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A SMALL CITY OF BIG WONDERS, ZHANGJIAJIE: Trails Through Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

“I yearn for mountains I haven’t seen...”

On your tour of China, Zhangjiajie is not a place to be missed. Fondly referred to as a small city but of big wonders, Zhangjiajie does not disappoint visitors and locals alike. A UNESCO world heritage location and home to many natural wonders, Zhangjiajie is well-known for much of its captivating landscape. With towering rock pillars, architectural feats, and lush canyons, this small city tucked away in China’s Hunan province has many sights that will leave you in awe. It is no surprise that this city was on my list of must-see destinations while in China.

This post marks days one and two of my trip in Zhangjiajie. I had been wanting to go since 2017 when I first arrived and finally had the chance last February. I booked a tour through OKDeal, a local tour agency. Before I dive into the sights, I want to commend OKDeal. My first tour experience with them was great. For a weekend trip, it was well-paced and planned. You left with a feeling of accomplishment as there were no dry moments. The tour guide was awesome and well-informed. He handled all the necessities of the trip with tact and was knowledgeable about the area. He even sang a local minority song for our group. Additionally, my group was awesome and full of experienced hikers and established professionals. I was surprised at being the youngest. In being the youngest, it was reassuring that everyone was so friendly.

Now, onto the first wonder. Our group’s journey began on day two. That Saturday morning found us heading to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. This park holds the popular Avatar Mountain, known locally as the Hallelujah mountain or Heavenly Pillar. Riding up to the park, you can see towering pillars from outside the gate. The wonder begins before you even get out to buy your ticket (which you do need your passport for) and it only gets better.

This park is a nature photographers paradise! You can’t stop as often with a group, so I would recommend a private or solo tour to photograph to the heart’s delight. It is easy to spend the day away in this park. Our group spent all of Saturday (8 hours) going through the park’s trails—and we didn’t even see everything! Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has six different areas with varying hiking levels and we only saw two—Yuanjiajie Scenic Area and Tianzi Mountain. This park is an easy return-destination. To only spend one day and not see everything, but still be in wonder!

The trek begins in high anticipation after being transported by bus to a starting point. The park is so massive that there are bus stations to take you to different starting areas. Fair warning, the winding roads can be a bit nauseating. As someone who suffers from motion sickness, this was definitely not fun. I would leap off the bus and deeply inhale the fresh mountain air, feet firmly planted on the ground. Once, the stomach and head were good, it was time to join the rest of my group that was already on the move.

Native monkey

You don’t immediately feel the immensity of the mountains until clear areas. Along the trails it’s just as nice, following stone pathways and climbing steps. There’s fresh, clean air, lush greenery and monkeys that are not too shy. You can hear everything clearly in the forest, especially the running streams that are so clear. As the water flows by, its like a rush of color from the algae covering stones on the waterbeds. It’s a complete immersion into nature.

The best part is that it’s not crowded. February is during the off season, so there are less tourists in the park during this time. Without a doubt, the park would be an incredible sight through all the seasons. In the winter time, it’s pretty cold and you don’t have the crisp views. Still, I like cloudy days and enjoyed the overcast weather and fog that gave the park a mysterious yet calm atmosphere, especially the higher we hiked. The only way was up.

Standing among the mountains you can’t help but be in awe. My first thought upon seeing them was mighty are the works of your hand, Lord. It is simply incredible! The paths would open, and the rock pillars would appear to vanish in the fog and clouds. Taking the world’s tallest outdoor elevator up, Bailong Elevator, sets you among the mountain pillars for a panorama that is out of this world. Over a 1000 ft. high and the mountains continue to tower. A look down into the chasms and canyons simply take your breath away.

While, I was thrilled that there was more to my trip, I really could have spent the rest of the weekend here. After all, there were still four unseen areas and no pillar is the same. I would be curious to return in fall and see how the foliage colors the rock pillars. Perhaps next time.

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