If you’ve never seen pictures of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, it’s likely you’ll recognize it anyway. It’s said that the incredible mountains of this Chinese nature reserve inspired James Cameron to create the stunning floating mountains seen in the movie Avatar.
Without a doubt, the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is one place you must go while visiting China.
The park is home to magnificent mountains that stand in tall columns all throughout the park, often surrounded by mystical fog. It’s no wonder so many legends surround this place.
There are some amazing hiking routes as well as plenty of tourist infrastructure to explore the highest and lowest grounds. In addition, there are tons of places just outside the park that are also worthy of a visit.
Our trip to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was one of our favourite places we visited in China. If you find yourself in the Hunan Province, make sure not to miss this incredible natural wonder.
Best Time to Visit the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
No matter when you visit Zhangjiajie, the park will likely be busy.
April to November is the main tourist season and the best time to visit the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park weather-wise.
However, if you want to experience some of the most beautiful scenery, consider visiting in late fall for the stunning foliage. If you pack warm clothes, winter can also be a nice time to visit when the park is covered with a thin layer of snow.
Whatever you do, avoid visiting during major Chinese holidays.
How To Get to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Since the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is so popular, it might surprise some to find out it is quite remote, so getting there can be a bit of an undertaking.
The most common way to get to Zhangjiajie is to fly into the city of Changsha and taking a train from there. Buses are also available and are a bit cheaper.
Zhangjiajie airport is right outside of town, but taking the train is a lot better than flying.
To get to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park from the town of Zhangjiajie, there are local buses as well as taxis. The ride is about 40 minutes long.
How to Plan a Self-Guided Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Tour
Taking a self-guided tour of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is very doable. You can visit the park in one day to get an overview of Zhangjiajie, but we recommend at least three days in the park to explore all it has to offer.
The park is divided into two sections: the Yuanjiajie Scenic Area and the Tianzi Mountain Area.
Main Sights in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
The Hallelujah Mountain is a stunning part of the Avatar Forest, and perhaps the most recognizable monolith in the park.
Gold Whip Stream
Make sure to visit the Gold Whip Stream for peaceful walks by this stunning body of water.
Known for being the largest outdoor lift in the world, the Bailong Elevator is an experience in an of itself. Once you get to the top, you’ll have incredible views of the park in all directions.
The Tianzi Mountains might be the most scenic part of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. You’ll either take a long cable car or hike up to the top for incredible views.
If you have some extra time, there are a couple of other amazing places to visit nearby.
Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge and Grand Canyon
While it’s not actually in the park, the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge is an awesome place to visit. From the bridge, you can see incredible views both outward and downward. Just make sure you’re not prone to vertigo!
Otherwise known as the “Yellow Dragon Cave,” Huanglong is a massive underground system of caverns and tunnels decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, and colourful lighting.
Visit this peaceful lake to get away from the crowds. You can visit a lovely temple here, as well as take a walk to some waterfalls.
Fenghuang is said to be one of the most picturesque small towns in China. It’s a few hours’ bus ride away from Zhangjiajie, but it’s well worth the journey for an overnight or two.
Tianmen Mountain National Park is not to be missed while visiting Zhangjiajie. Home to the impressive Tianmen Cave, Glass Walkway, and the dizzying “99 Bends” road, this park is just as stunning as the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
Hiking in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Hiking is by far the best way to see Zhangjiajie. Since most of the tourists are shuffled around from vista to vista on the tourist buses, you’ll have the hiking trails all to yourself. Not only that, but you can also see some of the best views along the way that others will never see.
What to Budget for a visit to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
In general, transportation in and around the park is quite affordable. Bus rides from Zhangjiajie city to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park will cost you around $1.40 USD (¥12), while a taxi for the same ride will cost you around $14 USD (¥100).
A 3-day entrance ticket to the park costs between $20-23 USD (¥140-260) depending on the season. The ticket is good for three days and includes the sightseeing bus throughout the park. It is also possible to buy a ticket that is good for 7 days.
Many individual tourist attractions, including cable cars, elevators, and trains, have their own separate charges. Some of the prices are as follows:
Huangshi Village Cableway: $9 USD (¥65) each way; $17 USD (¥118) round trip
Bailong Elevator: $10 USD (¥72) each way; $20 USD (¥144) round trip
Yangjiajie Cable Car: $10 USD (¥76) each way
Ten-Miles Gallery Mini Train: $5 USD (¥38) each way; $7 USD (¥52) round trip
Yellow Dragon Cave: $14 USD (¥100) per person
Baofeng Lake: $13 USD (¥96) per person
In general, food and lodging in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are quite affordable. There are plenty of budget options for accommodations, as well as cozy homestays and luxury hotels. Food is extremely affordable, but keep in mind that most things are more expensive once inside the park.
Where To Eat In The Park
There isn’t much in the way of food inside the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, but you can find a few small restaurants in different places along the way.
For a seamless visit during the day, consider packing a lunch and taking it with you.
Where to Stay near Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
When choosing a place to stay, you can either stay inside the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park or down in the town of Zhangjiajie. While both are perfectly viable options, the former has a few advantages. Firstly, you’ll likely have incredible views from your hotel, hostel, or guesthouse.
If the town seems too hectic and the park too expensive, consider staying in Wulingyuan Town, a much prettier town just to the north. It’s also closer to the entrance of the park.
- Yu Hotel Zhangjiajie Catalpa Eco Resort: This stunning eco-hotel is an excellent option if you want a little bit of luxury during your trip to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The comfortable Yu Hotel Zhangjiajie Catalpa Eco Resort building is tucked into the forest and will give you a sense of incredible peace and tranquillity after battling the crowds all day.
- No.5 Valley Inn: The No.5 Valley Inn is an incredible value for your money while simultaneously being a gorgeous hotel. Decorated with earthy tones and featuring dark wooden beams everywhere, this cozy spot is an eco-paradise.
If the idea of visiting the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park on your own is a bit daunting, there are plenty of tours on offer that will take you. Check out this full-day private tour of Zhangjiajie or this group tour. If you’re most interested in nearby attractions like Tianmen Mountain and the glass bridge, consider booking this tour that takes you to both.
Tips for a Great Trip to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Prepare to Walk a Lot
There’s a lot of distance to cover in the park, and a lot of it will be on foot. Be prepared and wear solid walking shoes or hiking boots.
Be Okay With Crowds
The crowds are an unavoidable part of a visit here. Although there are less crowded areas in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, you’ll rarely be alone. Being aware of this going in will make it a much more pleasant experience.
You’ll have a difficult time finding water or affordable drinks in the park, so bring your own.
Bring a Waterproof Jacket
The weather in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park can be quite rainy, foggy, and wet. Bring a waterproof jacket with you or even an umbrella. Don’t forget a dry bag or a backpack cover, especially if you have a camera with you.
Zhangjiajie is one of those places that deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. Despite the trying crowds and fickle weather, the park is undeniably magnificent and should not be missed on your next trip to China.