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Visiting Zhangjiajie National Forest Park; The Avatar Mountains of China

If you’ve ever seen the Avatar Movie, you’ll remember the Avatar mountains. Did you know that they’re (almost) a real thing? James Cameroon visited China in his youth and was inspired by the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, this ultimately gave birth to those floating Avatar mountains in the movie!

Well, after my trip to Tibet was cancelled, I made it my mission to go and check out Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, and see the Avatar mountains myself. And it was such a good decision, just SPECTACULAR!

But outside of China, the Zhangjiajie National Park isn’t that well known. I hope my blog post can help inspire you to go and check it out. So let’s have a look at how to visit:

What is the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park??

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site (Strictly speaking, the World Heritage site is Wulingyuan, of which Zhangjiajie is a part of). It’s a 200+ square mile national park full of karst pillars of sandstone. The pillars often appear to be floating due to the low cloud cover that flows in.

It was made famous by James Cameroon admitting taking inspiration from it for Avatar AND also that crazy youtube clip of wing-suit flyers zipping through a circular gap in the mountains. Madness.

Where is the Zhangjiajie National Park?

It’s right slap bang in the center of China. From Shanghai, as you see in the google map below, it’s about 1300km inland.

How Do You Get to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park??

The easiest way to get to Zhangjiajie is the recently renamed Zhangjiajie Hehua Airport, just 40km away (formerly Dayong Airport).

You can base yourself in Zhangjiajie town and early in the morning hop on the bus or taxi for an hour to reach the national park entrance.

You can also get there, from the rest of China, via Guilin, Changsa or Chengdu. If you’re taking trains, head to Changsa, Guangzhou or Kunming and from there they have local trains to Zhangjiajie.

NOTE: There are LOTS of park entrances, you want the ‘Zhangjiajie park entrance’.

Is it really the inspiration behind the Avatar mountains?

Yup, really. And actually the photo below, Heavenly Pillar, is THE actual inspiration! He filmed the mountains there. And the Chinese Government is delighted, the tourists are FLOCKING there now!

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Entrance Ticket Price:

It used to be cheap, but since it became famous, they only allow a purchase of a 4 day ticket. Which isn’t cool, because 1 day is probably enough.

¥248 ($39) for a high season pass & ¥145 for a low season ($25). The prices do cover all the internal buses though, which is great.

There are various trams, elevators, and cable cars spread through the huge park, each charging between 40-70RMB ($6-$14 to use).

How Best to Experience the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park:

It’s huge, so plan ahead! Or just use my blog post. First of all, unless you’re a hardcore Chinese national park lover, one full day, or 2 normal days is enough.

The park can be broken down into 2 levels – upper and lower. And each level has a lot of different hot-spots, a bus can take you from a to b.

If you want to move between the 2 levels, that is also possible. Either hike it (an hour or so of STEEP climbing), or take one of the 3 cable cars ($13 a pop).

When you arrive, get a map from the ticket office and choose the route and view points you want to reach. Personally, I would start on the lower, take a few bus stops in ,then hike to the higher and do the same. Then pay for the cable car down. Done!

Here is the best map online for the park.

zhangjiajie cable car

How About A Tour Guide?

If I got back, I’ll get a guide. It’s massive and confusing. They’re not available at the park entrance, but ask around in Zhangjiajie town and you can find them. The only issue is most people don’t speak English. Eeek.

Or you can book with Get Your Guide – not cheap at $300 BUT an amazing day out. A private tour and every main sight seen.

Or a cheaper day tour at $145 is even better!

Zhangjiajie elevator

Visiting the Avatar Mountains; My experience at the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Feet throbbing, calves burning, and hamstrings tighter than ever before but very, very satisfied with a great day backpacking. Today, and yesterday for that matter, I walked about 10km around Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan Province, China, otherwise known as the ‘Avatar Mountains’ and it is spectacular.

This was my 3rd UNESCO site in China that week so I’m feeling pretty lucky to be honest although the pain I’m currently in from all that hiking is perhaps my payment instead. This one though, you have to earn it. Not easy to get to the area of China, and then A LOT of hiking when you’re there. No pain no gain, right?

Guilin to Zhangjiajie

We arrived from Guilin on the night train, then found a dingy cheap hotel near to the park. From there we set off super early in the morning and we were the first people in the park, so we had the whole place to ourselves. I’d massively recommend you guys do the same, especially if it’s summer high season, since Avatar was launched this place has gone mad. So mornings are your best shot.

2 days was enough

The area is absolutely HUGE, and people spend days and days coming back. For me, with my low attention span, we came for two days. Solid hiking every day. We decided to ignore the cable cars as much as we could and hike everywhere, super difficult but an amazing experience. Don’t try to ‘do it’ in a day, there is simply too many awesome things to see and do, it’s honestly one of the best places I’ve ever visited, so two days as an absolute minimum in my opinion.

Avatar Hallelujah Mountains

Since the humongous success of the Avatar movie, the park has been renamed the ‘Avatar Hallelujah Mountains’ and the tacky Chinese gift stores are rammed full of avatar merchandise. They’ve even commissioned a replica of one of the dragon/bird creatures who appear to have crashed into the cliff.

And due to everyone not being physically fit enough to clamber amongst the gorgeous mountains, you can pay twenty bucks and be carried around the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, madness but true, check it out.

If you go for 2 days, which I’d recommend, you really have to be careful about selecting your route or you’ll spend all day backtracking, or worse – getting lost. Maps are available outside for 5RMB ($0.80) and ask advice about routes from your English-speaking accommodation.

Bring snacks AND WATER!

Bring some snacks and enough water for lunch because sometimes it’s tough to find places to buy (reasonably priced) food. And you could be hours deep into a trek when hunger strikes. I’m not one for carrying a bag full of stuff on my day trips, but this is one exception, oh and leave the flip-flops at home. This place needs proper footwear. Sneakers are fine, hiking boots would be a winner, but I never travel with those personally.

Also, make sure you’re leaving the park by 6pm when the park’s buses stop.

World’s First Natural Bridge

Oh, and if you’re stuck about which place to see then the World’s First Natural Bridge (its official name) has the coolest scenery of all. So don’t miss out on that, this is it below. Breathtaking!

Where should I sleep at Zhangjiajie?

That’s a question which no blog or guidebook really answers well so let me clear it up.

You want to sleep in Zhangjiajie village ideally (known as Wuling Yuan), unless budget isn’t an issue then Zhangjiajie city is fine, but it’s quite far from the park. Also, you can stay in the park but it’s quite expensive and you don’t have any options to explore the town or choose different places to eat.

In WulingYuan, there are lots of places to stay including a couple of affiliated YHA members which charge only 45RMB ($7) per bed.

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20 thoughts on “Visiting Zhangjiajie National Forest Park; The Avatar Mountains of China

  1. Pingback: Visiting Zhangjiajie National Forest Park; The Avatar Mountains of China - One Step 4Ward - Newz Ai
  2. Pingback: 阿凡达山,中国-张家界国家公园|一步到位4Ward-数字游民指南
  3. I was attracted by your awesome pics four year ago and I had an opportunity to visit the park last week. Just come back here to leave a comment. Thank you.

  4. HAI,please inform your intenry inc yoyur hostel and also cost
    so far I know
    Often called Zhangjiajie, this 243-squaremile(391-sq-km) scenic preserve is a karst landscape of enormous beauty,with rocky pinnacles rising from a coverlet of dense sub-tropical vegetation.
    Wulingyuan covers three natural reserves
    – Zhangjiajie,
    – Tianzi Shan
    – Suoxi Yu (dekat kota Wu LingYuan) –World Natural Heritage-World Geopark-The First National Forest Park of China.
    and contains well over 500 species of tree, including the dawn redwood It is also a haven for fauna, including giant salamanders,rhesus monkeys, and a wide variety of birds.The park is often cloaked in fog, adding atmosphere but obscuring most views. Summers are excessively humid.

    1.Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
    – Huangshizhai
    -Golden whip stream
    -Yuanjiajie – Xianrenqiao (dekat kota Wu LingYuan)
    – Yuanjiajie – Kongzhongtianyuan
    2.Tianzi Mountain(Tianzishan)
    – Tianzishan-Yubifeng
    low Dragon Cave)
    4.Baofenghu(Baofeng Lake) dekat kota Wu LingYuan
    5.Folk Custom Grand Theatre(Zhangjiajie Western Charm Grand Theatre)
    how to arrange the accomodation? leave in one place ZJJ orTainMenshan or Wu LIngshan et

  5. Zhangjiajie is really beautiful! I did enjoy my trip there in this April and had impressive trip when exploring the Tianmen cave, glass sky walk, Bailong Elevator and of course including the famous Avatar Hallelujah Mountain!

  6. Thanks so much for this! I’m planning a trip to Zhangjiajie this June and I was definitely wondering whether I should stay in the village or the park. I happened on your blog a few days ago and it wasn’t until I was trip planning today that I realized you might have hiked Zhangjiajie. Thanks for the info! Now I can go book a hostel without worrying.

  7. We just spent 3 days in the park and absolutely loved it! So gorgeous! We also took a day to spend at Tianmenshan — did you go to that one when you were in the area? Visibility was terrible the day we went but it was still pretty cool!

  8. Hi Johnny! The first time I learned about this place was probably a year ago and I’ve always found it so hard to spell its name. But the last time I went to China I only did Xingping, Guilin and Guangzhou. I haven’t looked up on anything about Zhangjiajie since then…until today when I did a random research on interesting places in China. So glad to find your blog and thanks for the tips (especially on the map).

  9. No doubt how wonderful the movie Avatar is. How i wish I could visit there too. Can’t imagine being there. Hanging in those cliffs are amazing. It’s a good spot to be a subject of one of my painting.

  10. Hello Jo!

    Its always great reading your blogs…but I have a request… can you please post an article about kinda stuff you do other than visiting such places..I mean someone is out for vagabonging and got stuck at a place because of short of money, then what are the options of Jobs, what you do for your living…share your work experience at Thailand and at English teaching Korean camp….

    I am sure enough that your fanclub will be luck to know about –

    1. Have you faced issues with visa..if yes how you made it. Tips for visa interviews. (Its hard for Indians to get tourist visa for USA)

    2. Sharing list of NGOs or places where you can volunteer and work at the same time.

    3. Any experience where you came up with a thought of tearing and throwing away your return ticket.

    4. Tips on Any work, Anywhere.

    I will be really glad to know about all this please…:)

    Thanks and Regards!
    Kshitij Sharma

  11. This place looks absolutely amazing. My boyfriend and I are currently planning a 2 year backpacking trip through Europe and Asia (also hoping to run a travel site that’s in the process of being put together – and your website has been incredibly helpful in our planning process. We are hoping to spend around 6 weeks in China so if you have any recommendations of interesting off the beaten track places please let me know!

  12. It is the first time I hear about this park. What a great place!!! You are hitting some amazing places in China.

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