What to see and do in Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan Scenic Area
The stunning Wulingyuan Scenic Area lies in the southern Province of Hunan, about 30 km from the city of Zhangjiajie (2 hours by flight from Shanghai and 5 hours from Beijing). It is one of the most famous attractions in China and was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1992. Despite its beauty, it is still little visited by foreign tourists but has become famous throughout the West thanks to the film Avatar who was inspired by its incredible and ancient karst mountains known as “pillars” (Hallelujah mountains). The Wulingyuan area is the perfect place, especially for nature lovers, thanks to its countless nature trails through forests, streams, waterfalls, and incredible landscapes that make it unique in its kind. It includes the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the Tianzi Mountain Reserve, and the Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve. The bravest travellers will also be able to experience other beautiful attractions of the Zhangjiajie area, such as the scary “glass bridge”, a 430 meters long bridge built entirely of transparent material over the precipice of the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, and the “glass walkway” of Mt. Tianmen, a platform that lines the sheer ridge of the mountain at an altitude of 1400 meters. Last but not least, a scenic and pleasant boat cruise on the Baofeng Lake. The Hunan Province is fascinating not only for its naturalistic spots but even for its cultural and culinary traditions. It features ancient towns like Fenghuang and Furong and 33 ethnic minorities, including the Miao, the Tuja, and the Bai, who still live in respect of ancient customs. Hunanese cuisine is very popular and is one of the 8 Chinese culinary traditions. If you are planning a trip to China, don’t miss the fantastic Hunan Province!
Best time to go
The climate of Hunan has hot and humid summers and freezing winters. The best time to visit its attractions is the mid-seasons, especially during September and October when the weather is pleasant and the days are mostly sunny. This period also corresponds to the high season, so you will find the area quite crowded. Keep in mind that the Chinese National Day is celebrated from 1st to 7th October, and it’s better to avoid this week as the Wulingyuan area is extremely crowded. Spring, especially the month of April, is also a good time to visit Zhangjiajie, although the days are less sunny than in October. The wettest months are from May to August, with June being the wettest month. However, this area of Hunan is very humid, and it could rain at any time of the year. We visited Hunan in October, finding mostly cloudy weather but only three days of light rain. If you travel to Hunan in September / October like us, it will be chilly early morning and evening because of the altitude. Pack a light jacket or sweatshirt, and don’t forget a k-way or rain cape!
How to reach Zhangjiajie
Flight: The easiest way to reach Zhangjiajie is by domestic flight from a major city in China. You may need a stopover in Changsha, the capital of the Hunan Province. There are also direct international flights from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Seoul and Bangkok.
Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport (DYG) is located 5 km from Zhangjiajie city and 35 km from the Wulingyuan district. Once out of the airport, you’ll find public buses or taxis. The taxi ride costs around 35–40 CYN (7 USD). The drivers don’t use the meter, and you must bargain the price before getting on board because they’ll try to double or triple the fare. If, on the other hand, you have to reach the Wulingyuan district, the ride fee is around 150 yuan (23 USD).
Train: Zhangjiajie city can also be reached by train via Changsha, which is connected with the Beijing – Guangzhou – Shenzhen – Hong Kong High-Speed Railway and the Shanghai – Kunming High-Speed Railway. The High-speed trains station is the Changsha South Railway Station, while Changsha Railway Station is where you have to catch the train to Zhangjiajie.
How to reach Wulingyuan Scenic area and move around
The fastest and easiest way to move around the city or reach the Wulingyuan district from Zhangjiajie is by taxi (the fee to Wulingyuan is about 100-120 CYN). Still, it is also possible to take the public buses from the main terminal, which is right next to the Zhangjiajie Railway Station. Anyway, it’s not that easy to figure out what bus to catch as anyone speaks in English. When taking a public bus, remember that the driver will most likely not make the stop if you do not position yourself near the exit door. It’s handy to have a guidebook with pics and the attractions name translated into Chinese to show bus or taxi drivers. Also, remember to take your hotel business card. The rides to the Wulingyuan district depart from the Zhangjiajie main bus terminal (close to the Railways Station) from 6 am to 7 pm. Tickets cost 13 CYN.
How many days in Zhangjiajie?
The attractions of this area are exciting and unique. Our tip is to spend at least 3 full days in Zhangjiajie and take your time to explore the Wulingyuan Scenic Area and the Tianmen Mountain with its spectacular “Glass Walkway”. If you have 4 days or more, or you want to spend a single day in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, do not miss the Grand Canyon of Zhangjiajie with its scary and world longest “Glass Bridge”, a boat trip on Baofeng Lake, and the exploration of the Yellow Dragon cave. The area is also famous for the many villages inhabited by various local ethnic groups; therefore, it is also possible to spend a beautiful day discovering the ancient local traditions.
Discovering Wulingyuan Scenic Area
As we said, the main attractions in Wulingyuan Scenic Area comprise Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Tianzi Mountain Reserve. The main areas of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are:
– Yellow Stone Stronghold (Huangshizhai): known as “the yellow stone village”, it is located in the west of the park and occupies an area that stretches at 1200 meters asl;
– Golden Whip Stream: this enchanting area of the park takes its name from the river that crosses it, creating a very green and lush landscape, flanked by the high karst peaks that rise towards the sky;
– Yuanjiajie: this fantastic area lies in the north of the Park and is the most famous and visited by tourists. The path overlooks several valleys surrounded by high mountains and from which peaks of rock with unique shapes and covered with pines emerge. In this area, there is the well known “southern sky column”, renamed Avatar Hallelujah Mountain thanks to the movie Avatar;
– Yangjiajie: it is the least visited area of the Park and is connected by shuttle bus to the Yuanjiajie area. It offers stunning natural landscapes between streams, waterfalls and high karst peaks. The area is also rich in plants and animals, such as white cranes, macaques, ancient trees and rare flowers.
The Mount Tianzi Reserve covers a small area of 70 square kilometres and offers truly unique scenery and breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks that rise one after the other to the sky. From its top, it is possible to enjoy the whole wonderful area of Wulingyuan. The main attractions along its route are Shentang Gulf, Dianjiang Terrace, Helong Park, Tianzi Pavilion, Wolong Ridge and Tower Peak. Usually, tourists decide to visit the Yuanjiajie area and Tianzi Mountain on the same day.
Scenic Area entrances: if you decide to begin from Huangshizhai or the Golden Whip Stream, the entrance is the Forest Park ticket station; for the scenic area of Yuanjiajie, you can enter from the Zimugang ticket office; to visit the Yangjiajhie area, enter the Yangjiajie ticket station; to reach the Tianzi mountain area, go to Wulingyuan district and enter the Wujiayu Ticket station.
Note: all areas of the Wulingyuan Area are well connected by shuttle buses; therefore, you can enter from a gate and leave from another.
3 days suggested itinerary
If you decide to spend only 3 days in Zhangjiajie, and you are a good hiker, you can plan your itinerary like this:
- Day 1 – Wulingyuan Scenic Area
Early in the morning, go to the Wulingyuan district and enter the park via the Wujiayu ticket station. Then, head to the Tianzi Cableway to reach the top of Tianzi Mountain, from where you will have fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and the fantastic karst peaks. The time to complete the tour varies from 2 to 3 hours.
In the early afternoon, after completing the tour of the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, go back to the base of the mountain and take the shuttle bus to the Yuanjiajie area, the most popular and busiest area of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. If you want, you can also take the shuttle bus to the Yuanjiajie area directly from Helong Park on the top of Tianzi Mountain. Yuanjiajie includes the “Southern Sky Column”, the spectacular mountain that inspired the Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar, the First Bridge under Heaven, the Lost Souls Platform and the Bailong Panoramic Elevator. This glass elevator was built into the side of the mountain and is the tallest of its kind in the world. The time to complete the Yuanjiajie tour varies from 2 to 3 hours. The tour will be marvellous but very tiring because you will hike all day.
Entrance ticket: Wulingyuan Scenic area ticket is 248 CYN (about 30 euros) from 1 March to 30 November, 139 CYN from 1 December to 28 February. It is valid for 4 days from the first entry and includes 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 the Heaven), Yuanjiajie (Avatar Hallelujah Mountain) and shuttle buses to get around. In the Scenic Area, there are other means of transport such as cable cars, trains, and lifts that are not included in the ticket’s cost and which you will have to pay separately. The park is open from 7 to 18.
- Day 2 – Tianmen Mountain
Today, go straight to Tianmen Mountain. With a height of 1500 meters, Tianmen Mountain is considered to be the highest peak in Zhangjiajie. The summit can be reached in about 30 minutes by taking the cable car from the centre of Zhangjiajie. The attractions of this charming mountain covered with forests with ancient trees and karst rocks are the “scary” glass walkaway – a glass walkway that runs along the sheer cliff at an altitude of 1400 meters; the chairlift that crosses the forest; the Tianmen Temple. The mountain is also famous for the Tianmen Cave – a large karst cave 130 meters high and 56 meters wide that stretches under the mountain. Looking from afar, the cave looks like a way to heaven, hence the name, Tianmen, which means Heavenly Gate. It can also be reached via a long series of steep steps. Due to the humid climate, the cave and the mountain are often shrouded in thick fog. After visiting the top of the mountain and venturing onto the glass platform, take the escalator to reach the Tianmen Cave.
Entrance ticket: from March 1st to November 30th, it costs 258 CYN; from 1 December 1st to the end of February, it costs 225 CYN. The trip by cable car – the longest in the world – to reach the top of the mountain and back is included in the ticket. The entrance to the mountain is from 8 to 17.30 from December to February; from 6.30 to 18 from March to November.
- Day 3 – Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon and Baofeng Lake
You can spend the last day visiting the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon and, in the afternoon, take a relaxing boat trip on Lake Baofeng. Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon is a marvellous area with forests, cliffs, waterfalls, streams and features the highest and longest glass bridge in the world. The bridge is paved with transparent glass and is the most famous attraction of the canyon (if you only want to try the glass bridge experience, it is required to enter the Canyon after 3.30 pm). Enter the Canyon from the Visitor Centre – Glass Bridge entrance and go out from Spring Lake Exit. This beautiful path includes the glass bridge, Tianti Zhandao, Fortune Seeking elevator, Rainbow square, Momo cave and the Holy Spring Lake. It takes 3/4 hours to complete the tour.
In the evening, after the long hiking, you can go to Baofeng Lake to have a relaxing boat tour immersed in nature. With 2.5 km’s length and 72 m’s depth, the sceneries of the lake are breathtaking. Its clean water, various shaped stone hills covered with trees and cute waterfalls will leave you speechless.
Alternatively, you can dedicate your day to revisit the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and complete the tour with the Huangshizhai and Golden Whip Stream areas.
Entrance ticket: The Canyon ticket costs 121 CYN. If you are brave to cross the “Glass Bridge” too, you can buy the combo ticket at the cost of 259 CYN. The Canyon is open from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm.
Note: tickets costs and entrance time to the attractions may change at any time.
It’s also possible to visit the scenic area of Wulingyuan and the other attractions by booking a private tour (even for several days) through a local tour operator or the web platforms Viator.com, Getyourguide.com and Klook.com, where the operators themselves advertise their tours and excursions in this area.
- Click here to see guided tours and various excursions with Viator.com;
- Click here to see guided tours and various excursions with GetYourGuide.com.
Where to sleep in Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan
The city of Zhangjiajie offers a good choice of accommodation, but the category of facilities is significantly lower than Western standards. A 3-star hotel corresponds to an economy hotel. Alternatively, you will also find several accommodations in the Wulingyuan district, a small town right next to one of the Park entrances with high-end hotels such as Crowne Plaza, Pullman Zhangjiajie and Lee’s Boutique Resort. We slept at the California Hotel in Zhangjiajie, a cheap, comfortable and clean hotel located next to the Tianmen mountain cable car and a 5-minute taxi ride from the train and bus station. We found friendly staff who spoke English and always ready to help us with our trip plan at the reception.
Hunanese cuisine and restaurants in Zhangjiajie
Traditional Hunan cuisine, also known as Xiang cuisine, is delicious, rich in truly tasty ingredients and spices. It is one of the spiciest cuisines we have ever tried. Any dish you order, whether fried, steamed, roasted or soup, will be spicy. Even when we tried to make the waiters understand not to spice up the dishes too much, there was no way. It was not easy to order food because the menus were often only in Chinese and with few pictures. The main dishes we tried are steamed carp with chopped chilli, spicy fried pork, Braised Mao pork, Changsha ‘stinky’ tofu, Hunan noodles, Dong’an chicken, spicy salted duck. In Zhangjiajie, we tried the typical Sanxiaguo, a spicy “Hot Pot” cooked with different meats, including various parts of pork, beef tripe, sheep, and served with tofu and vegetables noodles. Another typical dish to try in the city is Zhangjiajie cooked bacon fried with garlic shoots, spicy peppers, and spring bamboo shoots. We ate at Hei Zhu Gou Restaurant, Fuzhengyi Sanxiaguo Restaurant and He Tian Yuan Restaurant.
The official Chinese currency is the Renminbi (CNY), also known as Yuan. At the moment – June 2021 – 1 euro is equivalent to 8 Yuan. You can change your currency directly at the airport in Beijing or Shanghai, in banks or money changers in Zhangjiajie. It is also possible to withdraw cash from various ATMs and pay by credit card in high-end restaurants and hotels. In small hotels and restaurants, payment is usually in cash. Tickets for admission to major attractions can also be paid by credit card, but it is always better to have cash, even for small expenses during the trip.
Mobile phone and wifi
Although you will find wifi in almost all accommodations and most restaurants, buying a local sim card will make your stay easier. We bought a local sim card directly at the airport in Shanghai. Some websites, social networks and smart apps don’t work due to Government restrictions. Therefore, don’t forget to download a VPN for your devices before going to China.
Traveller’s safety and health
China, in general, is a destination with no safety concerns for travellers. Just be careful not to leave your valuables unattended. Remember that security conditions change every day worldwide; always do your research through the official websites and contact your embassy in China.
The health situation is good, and there are no problems for visitors. However, avoid drinking local tap water and make sure food is cooked thoroughly before eating. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety. In case you need medical attention, there are several hospitals in Zhangjiajie.
Remember to purchase travel insurance that protects you against injuries (the medical expenses abroad are very high), illness and theft. We never go on a trip without it. We suggest Worldnomad.com, an insurance company with qualified customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage.
Have you visited Zhangjiajie and have any suggestions or you like to share your experience? Leave us a comment below!