If you’ve seen the movie Avatar, these Chinese mountains will look familiar!
These famous mountains were the inspiration for the fictional world of Pandora and can be found in the Zhangjiajie National Park. This park is China’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a popular tourist attraction because of the stunning mountains and scenic views!
TRAVELING TO ZHANGJIAJIE
Zhangjiajie is a small city located in the northern part of the Hunan province. There are no high speed trains to Zhangjiajie, so traveling there can be a bit tricky depending on where you’re coming from.
Coming from Guangzhou I had a few options:
- Slow train directly to Zhangjiajie (slowest and cheapest option at 14 hours)
- Fly directly to Zhangjiajie (quickest option, but most expensive unless you book early and find a cheap ticket)
- High speed train to a bigger city like Changsha or Huaihua, then slow train to Zhangjjiajie
I wanted to compromise between time and cost so I took a high speed train to Changsha (314RMB, 2.5 hours), then a slow train in a hard sleeper bed to Zhangjiajie (120.5 RMB, 6 hours)
WHERE TO STAY
Zhangjiajie has many scenic attractions that are quite spread out. The Avatar Mountains are actually 1 hour outside the Zhangjiajie city center in an area called Wulingyuan. You can take a bus to Wulingyuan for 12 RMB, a mini-van for 20 RMB, or a taxi (around 100 RMB, but depends on how you negotiate with the driver). The bus station is a five minute walk from the train station.
I’d recommend staying in Wulingyuan if you’re spending a few days in the park so you don’t have to go back and forth everyday. Wulingyuan is a small little town but has plenty of hotels and restaurants a short walk away from the park entrance.
There are several hotels inside the park itself that you can stay at, too! You’ll have to carry all your things a pretty far way to get there, but you get to watch sunrise and sunset and stay inside the park before and after the crowds of people.
BUYING A TICKET AND GETTING AROUND THE PARK
The park entrance fee is 245 RMB and your entrance card can be used for 4 days. My hostel helped me buy the ticket, but you can also queue the morning of. They will scan your fingerprint with your card – remember to bring your card with you everyday!
- There are free shuttle buses in the park that will help you get around. There are also a few cable cars as well as the Bailong Elevator, which cost extra fees to ride.
- What you see and how you get around the park will depend on how much hiking you want to do. You’ll find that the areas easily accessible by bus or cable car are much more crowded, while the hiking trails further out are more peaceful and quiet!
- Looking at the map is a bit overwhelming at first, but I actually found it easy to navigate once inside the park! There were English signs everywhere that help you figure out which bus to take where.
AREAS INSIDE THE PARK
There are several main areas inside the giant Wulingyuan Scenic Area:
- Tianzi Mountain
- Zhangjiajie National Park
Tip: There is SO much to do inside the park and it could take days to see everything. I recommend at least two days in the park. I spent two full days there which was enough to see most of the main sights, but I could have easily stayed longer to do more of the hiking trails.
The sights I went to:
You can hike up Tianzi Mountain or take the cable car for 72 RMB. I took the cable car up the mountain because I heard the views up were incredible – and they were! I highly recommend this be the cable car you take if you only choose one.
From here you can hike down to the 10 Mile Natural Gallery and other sites, or catch a bus to another part of the park.
This is probably the most popular part of the park because it’s where the Hallelujah mountain is. You can reach this area either by bus and hiking down, or by taking the Bailong Elevator up. The Bailong Elevator is the highest outdoor elevator in the world and you can pay 72 RMB to ride it up or down.
Tip: In the mornings the wait time for the Bailong Elevator can be up to 2 hours. I took the elevator down because it was the fastest way to exit the park from Yuanjiajie and there wasn’t a long wait time. If there is a long line I would recommend skipping the Bailong Elevator and coming from an alternate route.
A newly developed area that has a little village. If you have time to hike to Tianbo Mansion it’s worth the view! (If you’re cut for time I also think it would be okay to skip this part.)
ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL PARK
From the Wulingyuan Park Entrance you can walk along the Golden Whip Stream into the Zhangjiajie National Park area. This park also has its own entrance and many people will stay there or take a bus from Zhangjiajie city center to it.
There are lots of monkeys in this area – it was so funny to watch the Chinese people interact with them. One guy got too close and a monkey slapped him in the face though, so be careful!
After the crowded paths in Yuangjiajie, I really enjoyed walking along the Golden Whip Stream with fewer people and peaceful trails. The day I went was slightly drizzling, which was actually perfect because there was hardly anyone around. I went up the Huangshi Village Cableway (65 RMB) and caught some great views of the fog around the mountains. I also met a really nice guy from England and we hiked together the rest of the day!
VISIT THE AVATAR MOUNTAINS
This park is huge and you could spend days exploring all the ins and outs! Because of my limited time I had to bypass a few things and I split my time between cable cars and hiking. I had one day with fantastic, clear weather and one slightly rainy day, which actually worked out well for getting a variety of photos.
If you have more time in Zhangjiajie city you can also visit the famous Glass Bridge and Grand Canyon nearby or check out Tianmen Mountain in the city center!
This has to be one of my favorite places I’ve ever been in China! If you have the chance you should definitely visit the Avatar Mountains!