Slender stone columns reach out of canyons lush with forest transporting visitors to an otherworldly natural wonderland. It inspires the mind to think of alien landscapes from science fiction or the ethereal and mystical images from traditional Chinese ink paintings. This fantasy scenery is a reality at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan Province and is a spectacular experience for any adventurer.
Zhangjiajie is China’s first national park. This probably explains why many things are named Yellowstone in Chinese. The forest park is part of the larger Wulingyuan Scenic Area, which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Huangshi Village – A Walk in the Clouds
Day one in the park began at the south side after a bus ride from the city of Zhangjiajie, about 40 minutes away. Rain sprinkled sporadically and clouds were heavy. When we arrived at the park, we started getting glimpses of the karst formations from the bottoms. Clouds were drifting around their capitals and the forest sang with wildlife.
After a short shuttle ride, our first destination within the park was Huangshi (yellowstone) Village. A short cable car ride took us to the top of a large stone platform passing through a collection of stone pillars on the way. At the top, a trail loops around the edge of the mesa offering spectacular views of the stone forest. Being a rainy day didn’t allow for grand vistas. Instead, we saw fantastical views of ghosting columns through wispy flowing clouds.
Along the short hike we were happy to come across some of the wildlife including monkeys, massive toads, and itsy bitsy frogs. Wild animals are a rare sight in China, let alone in Beijing.
Winding Along Golden Whip Stream
Our next destination in the park was Golden Whip Stream and the trail that meanders beside it. The stream winds along the floor of the park with magnificent stone formations on either side.
As we approached the trail, I saw a monkey sitting on top of a no smoking sign. I wanted to take a picture. As I raised my camera to snap the image, the monkey screeched in agitation and started at me. Not wanting to be a monkey attack victim, I quickly retreated, lost my footing on a slippery step down, and fell hard on my back. Bruised and scraped up, I was unmauled by the angry little cretin and ready to limp down the path.
The stream was beautiful. Mist hung in the air over the water and clouds wove their way through the spires and peaks on the sides. It was magical … until the crowds started picking up. This is China. There are lots of people here, but sometimes there are just too many in the same place as you. In a national park, you hope it isn’t going to be too crowded, but in China you have to expect it to be.
For the most part, our walk along the stream was absolutely lovely. Most of the time, the crowds were sparse and the weather was just right. However, there was another monkey incident with a fellow trail walker carrying a bag of snacks. The monkey walked right up and snatched it from her hands. My hiking companion was quick-thinking and shooed the monkey away with his umbrella so that the little thief only got one bag of cookies instead of the whole booty.
At the end of this trail, we found our way to the giant elevator that climbs to the top of another large rock formation for the next part of our adventure.