The mountain has been a site of wonder for Chinese for thousands of years.
The famous arch in the mountain was originally a cave, until the back of the cave collapsed in the year 263, forming the arch. The mountain's name was then changed to reflect this "gate" through which the heavens are visible.
The mountain is accessed from a station near the center of Zhangjiajie, a few minutes walk from the city train and bus stations. Buses and trains from Changsha take approximately four hours to reach Zhangjiajie. There is also an airport on the outskirts of Zhangjiajie, with a somewhat limited schedule of flights.
In Zhangjiajie, you buy a ticket which entitles you to either a cable car ride up the mountain and a bus ride down ("A Line"), or the reverse ("B Line"). As of April 2016, this ticket costs ¥258, plus a ¥3 "insurance" fee (when you see how steep the stairs are on the mountain, you'll understand why). It is also possible to purchase additional tickets (much cheaper) for a second cable car or an escalator atop the mountain, but the mountain can be perfectly enjoyed without these. These prices are significantly discounted for students (under age 24 with student ID), the elderly, and other groups. Credit cards are not accepted for purchases.
The cable car takes about 15 minutes to go up or down the mountain. The bus takes maybe 40 minutes, including switching buses in the middle of the route (where the windy part of the road begins). Keep in mind that this is a very popular site, and you could easily wait an hour in line for either the bus or cable car. On peak dates (like the Chinese New Year), you could wait 4 hours.
Fees and permits
The cable car connects to the top of the mountain. The bus connects to a lower point on the mountain, at the base of the Tianmen Cave staircase. In between these points, there is a free underground escalator (opened 2016 - 7 levels - takes around 15 minutes to transverse!), plus the staircase. If the staircase looks too taxing or dangerous for you (parts of it are VERY steep), there is an additional escalator for pay you can take instead.
At the top of the mountain, there are trails which take you around the edge of the mountain, usually atop cliffs which are hundreds of meters high.
On a clear day, there are stunning views of the surroundings for dozens of kilometers away.
Even on a hazy or foggy day, the mountain itself and immediately adjacent mountains look spectacular.
- Take pictures!
- Walk on a short glass-floored section of the walkway, which overhangs a cliff hundreds of meters high. Some will find this scary.
Souvenirs and food can be bought at a number of points on the mountain.
Any hotel in central Zhangjiajie will provide convenient access to the cable car station.
Try to get the phone number of the hotel before coming, because it may be difficult to find (maps for this area can be incomplete) and the taxi driver might not know where to go. In one case, the hotel name given on a web site was completely incorrect (though the ticket was bought correctly), and the taxi driver only managed to find the hotel by looking at an image of the hotel facade!
- Wulingyuan Scenic Area is the other major attraction in the area.