How to Spend 1 Day in Zhangjiajie
Some believe the soaring spires of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park inspired James Cameron’s Avatar, and the surreal beauty of this extraordinary landscape has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the area has many other natural attractions, with one day in Zhangjiajie, the national park will be your focal point. Here’s what to see.
Day: Dreaming Spires
You won’t be able to see the whole of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in one day, so don’t try. But do take advantage of the network of shuttle buses and cable cars that connect the park’s different areas. Enter from the Zhangjiajie gate, and start with a leisurely hike along Golden Whip Brook, a stream that runs through a natural canyon lined with striking rock formations. Lines for the 1,070-foot (326-meter) Bailong Elevator, known as the highest outdoor elevator in the world, can stretch back over an hour. But it’s still an amazing way to reach the Yuanjiajie scenic area, which is home to a spectacular natural arched bridge, forests of striking pillars, and the tower known as the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. Grab a bite to eat at one of a range of eateries, then pick up a shuttle bus to the Tianzi Mountain (Tianzishan) scenic area, where magical views include the Imperial Writing Brush Peaks, the Cloud Sea, and Fields in the Air, a cluster of rice fields apparently suspended in the sky. A private guide can help you beat the crowds and find unspoiled back routes where you can hike in solitude—or maximize your time in the park and get the best shots.
Night: Show Time
Head back to Zhangjiajie town for a hearty dinner of Hunan specialties, such as “smoky flavors steamed together,” spicy shredded pork, or even stinky tofu. Then make your way out to a valley near Tianmen Mountain for one of those outdoor spectaculars with a cast of hundreds that China does so well. The Fox Fairy Show, with subtitles in English, Japanese, and Korean, tells a tale from Hunan folklore in an extravaganza of song, dance, acrobatics, and lighting against a spectacular natural backdrop. Bring a jacket, as it can get cold at night, and an umbrella in case of rain.