Danxiashan (丹霞山, Dānxiáshān) is a geopark in Guangdong, China. A landscape of stunning cliffs, steep and rounded red mountains, caves, forests, and lakes in rural Shaoguan, Danxiashan is still little known to foreign visitors.
The scenery and trails are divided into two main scenic areas: Yang Yuan Shi or Male Stone (阳元石, Yángyuánshí, named for a mountain that looks strikingly like a male body part) and Zhang Lao Feng (长老峰, Zhǎnglǎofēng, literally "peak of growing old"). Yang Yuan Shi is more popular whereas Zhang Lao Feng is much larger and has more stunning views. If you're visiting on a day trip, you'll probably only have time for one area or the other, but otherwise you should visit both. Unless you have a car, the easiest way to get between the two areas is by bus (see below).
Visitor information, lodging, restaurants, and so on are mostly located in between the two scenic areas, especially near the entrance to Yang Yuan Shi.
Beautiful billowing mountains, cliffs, and valleys in shades of red and brown. You can find caves, slot canyons, rivers, lakes, steep cliffs, and dense forest.
Danxiashan has multi-layered red sedimentary rocks of sandstone and conglomerate. The area was formed by fluvial deposition through the basin 140-65 million years ago. The weather in the area oxidizes rocks, turning them red. Then these sediments were uplifted and condensed by water, being accreted during the process. Finally, the area of Danxia was formed. Since 6 million years ago, the basin of Danxia area has experienced several intermittent rises, with an average increase of about 1 meter per 10,000 years. Water has eroded the mountains into many layers and formed their current shapes.
Flora and fauna
Lots of informational signs along the trails tell visitors about the park's plant life and geology. Most of them have English.
Hot in the summer, chilly in the winter. The temperature changes a lot over the course of the day, so dress in layers.
You'll probably arrive via one of Shaoguan's train stations.
From Shaoguan Station
Tourist buses run from Shaoguan Station to Danxiashan, but not as frequently as from Shaoguan East Station. The first bus leaves Shaoguan Station at 09:00. You can also take public transport from Shaoguan Station to Shaoguan East (which might take an hour or so) and then catch a tourist bus from there.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi for about ¥150 (2019), or maybe less if you share it with someone. Negotiate the price beforehand. Drivers hang around at the station waiting for passengers from arriving trains, say "Danxiashan" and they'll know where to take you. Didi will cost about ¥200 (2019). It takes about 60–90 minutes to get to Danxiashan from the station.
From Shaoguan East Station
2 Shaoguan East Station is the old station, located near downtown and served by slow trains.
Tourist buses run more frequently, and you can always take a taxi or Didi too. This station is a bit closer to Danxiashan than Shaoguan Station.
From Danxiashan Station
3 Danxiashan Station doesn't get much train service, and despite its name, it's not actually that close to Danxiashan, so you will still have to figure out transportation to the geopark.
Entry is ¥100 per person plus ¥5 insurance (2019). You can buy tickets at the 1 Ticket Center outside the entrance to the park.
You can hike all over within the two scenic areas. As usual in China, the trails are well paved with hundreds and hundreds of steps. Some sections are very steep.
The trails are well-marked with signs, mostly bilingual in Chinese and English, pointing how to get to various attractions. Distances are listed, but may be misleading because of the hilly terrain.
A free shuttle bus goes through the park and is a convenient way to get from one area to another, as long as you don't mind waiting a few minutes at the bus stop. The bus has five stops:
- 4 Wai Shan Men Bus Station (外山门站 Wàishānmén Zhàn), just inside the entrance to the park.
- 5 Yang Yuan Mountain Station (阳元山路口 Yángyuánshān Lùkǒu) or "Male Stone", the first and most popular scenic area of the park. The bus stop is actually across the river from the scenic area, so you'll have to walk a bit—follow the signs.
- 6 Visitor Center Bus Station (游客中心站 Yóukè Zhōngxīn Zhàn)
- 7 Cable Car Bus Station (索道站 Suǒdào Zhàn) – the bus takes you right to the cable car station, where you can ride up to the northeastern section of Zhang Lao Feng Scenic Area
- 8 Zhang Lao Feng Bus Station (长老峰景区站 Zhǎnglǎofēng Jǐngqū Zhàn), the second, and much larger, scenic area.
The bus runs from 04:00–23:00 every 30 minutes, and every 15 minutes at peak times. If you find yourself waiting at the bus stop for a long time, you can call 0751-6292918 to ask for information.
If you'd rather, your car can take you everywhere the bus goes and more.
Within Zhang Lao Feng Scenic Area, a boat traverses the length of Xianglong Lake (翔龙湖), between 9 Xianglong Lake Dock (翔龙湖码头 Xiánglóng Hú Mǎtóu) near the entrance to the scenic area and 10 Chenglong Pavilion (乘龙亭 Chénglóng Tíng) to the east. It may seem appealing if you're tired after walking around for a few hours, though it's actually not that far to just walk the trail along the south side of the lake. Tickets are ¥20 per person, one way (2019).
Other boats take visitors along the Jinjiang River; inquire near the entrance to the Yang Yuan Shi Scenic Area.
By cable car
The cable car line runs from the 11 cable car station (served by the shuttle bus) up to the top of a nearby mountain in the northeastern part of Zhang Lao Feng Scenic Area. The 12 upper cable car station up on the mountain is a short walk from Shaoyin Pavilion, which makes this a good option for getting up there in the early morning to see the sunrise.
It operates 04:30–19:30 Apr 1–Oct 10 and 05:00–18:30 Oct 11–Mar 31. ¥40 one-way, ¥60 round-trip, ¥25 for children (2019).
The two scenic areas are extensive with great views and fascinating rock formations. It's definitely worth going to both areas, but if you only have time for one, go to Yang Yuan Shi if you're more excited about the "Male Stone" and go to Zhang Lao Feng if you're looking for more panoramic views.
Here are some of the best known spots.
Yang Yuan Shi Scenic Area
- 1 Yang Yuan Shan (阳元山 Yángyuánshān). "Male Mountain" or "Male Stone", bizarrely enough the most famous attraction in the whole park. It's a mountain that, thanks to erosion, bears a striking resemblance to a certain erect male body part. If you want you can lie down in front of it and have your friends take a picture of you with the "enhanced" anatomy. Once you get your giggles out, keep walking to see the real beauty of the park.
- 2 Xi Mei Zhai (细美寨 Xìměizhài). A high viewpoint, one of the best places in the park to see the sunset. Only reachable by hiking a steep trail (around the north of the mountain via Xuan Ji Tai) or an even steeper trail (from the east, around the south of the mountain).
- 3 Xuan Ji Tai (玄机台 Xuánjītái). Another great viewpoint and the other best place in the park to see the sunset. Somewhat easier to get to than Xi Mei Zhai—the steps aren't quite as steep if you come via the trail to the north.
Zhang Lao Feng Scenic Area
- 4 Female Stone (阴元石 Yīnyuánshí). A boulder with a tall, narrow slit to match the "male stone" in the other scenic area. Quite a walk from the most popular areas near Zhang Lao Feng and not particularly beautiful, only really appealing for the novelty.
- 5 Mengjue Pass (梦觉关 Mèngjué Guān). A bunch of little caves that look something like a beehive.
- 6 Tongtian Cave (通天洞 Tōngtiān Dòng). A long, dark cave eroded by water, connected to 7 A Strip of Sky Valley, a slot canyon. Bring a phone or flashlight to light your way through.
- 8 Jinshiyan Temple (锦石岩寺 Jǐnshíyán Sì). An old Buddhist temple on the side of a cliff. It's at the end of a long-ish side trail that also takes you to Mengjue Pass and Tongtian Cave.
- 9 Zhang Lao Feng / Sungazing Pavilion (长老峰 Zhǎnglǎofēng / 观日亭 Guān Rì Tíng). The area's namesake: a high peak with gorgeous views of the striking, steep mountains all around.
- 10 Shaoyin Pavilion (韶音亭 Suáoyīn Tíng). A great viewpoint, a short walk from the cable car station. Best place to view the sunrise (see below).
- 11 Duoshi (舵石). Another great viewpoint, a decent hike from the cable car station.
There's a geological museum near the visitor center.
- Watch the sunrise. Wake up early and make your way through the chilly pre-dawn air to see a landscape of misty mountains that, in the early morning light, look like something out of a Chinese painting. The best place to watch the sunrise is Shaoyin Pavilion (韶音亭 Sháoyīntíng) in the Zhang Lao Feng Scenic Area. If your lodging is in the park, set out an hour and a half before sunrise—take the bus to the cable car station, ride the cable car up the mountain, and then walk for about 15 minutes (follow the signs). Unlike most of the trails in the park, the path from the cable car station to Shaoyin Pavilion is lined with lights to help you find your way. After the sunrise you can keep walking to Duoshi for more views.
- Watch the sunset. You can see it from Xi Mei Zhai (细美寨 Xìměizhài) or Xuan Ji Tai (玄机台 Xuánjītái)—both spots have equally good views. Don't dawdle after the sun sets, because the steep steps could be scary after dark.
The little stations selling food along the trails have a small selection of souvenirs as well. You'll find a much bigger selection near the exit of the Yang Yuan Shi area. It's mostly pretty kitschy—not much to do with the park or its mountains.
There are a bunch of restaurants inside the park, mostly in the general vicinity of the entrance to Yang Yuan Shi Scenic Area. Prices vary from cheap shops where you can get a bowl of noodles for ¥10 to expensive, heavy meals for upwards of ¥50 (2019).
Wherever you decide to eat, come with low expectations. These restaurants aren't depending on repeat customers, so the quality of the food probably won't be great. Still, it'll give you the nourishment you need to keep hiking.
There's not much in the way of restaurants within the scenic areas, but there are little stations selling overpriced drinks and snacks, irregularly distributed along the trails. It's mostly junk food, and some long areas of the trail have nothing for sale at all, so bring snacks and water with you—especially if you're planning to watch the sunrise, hike through lunchtime, or explore some of the further-out, less-visited parts of the trails.
Danxiashan is too big to see in one day, especially if you factor in getting to and from the park, so spend at least one night if you can. Two days is enough to see most of the park if you have a lot of energy and stamina, though there will still be some nooks and crannies you'll miss.
There are hotels both inside and outside the park. There's nothing much to see in the surrounding area, so better to sleep inside the park.
- 1 Fang Jia La Lodge (放假啦客栈 Fàng Jià La Kè Zhàn), 丹霞山景区内瑶塘村 (Yang Yuan Shan bus stop, walk towards the scenic area and take the first left, look for the neon sign), ☏ , . Little family-run budget hotel, no frills but clean and comfortable. The fourth floor terrace has views of the mountains. ¥100.
It's possible to rent a tent.
Watch your step on the trails. The life-threatening cliffs mostly have railings, but you could injure yourself falling down the steps on one of the steep sections of the trails.