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Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrIncluded in the spectacular Wulingyuan Scenic Area near the city of Zhangjiajie in China, the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the first area to be protected as a national park within the country. Famed for its sandstone karst pillars stretching skywards which are draped in sub-tropical rainforest, the park was initially founded as a state-run tree farm in 1958 before being officially protected in 1982. Extending across around 50 square miles, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was also recognized as part of the Wulingyuan UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and is a great place to go trekking away from the bustle of China's cities.
GeologyThe park’s famous sandstone pillars are the result of thousands of years of erosion by water draining through crevices. This water becomes acidic when it comes in contact with the carbon dioxide in the surrounding soil and atmosphere. Over time, this water drains through the fractures in the rock, gradually dissolving it away into the unique and iconic karst landscape seen today in Zhangjiajie. This process is further assisted by the expansion of ice within the crevices over Zhiangjiajie's chilly winter months, creating ever-wider spaces between the karst pillars.
One of the park’s most famous sandstone pillars is the 1,080-meter tall Southern Sky Column. It was recently renamed ‘Avatar Hallelujah Mountain’ as it is believed that it inspired the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the movie, Avatar. Tianzi Mountain, also known as ‘Heaven Son Peak’, is the park’s highest mountain and from its peak you get a fantastic view over the clouds which hover below.
Forest MicroclimateOne of Zhangjiajie’s most notable features is the unique forest microclimate which is exhibited in the region, being naturally cool in summer and warm in winter under the forest canopy. The result is a diverse array of both flora and fauna which have adapted to these conditions, including dawn redwood, maidenhair trees, Chinese yews, dove trees, and Chinese tulip trees. Whilst exploring the beautiful forests of Zhangjiajie you may also have the opportunity to spot giant salamanders, rhesus monkeys, and a huge array of birds which comprise its faunal residents.
Visiting ZhangjiajieZhangjiajie National Forest Park offers a network of trails which traverse the region, allowing you to explore the natural vegetation and impressive karst features, while spotting wildlife along the way. There is everything from short strolls to full day hikes to suit all trekking experience levels, and the further you venture from the cable car stations or bus stops, the fewer crowds you will encounter, offering a greater appreciation of this natural wonder. Some of the major highlights which should not be missed include braving the precarious 'First Bridge of the World' and 'Bridge of the Immortals', as well as walking along the picturesque 'Golden Whip Stream'.
The park is extensive and has been divided into five scenic areas - Huangshizhai, Golden Whip Stream, Yaozizhai, Yuanjiajie, and Yangjiajie – which all offer their own, unique highlights. While most of the trails are well signposted, maps are available from the nearby village, and there are public transport options to get you in and out from your start/end point. It is best to decide on one area to explore in depth each day, allowing you the time to access some of the park's less explored areas.
One of the best ways to get from A to B within the park is by using one of the two cable cars on offer. One is near Zhangjiajie Cun and extends around one kilometer to the top of Huang Shi Zhai Mountain, and another to the east which travels to Suoxiyu Cun for those who would like to visit the summit of Tianzi Mountain. There is also a third cable car added in Yangjiajie. Alternatively, two free buses ply the park, with purple buses transporting visitors throughout the valley and small, brown buses traveling the more difficult roads up the mountains. If you happen to get weary on the trails, some of the more popular routes also have men offering sedan chairs which allow you to be carried like a king (or queen) through this stunning landscape!
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has a museum within its boundaries which details the geology of the park, the fauna and flora it houses, as well as the ethnic culture which is indigenous to the region. There are also displays of Chinese landscape painting depicting the forest park, which has been a popular subject for artists since ancient times.
When to VisitThe forest park is open year round (except for one week in February when routine maintenance is conducted) but it is best to avoid the peak winter months of December through to February when temperatures plummet and there is often snow cover. The roads can be very slippery during this period and frost is common. The peak tourist period is during China’s holiday months of July and August when domestic tourists descend, as well as Labor Day (May 1-3) and National Day (October 1-7). If you want to enjoy the park without the crowds and be able to easily access the cable cars, then avoid visiting during these periods. April through to June sees more rain and high humidity which result in a heavy fog layered over the mountains and a mysterious atmosphere, while September and October see cooler temperatures and fewer other visitors.
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Author: Pip Strickland. Last updated: Apr 29, 2015