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China Travel Guide: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park


  • China
  • Travel to China
  • China Tours

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CTS Horizons is the UK's number one operator for China and beyond. We offer superb private journeys and tailor-made holidays to the world's most fascinating destinations!

"Up ahead was Pandora. You grew up hearing about it, but I never figured I'd be goin' there". These were the words of Jake Sully, the protagonist of 'Avatar', 2009 film that has become the highest-grossing of all time and that showed for the first time to millions of people the beauty of Zhangjiajie.

Zhangjiajie (张家界) National Forest Park is located in the northwestern part of Hunan province. It comprises the scenic area of Wulingyuan, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 as well as an AAAAA scenic area (the highest rate) by the China National Tourism Administration. Already a quite famous touristic location thanks to its unique karst formations and varied flora, the park has become a real attraction for large masses of visitors after 2009 film 'Avatar' by James Cameron who chose it as a setting for the mystical floating 'Hallelujah' mountains of its fantasy planet 'Pandora'.
The city itself from which the National Park takes its name was previously called Dayong and has a recorded history dating back to 221 BC. The population in this area initially developed around the shores of the Lishui River. The first settlements are around 100,000 years old, rivalling those of important cities such as Xi’an or Beijing. During the '80s the Academy of Chinese Social Science discovered numerous relics and antiques from that period.
Archaeologists have found numerous clay relics that were baked in this area by the inhabitants using fire. At the time, around 10,000 years ago, they possessed the most advanced technique to model pottery in China. Despite its technical advancement, this population because of the remote geographical setting making transportation, cultivation and other important activities much more difficult was soon superseded by near cities' armies. Thus, the people living here were later considered just a 'Savage Southern Minority'.
Origin of the name
The three characters forming the name (张家界) can be interpreted as follows: "Zhang" () is a common surname in China; "Jia" () can be translated as "family"; and "Jie" () can be translated as "homeland", giving the completed translation of "Zhang family homeland". Some guides tend to translate it to convey the idea of "Open the family door to welcome the world" (张开家门引进世界), a phrase of which the three characters would be an abbreviation. But this is not the locally accepted meaning of the name. The official version would be linked to a general, Zhang Liang, who lived in the area after a suspicious Han Emperor, Liu Bang, started to persecute his staffs and generals who had contributed to his becoming emperor. Thus the name would come from the general's surname.
Natural Environment
The entire area of Wulingyuan which includes also Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, an area of 690 square kilometres (266 square miles) and contains over 500 tree species, including dawn redwood, believed extinct until it was re-identified in 1948. There are also giant salamanders, rhesus monkeys, and many species of birds. Fog is very common due to the high humidity, especially during the summers. Temperatures vary greatly between early morning and late afternoon. In May, mornings can be a temperate 18°C but rapidly reaching 30°C by noon.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park itself includes a huge variety of trees and plans such as the uniquely shaped and rare Lobster Flower, named after its characteristic shape and colour scheme or the Dove tree, a real treasure, which can be traced back as early as the Fourth Ice Age. Vegetation covers around 98% of the whole area which features countless mesmerising scenery and average temperatures that rarely get too hot or too cold. The Animals variety is also absolutely impressive with almost 150 different species, 28 of which are under national protection.


Not just Zhangjiajie...
There are effectively two levels to the park. An upper and lower ones. Each level offers free bus transport between key locations, but you can also hike between the levels or take the cable car paying a ticket which varies between £5 and £9.
Wulingyuan area is famous for numerous scenic spots. Four are the major ones.
The first one being Zhangjiajie of course. Here there are some special attractions such as the Grand Canyon located to the east of the park. Here, tourists can enjoy an amazing view of the whole canyon from the famous highest and longest Glass Bridge in the world.
Then, within the upper part of the park is the Tianzi Mountain Nature reserve. A unique landscape of odd-shaped rocks and rare vegetation immersed in clouds and fog which this location is particularly renowned for.
Another noteworthy place is the Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve. It is located at the centre and is also the largest of all the different areas in the park and particularly important because of it almost 200 scenic spots.
The foruth attraction is the Yangjiajie Scenic area. Like Zhangjiajie's name is linked to the Zhang family, this place instead is connected to a Yang family. History says that Yang family, aristocrats who supported and rose to power during the Song Dynasty. They expanded in this area and members of the original family still live here. Famous scenic spots here like Liulang Bay and Qilang Bay are named after members of the family.
Finally, it is important to mention also the presence of different ethnic minority groups here that still preserve their ancient customs. Their habits and activities are definitely also worth discovering.

More and more travellers are choosing this wonderful park as the main highlight for their tours. Contact us to know more, our experts will be happy to answer to all your questions and give you suggestions for your next tour to China. 





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