Tianmen Mountain and Tianmen Cave – “Heaven’s Gate” of China

Maria Goncharova China, Travel Blog 3 Comments

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-26Tianmenshan National Forest Park is characterized by huge limestone mountain tablelands with sheer cliffs and jagged peaks clothed in verdure. Although Tianmen Mountain lacks the freestanding obelisks of Zhangjiajie, this place is striking in its beauty and grandeur. Tianmen is the highest peak of Zhangjiajie city and is regarded as the ‘soul’ of the scenic area. Tianmenshan known for its “four wonders” – Tianmen Mountain Cableway, Tongtian Avenue, Tianmen Cave and Mountain Plateau Virgin Forest.

Nearby Attractions:

Tianmen Mountain


Visiting Tianmenshan Park in general is hours of walking over Tianmen Mountain. In Chinese it means Heaven’s Gate (Heavenly Gate | Heaven’s Door) Mountain.

The mountain is famous for its unique natural miracle – Tianmen Cave. The door-alike cave was created after the cliff collapsing in ancient time. Tianmen Mountains is rich in Chinese culture. It’s regarded as the Top 1 Heaven Mountain in the west part of Hunan province and the sprit of Wuling (an old name of the county here). This place has absorbed the essence from the nature for thousands years, therefore visiting the holy temple on the mountain – Tianmenshan Temple has become a popular way to pray for a safe and healthy life.

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-11Among the locals goes a belief that the mountain is associated with the sky and has supernatural powers. It even called the “magic mountain of western Hunan.”

In the XX century, four times a waterfall height of 1500 m suddenly and inexplicably fell from the mountain peak. Streams of water lasted for 15 minutes, and then suddenly disappeared. This phenomenon was observed in 1949 (foundation of Republic of China), 1976 (the death of Mao Zedong), 1989 (suppression of student demonstrations in Beijing) and 1998 (the largest flood). Superstitious Chinese believe these coincidences are not random.

Tianmen Cave

Tianmen Cave (Heaven’s Door Cave | Heaven’s Gate Cave | 天 门) is the world’s highest cave of its kind. It was formed naturally as a result of soil erosion. It’s alleged that in the year of 263, a large chunk of the mountain just fell off, creating a huge cavity (131.5 m height, 57 m width and 60 m long). Сloud capped “Heaven’s Gate” is impressive. There is a feeling that after passed through the gates you’ll find yourself in heaven.

The World Wingsuit League held the first and second World Wingsuit Championships at Tianmen Mountain, flying through Tianmen Cave.

Then there are 999 steep and narrow steps up to the cave — “The Stairway to Heaven”. It is a hard and tiresome climb (about 30 minutes). The views from the cave are quite plain, and it is always crowded, and hard to find a good place for photos. So it’s only really worth doing to say you’ve “climbed the stairway to heaven” and “knocked on Heaven’s Door”.

The number “9” in this case is not accidental. In the Taoist tradition this number is a symbol of the emperor (son of heaven), and the supreme number that is available for a person. The value of this number emphasizes the mystery of this place, located in the border of human and divine worlds.

Avenue Leading to the Sky

You can go down from the mountain by bus over the road “Avenue Leading to the Sky” (Tongtian Avenue | The 99 Bends | 通天) with 99 sharp curves. The name of the road is not an exaggeration, it’s one of the most impressive mountain roads in the world. The serpentine length is about 11 kilometers, but the elevation rises rapidly from 200 meters to 1300 meters. The road is so popular that some people consider it as the main attraction of the park.

The road is built for tourist use, taking tourists from the mountain foot to the top of the mountain and Tianmen Cave. Tourist buses take travelers from the midway cable car station along some of these 99 bends to Tianmen Cave. The bus doesn’t stop on the way. It takes about 20 minutes to the cave. The ride, full of sharp turns along vertical cliffs, is not recommended for those who are easily carsick.

The Glass Sky Walk

Tianmenshan-Crystal-Glass-Skywalk-Tianmen-Mountain-ChinaThe Glass Sky Walk (“The Walk of Faith”) is part of the cliff-hanging walkway, and is the highest section. The skywalk is 60 meters long, with a width of 1.6 meters.

In order to make it easier to keep the glass floor clean, all visitors are required to wear a special textile slippers, which can be rented at the entrance for 5 RMB.

Frankly speaking, I’m not really afraid of heights, especially knowing that the place is safe. And incidentally those slippers not really help to keep the glass floor actually transparent. So you don’t really feel the height and the scope. So I was not very impressed with the walk along the famous “heavenly way”. However, I saw people who literally clung to the rock away from the glass walls and nearly fainted from the emotional intensity. So a lot depends on the sensibility and past experience. But the walk is still worth it, at least to try it.

Tianmen Mountain Cableway

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-3Tianmen Mountain Cableway or Tianmenshan Suodao is the longest cableway in the world. Spans of the cableway are up to 500 meters! In some places, the road rises steeply at an angle of 70º, suddenly crashing straight into the clouds. An unforgettable experience!

There was a Chinese couple with us in the booth. The poor woman was so scared that she put her head into her knees and sheltered with hands. As soon as she lifted to look at the road, she immediately gasped and burrow into the knees again. So the trip is a real adventure with a breathtaking view.

Tianmen Mountain Temple

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-20Tianmen Mountain Temple (Tianmenshan Temple) was built during the Tang Dynasty as the center of Buddhism in the western Hunan. The modern church is a reconstruction of the original temple on an area of over 10,000 square meters. m. The temple is located in a mountain hollow with a broad overview. If you look at the temple from the south-east, the surrounding hills seem to be so small that the temple looks like a lord – the son of the sky. This temple is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Hunan Province.

How to Plan a Day in the Tianmen Mountain Park?

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-19I want to show a smart itinerary for Tianmen Mountain. As for us, unfortunately, we were not able to do everything, because we we were late and missed the escalators to Tianmen Cave (open until 4 pm). But no regrets, because the most beautiful part of the trip is a magnificent view of the mountains, covered with a fog, and the feeling of standing on a cliff in the clouds surrounded by natural beauty and tranquility.

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-4We were very lucky, because it was rain almost the whole day. I am not kidding. First of all, a lot of people don’t like walking under the rain. During Chinese holidays (May, 1-3), it literally saves the day. Secondly, it was wonderful to see mountains all covered with clouds!

1. Go up on top of the mountain using Tianmen Mountain Cableway.

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-1Don’t get out at the middle station, go up to the top.

2. Walk on numerous trails on the top of Tianmen Mountain.

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-14To get around the whole mountain you need to go at least 7 km. Many paths are balconies on the rocks, beneath which there are clouds and steep mountain rocks. Other paths go through еру forest, which is part of the Tianmen Scenic Area. There are many options how to get around, we have chosen the path along the outer edge.

selfplannedtrip-zhangjiajie-tianmen-mountain-7If you don’t want to walk that much you can use Forest Sightseeing Cable Car (25 RMB) that brings you straight to Tianmen Temple.

Walking around the mountain, don’t forget to do the following:

  • Admire the views from The Glass Sky Walk.
  • Look at the Buddhist Tianmen Temple, which looks more like a monastery.
  • Look at Heaven’s Gate Cave (Tianmen Cave) from the top point.
  • And, of course, make a million beautiful photos.

3. Use escalators to go down to Heaven’s Gate Cave.

The main thing is don’t lose time. Escalators works until 4 pm. So be careful with long distances. Sometimes it’s not easy to calculate how long it will take the path becase the road is not flat all the time, it’s a mountainous terrain.

4. Go down to the bottom of Tianmen Cave down the stairs with 999 steps.

Those for whom the 999 steps is an insurmountable obstacle, can take advantage of the lifts on the left side of the mountain.

5. Go down from the mountains by bus along the famous Avenue Leading to the Sky.

If you have a car sickness, it would be better to take some pills in advance or take Tianmen Mountain Cableway instead of a bus.

The Map

Here is a map of Tiianmen Mountain Park, which gives a fairly accurate idea of what it is and helps to think about a suitable route.


Here you can download a detailed three-dimensional map with marked attractions and facilities.

Tianmen Mountain Gallery


The entrance ticket costs 258 RMB and includes a ascent up to the mountain on Tianmen Mountain Cableway.

Operating hours of Tianmen Mountain Cableway:

Spring-Summer-Autumn (Mar 1st – Nov 30th)

  • Ascend: 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Descend: 7:30 AM – 6:00 PM 4.2)

Winter (Dec 1st – Feb 28th)

  • Ascend: 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Descend: 8:00 AM – 5:30 PM

Tianmen Mountain Facilities

The first thing I want to say is that the lower station of the cableway is not a small booth, but a serious building with a variety of services for tourists, including a storage room. In our case it was really important, because walking all day with a backpack is not a pleasure.

At the top of the mountain there are several points where you can go to the bathroom and buy some food. We bought some snacks on the street. In general there are not a lot of facilities on the mountain. Some people prefer to buy something in the city and bring it to the mountain.

You can find toilets and food location on this map.

Best Times to Visit

  • April to October is the golden time to travel to Tianmen Mountain, as the temperature during this period is moderate and comfortable. Choose September for drier weather, while there is still warmth at the peaks.
  • December to February is the best time to appreciate snow scenery on the mountain, and also for snow photography.

The temperature difference between the foot and top of the mountain is large, so bringing some thick clothes to keep warm is necessary.

The scenery is best on clear days. On rainy days there is usually thick fog (cloud) over the mountains, which covers everything. Mists are usually heavy if it rains the day before. The mountains in mist are a mystical scene, so there is an upside to the cloudiness.

How to Get to Tianmen Mountain?

Tianmenshan Park is located 7 km away from Zhangjiajie city. The lower station of Tianmen Mountain Cableway (Tianmenshan Suodao) is in walking distance from the train station and Zhangjiajie Central Bus Station.

To get to Zhangjiajie city from all major cities in China by airplane or by train.

Where to Stay?

Most of the tourists go Tianmen Mountain just after visiting Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. In this case, it makes sense to stay in Wulingyuan.

Wulingyuan Hotels

  • 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.

However, if you want to visit Tianmenshan National Forest Park early in the morning or if you leave Zhangjiajie city in the morning, it makes sense to stay for a night in a hotel in Zhangjiajie city.

Zhangjiajie Hotels

Good to Know

  • The tour requires a lot of walking, including 6 kilometers of easy walking along the cliff walkway and 999 steep steps.
  • Long lines: As the mountain is very famous among Chinese travelers, expect to see large and noisy crowds.
  • The red ribbons along the walkway: The Chinese hang them for special (superstitious) reasons. But these red colors really upset the harmony of the natural greens and grays.
  • No English is spoken and there are no English signs, so it is not easy to find the way in such a big park if you travel alone.
  • The fight for a seat in the tourist bus up to the cave is not something Westerners are used to.

General Information

  • Place: Tianmenshan National Forest Park (天门山森林区).
  • Location:just south of Zhangjiajie city, Hunan province, China.
  • Height: 1,519 meters (4,983 feet).
  • Mountain Tourist Area: 10 square kilometers (4 square miles).
  • Ticket: 258 RMB.
  • Open: 8.00 am – 6 pm.
  • Time for visit: 1 day.
  • Best time for visit: september, october.
  • Date of my trip: May 3, 2014

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Comments 3

  1. This is an amazing account thanks! Detailed and everything one could ask for this is definitely on my #bukketlist !!
    Thanks needed a reason to go back to PRC (last visited 1992)

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