens at 7 am.
- Almost no one speaks English in remote provinces of China. It’s better to learn a set of basic phrases to be able to communicate with the taxi drivers, to make an order in a cafe, etc. All names and addresses need to be written down in English and Chinese.
- Not everyone in China can read and write. It’s better to have pictures of everything that is important, including Danxia spots and a hotel. And to be able to pronounce it. It helps also as an additional information to a written address or a name.
- Union Pay is a payment system in China. It’s possible, even very likely that your Visa or MasterCard will not work. You need cash. Yuan. It’s the only way that ensures a successful payment.
- Place: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (张家界国家森林公园).
- Nearest city: Zhangjiajie, Hunan province, China.
- Location: Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源).
- Square: 48 sq. km
- Ticket: 248 / 298 RMB
- Work hours: 7.00 am – 6.00 pm
- Time for visiting: 2-4 days
- Tourists: many
- Best time for visiting: september, october.
- Must see areas: Yuanjiajie, Yellow Stone Village, Tianzi Mountain.
- Date of the trip: 1-2 May 2014