This post was last updated on April 17th, 2020 at 07:09 am
Anyone who is a fan of Avatar, and especially the flying mountains of Pandora, should not miss the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The park is located in the northwest of Hunan and consists of a mystical landscape of sand and limestone rocks that provide a breathtaking and spectacular view. With more than 3,000 rocks that are often hidden in the fog, this is one of the best places to visit in China!
The magical rocks are accompanied by glass bridges, clouds, waterfalls, lakes and endless rivers that flow through the park. Because the park has such a humid climate, many rocks and the ground are covered under a green layer of moss, which gives the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park an even better view.
Many people think that James Cameron got his inspiration from this place for the movie Avatar. Although the landscape does show many similarities (except for the fact that the rocks do not fly), James Cameron does not seem to have used the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park as his inspiration. But even without Avatar, the park excels in unparalleled beauty.
The landscape here is really one of the most remarkable landscapes in China. The park is protected by UNESCO and in addition to nature, it also houses an impressive number of animal species including monkeys, panthers, deer, and protected salamanders.
Several million people who belong to the Tujia also live in the region of the park. According to some they are seen as the last descendants of China’s mysterious prehistoric Ba kingdom.
With 550 tree species (twice as many as in the whole of Europe) and the magical rocks, some of which are more than 200 meters (656 feet) high, in the 370 square kilometers (about 143 square miles) park you no longer need a film to imagine yourself in a foreign landscape.
For years the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has been shielded from tourists and it was only the “locals” who lived here with tribes like the Tujia, Miao, and Bai. However, that time has been. That is great for us but not that great for the park itself.
Every year, around 20 million (!) visitors now come to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. And despite the protection of UNESCO, the park suffers from all the attention.
There is also the construction of the Heavenly Elevator on or close to some of the peaks. You might think it a modern miracle but most find it a flashy structure in the middle of nature. In addition, you can count on it that you are not alone in this park, despite the hefty entrance fee.
Best Things to Do in Zhangjiajie
Below, we will give you an overview of the best things to do in Zhangjiajie and which places you can visit around the area.
Zhangjiajie city is the place where you are likely to arrive by train, bus or plane. However, it is also a city where the sights are very limited. We do not recommend using Zhangjiajie city as a base to explore the entire area. It is far too far away from all the interesting spots.
If you stay overnight in Zhangjiajie city, we advise you to do this in the center, because the buses do not run until late. We had to walk back to our hostel for 42 minutes; we can think of a nicer way to spend our evening.
Zhangjiajie city is still worth staying at least 1 full day. It is the perfect base for a visit to Tianmen mountain, which we will tell you more about below.
Tianmen mountain is located just outside Zhangjiajie city and can be reached by the longest cable car in the world. This fun activity starts in the middle of the center of Zhangjiajie city and takes you 7 kilometers towards the top of Tianmen mountain.
Once at the top you will find beautiful glass skywalks and cliff paths at 1430 meters on Tianmen mountain. On a clear day, you really have a great view here. Have you seen everything at the top? Then you can either go down by cable car or by bus. If you go by bus you will drive on a beautiful road with 99 bends. Nice to see, but probably not a great option for a weak stomach.
The entrance fees for Tianmen mountain are relatively high. You have 3 choices and you can buy your tickets at the place where the cable car starts. You can choose to go there and back by cable car, or go by cable car and back by bus, or go by bus and back by cable car.
The second option is the most popular and often the first to sell out. You pay 248 yuan for a ticket. This is approximately US$35. Children pay 155 yuan and students and seniors 158 yuan.
TIP – Do you want to walk on top of the glass skywalks or even further to the top? You have to pay an extra 5 to 10 yuan per person to do this.
Is it foggy and rainy? Then you won’t see anything at the top. We said to ourselves that we would not spend US$35 if it was foggy. It was really foggy when we were there because we could hardly see the mountain. We missed Tianmen mountain because of this, which we found very unfortunate afterward. Anyway, this is a trade-off to make for yourself. In bad weather, the chance of good visibility is close to zero.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is the place you actually come for. Here, you will find the beautiful avatar mountains from the film and from the photos that you find everywhere on the internet. The park is 40 kilometers away from Zhangjiajie city. The best base is, therefore, Wulingyuan or another hotel near one of the 5 entrances.
The buses in the park drive you everywhere, both above and below. You can not go up by bus, for this, you have to walk or take the cable car. You can see quite a bit in the park in 1 day if you only go to a few views and take the bus a lot. Would you also like to have nature to yourself and go for a walk? Then you still need around 3 days.
What to do in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park? Enjoy the views at Tianzi mountain, view the Avatar Hallelujah mountain and be dropped off by bus at a somewhat unknown viewpoint. The Yangjiajie part is also definitely worth it. You should not miss the Golden Whipstream; it is a must-do in Zhangjiajie. There you walk along a river and you really encounter a lot of monkeys (always fun!).
This immense park is an ideal place for treks. Due to the size of the park, you will need several days to see it properly. Keep in mind that the treks are long and you regularly have to climb stairs.
Because the number of tourists has risen so dramatically in recent years, there are cable cars or lifts in various places that you can take to avoid the stairs. We will not call it an improvement, but this way everyone can enjoy the breathtaking view that you get from the tops of the mountains.
TIP – There are also buses running between different highlights if you have difficulty walking or are in a hurry.
Entry to the park costs 248 Chinese Yuan (US$35), children pay 160 Chinese Yuan (US$22.70). This is relatively cheap considering what you get for it. With this pass, you get 4 days’ access to the park, including the shuttle buses.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to buy another pass if you go for a shorter time. Even if you only want to stay in the park for two days, you still have to pay the 248 Chinese Yuan entrance fee.
If you think you can resell the pass anyway; unfortunately, that is not possible because it is linked to you by taking fingerprints. The tickets become cheaper in the winter but during that period the park is almost completely closed and it is not advisable to visit it because of the cold.
TIP – This access pass does NOT include the following:
- Mountain Lift
- Yellow Stone Cable Car
- Zhangjiajie Cable Car
- Ten Mile Garrely Tourist Train
- Tianze Mountain Cable Car
- Glass Bridge
A good base for the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is the small town of Wulingyuan. In Wulingyuan you have a wide choice of hostels and restaurants. This is also a good reason to choose to stay in Wulingyuan and not to choose a hotel in the park, or a hotel at another entrance.
A big disadvantage of staying in Wulingyuan is that you are not the only one doing this. This makes the entrance at Wulingyuan really busy and you sometimes have to wait a long time before you can take the bus. Full is full.
Wulingyuan is easily reached from Zhangjiajie city by a local bus for a few yuan. You can also take a bus from other places in China to Wulingyuan. You can drive there from Fenghuang in a few hours.
Besides Tianmen mountain near Zhangjiajie city and the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park near Wulingyuan, there is the third attraction; the glass bridge. A fallacy of many people is that this bridge is in the same part of the park as the Avatar mountains. This is not the case, the famous, longest glass bridge in the world can be found a little further on.
You will find the bridge at Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. The bridge is 430 meters long and 300 meters high. The glass bridge can carry 8000 people daily and a maximum of 600 visitors at a time. Do you want to visit the glass bridge? Then you must book this well in advance. It is very popular and can only accommodate a maximum number of people per day.
Zhangjiajie grand canyon is a half-hour drive from Wulinyuan. For the grand canyon itself, you have to pay a 121 yuan entrance fee, the ticket for the bridge costs 138 yuan and 3 yuan as insurance. So in total, you have to pay 262 yuan (about US$37). Some accommodations can arrange this trip for you, including transport, for about 300 yuan.
Spend the Night Just Outside the Park: Red apple inn.
We decided not to stay overnight in Wulingyuan and opt for a hotel near one of the entrances to the park. We chose the Red Apple Inn. This hotel is a ten-minute walk from the Yangjiajie entrance where it is always quiet.
The owner of the hotel is Amy and she speaks very good English. She can also really help you with planning routes through the park. She gave us many tips so that we regularly had pieces of the park for ourselves. Very nice! Amy really made sure we had a great time in Zhangjiajie.
A disadvantage we found that there were no restaurants, etc. in the area. We, therefore, always had to eat in our hotel and that was more expensive. You can not really go there by bus unless you want to walk for 2 kilometers. They sometimes offer to pick you up, super nice!
We really enjoyed our stay at the Red Apple Inn and would go there again on a second visit. The advantages outweigh the two disadvantages for us. The location is just perfect, we were helped very well and the room was also very nice! Would you also like to spend the night at Red apple inn? You can book it here!
How to Get to Zhangjiajie
The park is located near an airport (Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport) and the easiest way to get here is by plane. You can also take the train, but there are no express trains going here, so the journey often takes a long time.
From Beijing to Zhangjiajie
You can travel to Zhangjiajie from Beijing by plane and train. The most convenient way is by air as it takes a long time by train.
There is only one direct flight from Beijing to Zhangjiajie. If it is not available you will need to transfer at other airports in China. The flight takes about 3 hours and you arrive in Zhangjiajie at around 10:00 p.m. It is not cheap, you pay about US$220 for a one-way ticket.
TIP – There are no high-speed trains from Beijing to Zhangjiajie. It takes 23 to 27 hours to get here by train.
From Guangzhou to Zhangjiajie
Guangzhou is a little closer, which is still 955 kilometers (about 593 miles). There are flights and trains available, but here too the plane is faster and easier. There are two flights from Guangzhou to Zhangjiajie every day. The flight takes 1.5 hours and costs around US$140 for a one-way ticket.
TIP – High-speed trains do not run on this route either. In total, the journey takes 13 to 15 hours.
From Shanghai to Zhangjiajie
Shanghai is not exactly nearby, but it is still one of the better places to travel to Zhangjiajie. There are four direct flights from Shanghai to Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport. The flight takes about 2.5 hours and costs about US$110 for a one-way ticket.
The train journey takes extremely long to get there. Count on 20 to 23 hours.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is in the spring and fall. It is cooler than in the hot summers and drier than in the rainy season. The summers (July and August) can get very hot in the area, which does not make walking and climbing easier. In addition, it is the holiday period of the Chinese.
The park will be full of Chinese tourists in the summer months. Rows at shuttle buses, lifts and cable cars are things you want to avoid.
Winter is the worst period of the year. Many cable cars and lifts are closed, chances are that it is very cold, hiking trails can be slippery, and many sights are closed. The only advantage is that there are low season prices that are a lot lower than the normal prices.
Planning for Zhangjiajie
You now know what to do in Zhangjiajie, where you can spend the night and what the different sights and places to visit are. But what do you visit when and in what order? We recommend that you spend 4 full days in China for Zhangjiajie (so five nights) and plan your route as follows:
Day 1: Travel towards Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
Day 2: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (go up by cable car and enjoy different views).
Day 3: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (enjoying the views).
Day 4: Golden Whipstream and go towards Zhangjiajie city by bus.
Day 5: Tianmen Mountain.
Day 6: Travel to your next destination.
This is based on 5 nights and, therefore, four full days around Zhangjiajie in China. You could still do the Glass Bridge on day 3 or 4, or you can stay an extra day so that you can really take your time. The latter is also one of our best Zhangjiajie tips: take your time! There is a lot to see and do in Zhangjiajie and of course, you don’t want to miss anything about this beautiful park.
We found Zhangjiajie breathtakingly beautiful and definitely worth a visit. We will certainly write more about it because you too should really visit this beautiful area (and of course be well prepared for it)! We hope you got enough Zhangjiajie tips and answered your burning question: what to do in Zhangjiajie in China?
Have you ever been to Zhangjiajie? What are your best tips? Leave a comment below!