Located in the northwest corner of China’s Hunan province lies the sandstone marvel of Zhangjiajie, part of the greater Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Area where peculiar rock spears rise high above the bottom of the forest ground.
Zhangjiajie National Park is touted as the Grand Canyon of China, but it is perhaps better known as the “‘Avatar’ Mountains.’ The sandstone spires are featured in one of the world’s most epic movies, “Avatar,” flaunting more than 3,000 karst bamboo shoot pinnacles that create a fairytale landscape that mesmerizes visitors. (The first of two sequels to James Cameron’s 2009 hit fantasy film is due a year from Tuesday.)
The Bailong Glass Elevator translates to ‘Hundreds Dragons Elevator.” Built on the side of a rock face, it transports visitors to the top of the Wulingyuan area of Zhangjiajie Park.
The first natural Chinese site to be inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage List site, the Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Area and Zhangjiajie charm millions of visitors per year; however, the majority of tourists are Chinese nationals. The Hunan Province’s centerpiece forest remains largely unexplored by the many western travelers who visit China. Those who primarily flock to its larger cities are missing out on the chance to experience this treasured preserve.
Getting to the top Tianmen Mountain usually involves the world’s longest cab car ride, which spans more than four miles and takes about 30 minutes. Along the way, spectators get a glimpse of the “‘Heaven’s Gate Hole” and a visually-striking cliff-hanging glass walkway.
The best months to visit Zhangjiajie are May and June. Going in late spring and early summer or the fall season lets you avoid Chinese holidays and popular vacation times and hence, the crowds.