The Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar were inspired by Heavenly Pillar in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. That is why most of the westerners call them as Avatar Mountains instead of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. I never managed to pronounce it correctly 🙂 It is also is China’s first national park.
Even though it is said that the park is located in Zhangjiajie, it is not entirely true. It is located around 70 km from the airport, and it takes about 45-50 minutes with a bus to get there.
If you want to hike, it would be better to have an accommodation either in the villages around the park (Wulingyuan town) or inside. Being inside the park allows to experience sunset and sunrise in the mountains. But if you don’t care about it, staying in the village/city next to the park is fine too. I stayed in Wulingyuan town. It was a charming town with plenty of restaurants, and I only had 10 minutes walking to the entrance of the park.
How to get there
In Zhangjiajie, I caught a bus from the Zhangjiajie central bus station.
I showed my phone with pictures of the mountain to the people around, and they lead me to the correct bus. There is no time schedule, the buses leave when they are full. What surprised me was that ticket money was collected somewhere in the middle of the ride. The bus stopped, the lady got in, took all the money and got out 😀 The trip was super cheap, 14 ¥, and took ~40 minutes (depends a lot on the traffic).
I was there over two days, and even though most of the first day was as milky as during my hike on Tianmen Mountain, around 4 o’clock the clouds blew away, and I was presented with a breathtaking view!
It is a good idea to either buy a map or have it downloaded. Most of the Chinese people suck with directions and map reading … I asked 3 times and ended up in entirely different places than what I wanted. Not that the available maps were any better. The map had only peaks marked, and finding your trail when all the peaks are behind the clouds was challenging 🙂 But all those mistakes led me to the garden in the air (Kongzhong Tianyuan) and amazing views of Yuanjiajie Scenic Area.
It was astonishing. The place is exactly opposite to the Bailong elevator – the world’s highest lift (335 meters) that takes people to the top of the mountain. It costs a lot (78 ¥ one way), and it usually takes around 3 hours to get in, so I skipped it. In my opinion not worth it if you can see the same from the different spot. But that depends how lazy you are and how much you like queues. Anyway, the views were terrific.
On my first day, I took a Tianzi Mountain Cable Car, then hiked down some trail (nearby Shentang Wan). Not sure if it was open though as there were leaves on the trail. And what I’ve learned in China is that they clean all the leaves, from the paths and lakes.
I was the only one there, so I enjoyed it a lot, though I can’t say it was quiet. Chinese people are really insecure when it comes to echo. I think they are terrified it will one day disappear, so they make sure to yell as often as possible to check on it. Every 3-4seconds someone was yelling out 🙂
When I got to the crossroad, I wanted to continue down the trail. I met a guide with a group, showed him a map and told him where I want to go. He was surprised I want to hike down for 2 h and showed me direction. I’ve said a couple of times I don’t want to get to a bus. After many stairs up I found out that I ended up next to a bus 😀 Entirely different place from where I wanted to get to.
Anyway, took the small shuttle bus to Kongzhong Tianyuan as I didn’t feel like hiking 5km along the road and wanted to continue walking from this place down. That was at least what my map claimed I could do. Yeah, NOPE, the trail ended there… But to cheer me up the fog dissipated and amazing views showed up! It was soooo great! After playing around with my drone for a while, I headed back and found out there is no other way to get to my city than taking the cable car back, eh… At this point, I gave up with Chinese and their direction tips 🙂
On my second day I went along the Golden Whip Stream. The trail starts nearby Bailong elevator. To get there, I took a bus that was going in that direction. The trek was not straining as you walk along the river and the views are charming.
Just a remark: GPS signal sucks there so don’t fly your drone over the river. Believe me; water is cold especially when you have to jump in fast to fish your drone out…
Also, beware of monkeys!! There are many along the river, and I guess I did not learn my lesson after being robbed of nuts in India 😀 I have no idea how the monkey noticed the plastic bag hanging from my backpack but the second he started running in my direction I knew my lemon chips are gone.
Truth to be told, those bastards are clever! They don’t attack backpacks or purses; they only aim at plastic bags. After being mugged by a monkey, it was fun to watch how they were robbing other people.
As I still had some time to kill before I had to take a bus back, I decided to take a Huangshizhai Cable Car and hike down. I really enjoyed it and again, was happy I’m going down and didn’t have to climb the stairs up! Still not a big fan of climbing up the stairs. Afterward, one guy at the entrance gave me a lift to the bus to my village to get to my hotel to pick up my luggage and to buy rice.
I never thought that buying rice in China is so hard! I got directed to so many restaurants! Even though I wrote on my phone, I need dry rice because I drowned my drone and needed it to dry it up. Oh, those weird foreigners and their funny demands:)
I really enjoyed the hike in Zhangjiajie Mountains. I was lucky the weather only sucked for half a day, because when I finally managed to see something, I was in heaven! Looked so much like Avatar! There were still many places I did not go to, so I bet you could spend there more time than I did. Just make sure to book more days in case of rain.
Other attractions nearby
Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon
It takes around 2 hours to hike around that area. The biggest attraction of the canyon is Glass Bridge. It is the longest and highest glass bridge in the world. It hangs over a valley and provides a fantastic view over the grand canyon.
I did not manage to get there, so I can’t say if it worth it. I heard it is crowded and you need to book tickets online as only 600 people at the time can enter the bridge.
For more info, check this website.
It is the only water themed Scenic Spot in Zhangjiajie. It is surrounded by mountains with many waterfalls pouring down. There is a possibility to take a cruise around the lake.
For more info check this website.
Yellow Dragon Cave
Yellow Dragon Cave is praised as the “All-around Champion Karst Cave in the World.” If you hit the bad weather, it is an excellent idea to go and see the cave.
More info about the cave can be found here.
Fenghuang Ancient Town
Fenghuang Ancient Town also called Phoenix Ancient Town is ranked as the top ancient town in China. It is kept in the original appearance with wooden houses and stone roads. Fenghuang ancient town was built in 1704 and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
I really regretted I did not have enough time to see this town. I saw many pictures online, and it looked terrific.
For more information check this website.