Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Zhangjiajie: Picture of rocks.

Some of Zhangjiajie's rock formations have creative names. This one's called Wulang Worshiping Buddhism.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (湖南张家界国家森林公园) is my favorite place in China (so far). The park is full of sky-high stone pillars, some of which soar over 1000 meters above the forest floor. Supposedly, these natural formations inspired James Cameron to create the “Hallelujah Floating Mountains” for his movie Avatar. Never one to turn down free publicity, Chinese officials renamed one of the pillars “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” (阿凡达-哈利路亚山).

Zhangjiajie can get quite crowded in the summer, so I went in December. I stayed in a hostel in the middle of the park. For the next four days, I wandered around the park's many hiking trails. Most people visit Zhangjiajie as part of a package tour, so they only get to see two main areas. Outside of those areas, the park was nearly empty.

On my last day, I got up before dawn for a sunrise picture of Hallelujah Floating Mountain. But there was a problem: we were in the middle of a blizzard! The snow was wet and heavy, and the road was covered with broken tree branches. I didn't see any vehicles, or even any tire tracks in the snow. When I reached the main touristy area, I had the whole place to myself. The snowfall grew heavier as the day wore on, so I missed that iconic sunrise picture. But the experience of seeing this beautiful place in the winter was once-in-a-lifetime.

Here are some highlights of my four days in the park:

Zhangjiajie: Picture of pillar.
Avatar Hallelujah Mountain

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Avatar bird.
They're really embracing this Avatar thing.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of path.
There are some cool stony paths, perfect for prancing.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of rock formations.
Here are some more rock formations, spotted during my walk.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of sunset.
I sat around and watched the sunset. Nobody else was there.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of selfie sticks.
Selfie time!

Zhangjiajie: Picture of hostel view.
I only had to walk five minutes from my hostel to get this view.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Singing in the Antiphonal Style.
This pillar is called Singing in the Antiphonal Style .
You can see the thousand-foot outdoor elevator in the background.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Dan at Soldiers' Gathering.
This place is called Soldiers' Gathering. Some of my favorite views came from here.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Soldiers' Gathering.
Soldiers' Gathering

Zhangjiajie: Picture of tea farm.
Here is a tea plantation called Fields in the Sky. Again, you can see the elevator in the background.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of village.
This is the village next to Fields in the sky.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of sprawling view.
Here's a sprawling view.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of sign.
Hmm, we'll see about that.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of view.
Oh yeah, that sign wasn't lying.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of ribbons.
Plenty of red ribbons hanging from trees in this park.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of natural bridge.
This one, unsurprisingly, is called Greatest Natural Bridge.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of me.
Selfie, selfie, selfie.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of bridge.
It was snowing on my last day, so the buses couldn't make it into the park. This bridge would normally be packed with people. Today, I had it to myself.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of snow.
Shit's getting' real.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of ribbons in snow.

Ribbons in the snow.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of cabin.
There's a lovely trail leading to the bottom. It's a great alternative to the elevator.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of McDonald's.
At the end of a long day of exploring, what better way to kick back than with a tasty Big Mac? Thank God they installed a McDonald's in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Want more? Here's my complete set of photos from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Interested in going? This website has a lot of info about Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

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