Published Nov 23, 2020

It’s incredible how much influence pop culture, especially movies and series, has in our lives, traversing the boundaries of the screen. One prime example is Avatar – the blockbuster film directed by James Cameron, not the series about the Airbender. Avatar is set in this fictional fantasy world called Pandora. And if you recall even the slightest of memories from the movie, you’d know that the scenery on this world was absolutely mindblowing. Some of the most memorable parts of this world were these floating rock formations, known as the Hallelujah Mountains, but little did we know that James Cameron drew inspiration for these mountains from an actual site in this world.

Cue in Zhangjiajie. Zhangjiajie is located in the northwestern part of Hunan province in China, and it contains the Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan National Forest Park. Commonly referred to as just Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, it is China’s first national forest park, established in 1982. It spans 11,900 acres, and within it is its main attraction, the Avatar Mountains. Let’s talk about how you should plan your DIY trip to and around this spectacle.

A picture of avatar mountain in china
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The Avatar Mountains

No, they weren’t always known as the “Avatar Mountains.” However, because of the overwhelming popularity and attention they got courtesy of the 2nd highest-grossing film in history, they later adopted it. The Hallelujah Mountains were based on the Heavenly Pillar in the Zhangjiajie park. The over 3,000 massive quartz sandstone pillars tower high and above, many reaching a height of over 200 meters. At the top of these pillars, expect to find dense green foliage like in the movie. These natural wonders are a product of erosion, and their unique aesthetics draw in over 30 million tourists a year. Since 1992, the Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area, of which Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a part, has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Flying in

First, let’s talk about flights. The best way to get to Zhangjiajie is through the Dayong Zhangjiajie Hehua Airport. This airport sees flights coming from a wide variety of Chinese cities, most notably Shanghai, Beijing, Changsha, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Nanjing, Chongqing, Wuhan, Xiamen, and a whole lot more. As for international flights, you can expect some from Bangkok, Osaka, Busan, Seoul, Cheongju, Daegu, Ho Chi Minh, to name a few.

Where to stay

The Avatar Mountains will be about a 50-60 minute drive from Zhangjiajie downtown. However, we recommend staying at Wulingyuan downtown, a 15-minute walk from the park’s main entrance. If you booked a hotel in Wulingyuan, check with them if they provide airport transport services. If not, we suggest taking a cab, which is about a 45-minute ride, and will cost you somewhere around 200 Yuan.

If you’re looking for exciting nightlife, Wulingyuan may disappoint you. There aren’t a lot of tourist spots in this quaint town, and people barely speak English here. Furthermore, there isn’t a large variety of restaurants for your choosing, so you’ll likely be eating Chinese food and pastries from bakeries for the most part.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Once you get to the park, you will have to pay an entrance fee of 250 Yuan/pax, giving you access for three days. Now, with the forest park being as big as it is, you’ll want to spend at least two days exploring the various scenes and sights.

Normally, the park would be packed with tourists from all over the world. However, it may not be as crazy now due to COVID-19. Still, we suggest visiting these parts of the park:

Yuanjiajie

Of course, a trip to the Avatar Mountains would not be complete without the main attraction. Yuanjiajie is in the northern part of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, and it is a natural platform that faces the famous series of quartz sandstone pillars. To break it down even further, here are some of the spots you should add to your itinerary:

  • Back Garden – also known as the “natural bonsai,” features stone peaks with a stream flowing around them. It is called Back Garden because it is akin to the back garden of an ancient Chinese imperial palace.
  • Mihun Stage – also known as the “Enchanting Stage,” is arguably the best viewing stage in all of Yuanjiajie. Mihun Stage offers its visitors a captivating and awe-inspiring view of the park like no other. They say that viewers will, quite literally, be enchanted by the scenery, earning it its monicker of “Enchanted Stage.”
  • First Bridge under the Sun – also known as “Rocky Natural Bridge,” is a bridge 2 meters wide, 5 meters thick, spanning 25 meters between two mountains at the height of 400 meters! While you might be tempted to traverse this bridge, it is prohibited for the visitor’s own safety.
  • Avatar Hallelujah Mountain – also known as “Southern Sky Column,” is the one and only prototype of the Hallelujah Mountain from Avatar. It towers at a whopping height of 3544 feet (1080 meters) and is known for its peculiar shape, being unnaturally narrow towards its base. Close to this site, you will see a viewing deck where they have the Leonopteryx or the flying dragons of the Na’vi from Avatar.

Golden Whip Stream

Aside from the pillars, you won’t want to miss the Golden Whip Stream. It is named after the Golden Whip Rock, by which it flows for 5.7 kilometers. The scenes around this beautiful stream are breathtaking, and you will be hard-pressed not to feel as one with nature. It’s only a 300-meter walk from the entrance of the park, and by all means, is it worth it. The crystal clear waters grant you the luxury of observing the teeming life in the water in addition to the abundance of wildflowers all around.

Yellow Stone Stronghold

The Yellow Stone Stronghold is found on the west of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It is fondly named after the story where Huang Shi saved Zhang Liang from misfortune after isolating himself in the forest. It serves as the largest (41 acres) observation spot for the forest park at 1200 meters above sea level. One cannot claim they’ve been to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park without visiting here.

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Author Terrence Tan Ting

About The Author

 is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.