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Home Biking Guide The Gate of Sandstone Pillars - China Zhangjiajie Hike Guide

The Gate of Sandstone Pillars - China Zhangjiajie Hike Guide

Where is Zhangjiajie and What’s There?

Zhangjiajie, an inland city of China, locates in the north west of Hunan Province - the province is where Chairman Mao was born. Most parts of Hunan are not tourism oriented, travelers need a transfer first after arriving China to its capital city – Changsha, wasting at least one day on the flight or train(s). Cities popular among tourists are usually historically famed or with significant importance in the Chinese revolutions. Zhangjiajie is an exception, not only popular to foreigners after the movie Avatar was released, but also one of the top travel destinations in China, for its longest suspension class bridge and the city symbol – Tianmenshan Mountain.

Zhangjiajie Landform, Zhangjiajie Travel Guide

Quartz sandstone pillars in Zhangjiajie.  

People tend to relate the city directly with the unique natural quartz sandstone pillars, where is Zhangjiajie again? It is the only place occupying that unique geomorphic and physicogeographical feature in the world. The nearby rural regions are also the hometown for certain minority Chinese – Tujia and Miao, less known but interesting experiences for tourists. 

How to Get to Zhangjiajie? Any Suggestions Before Travelling?

An inland city close to the ‘hypogastrium’ of China caused some transportation inconvenience, although direct / connecting flights from other major cities like Shanghai / Beijing / Xi’an / Guilin or the fast growing bullet train networks have largely shortened the time on the way, a direct bullet train from Guangzhou to Zhangjiajie is expected to be opened in the near future. 

Things to do in Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie Travel Guide.

Swimming is popular and covenient in summer.  

The summer of Zhangjiajie is hot (around 38 degree centigrade) but is still the high travel season. Data shows that both Chinese and foreign independent travelers, fixed – itinerary big Chinese groups, groups of students are the major consumers during the public summer vacations time in July and August.If you are not free scheduled travelling to Zhangjiajie in September or October, the heat in summer are not extremely fearful as the region is mountainous and full of water resources – brooks, rivers, cool valleys and green plants, at least visitors will have lot chances swimming outdoors.  The winter of Zhangjiaje snows, it is also recommended to avoid crowded Chinese groups by choosing the early winter time for a visit, the park will be shut down around late Nov. to Late Feb. due to cable car maintainace and safety reasons.

Scenery in Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie Winter Hike Guide, Wulingyuan Hike Guide

Snow-covered landscape of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.  

Wulingyuan (武陵源) or Zhangjiajie (张家界)?

Before doing any travel research of the city, people may feel confused about the relationship between Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan. Wulingyuan in the north  of Zhangjiajie city and is the palace where gorgeous sandstone views standing, a drive from the downtown of Zhangjiajie will be the first step.The must-do hike of Zhangjiajie is inside the National Forest Park of Wulingyuan district.

Around 1-2 hours driving by private / public car takes you to Wulingyuan district. The fast growing of local tourism in the recent 20 years have given Zhangjiajie new facilities but also not friendly road rebuildings, the returning transfers between the city (where citizens lives and works) to Wulingyuan (where most facilities and jobs are tourism – oriented) are also time-consuming.

Beside the National Forest Park, other top attractions worth for a visit can be found in the city downtown, or even further than Wulingyuan district. Visiting Tianmenshan Mountain (city downtown) / Glass Bridge (far in the east of the city) for example, please list them into your first / last day as you will need to reserve the ticket one day ahead and wait a long time for the cable cars afterwards.

Detailed Hike Guide and Map of the National Forest Park

Main Attractions:

The ticket of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is seasonally priced around USD30-45 and valid for 3 days, discounts and free tickets are offered both for Chinese and westerners if you are over 55(60). Hotels are officially not allowed to be built / open on the hills in recent years, travelers will need to get down from the mountains for overnight, prepare more food and water if you are not sure weather there are shopping opportunities on the way. The areas where most tourists will pass by, or on the top near those cable cars and tour bus junctions offers more food options.

Tourist can simplify the huge park into three parts: A. the south west – Yellow Stone Village (黄石寨) and Golden Whip Brook (金鞭溪), B. the north – Yangjiajie (杨家界) and Yuanjiajie (袁家界) and C. the east – Ten Mile Gallery (十里画廊) and Tianzi Mountain(天子山).

Cable cars are available at Yellow Stone Village, Yangjiajie and Tianzi Mountain. The well-known vertical Bailong elevator is in the middle of the park, on the center of the triangle composed by Yuanjiajie, Ten Miles Gallery and Tianzi Mountain.

Hike Map of Zhangjiejie, Wulingyuan Hike Map, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Hiking Map, Hike Guide of Zhangjiajie

Hike map of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.  

How long do we need to finish the hike and where to start?

The expected walking time for each day is around 5-7 hours depends on your fitness and how much you are relying on the cable cars. Normally, one can only visit 1-2 of the six main scenic areas mentioned above in a single day.

Most popular hotels and restaurants are located in Wulingyuan town, and your walkings are quite possible to start at the forest park main entrance where a symbolic huge tower standing (Wulingyuan town is in the south east of the whole park), where hundreds tourists tend to wait together. It is also the same place where free scenic spot shuttle bus keep running. Choose the right shuttle bus taking you to one of those four starting points: Tianzi Mountain Cable Car (天子山缆车), Ten Miles Gallery(十里画廊), Four Gates Surrounded by Water(水绕四门) or Bailong Elevator(百龙天梯). 

Four Gates Surrounded by Water is pronounced as Shui Rao Si Men in Chinese, it is also the walking starting point of Golden Whip Brook – the easiest flat walking in the park. If you arrive Wulingyuan in the noon time or if it is the last day before leaving Zhangjiajie, walking the Golden Whip Brook will be a good idea and costing us around 2 hours. After getting into the park, walking is the only way getting to the entrance in the southwest where only few people enters/leaves. Hike both the Golden Whip Brook and Yellow Stone Village is a perfect plan for whole day.  The mountain of Yellow Stone Village is the lowest but definitely one of the best in the park. Cable cars are available there but walking from the foot is more recommended

The famous Natural Bar of Oxygen Square is also on the foot of Yellow Stone Village. It contains over 80,000 negative oxygen ions / cubic meter; enjoy the breathing!

Tips: Camping inside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is not allowed, so visitors need to plan the walk well when having limited time. Playing your drone in the scenic spot is allowed only in certain areas. 

Recommended 1 - 4 days Hike Routes for Travelers

For a day trip or any itinerary with evening flight/train departure from Zhangjiajie,following the highlighted walking starting from Wulingyuan District (Main Gate with Tower) – Golden Whip Brook – Yellow Stone Village – Southwest Entrance transferring back to down town of Zhangjiajie is a good idea.

Bailong Elevator, Yuanjiajie Hike Guide, Zhangjiajie Hike Guide.

Bailong Elevator - Middle of the Park.  

For 2 days classic hiking at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, except arranging the above day tour itinerary for your Day1, thinking of mixing Yuanjiajie (袁家界) and Bailong Elevator or few parts of Yangjiajie together for your second day. Tianzi Mountain is less recommended because the Ten Mile Gallery and the Chinese groups are tend to crowded there. Walking up to Yuanjiajie can be connected with the less challenging Golden Whip Brook in the end. A 60 degrees up called Luanchuanpo (乱串坡) is on the south of Yuanjiajie, if you want an extreme hike, go to Yellow Stone Village first (walking up + cable car down) then Golden Whip Brook afterwards then walk both up and down in Yuanjiajie before finally finishing your day with the Bailong Elevator is possible. Around 40% of the whole map of the National Forest Park has been done in just one day after the challenge.

For 3-4 days hiking, if travelers are fit enough and familiar with the long distance walking with stone stairs  up and down,  go and visit Yangjiajie (杨家界). It is not popular at all so it allows people to enjoy the walking better if you don’t mind finding a dead end in the end of each walking and then return with the same road. However, getting up early is a must as the time waiting for the shuttle bus and the distance for walking there is longer (around 2 hours on the bus), less shops and supporting are available at Yangjiajie. Conversely, choosing Tianzi Mountain and Ten Miles Gallery in the east will be a better option for less sporty guests, or anyone who is leaving the city on the same day.

Most walking mentioned can be done as a circle (E.g. at Tianzi Mountain and Yellow Stone Village, walking up + cable car down is not a bad idea for people who have less strong knees). The different names shown on the road sign sometimes means an isolated platform with views and leads to nowhere (e.g. the 600 stairs Viewing Deck 大观台 in our map (West of Tianzi Mountain). Watch the same sandstone pillars from different angle (left / right, look up / overlook), gives us diverse feelings. It means walking both sides of the small branches is not a must. Finding the less crowded side of each circle allows westerners to enjoy the scenery better: Yuanjiajie is where you can see the stature representing the movie Avatar and it is also popular for Chinese so get up and start the walk earlier than them, all the mountain is yours.

Tour Tips When Touring at Wulingyuan 

About the hotels:

a. Most big hotels are not the best priority for westerners because they are old, built with less interesting rooms and even broken facilities, used by Chinese big groups, and the food there are less tasty.

b. Guesthouses or featured Chinese style smaller hotels are more recommended at Wulingyuan, however, the reception lady doesn't speaks fluent English nor helps too much. Breakfasts are not included in most ‘cheaper’ hotels.

c. Like the Glass House highly rated on, some fancy and nice accommodations may cause you more time for a driving first before getting to the entrance, they are recommended for sure if you are expecting a leisure holiday with kids instead of ‘hard’ walking.

About the food:

Food Guide in Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie Hike Guide.

Local spicy Hunan food  - one of the most important cooking styles in China (Xiang).  

a. Restaurants at Wulingyuan tend to offer traditional local style Chinese spicy food, if you are allergic to preppers, try finding some smaller snack / noddle / steamed bun shops is very easy. Unofficially but sometimes works, it is the truth that the most popular restaurants crowded with Chinese tour groups offers less delicious food. Following the local young people and try the romantically-decorated places might surprises you.

b. Not too much 'formal' food can be found during your walking on the mountains. Few local people are allowed to sell things inside the forest park and they prefer cooking / reserving simple snacks like cold noddle or fruits in order to sell them up in time. Smaller supermarket / grocery stores are everywhere in the town of Wulingyuan, allowing us to prepare some dry food ahead. Few 'normal' restaurants are inside the forest park to better protect the enviroment, an Mcdonald's shop and the neighbouring coffee bar miight be your only choice on the top at Tianzi Mountain.

About the Transportation: The public transfers between Zhangjiajie city and Wulingyuan is not recommeded when having less time, hiring a private car getting in and out is more reasonable. Well, if you tend to use the public ones, get to the bus stations and you will find one before 5 P.M, they are scheduled to departure every 30-60 minutes.

Other Tips When Travelling in Zhangjiajie  

1. Your hotel owners / people working at the receptions are more trustful than the unlicensed strangers / taxi drivers waiting outside train / bus stations. The attraction price is announced to the public by local government so you will NOT get unfair prices buying it by yourself at the entrance. However it is more convenient to book it with your hotel, and help them with little commissions, their efforts absolutely saves a lot of your time.

Food Guide in Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie Hike Guide.

Zhangjiajie grass bridge - the world's longest and highest glass bridge.  

2. Beside the National Forest Park, the edge of Wulingyuan District locates the famous Xibu Street (溪布街) where more friendly guesthouses and shopping opportunities exist. And the owners are glad to help you for a free transfer to / back from the park entrance.

3. Most flight / trains to and from Zhangjiajie are evening ones, book your room couple days ahead causes less troubles

Fully supported and tailor-made itinerary for a cClassic Zhangjiajie Bike and Hike Tour 

Blog written by Robert Liu, April, 2020.