Zhangjiajie: A Majestic "Alien Planet" of Peaks

2022-11-15 16:13:00 Source:China Today Author:staff reporter MENG JIAXIN
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Zhangjiajie boasts a unique and magnificent peak forest, which in addition to aluring visitors with its beauty also inspired the floating landscape of alien world Pandora as seen in the sci-fi movie Avatar. 


An aerial view of the Bailong Elevator at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. 

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the first designated national forest park in China. Covering an area of 130 square kilometers, it lies in Wulingyuan, the core scenic area of Zhangjiajie city in central China’s Hunan Province, with a forest coverage of about 95 percent. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1992. In February 2004, this forest park was also included in the list of UNESCO Global Geoparks. 

Zhangjiajie features peculiar landforms formed by imposing peak forests of various patterns. Its luxuriant vegetation, steep slopes, deep valleys, and a warm and humid climate create an array of natural attractions. The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has six small scenic areas, among which Huangshizhai and Yuanjiajie are the most famous. 


Huangshizhai is one of the most famous scenic areas in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Its beauty is so striking that people have claimed, “If you haven’t been to Huangshizhai, you have never been to Zhangjiajie.”

Huangshizhai is a huge square mountain terrace with an area of 16.5 hectares at an altitude of 1,080 meters. The place is an ideal observation deck overlooking Wulingyuan. Climbing to this natural observation deck, tourists can see countless jagged and upright rocky peaks and pillars. If a sea of clouds rolls into the valley, the mountain scenery will become vague rapidly. The main attractions in Huangshizhai are the Golden Tortoise Rock, the South Heaven’s Gate, and the Star-Picking Platform.

Visitors can take a cable car straight to the top of the mountain, from which point they can see one of the most spectacular peaks in the scenic spot. In the midst of the boundless emerald green, the peak stretches up straight into the sky.

Apart from this magical masterpiece of nature, man-made architecture is also worth visiting. Huangshizhai has a famous architectural attraction called the “Six Wonder Pavilion,” which refers to Zhangjiajie’s peculiar mountains, water, clouds, rocks, plants, and rare animals. Standing on the pavilion, visitors can look out over the magnificent scenery of the peaks, and if tired of walking, they can enjoy a short rest here.

The Golden Tortoise Exploring the Sea, also known as the Golden Tortoise Rock, is a rock that resembles a turtle seen from a distance. When it is cloudy, the tortoise is hidden in a misty sea, hence the name Golden Tortoise.

South Heaven’s Gate lies in the southeast of Huangshizhai. It is a natural gate formed by an inclined rock and cliff. It looks like a gate leading into the “heavenly court.” There is a large stone on the right of the stone gate, about 20 meters high and shaped like a man. It is said that the stone is a deity guarding the heavenly gate.

A 100-meter ridge protrudes from the mountains in the east of Huangshizhai. At the highest point of the ridge is a lookout point composed of two sandstones stacked on top of each other. It was called the Star-Picking Platform and is an excellent place for stargazing at night. In addition to the above attractions, Huangshizhai presents an array of peculiar sandstone peaks and serves as an ideal place to watch the sunrise.

Tourists are walking across the glass skywalk on Panlong Cliff of Tianmen Mountain Scenic Area in Zhangjiajie on July 27, 2020.


Yuanjiajie is located in the north of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, with an area of about 1,200 hectares and an average altitude of 1,074 meters. Legend has it that after the failure of Huang Chao’s uprising in the late Tang Dynasty (618-907), a general surnamed Yuan who used to follow Huang Chao retreated to this place to elude enemy forces. General Yuan settled down and lived in seclusion in the mountains. He built a community here, and named it “Yuanjiajie,” which means a village of Yuan family in Chinese. Today, it is a core scenic area in Wulingyuan, and its main attractions include the Bailong Elevator, the World’s First Bridge, and the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.

The Bailong Elevator, or hundred dragons sky lift, is a 326-meter-tall sightseeing elevator built onto the side of a huge cliff. It is the world’s tallest outdoor lift, and consists of three double-deck lifts, each of which can transport around 50 people per trip, shortening the journey of climbing a 326-meter mountain to less than two minutes. The elevator has won three Guinness Book of World Records awards for being the tallest full-exposure outdoor elevator, the world’s tallest double-deck sightseeing elevator, and the world’s fastest passenger traffic elevator with the biggest carrying capacity. At the top of the elevator, visitors can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of Yuanjiajie’s landscape. The riding experience starts in a shaft, and then about half a minute later, takes visitors to amazing natural scenes when the elevator lifts above the shaft.

Stepping out of the Bailong Elevator, visitors find the observation deck on their left hand, and Yuanjiajie’s Backyard Garden comes into view. There are numerous peaks in different shapes, some resemble a piece of paper while others resemble pillars. Visitors can stroll along the 3.5-kilometers skywalk and enjoy the scenery along the way. The walk takes about 1.5 hours on foot to complete.

The World’s First Bridge is another iconic attraction of Yuanjiajie and is one of the “10 Wonders” of Zhangjiajie. It is a natural stone bridge stretching between two peaks that were originally one peak. The natural scene is a result of long-time weathering. The bridge is two meters wide, four meters thick, spanning a distance of more than 20 meters at a height of more than 300 meters, making it the world’s highest natural stone bridge. However, to take in its magnificence, it is better to view the bridge from a distance to enjoy the precipitous beauty as the bridge has been made a safe place to walk on thanks to its dense vegetation.

Another wonder in Yuanjiajie is the Souther Pillar of Heaven, now known as the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. The production team of Avatar spent four days in Zhangjiajie seeking after inspirations for movie settings, and as a result, a large number of scenic images from here were used to present the fictional world of Pandora. The Southern Pillar of Heaven is a peculiar peak shooting into the sky, with an altitude of 1,074 meters and a vertical height of about 150 meters. With lush vegetation on the top, the giant vertical peak stands on the ground so straight that it seems to be cut sharp by a knife. When there are clouds and mist around, it appears like a realistic version of the floating mountains in the Pandora planet as seen in Avatar.

A tranquil scene of the Baofeng Lake at Zhangjiajie after a snowfall.

The Golden Whip Brook

The Golden Whip Brook scenic spot is located in the east of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, named after the Golden Whip Rock. The Golden Whip Brook is in a deep winding canyon. The beautiful and tranquil scenery on both sides of the canyon makes it a perfect hiking route. Walking along the stream, tourists can enjoy the beauty of the canyon. The brook is 7.5 kilometers long and generally takes about 2.5 - to 3 hours to finish a trip along it. From time to time, cute little monkeys come out to greet visitors and beg for food.

Known by its whiplike shape, the Golden Whip Rock is typical of the thousands of strange peaks and rocks in Zhangjiajie. According to legend, China’s first emperor of the feudal dynasty Qin accidently had his weapon of a golden whip fall off in the mountains here, and the whip turned into a stone peak after landing on the ground. Towering on the mountain, its sharp edges glisten in the sun.

Visitors to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are always mesmerized by the magnificent peaks of different shapes and sizes. Marveling at nature’s magical work, they will find themselves exploring an alien world in reality.

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