We decided to visit the Zhangjiajie natural park in August, during low season in the course of our long trip in China. The temperatures were quite high and we do not recommend to do the same if you have the chance to plan for a different period of the year.
You should always check that you are not visiting in correspondence to a national Chinese holiday or you will end up walking around with hundreds of people pushing each other and taking selfies.
Expect always many people in the park, but this guide in 7 steps will put you in the condition to find yourself alone surrounded by magnificent nature.
Discover how to walk the Zhangjiajie park in China in 2 days avoiding the elevator, the cable Car and many tourists
Zhangjiajie natural park in China
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Reader alert: this is an intense hike and should be attempted only by people who are fit and able to walk for up to 6 hours and 15 miles. Not all the program has to be followed. To avoid the queues at the elevator and at the cable car, it is necessary some strength and you will have to walk your way up to the peaks through countless steps. We do not mean to discourage you, however, we prefer to warn you so that you are prepared and you will enjoy the day. Ready? Let’s go!
THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE PARK
The Zhangjiajie park is huge and, simplified, it has an area at the base of the pillars (numbers 1, 2 and 3 in the map below) and an area above them (numbers 4, 5, 6). You can get at the top of the mountain pillars either using the elevator, the cable car or on foot. And if you are reading here, I guess we know what is your favourite option!
The western names of the attractions are often traduced in different ways, try and stick to the Chinese names (pointing them on a map will make the trick) especially when you are asking for directions. In this post, we will use this picture I took inside the park.
I added some details to it, click on it to make it bigger and download it to show it to locals. Do not rely on paper maps that you can get in the park, we could not find one that was good enough to help us orientate.
PREPARATION – DAY 0
1. Start in Wulingyuan
From Zhangjiajie, we suggest to get a bus to Wulingyuan and plan to spend 2 nights there.
The bus station is North of the river and not too far from the entrance of the park. (see google maps)
Get 2 (you will understand soon why) accommodations (they will be cheap): the first not too far from the Wulingyuan bus station and walking distance from the ticket entrance, the second inside the park, anything that is above the elevator level will make it. You will thank us later.
We have been two of the first customers of the Xyuang Inn and really enjoyed it.
Head for a supermarket and refill with snacks for the day after. Have a light but substantial dinner, then set your alarm clock for 6 AM and go to bed early. Leave most of your belongings at the hotel in Wulingyuan and prepare a light backpack for your night out in the park.
ZHANGJIAJIE PARK – DAY 1
The park opens at 7 AM but the tickets (approximately 300 yuan valid for 4 days, excludes elevator, cable car and monorail ticket – 75, 60, 57 yuan one way) start getting sold at 6:30 AM. There will be many groups with tour guides and queues for the eco buses that will bring you to the different stops. The eco buses are included in your ticket price.
2. The Golden Circus
Get to the Wulingyuan entrance, buy the tickets (cash only if you do not have a China Union card but ATMs are available at the location), make your way to the bus that gets to the stop below the elevator (everyone will go down here and you will find yourself probably almost alone on the bus – that is what you want) and start walking from the top of the golden circus path towards the South Entrance. Soon you will find yourself alone while all the other tourists will stop taking selfies at the first attraction, the Camel.
3. The way to the top avoiding the elevator
Keep walking and you will come across 2 side paths, both on the right.
The first one has steps and it is by the side of a pagoda. Those are the stairs that will bring you at the top.
The second path is by the side of a refreshment point and after a bridge that crosses the river.
Continue on the golden circle until you start meeting the people that are coming from the South Entrance, that is a good signal to make your way back to the first set of stairs by the side of a pagoda. We do not recommend to do all the golden circus, as the best views are from the top.
Consider that you should not start the said stairs later than 10:30 to avoid the heat. It is a 50 minutes ramp that will make you surge at the top and leave you speechless in front of the peaks.
At the top, you will meet again some other tourists, but many will have moved on by now. Rest and keep exploring the area (no bus needed) until the time to get to your accommodation does not come. Use the eco buses to get there.
ZHANGJIAJIE PARK – DAY 2
Pick up your sore legs and brace yourself for the second day of walk in Zhangjiajie! Start by getting to the Grand Sightseeing Platform.
You will get there with a bus and then follow the side road with asphalt for 5 minutes.
4. The Grand Sightseeing platform as the access door to other attractions
The platform is a really small 3×3 square meters terrace on a turn on the main road.
Here you will have a clear and amazing view of all the pinnacles in the area and it is the access door to other attractions.
On the right from the terrace, the road goes down towards a bus deposit. This is for your reference only as you will go left from the terrace, there you will see an area with probably some Chinese vendors and stairs going down. Follow that path until the end of the stairs, you will end up in an area with a pagoda on your left.
4a. Left for 1 Dangerous Step and Cock Pecking
From there you have 2 options: go left towards 1 Dangerous Step and Cock Pecking, 5 minutes walk with amazing sceneries, or go right towards the Emperor’s throne (a longer walk that follows the path also beyond the Emperor’s throne).
Avoid the path through the Pagoda as it is a 15 miles path that will lead you towards Xiangdaloukou bus station on the way to the Helong park gate – yeah we walked a good 5 miles there…
4b. Right for the Emperor’s throne
We started from the Emperor’s throne, however, we would recommend getting some views and motivation first towards Cock Pecking and 1 Dangerous Step first as they are not more than 10 minutes away from where you are.
After seeing these attractions, you can decide if you want to embark in 45 minutes walk towards the Emperor’s throne (you can’t miss it, it is just after an area with a small market/eatery) or go back to the Grand Sightseeing platform.
To be honest, the Emperor’s throne is worth the hassle and probably you will be one of the few people there so that you will enjoy this dramatic view after walking on a small bridge and ending up in this terrace that shows a panorama in all its beauty.
We did not continue here and walked back to the bus station not far from the Grand Sightseeing platform to continue our journey towards Shentang Bay.
5. Shentang Bay
You can stop to Shentang Bay or the red path before, both are short 10 minutes hikes to fantastic and dramatic views of the peaks, our suggestion is to stop at the first, and walk back and forth on the path (red on the map).
If you still have energies, you can walk towards Shentang Bay (200 metres on the road) and after seeing the platform get the bus to go North to Helong Park – we recommend to keep some energies as your adventure is not finished yet.
6. Helong park
Once you get to Helong Park with a bus, you will find yourself in an area full of tourists with also a Mac Donalds that can be convenient to ask for directions if you find yourself lost.
See the big statue, walk your way towards the Cemetery and keep the pagoda as a reference, you need to get there. You’ll have to walk up 2 sets of stairs and follow the directions for the Bus Station towards the Cable Car (do not get on the bus though).
If you ask for the Mac Donalds, probably other tourists will put you on the right path. From there you can follow the road and get to the pagoda, make a circle around it and then go left at the fork following for the Moon Viewing Platform.
7. The way down
This is where it can become confusing. There are 2 paths, one that is shorter but gets closer to the entrance. One is longer and passes on the side of the monorail. We decided to walk the path of the monorail, with amazing views but also an endless number of steps.
If you had enough of the views, look for the shorter path that goes left at one of the markets on the way down (after an archery shop/competition). If you are still in for some ups and downs with stairs and dramatic scenery, then follow the longer path (this is what we did).
By the time we got down the stairs, my calves were burning. Probably the 8 Kilos that I had on my shoulders to carry the drone and photographic equipment did not help… We continued and arrived all the way down avoiding the monorail and that was the easiest path and frankly not worth the money they ask for, it is a nice stroll.
Once you get down, follow the path for the exit and queue for the bus to the Wulingyuan entrance. Get ready to run on the bus, that seems the favourite sport from Chinese people when the door of the bus open! We had to wait for 5 buses before boarding one.
Out of the Wulingyuan entrance, now make your way to the hotel and be happy to be so close to the hotel.
Be proud of yourself, you just walked the park in 2 days without using the elevator and the cable car!
This guide of the Zhangjiajie park should put you in the condition to avoid the multitude of people and get off the beaten path.
Is it worth it? Watch the video below from our drone Pietro and decide for yourself!