Years ago I remember seeing these amazing dream like photos a friend posted on Facebook, pillars of sandstone covered in thick foliage floating above a tropical forest below. Somewhere I immediately set my heart on seeing, but set in the middle of China I never really thought all those years ago it would be somewhere I would ever visit, let along spend 4 days exploring! Heading into this magical place we were blown away, it felt like somewhere from another world, the influences on the film Avatar were clear to see, but there was also an element of Jurassic world! With monkey infested forests, a snow storms and enchanting views these are our four days of adventure in this most amazing place: The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park!
Where and what is Zhangjiajie!?
Located in the Hunan province this magical place is a huge national park called the “Wulingyuan scenic area” or often “Zhangjiajie National Forest Park” it compromises of several mountains, rivers and of course the pillars the park is famous for. After inspiring the floating forest of Avatar it has become more and more popular! Created by natural erosion these sandstone pillars stand along at sometimes over 1000ft tall, making this unique scenery like something from a lost world on a fantasy planet!
How to visit this magical place?
We’ve actually written a whole other post detailing how to get to here, what transport to use, where to stay and our must see spots in the park, including a route to take if you only have a day! Check it out here:
But to summarise, to visit The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park you will have to take the train probably through one of the larger cities such as Changsha or Yichang. You should then take the bus to Wulingyuan village which is at the entrance to the park and stay here to make the most of your time. You should take up the 4 days too if you have chance and plan each one out and have a route!
Day one: Setting foot in this magical place!
On our first day we were a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Having 4 days might have felt like enough time initially to explore all the must see spots but once we got inside we started to wonder if we would actually get around it. Especially seeing as we couldn’t afford to take the cable cars each day!
We decided to get off at the first stop on the bus and hike to the top of the mountains that way. Walking along the 10 miles gallery (actually just under 6km!) we got our first real glimpse of the magnificent columns and pillars of this magical place. Towering above us as we stared up at their weird and wonderful formations it was hard not to just stop in awe. But this was just the start of the days explorations in the stunning Zhangjiajie National Forest Park!
Wandering passed the impressive 3 sisters peaks we began our steep ascent to the top of the Tianz mountain. An unrelenting series of steps that wound its way through the thick forest, seemingly without end. However the steep nature of the terrain meant we gained height fast and as the trees opened up the views we had been waiting for revealed themselves. This section of the path was also pretty quiet and so the sound of the birds and the whistle of the wind through the branches really made it even more spectacular. The heavenly platform might have involved an additional 128 steps but the views were worth the effort to look over the entire Zhangjiajie National Forest Park!
Up on the top we managed to take in the view from Yunqing rock just as the clouds were rolling in. We literally watched as they coated everything in a blanket of thick white mist. Despite the now ruined views there was something quite magical about watching the fog just descend like that, but of course, now it was time to head back down as there was nothing more to be seen! Up here we were also surprised to find a McDonalad’s, this park has been developed for tourism as is popular with Chinese visitors. The infrastructure of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is great for exploring the park and despite the ominous yellow M up here is doesn’t actually spoil the park once you are on the trails and there are many to be found completely empty!
Day two: A mist descends as we ascend yet another mountain
The second day we awoke to find the thick fog was still blanketing the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, we knew the views from the top that we had come to witness would be all but invisible. It was disappointing but we were determined to push on and get out hiking again for a second day. We had 4 days to use in a row and we would be using them!
We decided on the second day to take in the Golden Whip Stream, a 5/6 km path down the meandering river that cuts its way through the sea of pillars that tower above. Wandering along the valley floor the going was much more relaxed and the view completely different than those we had previously encounters as well as a must do area within the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
Half way down the stream is another trail up to the top… here we go for another hike up yet another mountain! This trail was yet another scenic path up to the top level with some great look out points over the lower sections of the park. Once at the top we were again greeted with a whiteout, it was disappointing for sure but the walk itself was wonderful and well worth the effort.
Day Three: The monkeys come out as the snow falls!
Day three and we awoke to a dusting of snow covering the village, as we made our way over to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park entrance we could make out the white peaks in the distance. It was cold, minus 1 over night, but it all looked so beautiful.
The clouds were once again quite low as we entered the park from this alternative but more spectacular entrance but they were beginning to rise too. Covering the very tops of the pillars we had a stunning view in the centre of this amazing valley, this entrance is definitely more dramatic!
We decided to tackle yet another mountain on our third day, this time the Yellow stone village that sits on it’s own at the bottom end of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Hiking up here doesn’t lead you to the top section of the park like the other trails but instead to this isolated peak itself, which is wonderful and annoying at the same time!
As we hit the trails it was cold and snow covered a layer of the path right away, as we began to get higher and higher it quickly turned to ice and made the paths treacherous! It was around this time that the first monkeys started to appear, at first just one large red faced male to looked rather aggressive. He blocked the path as we edged gingerly passed him, we had been warned to look out for these so it was a little intimidating! But as we headed on further a whole family of them appeared, little babied clinging to their mothers and a whole hoard of them trundled passed! It was so magical and surreal, we had been disappointed earlier on not to see any of the parks famous monkeys, but now we has seen an entire clan!
Day Four: The skies clear as the views over the frosty landscape come into view
It was our last day and the day we had been holding out for, the weather report suggested today was going to offer the best weather conditions and we were ready to make the most of it. Having walked around most of the park by now we knew the hotspots and where we wanted to make sure we saw on this crisp and clear day.
We decided then to take the cable car up to the top of the park to save us some time and get straight up there. As soon as we stepped off the platform we could see it was just sheer ice up here but the views over the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park were clear!!!
Overnight the temperatures had dropped on the peaks to well below freezing and so we invested in some traditional ice shoes the local women were selling for only £1! This made a world of difference!
Seeing the peaks up here covered in a dusting of snow just made this wonderful place even more magical, our last day here turned out to be perfect and we were able to re-visit many areas and view points in the park and now take in the simply stunning vistas.
The pillars seemed to go on for miles in layers that were like something from a fairytale, having gotten up here as soon as and fast as we could we stayed in the park until it went dark, visiting so many incredible spots and at times having the park to ourselves. Whilst at the enchanting terrace and the natural rock bridge, an absolute highlight of the park, we were even interviewed by CCTV, a Chinese channel for their travel program!
A week in this magical town to remember and some amazing calligraphy as a souvenir!
With the changing weather conditions and also getting our dates mixed up to move on we ended up spending an amazing week in Wulingyuan. Meeting some amazing people from all over the world and also getting to know the old man who ran our hostel: Mr. Ning.
A one time college professor in Chinese and Maths he could speak no English and yet we managed to have some amazing and interesting chats with him! He is also amazing at calligraphy and one night offered to do us an amazing piece for us, for only a beer! We watched as his brush danced across the precisely folded paper and he wrote down our message for us.
Here is what it says “Peace through travel, life though adventure and create your own path” as well as our names and his signature! What an amazing souvenir of our time in this wonderful place!