Zhangjiajie National Park famously was the inspiration for the Avatar movies. Zhangjiajie is just one part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area and it truly is beautiful. Ethereal almost. Magical certainly. It’s also confusing, busy, and big. There are a number of challenges involved in visiting Zhangjiajie – so here’s our Zhangjiajie Guide and Itinerary.
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Where is Zhangjiajie?
The name Zhangjiajie refers to a number of areas, the name Zhangjiajie is used interchangeably amongst
- Zhangjiajie National Park
- Zhangjiajie National Forest (which is pretty much the same as the National Park)
- the General Area surrounding the Zhangjiajie National Park
- Zhangjiajie City – some 32 kilometers from the Zhangjiajie National Park
- Zhangjiajie Railway Station – the closest train station, which is about an hour from the Zhangjiajie National Park.
This Zhangjiajie Guide covers the following:
- how to get to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park from Zhangjiajie City
- how to get to Zhangjiajie Railway Station
- how to get from Zhangjiajie Railway Station to Zhangjiajie National Park
- how to get from Zhangjiajie Railway Station to the Zhangjiajie Central Bus Station
- how to get from Zhangjiajie Central Bus Station to Wulingyuan Township
- how to get from Wulingyuan Township to Zhangjiajie National Park
We’ve outlined this in stages – as you can stage your journey, but it’s also important to understand the different areas that are referred to as Zhangjiajie. It’s also important to book your hotel in the right place, to ensure that you spend the maximum time in the Park rather than getting to it!
Here are our recommendations as to where to stay in Zhangjiajie – it’s essentially in the township area called Wulingyuan.
Zhangjiajie National Park is part Wulingyuan Scenic Area
Wulingyuan Scenic Area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. It consists of smaller national parks and scenic areas including the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Suoxiyu Nature Reserve, where you’ll find Baofeng Lake and the Yellow Dragon Cave.
The place that MOST folks want to visit is the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. This is generally known as Zhangjiajie National Park and it’s the one that the Avatar movie made famous. Zhangjiajie is the most famous part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area and it’s where we visited.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
The Zhangjiajie National Park is made up of five main areas;
- Tianzi Mountain,
- Huangshi Village
- Golden Whip Stream.
You can see these on the map of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park below, courtesy China Highlights.
How to Get to Zhangjiajie
How to Get to Zhangjiajie City
In order to visit Zhangjiajie National Park you first need to get to what is called Zhangjiajie City. This is where the Zhangjiajie Train Station is located. You will probably arrive here by train.
There are reasonable connections here, but the Chinese Train service is busy, so book your train tickets WELL AHEAD OF TIME.
You can also take buses from Changsha and from Guilin, although we found the trains to be the most comfortable way to travel in China.
Amuse yourself as you leave the train station with some of the signage as we did.
How to Get to Wulingyuan
Zhangjiajie Railway Station to Zhangjiajie National Park
It is possible to go directly from Zhangjiajie Railway Station to Zhangjiajie National Park. The distance between these two is 32 kilometers. This is the bus from Zhangjiajie to Wulingyuan area.
Taxi from Zhangjiajie Railway Station to Zhangjiajie National Park
Taxi drivers are unlikely to want to use the meter. Agree on a rate before setting off, the usual rate should be about 100 YUAN.
The Zhangjiajie National Park is on the outskirts of the Wulingyuan Township. This is where you will need to take your taxi or transfer. Or, if you’ve arrived on an overnight train, head straight on up to the National Park. You will be doing Zhangjiajie (and your budget) a disservice, however, if you only spend one day in the park.
Bus from Zhangjiajie City to Wulingyuan Township
If you are traveling on a budget, as we do, then you should take the public minibus to Wulingyuan Township, which is the closest town to Zhangjiajie National Park. The Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Bus leaves from the Zhangjiajie Bus Station. That’s easy to find from the Zhangjiajie Railway Station.
As you leave the train station, you’ll find a set of signposts. You want the Central Bus Station. On the photo of the bus station signs, it is literally the building with the advertising posters on it in the bottom right.
These are the only signs you are likely to spot in English. There is an information booth in the central Zhangjiajie bus station but this was not manned by an English speaker. You’re best to have written down in Mandarin that you want to go to WULINGYUAN. Here’s what it looks like.
Wuingyuan = 武陵源
Zhangjiajie Railway Station to Wulingyuan
The Zhangjiajie to Wulingyuan bus is easy to find and only costs 14 CNY As you leave the train station, you’ll find a set of signposts for the Central Bus Station. It’s very close.
Buses that go from Zhangjiajie to Wulingyuan are minibusses (15-18 seaters). They leave from BEHIND the Zhangjiajie Central Bus Station, however, you find the entrance from inside the building.
Inside the Zhangjiajie Central Bus Station follow the signs through the Security – the ‘pit mouth’ sign. Then follow this sign to the Wulingyuan bus.
Buy a ticket from the driver. Buses leave during the day on average every 10 minutes. The trip takes an hour and the final bus stop in Wulingyuan is outside the Santa Domingo Hotel.
How to get from Wulingyuan to Zhangjiajie National Park
Once you’re in Wulingyuan it’s easy to walk to the entrance to Zhangjiajie National Park. This Wulingyuan map shows you where the entrance to the National Park is in relation to the bus stop and some hotels in the town.
Zhangjiajie National Park Entrance
The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Entrance Fee is expensive, at 248 CNY per person in the high season. However, this does include the buses inside the park and your pass is valid for four days. And this is why you don’t just want to spend one day here. Our Zhangjiajie Itinerary called for us to spend two days here.
Heading towards the Entrance to the Park, you’ll more than likely be following the crowd, especially if you visit Zhangjiajie on a weekend
The buses are necessary as you’ll see from the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park map below. It is a 10-15 minute bus journey from this park entrance to the main areas that you will want to see. Not only that, but the road might be two-way, but there are no footpaths alongside it. This Zhangjiajie park map comes from the Tu Nui Hostel, where we stayed. The best version of the Zhangjiajie National Park map we found is below.
When you buy a ticket you’ll receive a chip card and you also need your thumbprint to go with it, so you can’t sell the ticket to someone else.
Zhangjiajie Map and Park Layout
There are essentially two levels to Zhangjiajie – the lower and the upper level.
When you enter the park from Wulingyuan you enter on the lower level. At this point, you HAVE to get onto a bus, as there are no walking trails from here, only roads.
These buses are free and necessary. They will take you to all the main areas that you’ll want to walk through and see. It’s possible to walk up from lower to upper, from the Golden Whip Stream (See Wulingyuan National Park map) for instance, in about an hour. Or you can take one of the several cable cars (check if they are running when you get to the park.) You can also take the Bailong Elevator to go between the lower and upper levels of the park.
Two Days in Zhangjiajie – Itinerary
We spent two days in Zhangjiajie National Park. The first day was a Sunday and it was incredibly busy. Here’s the route that we followed on our first day marked on the map. You’ll see from the first map comparison that the bus journey to the first stop is quite long. There’s no walking trail alongside the road. Once you get to walking trails they’re mostly reasonably wide – apart from when you’re going up hills, or close to the attraction areas.
Of course, it also depends on how many people are in the park!
Zhangjiajie Park – Day One Itinerary
On our first day in Zhangjiajie National Park, we bought our tickets and got on the bus. There was a little confusion initially as there are multiple buses. Be sure to ask the attendants for the location that you’re looking for.
We headed straight away for the Bailong Elevator (this is sometimes called the Wulingyuan Elevator). It was on our list of places to visit in Zhangjiajie.
The Bailong Elevator
This monstrosity built on the side of the cliff costs 78 Yuan each to go up. We queued for about 40 minutes, in the rudest, most obnoxious queue we’ve found in China. I think my calves are still bruised from the child’s buggy being used as a weapon on the back of my legs to keep me moving.
The ride is short and you’ll want to get to the glass window side – if you want to see anything. The glass was scratched, so photos out of the window aren’t the best. If you don’t like heights, leave it alone, the elevator will be full and you’ll be uncomfortable.
Food in Zhangjiajie National Park
There’s a huge Mcdonald’s at the top (see map for location) if you’re in need of American-style sustenance. There are also lots of snacking places to eat, including, at the top of the Bailong Elevator and after the short bus ride – several restaurants. We couldn’t find anywhere that had English signs or that spoke English. On our trip, we didn’t see any other Western tourists at all. We ate snacks from various vendors.
Zhangjiajie is not a peaceful park
The park is beautiful. The mountains are ethereal, and the smog adds atmosphere, but the sheer number of people makes it less pleasurable. It was busy. Zoo like busy. Pushing, shoving, and none of the courtesy that we’d seen in Huanglong.
Perhaps as a result of the large number of people, everything feels like you’re rushing. The buses screech along at high speed, not slowing for pedestrians. They use their horn longer and louder rather than braking. Most of the tourists that we met were in large groups – so we got stuck rushing to get in front of them, or behind them. Or marooned in the middle.
Zhangjiajie is a shock to us because of the large number of tourists visiting. Remember the movie Avatar? This park is where the directors and designers got their inspiration for the floating mountains, so of course the mountain has renamed parts of it. There is now a Hallelujah Mountain and there are statues from the movie where you can get your photo. It also means that there are huge numbers of tourists and true to form we’re visiting on the weekend. In the summer. When there are more tourists than ever
Zhangjiajie – Day Two Itinerary
Our second day in the park was much quieter. It was a Monday and the crowds were much more manageable.
We took the bus to the Golden Whip Stream and hiked the loop around it – plus several offshoots. The hiking is easy, even in the heat of late summer, and it’s mostly out of the sun. Once you are about 20 minutes walk away from the bus stop the crowds just thinned out.
At the turnaround point – where the woods open up to the green area you’ll find lots of monkeys. And lots of monkey feeding. If this is your first foray into a Chinese National Park, you just need to get used to it. Despite the signs of don’t feed the animals, this appears to be a national pastime. As is the cheering outrage when a monkey gets cheeky and steals.
Map for Getting to Zhangjiajie National Park and Entrances.
You can see the full map for visiting Zhangjiahie here.
Leaving Zhangjiajie National Park
We exited the park and picked our bags up from the Tu Nui Hostel. The walk back to the Wulingyuan bus station where we were dropped off took us 10 minutes. From there we took the bus back to Zhangjiajie City, buses leave every 10-15 minutes.
There are buses that leave from various stations back in Zhangjiajie City, but we couldn’t find one to go to Guilin, our next destination, so we took a tortuous train journey via Changsha that involved spending most of the night at a station. Not, you understand, because there is anything wrong with the Chinese train services, but because we hadn’t booked ahead of time. If you need a reminder to book a train ahead of time, then here it is.
What happens when you don’t book a train ticket?
We booked our tickets on the day of travel, so we were lucky that there were any available at all. This involved a 7-hour train to Changsha. It would arrive just after 1 am and we would wait there until 4:30am for another 7-hour train to Guilin, we would arrive in Guilin just before noon. The only seats left available were “Hard Seat”, unless, of course, we wanted to buy “standing tickets”. Even the time in Changsha Railway Station was hard seat only. At least we had a seat in the station.
Book your train ticket now > Use Trip’s online facility – it’s seriously easy!
We spent the time in Changsha half lying on our backpacks slumped over two seats drifting off. There were 50 or so other folks doing the same thing, jolting awake each time there was an announcement, trains were departing every 15 minutes or so. No sleep was had.
And it was brutal. Not the station, the whole experience. Truly, really, brutal. Hot, sweaty, packed. The hard seat compartment has four seats on one side of the aisle and six on the other. Our seats weren’t together, but not by far, and we did better than most. Chinese folks are smaller than us, so sitting next to the little Chinese man gave me more space than sitting next to Nige. And the carriage was packed with standing ticket-only folks too. It’s friendly, people hold onto you when, nodding off to sleep it looks like you’re going to tip off the chair. But, it’s not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. Book your tickets ahead of time.
Now our next stop and final stop in China is Guilin.
Where to Stay in Zhangjiajie National Park
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China
If you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then our guides to these Chinese World Heritage sites will be useful
- How to Visit Huanglong National Park [the Yellowstone of China]
- Discover Xian’s Terracotta Army
- How to Visit The Great Wall of China – [Independent Public Transit Route]
- The Forbidden City of Beijing
- The Historic Center of Macau
- Jiuzhaigou National Park
- Huangshan National Park and Sacred Mountain
- Wulingyuan and the Zhangjiajie National Park
- The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
- Tiger Leaping Gorge
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Final Words on Visiting Zhangjiajie National Park
It’s quite a trek to get to Zhangjiajie on public transport, and you’ll need to plan ahead to get here if you plan on visiting Zhangjiajie National Park independently. You’ll also want to plan to stay close to the National Park Entrance to make your exploring easier. This is a magnificent, if vast, National Park in China and truly one of the highlights of coming to the country but we recommend avoiding the weekends and stay for more than 1 day.
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