Zhangjiajie, China

If you’ve watched the 2009 film ‘Avatar’ (you know, the one with the blue people) and marvelled at the spectacular otherworldly landscape of the alien planet then you’ll be interested to know that the landforms of Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan province were the inspiration (although the pillars here don’t float in mid-air!). If you haven’t seen the film then you just need to know that this is some of the most incredible scenery we’ve ever seen.

Tianmen mountain

The hotel where we stayed is just around the corner from the cable car station to Tianmen Mountain. This is not technically a part of the National Park but it does offer some stunning views.

Tianmen mountain cable car stationTianmen mountain cable car station

Tianmen mountain cable carThe Tianmen mountain cable car is the longest in the world covering almost 7.5km and taking about 30 minutes to reach the summit

Queueing for glass plank pathThere was a steadily moving queue of tourists waiting to walk along the 60m section of the cliffside path which is floored with glass

Us on the glass plank pathFeeling brave standing on glass with 1,500m of thin air below us

Red ribbonsVisitors tie red ribbons to trees to make a wish

View from Guigu cliffsFantastic views from the Guigu cliffs at the eastern side of Tianmen mountain

Dress-up on Tianmen mountainThere were lots of opportunities to dress in traditional costumes and have your photo taken with the view behind – for a fee obviously!

Cliffside path, Tianmen mountainMost of the cliffside path is made from concrete. Our minds boggled at the engineering feat required to get all the concrete up the mountain and attached to the sheer cliff face.

Suspension bridge on Tianmen mountainSuspension bridge across a ravine and, in the background, the building at Yunmeng fairy peak

View from Tianmen mountainThe view was just as beautiful from the western cliff and there were far fewer tourists on that section

Twisty road to Tianmen caveHalfway back down the mountain we got off at the middle cablecar station and got into a shuttle bus for the drive up the road of 99 hairpin bends to the Tianmen Cave

Steps to Tianmen CaveTianmen Cave is a huge opening through the mountain. We climbed the 999 steps to the top

Sculpture of Alain RobertThe mountain is famous for a number of stunts attempted by daredevils. French climber Alain Robert who scaled the inside of the cave without ropes is commemorated by this bronze sculpture and a plaque. Other crazy people have tightrope walked up the cableway lines and flown through the cave in wingsuits!

Zhangjiajie National Park

If you can pronounce ‘Zhangjiajie’ such that a Chinese person will understand where you mean you’re doing much better than us. Every time we tried to explain to people we met afterwards where we had been we couldn’t make them understand and just ended up telling them that it was in Hunan Province… The karst scenery reminded us of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam although the pillars here are of sandstone not limestone, plus they’re a long way from the sea!

Huangshizhai cable carOur first day in the national park started with another cable car ride. The line up to the Huangshizhai area is much shorter than the Tianmen mountain one, but runs between the sandstone karsts and is breathtakingly beautiful

Us in Huangshizhai cable carEnjoying the ride in the Huangshizhai cablecar

Sandstone columnsAnother couple in our hotel who’d already visited advised us to take the clockwise path around the mountain top as the views get better – surely they couldn’t get much better than this?

Monkeys stealing tourists' lunchThe monkeys in Zhangjiajie National Park have learnt that visitors often carry their picnic in a carrier bag and will ambush and try to steal the contents of any carrier bag that they spot

Pine tree clinging to sheer rock faceThe pine trees in Zhangjiajie are a variety of pinus massoniana and manage to grow in seemingly impossible places

Funky caterpillarWe spotted this caterpillar on a fence post, I think he was returning from an appointment with the hairdresser!

Photo printing stationMany of the viewing platforms were equipped with professional photographers who would take your family’s photograph in front of the scenery and supply an instant print or even a calendar

Panorama from HuangshizhaiThe views did indeed get even better the further we walked along the path

Andrew looking out at Five Finger PeakThe final viewpoint before descending by cable car again is at Five Finger Peak

Confucian aphorismsSigns around the park exhorting visitors not to smoke or litter read somewhat like Confucian aphorisms

Looking up at sandstone pillarAfter descending from Huangshizhai we took the path along the Golden Whip Stream which gave us neck aching views of some of the karsts from below

Monkey familyThere was a large group of monkeys along the trail. We stopped to watch their antics for about 20 minutes

Golden Whip Stream valleyThe sides of the Golden Whip Stream valley are dizzyingly high

Sedan chair carriersThere were lots of opportunities for sedan chair rides along the trail but it seems that there weren’t many customers as most of the carriers were asleep

Queue for Tianzi mountain cable carOn our second morning we made another early start but still had to wait for nearly 90 minutes in the queue for the Tianzi mountain cable car

Us with Imperial Writing Brush peaksThese karsts are called the ‘Imperial Writing Brush Peaks’ presumably because of their narrow, pointed form

Tomb of Marshal He LongLocal boy Marshal He Long was a military leader who supported Mao’s rise to power, he was named as one of the ‘Ten Marshals’ and is buried in this beautiful spot on the top of Tianzi mountain

Pine trees growing on the sandstone pillarA bird’s eye view of pine trees growing on the sandstone pillars

Yuanjiajie panoramaAfter a short bus ride we arrived at the Yuanjiajie area, one of the most heavily touristed areas in the park and for good reason

Natural rock bridgeIn this area there is a bridge of rock which formed naturally when the lower rocks fell away due to erosion and weathering

PadlocksThe mountain beyond the rock bridge has been designated as a lucky area to make a wish by attaching a padlock, the fence rails and even surrounding trees were covered with them

Perspective on scaleThis is one of my favourite pictures showing the scale of the park: there is a viewing platform holding about 20 people on top of the cliff to the right of the picture – can you spot it?

Club-shaped pillarThis club-shaped karst has been renamed ‘Avatar Hallelujah Mountain’ in honour of the floating mountains in the ‘Avatar’ film

Posing with an Avatar modelNaturally the viewing point in front of the ‘Avatar Hallelujah Mountain’ has a Mountain Banshee character model that you can pose with for a photograph!

Yuanjiajie panoramaOur final panoramic view of the Yuanjiajie trail

Bailong ElevatorWe arrived at Bailong Elevator just as it started to rain heavily which produced some atmospheric swirling clouds around it. The elevator itself is 330m high and attached to the side of the cliff. The walls of the elevator car are made of glass for vertiginous views as you descend!

Despite the high costs for park entrance fees and cable car tickets we thought that Zhangjiajie National Park was worth every penny. We had a tiring but unforgettable three days.

8 thoughts on “Zhangjiajie, China

  1. Keith

    Hi Guys

    Looks fantastic!!!!! The cliffside path is made from concrete Nooooooooooo thank you have acquired a height thing with age……

    Enjoy Keith

  2. Brian Doty

    Hey guys! These pictures and this write-up are absolutely incredible — I had seen a video of basejumpers jumping from the top of some unknown mountain in China with these unbelievable, breathtaking views several months back on some clip on an airplane, and had no idea where the place was. This is it! Thanks so much for documenting this — I’m definitely going to make this part of my trip too :-)

    1. Julie Post author

      This has a nice circularity to it as it was Claudia who first mentioned Zhangjiajie to us in Yakushima! It’s one of those places that the photos really don’t do justice to, it’s absolutely incredible. Andrew’s currently working on a post with some logistics type info on visiting the park so watch out for that. Enjoy!

  3. alessandro

    Hi Julie
    what a wonderfoul picture…….and what a trip!! may i ask you some help?

    i will have 2 days to spend there next august (i suppose very crowded period) .. arrinving at 10.00 1 day and then leaving in the evening the day after.
    i was thinking to stay in the hotel you used to can catch around 11.00 the cable car for Tianmen mountain , reach the peak of yunmeng and then go back down to tianmen cave
    the second day i am thikning to go to Huangshizhai and then in the evening to catch the train

    do you think it can be possibile? also considering the long cueues ? we could not start the trip on the first day before 11.00!!
    i also have to decide what to skip, if Tianzi side of the park or Huangshizhai

    thanks for your help

    1. Julie Post author

      Hi Alessandro,

      Apologies for the delay in my reply, we’ve been without internet for the last week or so.

      We also visited the park in August and it was busy but worth it! Tianmen mountain is definitely the best idea for your first day. There is likely to be a long queue for the cable car up the mountain but, assuming your train is on time, you should just about be able to see everything. On the second day I would recommend an early start from Zhangjiajie bus station (around 7am) to minimise the queues to Huangshizhai. I thought the scenery at Huangshizhai was more spectacular than the Tianzi side of the park and it also seemed less busy although maybe we were just lucky.

      For more detailed information on logistics, see our other post on Zhangjiajie:

      Enjoy your trip!


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