Zhangjiajie in China became popular in foreign travellers' eyes after the movie Avatar. The Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar were inspired by Heavenly Pillar in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Zhangjiajie is located to the northwest of Hunan Province, over 1,000 kilometres from both Shanghai and Beijing. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the first national park in China, established in 1982. They couldn't have chosen a better site - Zhangjiajie is famous for its 3,000 vertical pillars, each hundreds of meters tall and covered in dense green foliage. These pillars were formed by erosion and draw in over 30 million tourists every year. Here is how to visit Avatar mountains as DIY trip.
How to get to Avatar Mountains
There is a limited number of direct trains and flights from China's major tourist cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Xi'an to Zhangjiajie and its Forest Park in China. Despite infrastructure improvement, Zhangjiajie is still a small town surrounded by mountains, with a small airport and no high-speed railway. After your arrival at the airport during the day time take a taxi to the bus station and then go by bus to Wulingyuan town next to the main park entrance. If you arrive late in the evening, buses don't go there anymore, so the only option would be a taxi. Ask to use a meter or agree about the price in advance using a phone translation app if needed. The price should not be more than 260 Yuan.
Where to stay?
The best place to stay when attending Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in my opinion is Wulingyuan town next to the main park entrance. The town is located about 70 kilometres from the Zhangjiajie airport. Zhangjiajie Pullman Hotel on Gaoyun Road in Wulingyuan is actually one of the few 5 star hotels in Zhangjiajie and there are not many choices for foreigners to stay in this area. The location of this hotel is good as it's close to Wulingyuan scenic area. The hotel is nice, well decorated and has a good swimming pool. The staff is friendly and helpful even though not all staff members speak English; they would call someone to help. The room was spacious with a balcony and a comfortable bed. The bathroom has a separate shower and a bathtub. Although the breakfast is mainly catering for the Chinese, it still offered plenty of choice.
How to plan your Zhangjiajie National Forest Park visit
To make the most of your time in the park you have to plan in advance. If you have the choice don't plan your visit on national holidays and on weekends. This place is very popular and gets very crowded during these times. Make sure you get a map of the park at the hotel. It may not be available at the park entrance. Also ask about the best itinerary for your visit at the hotel. The park is very big and information in English inside the park is very scarce. Remember that there are two park entrances: one next to the city and the other entrance is some 15 minutes bus ride from Wulingyuan bus station. It's much less crowded and offers excellent views from Huangshi village 3,8 kilometres scenic walk. There is a cable car to reach Huangshi.
Two day itinerary of the park
1st dayFirst thing in the morning, take Vuling road by the river to the park entrance.
After you purchase your ticket, go to the entrance next to the ticketing area and scan your finger, then proceed inside. Your ticket is valid for four days, so keep it well. Once inside, you have to walk up the road to where buses pick you up and take you further up the mountain. Pick the right bus because there are several routes available. Take a bus to the Tianzi mountain cable car area where you have to buy a separate ticket for the cable car.
Then you get the most beautiful, epic, breathtaking view from the cable car up the mountain. On posters I have seen Zhangjiajie or Avatar mountains in China mostly pictured in fog which gives a mysterious feel to the scenery.
When I started exploring the place, it was very foggy. When you get to the top of mountain I could see just some 20 metres ahead. Too little to admire the views. But I was lucky, it cleared out through the day.
Upon arrival, go through the viewing area and take a short bus ride to other viewing platforms of the mountain. Notice a beautiful scenic spot, the Imperial Writing Brush Peaks.If you are hungry there is a McDonald's available.
Then go a few hundred metres by foot down the mountain to another bus stop, taking you downhill by quite a long and windy way to the tourist centre where Yuanjiajie scenic area is.
Go hiking to discover the Pillar of the southern sky. This mountain has inspired the famous 'Hallelujah Mountains' seen in the blockbuster movie, Avatar. In January 2010, this mountain was renamed the 'Avatar Hallelujah Mountain' by the local government. When you finish the hike, go to the Bailong Elevator waiting line. A ride on this monstrosity built on the side of the cliff costs 72 Yuan. Be prepared to queue. The ride is short and you'll want to get to the glass window side if you want to see anything. After this, take a bus back to the entrance.
First, go to the bus station to take a bus ride to the second park entrance. Just ask the hotel staff to write the name of the destination for you.
When you get to the second park entrance, take a tour bus to the cable car to get up to the Huangshi village and then take almost 4 kilometre walk around to see the gorgeous views of the mountains.
After getting down from Huangshi village scenic walk you can take a walk along the river in Golden Whip stream scenic area. Gold Whip Stream is a brook at the foot of the mountain. It is about 7,5 km (4,5 miles) long, about two hours' walk. It is an easy and relaxing walk along the stream.
At the end of this walk buses are waiting for you to take you back to the park entrance.Read more of my tips for visiting China clicking this link.Have you been to China and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park? Share your impressions in the comments section.
Author: Anita Sāne