This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Zhangjiajie, China. Nestled in China's Hunan province, this small city of little over 1 million in population is a must see on your tour of China. Various iconic features and recognizable landscapes, true and inspired, originated here. Despite, it's size, the city contains many natural wonders that will take your breath away and I was prepared to see as many as possible.
Camera, hiking gear, and other necessities packed, I was ready to trek the natural landscape. February is in the off season. Typically, it is recommended to travel to this destination between April and October; however, I would highly recommend going in the off season between December and March. While some sights are closed due to inaccessibility in the winter, the sights that you do see are completely worth it. Some of Zhangjiajie's main attractions include the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, Yellow Dragon Cave, Suoxiyu Nature reserve and Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve. During my trip, I visited parts of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area and Tianmen Mountain. Tianmen Mountain is like a winter wonderland and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is mystifying in the winter time. An additional bonus is avoiding those pesky crowds that pool in peak season.
Saturday started my excursion into Zhangjiajie's natural landscape. My tour group began in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, which is the location of the the popular Avatar Mountains also known as Hallelujah Mountain or Heavenly Pillar. It is easy to understand how professional photographer, Mingfa Zhou can build an entire photography career off this one location. Standing amongst the towering pillars that disappear into the atmospheric mist, you can't help but be in awe. Each day would grant a new scene and surely the change of seasons would create picturesque moments.
You can easily spend the entire day in the park—like we did. It was eight straight hours of nothing but being one with nature. The feeling was surreal. The air was clear, petrichor refreshing, and sights incredible. The floating mountains standing covered with greenery. You could hear the sounds in the forest clearly, especially the rushing streams. Along the trails we would also come across macaque monkeys, who are not timid animals in the least. It would be easy to come back day after day, even if for just a walk. Although we were there all day, we came no where close to seeing everything. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is divided into six different areas and we only saw two—Yuanjiajie Scenic Area and Tianzi Mountain.
Sunday concluded the tour with epic highlights. The day began at the renowned Zhangjiajie glass bridge. Now, there are many glass bridges in China, but this is the one that started the trend. Zhangjiajie houses the world's longest glass bridge. Constructed in 2016, the bridge is suspended 300 meters high. The view of Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon is jaw-dropping. Of course, the bridge is not entirely made of glass. 99 glass tiles align the center of bridge giving an impactful view below. Still, that doesn't stop the nerves and anxiety that hit while crossing. The screams of elderly women crossing do not help either.
Zhangjiajie is a haven for natural enthusiasts and adventurers. If you are a photography enthusiast, I would suggest a private tour, so you can lose track of time behind your lens. For hikers, this is an excellent group experience. You can't imagine how many steps you'll accumulate! After venturing around Zhangjiajie for myself, it made sense why the locals described the city as small, but big in wonders. With attractions that will make you want to come back again, it is easy to plan a weekend getaway to create a great balance between work and travel.
The important question: Is it safe? Designed to be canon proof, it completely is; however, I would not jump on the glass tiles. In a past incident, the glass cracked after 13 tourists took a jumping photograph on the same tile. There are now stricter rules when visiting the bridge. After plenty of photographs and soaking up the view, you can relax at a nearby café while still enjoying the scenery.
Following the glass bridge, we arrived at the trip highlight for me, Tianmen Mountain. Here you can ride the world's longest cable car to the mountain summit. This cable car ride is not for the faint of heart. It starts off easy and leveled, before quickly ascending halfway through. Traveling in winter you can watch as the landscape transforms into a winter paradise. You are literally carried up and through the clouds as though you are entering heaven. This is the entire concept for Tianmen Cave, otherwise known as “Heaven's Door,” a naturally eroded hole in the mountain you can view on the way up. There was a point while ascending in the cable car where nothing could be seen except fog and heart palpitations came fast.
The top of Tianmen was a winter fairy wonderland. This Florida girl was in sheer astonishment. Everything was ice and snow. You could hear the ice break upon each fall and the flutter of colorful birds between ice-coated trees. An eerie sense of calm teemed in the height of the mountains that contradicted the exhilaration of crossing the cliff-hanging walkways and glass skywalks. It was the perfect close to a fantastic weekend.