In a nutshell
Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area is truly one of the magical sights not just of Hunan, but of China, it is now becoming a major tourist attraction after parts of the movie ‘Avatar’ were filmed here.
Why You Should Visit Wulingyuan
The scenic area was added to the ‘World Heritage List’ in 1992 and is one of the leading scenic spots in China. There are mountains, forested valleys, caves, lakes and waterfalls listed among the 560 natural attractions you can see here. The entire area covers 690 square km or 266 square miles and it comprises four separate parts.
The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the first state level park in China. The Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve is the largest in area of the four parks and has over 200 attractions. Translated from the Tu minority language, Suoxi means ‘a mountainous village with dense fog’ you will be able to witness that as peaks emerge from their cloudy surroundings. The Tianzi Mountain Natural Resource Reserve is a challenging area full of rocky peaks due to its high elevation and being constantly surrounded by mist and fog. The Yangjiajie Scenic Area was home to the Yang Family that contributed to the fight against the Song dynasty. They camped out here to avoid capture during times of almost continuous war. The memory of this family clan is remembered in several attractions in the park.
The fees for a visit here are CNY248 in the high season (1st March until 30th November) and CNY145 in the low season (December until February). You can buy an annual ticket for CNY298, this is ideal if you plan to return during the year. The ticket includes a four day pass with free rides on the buses within the park.
It is advisable to get a good map in English and Chinese and decide what areas you wish to visit prior to your arrival, the park areas are enormous and it is impossible to see everything in a few days. Use the free buses inside the park so you can see more attractions.
Some of the highlights of any visit should include some of these attractions. Xianren Qiao or the Bridge of the Immortals is a spectacular but narrow rock bridge set over a deep chasm with no guard rails. It is not for the faint-hearted, a spectacular viewpoint but possibly too scary a crossing for most people.
The First Bridge of the World (Tian Di Yi Qiao) is a natural rock bridge similar to that listed above; this one is fitted with guard rails making it a much safer option. It is to be found on a short and easy hiking trail and is known as the Avatar Mountains after it was used in the movie of that name. it is also the most visited attraction in the park so can become very busy, it is a not to be missed attraction in the park. Near to this is the Heavenly Pillar, it also featured in the Avatar movie and was known as Hallelujah Mountain in the film.
Tianzi Mountain is the highest peak in the park area and visitors can take a cable car to the top or walk up a stairway featuring 3878 steps. The cable car to the top costs CNY67. At the summit you will be able to view a feature known as Yupi Feng, they are thin needle like spiky columns that are hundreds of feet high and have been featured on Chinese stamps and calligraphy.
The 10 Mile Natural Gallery is in fact a walking trail that is less than 6km long that extends up a gently rising valley with some great viewpoints. If you do not want to walk this trail there is also a monorail train that follows the same route as the trail and leads up to the tougher climb of Tianzi Mountain. It will cost CNY62 each way on the train, it is quite an easy walk though, taking less than an hour.
Yaozizai or Yaozi Village has some nice scenery and the trails around here are usually not crowded, another nearby attraction is the Golden Whip Stream, you can then take a path to the Zicao Pool, and cross the Heavenly Bridge to bring you back to the Golden Whip Stream.
The Golden Whip Stream begins close to the park entrance and continues through the park for several kilometers. There is an easy walking trail along the length of the stream with viewpoints to several of the surrounding karsts. About 200 metres before you reach the Zicao Pool there is a souvenir shop and restaurant. You will also see a bridge here which leads you onto the Shadao Gully, a 4.5km long trail of which the second half is a flight of steep steps that lead to one of the most beautiful places in the park.
Also at the top you will find buses to locations such as the First Bridge of the World or Xianren Qiao. If you need somewhere to stay then the Zhongtian Hostel is just 50 metres along the road. If you continue along the Golden Whip Stream path you will find a viewpoint known as ‘Meeting of Thousand of Ways,’ at this point another trail takes you on to other attractions before eventually arriving at the First Bridge of the World, made famous because of the Avatar movie. The Golden Whip Stream path continues on for another 2km before it ends at a small bus station with some food outlets and souvenir stalls. Buses from here will take you to the Bailong elevator (CNY72, for one way), the mini train, the Tianzi Mountain cable car (CNY67) or back to the park entrance.
The Huanlong Dong or Yellow Dragon Cave is outside the park entrance and costs about CNY10 to get there by taxi. It is Asia’s longest cave and lit up in color throughout. From the entrance it is a ten minute walk inside the cave until you reach a point where you need a boat to continue through the cave. From here you then walk back to the start point a walk that will take about 2 hours. It is an easy walk with no steep sections. You are advised to take an umbrella or rain jacket as there is usually dripping water inside the cave. The cost is CNY100-115.
The Tianmen Mountain can be reached from a cable car close to the bus and train stations in Zhangjiajie city. It is open daily from 8am until 6pm. For an exhilarating ride take the bus up or down as the road traverses several hairpin bends up the mountainside. The cable car is listed as the worlds longest at 7.45km long as it climbs to the top of the mountain. The cable car goes directly to the summit, on the way back down it stops part way so you can have a good view of the famous hole in the mountain. At the summit there are walkways around the mountain (a full loop is 7km) with a 60 meter section of glass walkway. There are hundreds of steps up to the hole in the mountain as well as escalators and a chairlift. English is used on the signs and maps are also in English. It is open daily but closes for one week in February for annual maintenance. The cost is CNY258 which includes the cable car to the summit and back down. The glass walkway will cost CNY5, and the summit chair lift CNY25.
When is the Best Time to Visit Wulingyuan?
Because of the altitude the temperatures can vary greatly every day, winters are cold and not pleasant for most people. The summer is very humid; there is fog in the park most mornings due to the humidity. In May the temperatures are probably at their most pleasant, in the mornings it can be a misty 18C, while by noon the temperature will have reached 30C.
Where to Stay?
There are hotels and hostels in the two main villages of Zhangjiajie Cun and Suoxiyu Cun as well as small family run guest houses throughout the park. The Qing Man Hotel is just 200 metres from the Wulingyuan ticket office so is ideally placed. The owners speal excellent Engklish and can provide detailed information about the park and assist you with onward travel. The Yuanjiajie Zhongtian Hostel inside the park (briefly mentioned earlier) is great to stay inside the park and not have to return to Zhangjiajie overnight. It will take at least 2-3 hours to arrive here from the entrance and the bus service stops operating at 7pm. Dorm beds are available from CNY60, double rooms from CNY130-150. These prices will more than double during holiday periods.
Where and What to Eat
The prices charged for food inside the park at restaurants is very expensive and even with negotiating for discounts it is not cheap. It is better to take food with you and then use the moderately priced restaurants just outside the entrance. The food stalls inside the park sell fried potato, tofu, noodles etc at about double the price you would expect to pay elsewhere in China.
In Zhangjiajie Cun there are lots of little restaurants with some interesting local wildlife on the menu including snake, toad, turtle. They do also have conventional food on the menu. In Wulingyuan town there are several locations where you can buy a Hunan BBQ consisting of meat skewers and vegetables. These will be spicy unless you request otherwise. In Zhangjiajie city there is a bakery (E-Pino), close to the bus station that has a very good selection of bakery items that might be a good option as an alternative to the prices charged inside the park.
How to Get Around Wulingyuan
There are three cable cars inside the park; they are sometimes taken out of service with little or no warning making access to those areas a little more difficult. There is also the Bailong elevator to take you up to the summit. There can be huge long lines of people waiting to take this to the summit; 2 to 5 hours of waiting are not unusual. There are additional elevators under construction and may even be in operation now.
There are lots of roads going across the park and it is possible to avoid waiting for cable cars and elevators and take the free buses or hike along the trails. There are two free bus routes, purple buses mostly operate along the valleys and smaller brown buses operate along the routes to the mountain tops. There are also sedan chairs to carry you along sections of the paths, prices are displayed in Chinese.
There are times, such as after periods of heavy rainfall when roads or paths have to be closed due to the power of nature making these routes unsafe. They will reopen once repairs are completed. There are two gates to the park, the west gate at Zhangjiajie and the east gate at Wulingyuan. Once you have paid the entry fee there are free minibuses that take you to the actual entrance. There are also buses that will transport you from one entrance to the other for CNY10, it is a 30 minute ride on the bus.
How to Get To and From Wulingyuan
Wulingyuan is located around 270km to the north west of Changsha and the best way to reach this area is through Zhangjiajie city. Zhanjiajie is also the location of the closest airport. A taxi from Zhangjiajie city to the park entrance will cost around CNY100. There are minibuses that operate from the main bus station in Zhangjiajie to the similarly named village of Zhangjiajie Cun, this costs CNY20 and takes about an hour. You can pay on the bus; there is no need for you to wait in line at the ticket window. The bus drops you off at the bus station in the village, from there it is a 15 minute walk to the park entrance or you can take a local bus for CNY1. Alternatively a taxi will cost CNY5.
Is it Safe in Wulingyuan?
The biggest danger here is from hiking, either through your level of fitness or from a fall, there are several places that are at altitude so that could also be a problem. There are a number of foreign registered medical facilities in Zhangjiajie city and one in Wulingyuan should you require medical assistance.
One of the problems here is the taxi drivers in Zhangjiajie Cun. They will not use their meters and try to claim your hotel is a long way from the station. The best way to avoid this is to call your hotel and ask them to speak to the taxi driver and negotiate a price for you.