We were on a week long backpacking trip in China in August 2018, and one of our stops was to visit the beautiful heavenly mountains of Zhang Jia Jie in Hunan Province. We spent two full days visiting two of the three main attractions, the Tianmen Mountain and the National Forest Park. We gave the Grand Canyon Glass Bridge a miss due to time constraints.
We arrived via the local sleeper train to Zhang Jia Jie after our trip from Huangshan. If you are coming via the high speed rail, you need to alight at Changsha station before switching to the normal train to Zhang Jia Jie station. We stayed at a local hostel before embarking on our trip the next day. We were fortunate that the owner of the hostel gave us very valuable information on the attractions and helped us plan out our trip well.
We chose to visit Tianmen Mountain for the first attraction. We were told that we need to get up very early to start queuing up for tickets, as August is the holiday season. We got up way before sunrise and made a 20mins walk to the cable car station where the tickets are sold. The cable car station is about 10mins walk north from the central bus station and railway station.
Cable car station location: https://goo.gl/maps/4E1d6DXgj8Q2
We reached the cable car station at 545am and there was already a long queue in line. When it was our turn to get the tickets, the cable car had been sold out and we were left with the only option which was to take the shuttle bus up to the mountain. The queue was so long that the by the time we reached the mountain entrance to begin our walk, it was already 1145am, a grueling 4 hours to queue for the tickets and bus.
At the entrance of the mountain, we climbed 999 flight of stairs where we would reach a natural arch with a height of 131m. From there, we took a set of 16 escalators up to the top of the mountain. The highlights of touring the mountain would be its cliff side walkway with a vertical drop. Visitors are required to pay a fee of CNY 5 per person if they wish to visit the glass walkway which is located in 3 separate areas of the moutain. Each glass walkway takes about 5 minutes to complete.
Tianmen Mountain has fantastic views as the scenery unfolds when we walked along the cliff side of the perimeter of the mountain. The downside of the mountain would be the the wrath of the crowds as tour groups swamped every corner of the mountain, disrupting the tranquility of the mountain. To avoid huge crowds, it is best to visit during weekdays on non-holiday period.
Entrance fee of Tianmen Mountain is CNY 258 from March to November and CNY 225 from December to Februrary.
National Forest Park
The second day in Zhangjiajie we made our way to the National Forest Park where the landscape of the movie Avatar got their inspiration from. The national park is huge and to explore every corner of it would take a few days to do so. The ticket allow visitors to enter the park for 4 days. We only had a day so we had to choose which area to go and which to miss.
It is important to get there early to maximize the time spent in the park. First bus from the central bus station to the entrance of the national park is 630am. If you only had a day to tour the national park, I would highly suggest to catch the first bus. The central bus station is located beside the railway station. Journey to the entrance gate of the national forest park takes about 40 minutes. Be sure to get yourself an english friendly map for better navigation around the national park.
Thankfully, we did not have to queue like mad as we did at Tianmen Mountain. Upon entering the park, we hiked through the Golden Whip Stream trail. It was a very enjoyable hike as this area is void of crowds and we got to enjoy the tranquility of the forest and the stream. The trail takes about 2 hours to complete.
As we walked along the stream, we encounter groups of Rhesus Macaques playing in the water and roaming around the trail. Towards the end of the trail is where the shuttle bus station where we boarded and headed towards the cable-way to bring us up to Tianzi Mountain area.
Upon reaching Tianzi Mountain, we had our lunch at McDonald’s (Yes there is a McDonald’s at the mountain) before continuing our walk around the vicinity. The landscape of Tianzi Mountain consist of beautiful narrow vertical pillars that was formed by sedimentary rocks 318 million years ago. Those rocks, eroded by the water and wind, slowly turned into quartz stones, which formed those amazing peaks in the scenic area.
After spending about a couple of hours touring Tianzi Mountain, we made our way to queue for the shuttle bus towards Yuan Jia Jie, where the movie Avatar took their inspiration from. The scenic views of Yuan Jia Jie were simply breathtaking. There is a natural bridge that spans 25 meters between 2 mountains and has a vertical height of 400m, it is then followed by the scenic views of the “floating” peaks that fills the landscape.
The difference between the peaks in Tianzi Mountain and Yuan Jia Jie is that the ones in Tianzi are much narrower, whereas Yuan Jia Jie’s are thicker, often having a characteristic feature of the upper parts being thicker than the bottom. The most famous of such peaks is the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, formerly Southern Sky Column, where the movie Avatar used its unique appearance to create the landscape of the floating mountains of Pandora. The best time to visit Yuan Jia Jie is about 5pm onwards as the lighting is the best.
We descended the mountain via the Bailong Elevator (It has a status to be the highest outdoor elevator in the world) before taking the shuttle bus out to Wulingyuan District where we took a private car back to Zhang Jia Jie city.