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Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Avatar Mountains)

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As one of the most majestic feats of nature on Earth, it’s no wonder that the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is visited by millions of Chinese and international tourists every year. “Avatar Mountains”, a name frequently used to refer to the rugged peaks of Zhangjiajie area, came about because it was this very site that inspired the iconic backdrop from the eponymous sci-fi movie. If your feet are already itching to explore this mystical Chinese sight, here are some things you should know before setting out on your journey. Also, a sneak peek of these tours could further help plan your trip.

Overview

Zhangjiajie National Park is located in the northern part of the Chinese Hunan province and is one of the several parks within the larger scenic site called Wuligyuan. The park spans 130 square kilometres of diverse landscape, which includes towering sandstone formations, limestone caves and thick rainforest made up of over 500 tree species. The park is also home to several species of birds, monkeys, salamanders and other animals.

When to visit

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park lies in the subtropical belt, which is marked by four distinct seasons and high levels of humidity in the summer months. Even though the park remains open year-round, the best period to visit is from mid-spring to mid-fall. April and October, when the temperature hovers around 20°C, are the most favourable months for hiking. If you plan on visiting Zhangjiajie in the months of June and July, keep in mind that you might experience heavy rainfall and thick fog due to the monsoon season.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park lies in the subtropical belt

Misty Zhangjiajie Mountain peaks

Before you leave

If coming from outside the country, non-Chinese visitors have to make sure they hold the appropriate visa for China before travelling to Zhangjiajie park. To find out how to apply for visa, contact the visa office of the embassy or Consulate General of China in your country.

Zhangjiajie National Park's famous spots are best experienced on foot
Stairs leading along a steep cliff in the Avatar Mountains

Another thing to keep in mind is that Zhangjiajie’s most famous spots are best experienced on foot. Since your trip will inevitably involve a good deal of hiking, here are some essentials you might want to consider packing in advance:

  • Comfortable hiking boots or shoes
  • Raincoat and umbrella
  • A change of clothes in case it rains
  • Extra water and snacks (food prices increase as you climb up)

How to get there

Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport is the closest airport to the park, located about 4 kilometers from Zhangjiajie City. It is serviced with regular daily flights from several large cities in China, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. To get to Zhangjiajie City from the airport, board the local bus 4 that will take you straight to Zhangjiajie Bus Station.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park during autumn paints the forest red
Golden Whip Stream at Zhangjiajie during autumn
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in its all new avatar
Waterfall in Golden Whip Stream at Zhangjiajie

 To get to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, hop on the tourist shuttle bus which departs every ten minutes from the Zhangjiajie bus station. The ride costs CNY 20 (about USD 3) and takes about an hour from the city to the entrance to the park. As for the return, you should keep in mind that the last bus from the park departs at 6pm.

To enter the park, you need to purchase a permit, which costs CNY 248 (about USD 37). The ticket allows unlimited entries for four consecutive days to the following areas of the site:

  • Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Yellow Stone Village, Golden Whip Stream)
  • Tianzi Mountain (Ten-mile Gallery, Helong Park, Shentang Valley)'
  • Yangjiajie (Wulong Village, One Step to Heaven)
  • Yuanjiajie (The First Bridge Under Heaven, Avatar Hallelujah Mountain)

Note: Prices mentioned are from 2017

Where to Stay

If you plan on spending several nights in the Zhangjiajie area, there are several places where you can book your accommodation, which you can decide on based on your budget and personal preferences. These two towns are the most convenient due to their proximity to the park:

  • Wulingyuan: A small, charming town located close to several popular spots of the park (Tianzi Mountain, Baofeng Lake), where you can find a diverse range of lodgings, from inexpensive hostels to high-end resorts.
  • Zhangjiajie City: Close to the airport and train station and about an hour away from the park, in downtown Zhangjiajie you’ll have a choice of staying at a budget-friendly inn or at 5-star hotel rooms.
Zhangjiajie National Park offers one of its riches, 'Baefong Lake'
Baefong Lake near Zhangjiajie

What to see

Zhangjiajie National Park is a vast area brimming with all kinds of scenic spots, from tranquil springs and lakes to gargantuan mountain peaks. Here is a list of the most popular sites within the park:

  • The First Bridge Under Heaven: A massive sandstone block that connects two peaks and offers spectacular views of the park
  • Avatar Hallelujah Mountain: A monumental rock pillar that served as inspiration for the floating mountains seen in James Cameron’s movie Avatar
  • Mihun Stage: A natural platform that offers breath-taking views of the surrounding peaks and gorges
  • Tianzi Mountain: A stunning natural attraction that boasts unusual rock formations, lush forest and tall peaks with amazing views
  • Golden Whip Stream: A pristine creek that includes a four-and-a-half mile trek along the stream at the foot of the mountain, ideal for a breezy hike
  • Yellow Stone Village: At 1,109 meters above sea level, this not-to-be-missed site is known for dramatic cliffs, dizzying rock platforms and grotesque peaks
Awe-inspiring view of natural quartz sandstone pillars in Tianzi Mountains
Awe-inspiring view of natural quartz sandstone pillars in Tianzi Mountains

What to do

Due to its incredibly diverse natural canvas, Zhangjiajie National Park lends itself to many kinds of outdoor activities. Here are some you might be interested in trying out while you’re there:

  • Hiking: Whether you want to explore the Zhangjiajie mountains on your own or with an organized tour, trekking is definitely the best way to do so
  • Ride a boat on Baofeng Lake: Those who prefer a more laid-back adventure can hop on a boat and enjoy the serene landscapes from the park’s beautiful lake
  • Explore Yellow Dragon Cave: A fascinating limestone grotto decorated with colourful lighting; notably vast, so it takes several hours to explore
  • Ride the Bailong elevator: A two-minute ride in this Guinness record-breaking 326-meter tall elevator will take you to the top one of Wulingyuan’s summits where you will be able to enjoy a full panorama of the region
Bailong Elevator offers a two-minute ride in 326-meter tall elevator
The 326-meter-tall Bailong elevator at Zhangjiajie
Yellow Dragon Cave, a fascinating limestone grotto in colourful lighting
The Yellow Dragon Cave, an underground pearl in Wulingyuan Scenic Area, Zhangjiajie

 Hopefully this guide gives you an idea of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and all the wonders it hides among luscious greenery and misty air. Now all you need to do is set the plan into motion and embark on your very own Avatar adventure!

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