A Complete Guide To Zhangjiajie National Park in China
I already talked about my amazing trip to Fenghuang in the western part of Hunan Province but I totally forgot to write a post about Zhangjiajie for you! It’s been a few weeks since the trip but a good travel recommendation is never too late! It was a wonderful trip but also had a very bad side to it…
The city of Zhangjiajie (ZZJ) has a history of over 2000 years. However, it is most famous for it’s beautiful mountain areas that are the result of millions of years of erosion. The mountains are said to be the inspiration for the Avatar movie.
It’s therefore important to know that Zhangjiajie is only the city close to the mountain scenic area. There are two different scenic areas you can visit: Tianzi Shan in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源) a little outside the city and Tianmen Shan right next to the city.
Like I mentioned before, my friend and I visited Fenghuang (south of ZZJ) before going to Zhangjiajie. That’s why we decided to spend a day in the minority city of Dehang and then take a train to ZZJ from Jishou 吉首. The train ride takes about 1:40 hrs and is really cheap at only 19 RMB ($3/ €2.40).
Once you arrived at ZZJ train station, you should decide where you want to go. You can either go directly to the Tianzi Shan national park, go to Tianmen Shan in the city or explore the city of ZZJ.
We decided to spend a day in ZZJ first and took bus no. 6 (departs at the big bus stop area between railway station and bus station). From there, take about 5 stops and you arrive in the city center area. There are a lot of cool stores, a shopping center and a food street famous for its Chinese BBQ.
The next day, we decided to go to Tianzi Shan. We were planning on going to Tianmen Shan the last day, but it turned out to be too foggy so we decided not to go. If you are in ZZJ and the weather is good, I recommend going there. You need to take a cable car which is located not far from the bus station. You can walk there in about 10 mins. A ticket is around 245 RMB for adults (they have student prices with ID).
Tianzi Shan in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源) is much bigger than Tianmen Shan. To get there, you need to go over to the bus station when walking out of the railway station to your left. Go through the terminal, through the security check and walk across the waiting area to the exit on the right. You can board a bus going to Tianzi Shan from there. The bus is very inexpensive at about 10 RMB but the bus ride takes about 2.5 hours.
Exploring the Zhangjiajie National Park
Once you have arrived at the park area, walk over to the entrance from your bus stop. It’s always better to ask people for directions. At the gate, you need to buy a 3-day ticket which also costs around 245 RMB for adults and about half for students with ID. The ticket allows you to spend up to 3 days in the entire park area. After going through the gate, you need to take another bus which drives you up the mountain for about 20-30 minutes to a bus station in the mountains.
Since it was already afternoon, we decided to stay around that area and found a great hostel called Bajie Youth Hostel and was amazing! Cozy and comfortable with free WIFI and heating blankets in the beds! A double room was 98 RMB ($15 / €12) per night.
Things to keep in mind
As the park is actually world famous and tourists from all over the world travel to come there, what I am going to tell you now is still shocking to me. The entire park is very poorly organized. There is staff at every bus station point but they do not seem to be familiar with the park area. There are NO signs in English and the staff does not speak English either. Maps provided are only in Chinese and doesn’t make a lot of sense and there is nothing to do and it’s pitch black outside after 7pm.
If you do not speak Chinese, take a guided tour or you will probably die in the wilderness because there are no buses after 7pm to drive you back to your point. It’s an extremely remote area where you can go lost very easily.
I was shocked how poorly organized the entire park was. We sometimes spent half our day trying to find the correct way to where we wanted to go and ended up taking a cable car (at over 100RMB each time) up to 4 times per day! The area where we stayed at did not have anything outside the hotel except one small convenience store. There are almost no restaurants and you can’t even dream about bars or clubs up there.
I felt very disappointed in the park management at some point.
The first day in the park, we decided to check out a popular scenic spot called Yuanjiajie which offers a great view of the famous mountains. The weather was great so we were able to see a lot of the area which was not the case on the days following. Ask staff at the bus stations how to get to these individual scenic spots. They will show you the right bus.
We needed about 2-3 hours to explore the entire area which is a circled route around the mountains. The weather was great! It was sunny and actually quite hot as you can see I am wearing just shorts and a t-shirt! However, at night and the following days without sunshine, the weather was freezing! Be sure to pack warm clothes and a good rain jacket!
One of my favorite spots was Huangshizhai 黄石寨 which is a great area to see wild monkeys living in the mountains. You need to take a cable car to get to the area but it’s worth the trouble. The monkeys aren’t shy at all and come very close if you have food for them.
This area might also take about 2-3 hours to complete, or even longer when there’s good weather. Since it was absolutely foggy and you couldn’t see a thing, we skipped various platforms and finished the park very fast.
Unfortunately, the weather in the mountains was really bad and foggy so that we couldn’t see much of the scenic spots. I don’t know if there are special times during the year where it’s ideal weather or if it’s just simply unpredictable. However, I can say for sure that the summer months are high season for tourism. Especially Korean tourists come to this scenic area in huge groups to hike all around the park. We traveled the park in September which was the best idea ever since it was right after the tourist season. The park was extremely empty.
I recommend the park but only if you can speak Chinese or travel in a group with a guide. It’s extremely hard to find your way around even if you speak Chinese. Another negative point is that you need to pay a lot for transportation inside the park. Even though the buses are free, there are lots of cable cars and an elevator you sometimes simply have to take and tickets are expensive.
However, the scenery is breath-taking and it’s a very interesting experience since it’s a super remote area!