This post was last updated on April 15th, 2020 at 01:57 pm
The beautiful Jiuzhaigou is located in the Minshan Mountains in Nanping County, northern Sichuan, 440 km north of Chengdu and near the Gansu border. This area consists of three valleys that form an inverted letter Y, pointing north, over a distance of 40 kilometers. The Shuzheng Valley forms the straight of the Y, while the eastern fork is the Zechawa Valley and the western fork is the Rize Valley.
Jiuzhaigou means ‘Nine Village Valley‘, as 9 Tibetan villages nestle between the mountains in this area, which are between 2400 and 3600 meters altitude. According to the locals here, there is a legend about the Jiuzhaigou National Park. According to this legend, the park was created by a jealous devil.
Because of him, the goddess Wunosemo dropped the mirror she had received from her lover. The mirror fell down from heaven on to the earth and shattered into 118 shimmering turquoise lakes. Although we think it is a work of art by Mother Nature, the legend is right about the beautiful lakes here. There are more than 100 and they all have a unique color.
More than 620 km² of this area was designated as a nature reserve in 1979, with pandas, high peaks, clear lakes, and forests. The surrounding snow-covered peaks and valleys make the view breathtaking. Due to its popularity, it can be very busy in the Jiuzhaigou National Park.
September and October are the golden months, with colorful flowers. The rainy season is from June to August. The average temperature in July is 17°C (63°F) and 12°C (53°F) in September. The Jiuzhaigou National Park entrance fee has to be paid on the spot.
The three valleys of Jiuzhaigou contain more than a hundred lakes, which are called Haizi (Mini Lakes) by the locals. Due to the differences in sediment, these lakes take on different colors. The most beautiful valley is Rize. If you have only one day, but a lot of energy, it is recommended to be transported to the Virgin Forest and then walk back the approx. 30 km to Shuzheng village along the lakes and waterfalls.
This valley is named after the Tibetan village of Shuzheng and is located halfway between the entrance to Jiuzhaigou and Nuorilang. In the ten-kilometer long Shuzheng Valley lies the Cherished Mirror Rock which is 1000 meters high. You can start your walking tour from the Yangdong Hotel.
In the morning you then trek over a stone path to the other valleys. A fast, clear stream runs alongside the road. The hills on both sides are covered with pine trees.
After passing the Potted Landscape Beach, you will reach Reed Lake, the first lake in this valley. This lake gets its name from the many reeds that are more than a meter high and cover an area of about 2 km². The next lake is known as Spark Lake. This lake gets its name from the sparks that seem to pop out of the water in the sunlight.
The road to the Shuzheng Lakes is more or less continuous alongside ponds. The Shuzheng Lakes themselves consist of more than forty lakes, large and small, which are colonized by different types of aquatic plants. Behind these lakes, you can find the Shuzheng Waterfall. The last lake in this part of the valley is called Rhino Lake.
One of the waterfalls flowing into the lake
The next morning you can head south into the Rize Valley towards Mirror Lake, a clear and calm lake about a kilometer long. The background is formed by snow-covered mountains. Rafts can be rented at the lake. From the lake, water flows south over a wide bed in a waterfall. This is the largest waterfall in Jiuzhaigou, the Nuorilang Waterfall. Nuorilang is the Tibetan word for a very beautiful place.
Nuorilang itself is the tourist center of Jiuzhaigou. East of Mirror Lake you will find Pearl Shoal and the waterfall of the same name. Pearl Shoal Beach is about 200 meters long and more than 100 meters wide. Water from the Five Colors Lake, further down the valley, flows along this beach. The water is quite cold!
If you cross the river, you will reach the top of the Pearl Shoal Waterfall. You then reach the Five Colors Lake over a long wooden bridge. This lake owes its name to its ever-changing color shades. A lot further in the valley are the Panda and Arrow Bamboo Lake, areas where giant pandas live (but are rarely seen).
The next morning you can take a bus from Nuorilang Hotel to Long Lake, 18 km away in the Zechawa Valley, 7.5 km long, 400-800 meters wide and 100 meters deep. The landscape around this lake can compete with even the most beautiful parts of Switzerland. The lake is surrounded by snow peaks all year round.
The color of the water gets darker towards the center. From Long Lake, you can find the Five Colors Pond in the valley two kilometers further. Countless algae and moss grow underwater. Due to the alternating structure of the lake bed, there are different colors in the lake.
It is best to arrive as early as possible and to enter as soon as the park opens. It is then important to stay ahead of the Chinese crowd. You can drive through the park with vans and although some people decide to save money by walking, we do not recommend this. It is 30 kilometers (about 18.6 miles) from the beginning to the end.
Most Beautiful Places in Jiuzhaigou
- Most visitors take the shuttle bus to the end of the Rize and/or Shuzheng Valley and hike the way down the trails created for that purpose. Many viewpoints have been constructed along the way. Most of the lakes are clear blue and contain so much lime, that trees that fell into the water hundreds of years ago are still preserved in good condition. Some lakes are green or red.
- The Five Flower Lake, in particular, is a beautiful lake, with azure blue water. One of the lakes has a large limestone dike, which the locals claim to be a sleeping dragon.
- The Nuorilang waterfall is an important attraction in the park. Beautiful colors surround the waterfall in autumn.
- Farther northwest, the Pearl Shoal waterfall is located at 2,433 meters, the top of the waterfall is 162 meters wide and it falls 40 meters deep.
- The highlights of Jiuzhaigou are easy to reach with buses that take visitors to famous sights. If you want to go off the beaten track, you can put on your hiking boots and explore one of the many well-designed hiking trails.
Fauna and Flora
The beautiful forests in the Jiuzhaigou National Park contain many special plants, including a number of endemic species, such as rhododendron and bamboo. The golden snub-nosed monkey and the giant panda still occur in small numbers in these forests. Of the pandas, there are only about 20 left.
Their existence is partly threatened by increasing tourism, so extra protection is needed. In addition, there are about 140 bird species in the park. Winter is often the best time to look for wildlife in the higher areas of the park with local guides. Take care of altitude sickness and take the time to acclimatize.
The snow forces the animals to search for food in lower parts and their tracks can then be easily followed. If you want to have a chance to see wildlife, stay here for a few days.
Huanglong Limestone Terraces
The Huanglong Nature Reserve, like Jiuzhaigou north of Chengdu, is a special Chinese natural phenomenon. In a dense valley, lime has collected in puddles and forms a thick yellowish layer. The puddles, which range from 1 to several hundred square meters, meet like yellow scales and look like a dragon’s armor from the air.
In sunny weather, the limestone layers turn white, amber, pink and blue. Often the area is also shrouded in a mystical mist, which makes it even more fairy-like. In the same area, you will also find beautiful caves, geysers and a wide variety of plants and animals. Many species of flora and fauna are protected and the Huanglong area is also a World Heritage Site.
Also, visit the Huinglong temple from the Ming Dynasty. The complex is located 3.5 kilometers from the Valley, at the foot of Snow Treasure Peak and the imposing Mount Minshan.
Traveling to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou in China
There are several ways to travel to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou. Compared to other frequently visited tourist attractions, the area can sometimes be difficult to reach. Most tourists reach the area on a 10-hour bus trip from Chengdu, through the Minjiang River Canyon. There are also more and more flights from all over China to Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport.
You can also fly from Chengdu or Chongqing. By bus, you can drive from the airport in 1 hour by bus to Huanglong or in 1.5 hours to Jiuzhaigou. If you want to have it all arranged beforehand you can book an individual or customized trip to Jiuzhaigou in China.
Best Time to Visit Jiuzhaigou
The best time to visit Jiuzhaigou National Park is from September to November. Most travelers prefer autumn because Jiuzhaigou is transformed into beautiful colors. In autumn, the sky is clear and the colorful leaves reflect in the clear water. It can cool down a lot at night, so bring warm clothes. Yet every season has its beauty. In the spring (March – late May) the rivers are fuller.
In summer (June – August) everything turns beautifully green; it is also the rainy season. Winter starts in late October, the cheapest season to travel to Jiuzhaigou. In the winter you have to dress well but the landscape is magically beautiful with snowy trees, snowy peaks, and frozen waterfalls.
The park is not free. An entrance ticket to Jiuzhaigou National Park costs 220 Chinese Yuan (US$31). If you also want to use the shuttle bus (highly recommended), you have to pay 90 Chinese Yuan (US$12.70) extra. Your entrance ticket also serves as a nice postcard that you can send (within China) for free or just keep as a nice souvenir.
Let yourself be driven all the way up and then slowly walk down. The park has the shape of a Y. First, take the right half, walk down and take a bus up again on the left. At the end of the day, you will have quite a few kilometers in your legs so you have absolutely earned a day of rest.
The ticket contains a road map and the paths are laid out in such a way that no confusion can arise. Signs clearly indicate where you are at that moment and so you can walk from highlight to highlight.
Since both the outward and return journeys already take a whole day, it is necessary that you stay overnight. The entire town at the foot of the park is designed for this. During the day it sleeps, but as soon as the first hikers return to their hotels, everything and everyone starts to come alive.
Menus are dancing before your eyes, barbecues are blazing and sellers of beaded chains cannot be missed. However, don’t expect extreme luxury. It remains a town in the middle of nowhere!
Update: From January 2017, all foreign visitors must show their passport when purchasing entrance tickets and entering the park. When planning to visit Jiuzhaigou National Park with a group or family, remember to bring the passports of everyone in the group.