Nature's Miracles: Avatar Mountains in Zhangjiajie, China

November 16, 2019

by Alessandra Nitti

When we happen to think about China, the first image that comes to mind is of romantic mountains surrounded by curly clouds and tiny temples with upward-pointed roof corners; some other times we imagine large metropolis, skyscrapers and crowds wearing anti-pollution masks.

Yet China is much more. In its territory as large as a continent it’s possible to find different climates and landscapes: from the Ice festivals and the Siberian cold in Manchuria to deserts and grasslands in Inner Mongolia, from the windy Tibetan Plateau to dry depressions in Xinjiang and to the humid tropical weather in the South-East. In this article I am going to focus on a little, almost unknown corner far away from everything we have heard of China, an alien-like piece of nature, so special that inspired the film director James Cameron to set over there his movie “Avatar”: The National Forest Park of Zhangjiajie.

If you are curious about a special adventure in China, just come with me to:

The National Forest Park of Zhangjiajie

An overview of Zhangjiajie landscape

Located in the Southern province of Hunan, where Chairman Mao Ze Dong was born, the National Forest Park of Zhangjiajie hosts one of Mother Nature’s most surprising creations: in this massive park we find around 3000 500-600 meters tall quartzite-sandstone formations, shaped by the wind and the weather phenomena during million of years. Smaller at the bottom and larger on the top, the rock pinnacles seem to defy the laws of gravity, create naturals bridges suspended in the air and are home of gluttonous for industrial snacks monkeys, which jump form tree to tree careless of the precipices.

How to get to Zhangjiajie using public transport in China

Stone pinnacles in Zhangjiajie


The National Forest Park of Zhangjiajie in Wulingyuan district, about 50 km away from the city of Zhangjiajie, is located in Eastern part of Hunan; capital of the province is Changsha, reachable by national flight or train by any city in China. Changsha and Zhangjiajie are connected by bus (about 7 hours) or trains (about 6 hours, 83,5 RMB for hard seat, 17 AUD or 187,5 RMB, 39 AUD for hard sleeper).

If you want to get there from a farther city you can travel by overnight train, as I did from Guangzhou, in Guangdong province (12 hours, 299,5 RMB for hard sleeper or 465,5 RMB for soft sleeper: 62 AUD or 96,5 AUD).

Buses from Zhangjiajie train station to Wulingyuan village (where the entrance of the park is) leave every hour. The trip takes around 45 minutes and the fare is 13 RMB (2,79 AUD). In Wulingyuan village you can easily find a cheap accommodation using, as I did, the Chinese app “Trip” (English version available). The main entrance to the park is only 1 km away: city buses and taxi will bring you there, or you can reach it by foot.

The ticket to the park costs 228 RMB (49 AUD) and it’s valid 4 days.

Green, blue and fresh air: a Paradise


What to do inside  Zhangjiajie National Park

National Forest Park of Zhangjiajie is huge and the infinite stairs who connect the various spots are very hard to climb, but I would like to say that the landscapes are worth the pain (and it’s a lot of pain if you are not trained, trust me): nevertheless, it’s just you in a little piece of heaven, deep in the green hills and in the sound of nature, under the blue sky, with the company of monkeys that beg you food and ice cream. Moreover, by foot you can reach the farther spots, as “One step to Heaven” or “Air Corridor” to enjoy the view of the rock columns and the cliffs, immersed in the silence, thousand light years far away from the crowds.

On the contrary if you would prefer to have a relaxed trip, the park will not let you down: for your comfort, you can find various free shuttles connecting the most famous scenic spots, from which you can admire the sights that inspired James Cameron. Where the wheels can’t go, you will have cable-ways (72 RMB per trip, 15 AUD) and even the tallest open-air elevator in the world (62 RMB,  13 AUD), made by glass and carved inside the mountain. Bailong elevator will bring you 326 floors up among the Avatar mountains.

The best spot: One step to Heaven

Living an adventure in China: suggestions for a route

As I said, the park is extended and most of information are in Chinese, so here I suggest a full 3-days route:

The entrance to the park

Day one: from Tianzi to Yangjiajie

Jump on a bus at the main entrance till the cable-way to the section called Tianzi; explore Tianzi by foot and then follow the path down the Ten mile natural gallery. It’s not a light walk, but you can still take the little train on the last section (38 RMB, 8 AUD); another option is to take a bus from Tianzi to Yangjiajie, the farthest section of the park: it’s isolated and hard to hike, but it’s the most spectacular. Deep into the forest, on those peaks and pinnacles you feel like you can touch the sky. Keep going towards west to reach the scenic spot named One Step to Heaven, 4 km away, and the Air Corridor, 9 km away. No buses or cable-ways reach here, the positive side is that very few people dare to come to these spots and you can enjoy solitude and peace.

The eastern side of Yangjiajie leads to Tianbo Mansion. You have to climb iron stairs hanging on the gorge to conquer it, so make sure you are not acrophobic.

After your hike or your adventurous climb, just go back to Yangjjiajie. Go down by cable-way and then take a bus to Laomo Wan. In 5 minutes walk you will reach the secondary entrance and get a taxi or a shuttle to Wulingyuan village.

Getting to Tianbo Mansion

Day two: the tallest outdoor elevator in China and Huangxi River

Take a bus to Water Winding Four Gates, then another shuttle will lead you in a few minutes to Bailong Elevator.  Up the 326th floor you will visit Yuanjiajie, the most popular section. Take the circular path around the place to visit the most known views of the park, the ones seen in the movie “Avatar”, and the natural suspended bridge. The spots over here are crowded by people and monkeys, which might be aggressive.

Then go down by bus or by foot following the path until Huangxi River, to relax or walk along the stream until Laomo Wan, finally go back to the village by bus or taxi.

It is said that the stone bridge was the very first bridge in the world

Day three: adventure in Huangshi, a village in China

Visit Huangshi village, reachable by cable-way, and then Yangjiajie, if you couldn’t make it the first day.

In the end go back by cable-way to Laomo Wan to go back to the village.

On the top of Tianbo Mansion

And then?

If you hadn’t enough of adventure and adrenaline, you can visit Tianmen mountain, just next to Zhangjiajie city. In the next article I will tell you about it and about the cable-way that goes above the clouds.

Alessandra Nitti

By Alessandra Nitti

Born in 1991, i am Italian from Venice. I have studied foreign languages and literature and I am a fluent chinese speaker. My biggest passions are books, traveling and yoga. I am a novelist, moreover I worked as a book editor in Italy and then as an Italian language teacher abroad. My favourite place to travel is Asia.


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