Huashan National Park
The 2,154-meter-tall mountain, true to its reputation as the "most precipitous mountain under heaven", is a cluster of five peaks with breathtaking cliff faces and a tough challenge to walkers. Hua is popularly known by tourists as the "Most Dangerous Hiking Trail in the World" because even though the climb does not require any technical climbing skills, the trail contains a few steep ascents with cliff-like staircases and two optional via ferratas. The biggest danger to safety is often due to overcrowding in the Summer months. Hua was historically the location of several influential Taoist monasteries, and was known as a center for the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts. It is also one of the five holy Taoist mountains of China.
Huashan Village at the base of the park is a small city more than it is a village. The park lies immediately south of town. Peaks and important points of access are mostly named with cardinal directions:
East Gate: the new visitor's center and ticket office are located here. The East Gate provides access to the North Cable Car. The North Cable Car goes to North Peak. A trail called the "Soldier's Path" also ascends North Peak beneath the North Cable Car.
Yuquan Yuan (Jade Spring Temple): this is the start of the hiking trail to the top of North Peak. Yuquan Yuan is located at the south edge of Huashan Village. There is a ticket office here but no visitor's center.
The West Cable Car ascends West Peak from the west side of the park.
There are now two train stations that serve the town of Huashan. Huashan North (bei) is served by high speed trains while Huashan Station is served by regular trains. From Xi'an, frequent (16 x day) high speed trains leave Xi'an North station and arrive at Huashan North station (30-45 minutes, ￥34-54). Very frequent (every 20-30 minutes) regular trains depart from Xi'an station and arrive at Huashan station (1.5-2 hours, ￥19).
From Huashan North station, you have two options to get to the mountain. If you want to take a cable car to the top of the mountain, take the free green minibus to the new East Gate visitors center/ticket office south of the big roundabout. If you want to hike to the top of the mountain, take a taxi (~￥25) to the Yuquan Yuan (Jade Spring Temple) where there's another ticket office for walkers.
From Huashan Station, take a taxi to the East Gate visitors center (~￥10-15) to take a cable car, or to the Yuquan Yuan (~￥15-20) if you're planning on hiking. Alternatively, take the public bus (￥3) to Yuquan Yuan. Note that the metered taxi fare between Huashan Station and Yuquan Yuan is about ￥15, but most taxi drivers won't use the meter and will insist on ￥20 (December 2015).
From Xi'an: Tourist bus 1 leaves from the east side of Xi'an station (￥22 [May 2014], 2 hours). Buses leave regularly during daylight hours. During peak season there are buses starting at 6am. Look for a sign saying 华山 (Huashan). If you not sure then just ask the other buses and they will direct you. The bus will drop you off at new visitor's center (East Gate, access to North Cable Car). Other private buses range between ￥30 to ￥50 and may end up in Huashan Town (within walking distance of Yuquan Yuan and the start of the hiking trail). Beware scam buses that try to charge 10x as much.
Buses also leave from the Xi'an East Bus Station (Zhong Tong) for ￥35. More importantly, the last buses from Huashan to Xi'an in the evening arrive here rather than the train station. This is the last station on the Xi'an subway line 1 and can be used to get back to the central city (￥3 to Bell Tower). Apparently bus 42 will take you back to the train station (needs confirmation).
Be aware if these are independent private companies or just two guys with a bus. They don't operate on a schedule, but will leave when full of passengers. So for the quickest departure, find a bus already mostly full of people, since if you choose an empty bus you could be sitting in the parking lot a while.
Fees and Permits
Park entrance fee: mandatory for all visitors
Busy season (1 March to 30 November): ¥180, or ¥90 with student card. (Note: it is worth trying any foreign ID card in lieu of a student card as the attendant likely won't check it too closely.)
Off season (1 December to 28 February): ¥100, or ¥50 with student card.
North peak cable car: ￥80 yuan one way.
West peak cable car: ￥140 one way (lasts 20 minutes). With a student ID card it is 10% cheaper.
North cable car station: shuttle bus from East Gate visitors center, ¥20 one way.
West cable car station: shuttle bus from East Gate visitors center, ¥40 one way.
There are four routes to the top of Huashan Park: 1) Hike to the top from the West Gate, 2) Hike to the top along the Soldier's Path, 3) take the North cable car, and 4) take the West cable car. You can use any combination of these methods to get to the top of the park and back down to the village.
1) Climb North Peak from the West Gate. This is the most common hiking path to the summit. Plan for 2-5 hours depending on fitness (approximately 6 km with 1100 m vertical of stairs) to reach the North Peak. There will be plenty of shops by the side of the path selling food and drinks for you to replenish your energy, but the prices are very inflated so it's better to stock up in town. To access the start of the trail from Yuquan Yuan (Jade Spring Temple), walk uphill either through or around the temple to the road behind the temple, and follow it about ten minutes to the West Gate ticket office to purchase your tickets. Don't worry about getting lost, it's very intuitive. If you're climbing at night, you can only purchase tickets from this gate, so don't bother visiting the East Gate visitor's center first.
2) Climb North Peak via the Soldier's Path: Take the shuttle from the East Gate visitor's center to the North cable car station. It's the more difficult but faster of the two hiking routes. This takes an estimated 2 hours, and is nothing but steps. It also contains one section with optional ~80 degree steps. The steepest steps on the mountain (approaching 90 degrees) are also here, though now chained off in favour of a far more forgiving route.
3) Cable car to North Peak: See above for cable car and shuttle prices. From the East Gate visitor's center, take a shuttle to the cable car station and ride up in mere minutes. Be warned - the line to enter the North Peak cable car can last over two hours (weekends, public holidays) - so try to arrive early. Thankfully, line cutting is surprisingly rare, and most of the line is blocked from the sun and with water misting, so sans boredom, it's still fairly comfortable even in summer.
4) Cable car to west peak: See above for cable car and shuttle prices. From the East Gate visitor's center, take a shuttle to the West cable car station; the cable car ride will take twenty minutes.
The first three routes meet up again just below the North Peak summit. From this meeting area there is initially only one route to the other peaks, a steep trail of stairs leading across such features as the "Heavenly Steps", "Sun and Moon Cliff" and "Black Dragon Mountain," and ending at Gold Lock Pass, which is identifiable by the mounds of gold padlocks and red ribbons framing the path. The route is no more than a meter wide at places. Walking from North Peak to Gold Lock Pass takes 1-2 hours.
Just past Gold Lock Pass the route branches. Different paths lead towards the East, South, Center and West Peaks, as well as other points of interest like the Chess Pavilion (between East and South peaks) and the Plank Road (below South Peak). As most of the elevation gain is done, the final ascent to each of the peaks is not too severe. You likely only have time to climb one or walk a circuit.
A golden lock at the golden lock temple and add it to the iron railings as a prayer for your family. Couples also often buy locks and inscribe their names on them as a symbol of everlasting love. While people symbolically place their locks at the golden lock pass, many choose to randomly place them on railings by the side.
A gold or bronze medal that you can inscribe with your name to commemorate your ascent of the mountain.
Biang Biang Mian (Noodles) Special Shaanxi noodles available on the mountain. The character for biang is a special character with 57 strokes only used in Shaanxi Province. Small shops also sell typical snacks and drinks.
It is also advisable to bring your own snacks or food. For example, a bowl of instant noodles at North Peak is ¥17 as of Dec 2012 and a Snickers in a caffee near to the peak is ¥18, about four times more expensive than back in town, and despite being located right by the cable cars.
In winter the restaurants close early due to low volume. If you arrive at dinnertime it is not uncommon for restaurants to be closed or to only have instant noodles. Cooking can also be difficult for the staff due to frozen water pipes.
Be sure to bring enough water for your hike. You may need to buy water on the mountain which will cost you about 5 Yuan (up to ¥10 when furthest up on the mountain). If you buy the water before coming the price should be about ¥1.5. Most people will drink Red Bull from small golden cans. This Red Bull is not carbonated and is a little more watery than those available in the United States.
Cheap, comfortable hotels (private rooms with en suite bathrooms and hot water) in Huashan Village can be found on the usual hotel and hostel websites for half the price of a hostel in Xian or on the mountain. The hotels are within mere meters of the Yuquan Yuan temple and the start of the traditional hike up North Peak. Staying at such a hotel before and after your trip into the park makes for a relaxed day without worrying about first and last trains to wherever.
Most of the peaks have guesthouses where you can sleep in communal rooms of about 4 to 10 people. The price should be around ¥60 to ¥120. Non-communal rooms start at around ¥200 a night.
Note that the guest houses are not heated, and they can be brutally cold during the winter. It is possible that the provided sheets and thin mattresses will not be enough, so dress warm and/or bring a sleeping bag and insulation for your head, where the most heat is lost. Restrooms are also located outside, so any breaks will require a short walk outside in the cold.
There are no shower facilities or running water in the guesthouses. Bring moist towelettes, sanitation gel, or simply a small towel to douse with drinking water if you want to wash your hands or face.
For a more authentic experience, sleep by the edge of the cliff at East Peak. The ground slopes upwards towards the edge, thus it is relatively safe to sleep near the edge even though there are no railings. Alternatively, huddle up closer to the metal posts away from the edge of the cliff if you would like a safer place to sleep. Prepare enough warm clothes as the temperature drops close to zero at East Peak, with the wind chill.
The guest houses do not have WiFi internet access in their rooms. China Unicom has full HSDPA signal at all the peaks so it is advisable to have a phone that can tether if you want to access the internet from your computer. As with everywhere in China, data speeds can vary tremendously regardless of signal strength.
In Huashan village, minibuses leave from the intersection of Yuquan Lu and Xitong Gonglu, as well as the East Gate that gives access to the cable car station, on a frequent basis. Although some guides say they stop at 7:00, unlicensed transportation continues. In a worst-case scenario a rickety village taxi could surely be persuaded to make the trip back to Xi'an for ¥300-500.
Bus 608 (¥3) runs between the train station (not the north station) and the big roundabout just outside the new big Huashan visitor center (big glass building). There is no sign that signals it is a bus stop but the pink buses seem to run quite frequently so if one failure to flag it down the next will be around soon.
The last train from Huashan Station to Xian leaves at 23:26. You will need to take a taxi from the mountain to the train station. It costs ¥20-40 depending on your bargining skills. You can get a full set of informations from the "China Trains" smartphone app or chinatrains.com
Huashan guide for the poor and fit
Huashan can unexpectedly become a very expensive trip, up to ¥500 for just a day trip. This short guide will help you limit your costs to under 200Yuan
From Xian take the first bus to Huashan. During peak season there are buses starting at 6am. Go to the east side of the train station and look for a sign saying 华山 (Huashan). If you not sure then just ask the other buses and they will direct you. Aim to catch the 6am bus and don’t be later than 7am. You want as much time as possible on the mountain.
The Bus takes 2 hours and you will arrive in Huashan town. From here walk straight ahead up the slope to the temple. After a 10min walk through the temple you will arrive at the ticket office.
The walk up Huashan is spectacular. The lack of crowds, combined with the beautiful nature, old temples and views makes one of the best parts of the walk. A fit 24year old male can quickly walk this section to the North Peak in 2 hours. The guide says 5 hours.
As you reach the North Peak you will be reunited with Chinese masses (who have taken a cable car) and corresponding noises. From the North Peak walk towards the South Peak, it is well signposted, but slow, as you're constantly waiting for people to crawl up the hill.
The path splits and you have a number of options - you can head straight for the "Plank Road in the Sky", rent your harness gear (¥30) and leave your bag with the attendants, before returning and then continuing to the South Peak, or you can take the other route and do the South Peak first. With the harness it is very safe, but be careful not to drop your phone/camera.
If you have time you should walk back to the North Peak via the East and Central Peaks. If you are low on time you can go directly back towards the North Peak and walk down, (last bus leaves at 7pm). If you are REALLY low on time you need to take one of the expensive cablecars down - the new west cablecar is closest to the South Peak and Plank Road in the Sky, but it also the most expensive (¥140 + ¥40 shuttle bus to a car park/restaurant area, + ¥30 taxi back to Huashan train station). The North cablecar is a cheaper option, (¥80 cablecar + ¥20 bus) to Huashan.
On your walk back down you should take a refreshing dip in one of the spring pools along the route.
If your swim takes too long, or you end up walking slowly due to knee problems causing you to miss your bus then it is no problem. There are trains until 11pm from Huashan to Xian. You will need to take a taxi (about ¥30) to the train station and then take the train (¥20 for the slow train ~1hr30mins).
Watch out for scams, especially if you are planning to climb the mountain overnight to watch sunrise at the East Peak. The only transportation available then are cabs. There will also be unofficial "cabs" (basically normal cars operated by locals) called hei che (black cars) parked near the train station. Drivers will approach you offering to bring you to the entrance for a price of around ¥30. On the way, if it has rained recently, they will claim that there was been a slight erosion which has caused a blockage of the paths and thus closure of the entrances. To make the story sound more convincing, some may even pretend to call their "brother" or "friend" on the mountain who will then speak to you to confirm that the roads have been closed. If the weather is good, the driver will claim that the roads are under maintenance. Knowing that you would need a visual confirmation to be fully convinced, the driver will then take you to the East Gate, which is always closed at night. At that crucial moment where you are thinking to yourself that your plans have been spoilt, he will recommend that you stay in a hotel before attempting the climb the next morning, and very conveniently, there will be an "affordable" hotel right next to the entrance, which he will point out. If he succeeds in getting you to fork out money to stay the night, he will earn a commission.