Besides Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the other big attraction or destination in the area is Tianmen Mountain. If you’re familiar with Chinese, you might guess that the mountain has something to do with a door to heaven or the sky. You’d be right. What makes this mountain worthy of visiting is the massive natural window that pierces the flat-topped mesa. What also makes this mountain a popular destination is its accessibility.
Tianmen Mountain is located right next to Zhangjiajie City, which has an international airport and is the biggest city in the area. To get to the mountain, you go to a terminal in the city for either a gondola that whisks you over the city and up to the top or a shuttle bus that takes you through the city and up the amazing winding road to the hole in the rock.
People generally take the gondola one way and the shuttle the other way. Most people choose gondola up and shuttle down. This gives you the views approaching the mountain and takes you right to the top. It also means the natural gate is the final part of your visit instead of the beginning. We chose this route as well. The gondola waiting area is annoying, but once you’re up in the air, it is a lovely ride. Some consider the 30-minute ride the longest in the world. It also has some sheer inclines toward the end.
Red Route or West Line
At the top there are three colored routes for visitors to follow. The most traveled is the red route that goes along the west side of the mountain. The path boasts spectacular views. The trail is suspended off the cliff side and winds around the edge of the mountain. At one point there is even a glass-bottomed path you can pay a few extra yuan to walk on. It isn’t scary, but people were still freaking out and hugging the wall.
Yellow Route or East Line
At the end of the west line trail, it meets up with the blue and yellow routes. The blue or middle line is a chairlift that goes up and over the center of the peak. The yellow hugs the east side of the mountain. That’s the one we chose. It was great. There were much fewer people and it went through some lovely forest. There is a second glass-bottomed walkway on this path too. This path also gives a view into the back of heaven’s door. Oh, and the views off this side are spectacular as well.
After peeking down at the hole through the mountain from both sides, we took the ridiculously long series of escalators through the mountain to the natural window. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with construction of some sort going on under the arch, so we couldn’t truly walk under it and get a real feel for it.
We did opt to climb down the Stairway to Heaven. It is a set of 999 stairs that climbs up to the piercing in the mountain. For some reason, they couldn’t just make even steps all the way up. Instead, there are four or five different angles making parts of the stairway very steep and dizzying. The views back up from the bottom are great too.
The final part of our Tianmen Mountain experience was the shuttle ride down. It first goes on a section of road called 99 Bends with 99 curves, most of them hairpin in design. You’ve probably seen the road before in a car commercial or in footage of a road rally. The 20-minute drive is beautiful and can be a little unsettling. If you get carsick, do not try this road. It also offers some fantastic views back up to Tianmen. After the 99 bends, you unload that shuttle bus and hop in another to head back to town.
Tianmen Mountain is beautiful. However, it is not a national park and is much more touristy than Zhangjiajie. It has highlights that are worth visiting for. The glass-bottomed walkways are fun, but they are not that intense. It isn’t like visiting or hiking in nature, but it is more like a park. It is extremely accessible and can fit into just about anyone’s schedule when visiting the area.