Shilin (石林, Shílín) karst region, the "Stone Forest", is a national park in Kunming Prefecture, Yunnan province in southern China. The huge pillars of stone, formed by erosion, look like something out of a fantasy film. The park is large, too big to see all of it in one day. It has several different areas and many interesting nooks and crannies, and you can easily lose yourself on the winding paths between the huge rocks.
The park is one of Kunming's main attractions and has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2007. It makes a good weekend or day trip from Kunming—visit early to avoid crowds.
From Kunming you can take the bus from Kunming East bus station for ¥34 (2019) to the scenic area bus station (this will take around an hour and a half) or ¥35 to Shilin town.
There are also around 8 minibuses per day from Kunming Changshui airport to the scenic area bus station, costing ¥45 and taking about an hour and a half. They leave from the Airport Long-Distance Passenger Bus Station (昆明长水机场长途汽车客运站)—walk out of the terminal and turn right.
The 1 scenic area bus station is a short walk from the ticket office. This is not the same as Shilin Bus Station (石林客运站), which is some distance away.
Local trains from Kunming station to Shilin cost ¥15-20 and take about 2 hours.
High-speed D-class trains from Kunming South (subway line 1) to Shilin West: ¥18, 22 minutes, several per day mostly leaving in the morning or early afternoon and returning in the afternoon/evening. The train is met by a generous supply of local buses: ¥8, 50 minutes through Shilin town to the bus terminal.
Last bus back is 18:00, for the 19:00 train (January 2017).
Fees and permits
At the 1 ticket office and visitors' center you can buy tickets to the forest, which cost ¥130 (May 2019). The ticket office is a flat 3-km (20-min) walk from the 2 entrance. There is an optional golf buggy transit from the ticket office to the entrance, ¥25 round trip. Even after the golf buggy drops you off, you'll still have to walk a bit.
For the most part, walk. Parts of the park are very open, so it's easy to see where you're going, but in the Major Stone Forest (大石林) you can follow winding paths, mostly paved with steps, through a dense area of stone pillars. In this area it's surprisingly easy to lose the crowds and come across all kinds of interesting and beautiful stones. You may get a little lost, but don't worry—just keep wandering until you hear the sound of people.
Unlike the golf buggy from the ticket office, the golf buggies within the park are free, but you may have a hard time figuring out where they'll take you.
It's possible to visit the stone forest with a tour group, but this will restrict your movement somewhat, meaning that you'll miss the interesting views from areas that are too small for a big group.
The logistics of the place are kind of a mess—the ticket office is a long way from the entrance, practical information about the park is hard to find and inconsistent, several places (including the museum and the Major Stone Forest) require you to enter from a different point than you exit, and so on. Have patience and focus on enjoying the scenery.
Main scenic area
- 1 Major Stone Forest (大石林). A dense area of boulders and caves filled with winding paths. It's easy to lose the crowds as you wander around between the stones. Try to find the peak viewpoint (just keep going up)—it gives you a stunning view of all the karst. The viewpoint is too small for more than two or three people and the path up to it is narrow, so this isn't really an option for tour groups—which is a shame, as it's a sight not to be missed.
- 2 Minor Stone Forest (小石林).
- 3 Qifeng Cave (奇峰洞).
Other scenic areas (outside the park)
The following scenic areas are administratively part of the park but lie well outside the boundaries of the main scenic area. To get to these other scenic areas, you will generally need to hire a taxi or join an organised tour.
- 4 Naigu Stone Forest Scenic Area (乃古石林风景区) (About 9km northeast of the Major Stone Forest).
- 5 Zhiyun Cave Scenic Area (芝云洞风景区), Guangzhou-Kunming Expressway, Lufu Subdistrict (鹿阜街道广昆高速公路).
- 6 Lake Chang Scenic Area (长湖风景区), Chang Hu Highway (长湖公路).
- 7 Lake Yue Scenic Area (月湖风景区).
- 8 Dadieshui Waterfall Scenic Area (大叠水瀑布风景区). As of May 2019, this scenic area is temporarily closed to visitors.
- Yi people (the local ethnic group) dancing in their traditional attire outside the Major Stone Forest
- 9 Shilin Karst Geological Research Museum (石林喀斯特地质科研博物馆) (outside the main entrance to the park, right near the golf buggy stop), ☏ , . 08:00-18:00. A geological museum with a huge range of rocks on display. Free with a park ticket; ¥120 otherwise.
- 10 Shilin Snow and Ocean Park (石林冰雪海洋世界), Shilin Avenue (石林大道), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:00-18:00. ¥215 for an all-inclusive ticket.
Take picture with girls of the Yi minority dressed in traditional colorful dresses. There are also a great number of interesting rocks to see, with amazing views of the karst topography, especially beyond the areas which the tour groups normally go.
Walk to the back of the park, away from where the local tour groups go for a quiet walk amongst a mixture of moon-like landscapes, farmland, lakes, rust-red irrigated fields and citrus groves.
Lots of hats are for sale at inflated prices outside and inside the park to protect you from the sun. You should buy a hat if you didn't bring one—the altitude means that the sun is strong here.
You can also find handicraft-style souvenirs, apparently in the style of the region's minority ethnic groups.
It is not possible to change currency at the sole local bank and their ATM often does not work.
Inside the park are stands selling some food and drinks, especially fruit. Try the cucumber, which is cheap (¥5 in 2019) and refreshing.
The park, including the Major Stone Forest, is scattered with stone tables here and there for a picnic.
Bring water. Two liters per person should probably do it, though if you don't bring enough, you can buy more at the stands outside the Major Stone Forest.
Lodging is available outside the park, and the Stone Forest is also doable as a day trip from Kunming.
Very good Youth Hostel (¥160 for doubles) or can get room at the Summer Hotel inside the nature reserve for around ¥200 for good a/c double room.
The last bus from the scenic area bus station leaves at around 18:00 for Kunming East Bus Station. Tickets back to Kunming East are ¥34. To get back to central Kunming from Kunming East Bus Station, take local bus K9 (¥2), the metro (¥3–4) or entertain yourself with negotiating a cheekily expensive fare with the taxi drivers at the stand.