It would be easy to spend two days in Zhangjiajie just exploring Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that some believe inspired James Cameron’s film Avatar. But most will opt to spend one day in the national park and one day farther afield, braving a glass bridge, exploring caves, or scaling a mountain. Here’s how.
Day 1: Pinnacles and Peaks
Day: Spend your first day in Zhangjiajie discovering the highlights of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It’s well worth traveling with a guide to maximize your time. One classic itinerary, which works well at less busy times of year, starts with a stroll through a canyon along Golden Whip Brook. From there, ride the 1,070-foot (326-meter) Bailong Elevator, one of the world’s highest outdoor elevators, to the Yuanjiajie scenic area, home to an extraordinary natural arch suspended hundreds of feet above the ground. Shuttle buses link to the Tianzi Mountain (Tianzishan) area, known for its sea of clouds and “floating” rice fields.
Night: The Tujia people who live among the mountains around Zhangjiajie (and beyond) have their own indigenous cuisine. Discover its bold, spicy flavors at an authentic Tujia eatery. Savor bold flavors such as sanxiaguo, a hot pot made with meat including offal, or more accessible dishes such as smoky bacon and rich duck.
Day 2: Canyons and Caves
Morning: Some travelers will choose to spend a second day exploring Zhangjiajie National Park, but others will opt for Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, a dramatic gorge spanned by a notorious 1,411-foot-long (430-meter-long) glass bridge. You can spend a full day hiking here, but with limited time it’s best to bag the bridge and move on.
Afternoon: Break for lunch at one of the area’s cave restaurants, then explore Yellow Dragon Cave, a 119-acre (48-hectare) network of caverns. Winding walkways and a series of steps run between underground rivers, waterfalls, and lakes, all lit up in colored lights. Tours include a short boat ride.
Night: Wrap up your stay in Zhangjiajie with an outdoor, song-and-dance spectacular: The Fox Fairy Show. A cast of hundreds perform in the open air, in a valley on Tianmen Mountain, telling the story of the love between a fox spirit and a humble peasant. There are subtitles in several languages.