Wulingyuan Scenic Area is comprised several national parks, the most famous of which is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a 243 square mile park is full of stunning karst pillars of sandstone, covered with sub-tropical rainforest. The park is often covered in fog, adding to the mystery but obscuring views.
Wulingyuan covers 3 natural reserves, and contains over 500 tree species, including dawn redwood, believed extinct until it was re-identified in 1948. There are also giant salamanders, rhesus monkeys, and many bird types
There is extensive fog in the park at times, and summers are very humid. Temperatures vary greatly between early morning and late afternoon. In May, mornings can be a temperate 18°C but rapidly reaching 30°C by noon.
Wulingyuan is 155 miles northwest of Changsha. The best way to get in is to take transit from Zhangjiajie city. The closest domestic airport is Zhangjiajie Hehua Airport (IATA airport code DYG; formerly named Dayong Airport). A taxi from Zhangjiajie city to Wulingyuan entrance should cost about 100RMB. A 1 hour minibus (12 yuan as of Dec. 2013) goes from the main bus station in Zhangjiajie City to the village of Zhangjiajie Cun, at the entrance to the park. The bus will drop you off at the main bus station in Zhangjiajie Cun at which point you can either walk about 15 minutes to the entrance of the park, take a public bus for 1RMB or a taxi for 5RMB)
Please note the park has several entrances, the most common ones are Zhangjiajie, described above, and Wulingyuan (武陵源) Village, further to the northeast, near the BaoFeng Lake.
Wulingyuan village can be reached directly from Fenghuang with 2 buses a day at 8.30, 14.30. ¥90.
Warning: Be careful with the taxi drivers in the parking lot. They're probaby unwilling to use the meter. They may claim that your destination is very far and attempt to charge you a "parking lot fee". Call your hotel/hostel to find how much the trip should cost and ask them to speak with a taxi driver for you. It should cost only 20-40 RMB total for a trip from the airport to Zhangjiajie city.
As of May 2013, the only option available from the ticket office at the main entrance is the comprehensive ticket, which costs ¥245 (+¥3 insurance) and includes 3 day park pass, free rides on the internal bus system, and some sort of insurance. Students under 25 years with valid student ID (foreign also works if you show your passport) can buy student tickets for 160 (+¥3 insurance).
You can also get a discount ticket if your are 60 years old or older. You need your passport to prove your age.
7 days admission ticket is 298 yuan, and 193 yuan for students and elders.
There are two cable cars in the park, one near Zhangjiajie Cun that runs for half a mile up to the top of Huang Shi Zhai, and one a few miles to the east that goes near Suoxiyu Cun to access the summit of Tianzi Mountain another half mile to a road to the north. Many other roads go across the park, and many hiking trails go in between those.
There are 2 free bus routes in the park. One that essentailly services the valleys (big purple buses), and one that does the tops (smaller brown buses) to connect these 2 routes one must walk up the mountain, take a cable car, or the elevator.
Last buses are at 6pm.
On a large number of the popular paths, including ones that climb the mountains, you can pay to be taken in a sedan chair (carried) for all or sections of the path. There are signs in chinese with prices.
There are two main ticketing gates, one at Zhangjiajie (West side often also referred to as sēnlín gōngyuán) and one at Wulingyuan (East side). From each of those gates there are buses that take you up to the actual park entrance for free. There are official minibuses that can also transport you from one entrance to the other for 10RMB (30 minute ride). For example, if you are near the Wulingyuan entrance,
go to the main bus stop (汽车站 qìchē zhàn）
ask specifically for 张家界森林公园 Zhāngjiājiè sēnlín gōngyuán (often abbreviated to just sēnlín gōngyuán)
Note: Buses running between entrances and within the park are limited during the tourist low season. As of December 2013, the buses in and around the park stop running around 6pm.
Hiking The main highlight is following the many paths through the stunning sandstone landscape. It can be quite daunting at times, so the above mentioned cable cars help. The park is enormous and there is no way you can see it all, even in two days, so it's important to plan ahead and know which areas you want to visit. The signage in the park is not always adequate, so buy a map from a vendor in the village before you go in (some maps are in both Chinese and English). It's a good idea to use the free bus network within the park to get from one hiking area to another. Some highlights of hiking include the following natural landmarks:
Kongzhong Tianyuan. This garden sits on an outcropping surrounded by slender peaks edit
Xianren Qiao (Bridge of the Immortals). This spectacular, narrow rock bridge is over a deep chasm, with no railings. Access to the bridge is blocked by barbed wire, but some daredevils choose to walk over it anyway. There are several amazing look-out points you can walk to nearby, including Great Viewing Platform, Emperor's Throne, and Cock-Pecking. edit
First Bridge of the World (天下第一乔 - Tian Xia Di Yi Qiao). This is a natural rock bridge similar to Xianren Qiao, but with guard rails that make it much safer to walk across. The bridge itself is really just a minor part of the incredible panoramic views to be seen along this short and easy trail. The area surrounding this bridge is known informally as the Avatar mountains, and possibly the most touristed part of the park. Not to be missed. edit
Heavenly Pillar, (Near First Bridge of the World). Sold as Hallelujah Mountain from the Avatar movie. Part of the Avatar Mountainsedit
Tianzi Mountain. The highest area in the park at 3,450 feet can be reached by taking a cable car or one can climb up a 3,878 step stairway.¥67 one-way on the cable car. edit
Yupi Feng, (Tianzi mountain summit). These thin, spiky columns hundreds of feet high are featured on stamps and resemble calligraphy letters edit
10 Mile Natural Gallery. Contrary to the name this is 5.8km long walk up a valley with gentle gradient and good views. There is also monorail mini train that follows the path. Turning right past the end of the train leads you into the climb up Tianzi Mountain ¥62 one-way on the train. edit
Yaozizai (Yaozi Village). Unlike the other attraction points with nice scenery this area is much less crowded. You may hardly encounter a few people here for hours of hiking. This area can be reached from either ends of the Golden Whip Stream path. There is a also a turn to the Yaozizai area near Zicao Pool at the Golden Whip Stream path. The section of path from the natural flyover (Heavenly Bridge) to the 4 streams end of Golden Whip stream is apparently closed as of June 2014. edit
Golden Whip Stream (Jinbian Brook). This famous stream begins near the Zhangjiajie village park entrance and continues for several kilometres through the park. There is a walking path along the length of the stream, from where you can look up at the karsts all around you. At around the halfway point (200 meters before Zicao Pool) you will come to a restaurant/souvenir shop. At this point there is a bridge across the stream, which leads to a different trail (about 4.5 km) through the Shadao Gully. The second half of the Shadao Gully trail is a steep flight of steps, but it leads to one of the most beautiful areas of the park. At the top of the staircase is a road with frequent buses that can take you to the First Bridge of the World (to the right) or to Xianren Qiao (to the left) and many other places. There is also Zhongtian International Youth Hostel (Yuanjiajie) just 50 m to the right along the road (see Lodging below). If you continue along the Golden Whip Stream c. 200 m after Zicao Pool you will come to "Meeting of Thousands of Ways" attraction point. Here you can turn to another trail which eventually leads you to the following attraction points with great views: Back Garden, Enchanting Terrace, First Bridge of the World (see below). After another 2 km of walking the Goldern Whip Stream path ends by a bus station with souvenir shops and food outlets. From here you can take a bus to the lower stations of Bailong elevator (¥72 adult one-way), sightseeing mini-train, Tianzi Mountain cable car(¥67 adult one-way) and also to the Wulingyuan park entrance.edit
Sadao Gully, (One end is on Golden Whip Stream Path. There is also a track that connects the YHA to this path). A narrower more intimate version of Golden Whip Stream that sees almost no tourists. A great place to find some quiet walking. edit
Other attractions in the area (Wulinguan side), about a 10 yuan taxi-ride away (Negotiate with the driver) include:
Baofeng Hu (Lake), (Southern end of Baofeng road, can take the number 2 bus from the Wulingyuan Entrance ¥1). This pristine artificial lake has boat trips, additional hiking trails, and occasionally traditional performances of the Tujia minority which is native to the area. ¥98 (includes boat trip). edit
Huanglong Dong (Yellow Dragon Cave). The longest cave in Asia, lit up in technicolor the way only the chinese could manage. When you enter, you will walk about 10 minutes to a short boat ride through the cave's river that will take you to your landing point. You will then walk for about 1.5-2hours back to where you started. The walk is very safe, the steps are only a short depth rather than high and hard to climb. If it is raining, bring an umbrella or rain jacket as the water dripping into the cave will be much greater! ¥100 + ¥15 for Labyrinth section. edit
Other attractions in Zhangjiajie City:
Tianmen Mountain, (Cable car is located near the bus and train stations). 8am-6pm. The table top mountain 4,982 feet can be reached by taking the world's longest cable car (7,455m). The cable car runs from Zhangjiajie city over a few small hills to center station halfway up. You can not get of on the way up to the summit, but on the way down you get out here to catch a bus to the hole in the mountain. The infrastructure on the summit is excellent, there are cliff face walkways around the mountain (about 7km for a full loop of the top), including a section of 60m glass walkway, an elevator to take you from a tunnel connected to the cable car station to the Heavenly Peak Pavilion, a chairlift connecting the Tianmenshan temple with the Heavenly Peak Paviliion, and there is currently an escalator being built to take you from the mountain top to near the top of the hole in the mountain stairs. The views of the scenery are very good when clear. Signs and maps are in English. The hole in the mountain cave is accessed by bus on the way down. The bus arrives at a parking lot with eateries and what looks like a mall under construction, then there are about 999 steps to climb to make it to the cave itself. The park is closed one week in February for routine maintenance. ¥258 for return cablecar and bus to hole in the mountain. ¥5 for glass walkway. ¥25 for one-way on the summit chair lift. (June 2014). edit
Warning: The restaurants inside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park may present menus printed with ridiculous tourist prices (for example, 388 RMB = 55 USD for a whole chicken dish). However, you can try to bargain. After some heated insistence, we were able to get more than 50% off the menu prices. It's better to save your appetite (and money) for the string of restaurants located outside the park entrance.
McDonalds, (Tianzi Mountain Summit and Bridge of the world). For a truely cultural experience one can visit the golden arches with a large dine in restaurant on the Tianzi Mountain summit, or a small takeaway shop in the carpark for First bridge of the world.edit
A lot of food stalls in the park offer bowls of fried potato, tofu, corn, noodles etc at about double the price you would normally expect to pay (¥10 for a small bowl of fried potatoes)
In Zhangjiajie Cun lots of little restaurants have exotic wildlife on display in cages outside - which turn out to constitute the menu. You can have turtle, snake, toad and a huge variety of interesting and obscure fish and shellfish. Definitely interesting. It has been suggested some of these are endangered species, however.
In Wulingyuan town there are a large number of restaurants and streets stalls including Hunan BBQ (pick your skewers of meat and vege and they cook them for you)
Note that Wulingyuan is in Hunan province, a region known for its spicy cuisine.
There are hotels in both the main villages, Zhangjiajie Cun and Suoxiyu Cun, and there are simple inns throughout the reserve
Yuanjiajie Zhongtian International Youth Hostel (袁家界中天国际青年旅舍), Wangqiaotai, Yuanjiajie, inside of Zhangjiajie National Park, ☎ 0744-5903315, . Simple dorms (around 60 yuan), double rooms (130-150 yuan), with laundry facilities. Also serves good, inexpensive hot food. This hostel is inside the park, making it a great place to base yourself if you don't want to return to Zhangjiajie village to sleep, assuming you don't have much luggage. Be warned that the hostel isn't easy to find. It is on top of a mountain that requires (¥72 cable car ride about each way or a ¥15 bus ride and 2 hour climb up the mountain) It also takes at least 2-3 hours to reach the hostel from the nearest Zhangjiajie or Wulingyuan park entrances, and bus services run only from 7:30am to 7:00pm during high season and only until around 6pm during low season. The best way is to ask locals how to get to 望桥台 Wàngqiáotái. By foot, refer to the "Golden Whip Stream" subsection. By bus, take the park bus from Wulingyuan entrance for approximately 1 hour. There is a bus transfer area 20-30 minutes walking distance from the hostel. From there, walk 5 minutes to a minibus stop, which then stops directly in front of the hostel (again, ask for Wangqiaotai stop).edit
Railway Hotel (Tielu Binguan)- a budget hotel in Zhangjiajie village which can be booked online for 120 yuan for a double room.
Chinese-speaking touts offering rooms will meet visitors at the Zhangjiajie village bus station. You can probably get a cheap room for about 50 yuan for a double by following one of these guys.
Qin He Jin Jiang International Hotel, No. 1 Jundi Rd, ☎ +86 744 8188000. A "four star" hotel that has great customer service and decent rates. Rooms include shower and bath, large bed, large space for laying out items, chair and desk. Hotel offers laundry service, but it's expensive. However, there's a clothes line in the bathroom to wash and hang clothes yourself. Free breakfast coupons for the coffee shop, which is actually a western and Chinese buffet that makes omelets and also has kim chi. *English speaking is not common here.* The tourist information room is very helpful and they can arrange a guide and driver, for about ¥200/day (US$34 May 2013). If you call the hotel prior to arrival, a complimentary driver from the hotel will pick you up from DYG. edit
Wulingyuan Zhongtian International Youth Hostel (武陵源青年旅舍), Baofeng Road, Wulingyuan District, Zhangjiajie,Huna, ☎ 0744-5628339, . basic hostel close to the wulingyuan entrance at an affordable rate. Take a taxi for 10RMB from the wulingyuan entrance or the number 1 or 2 bus from the entrance for about 5-10 minutes to cài shìchǎng (vegetable market) then walk another 7 minutes past the market, over a bridge and up Baofeng road). Dorm 45RMBedit