Tiantaishan (Mount Tiantai) includes several separate scenic areas, including a national forest park, gorgeous gorges, waterfalls, and the head temple for the Tiantai sect of Buddhism. Its highest peak, Huading, is 1,138 m (3,734 ft) high.
Tiantai is an extremely popular name for mountains in China, making it important to ensure that you're getting information on the correct one. This Tiantaishan is probably the most famous, but there is also a Tiantaishan National Park outside Chengdu, in Sichuan.
Tiantaishan has several separate areas to visit. Each of the scenic areas takes 1-2 hours to visit.
Guoqing Temple is the headquarters of Tiantai Buddhism, named for the mountain, which focuses on the Lotus Sutra. The most prominent teacher of that school, Zhiyi, was based here. It has long been an important destination for pilgrims, especially from Japan. The mountain was visited by Saichō in 805, who went on to found the related Japanese Buddhist school, Tendai, and the Cheondae school of Buddhism in China also traces its roots to this mountain.
The area includes granite canyons and a small peak of red conglomerate. Most is forested ridges. One of the more famous sights is a waterfall that emerges from under an extremely rare, 7m-long granite natural bridge.
Flora and fauna
One of nine remaining wild populations of Seven-Son Flower Heptacodium miconioides is located on Mount Tiantai.
In the Huading (summit) area, several parts of the hillside are covered in ancient rhododendrons or azaleas.
- 1 Tiantai Bus Terminal (天台客运总站), ☏ . There are regular direct buses from Taizhou south bus station (¥35, 1.5 hours), Ningbo central coach terminal (¥53, two hours), and Hangzhou central bus station (¥85, 2.5 hours), and a few buses per day from other cities nearby, such as Wenzhou south bus station (¥90, 2.5 hours). There are several buses daily from Shanghai South bus terminal (¥130, 3.5h) and Nanjing (¥160, 5.5-6h). Leaving Tiantai, the last bus leaves at 17:30, and most routes end mid-afternoon.
- 2 Tourist Centre (Bus 7 connects the tourist centre with the Tiantai bus terminal about every half hour during the day (¥1, 20 minutes)). The modern and cavernous tourist centre is the hub of the park shuttle bus network, and a good place to buy tickets. There is a small village of moderately fancy restaurants running out to the southwest, designed for tour buses which don't have any reason to visit the tourist centre.
The nearest rail station is Sanmenxian (三门县) station on the high-speed Ningbo-Taizhou-Wenzhou line, but the four buses per day to Tiantai leave from a station 10km away, and rail service is limited. A taxi to Tiantai costs about ¥120-150. There are more trains at Ninghai and Taizhou, but Ninghai has only four buses per day to Tiantai, the Tiazhou bus station especially is far from the main rail station, and a taxi will cost significantly more from these cities. If you're coming from Hangzhou or Ningbo, it may be best to take a bus from there.
Fees and permits
Each of the scenic areas sells its own admission tickets, along with separate rates for return shuttle buses to a tourist distribution centre near town. However, there are significant savings available if you combine the tickets with the shuttle bus, or buy (multiple-)day passes (which include the shuttle buses). Two of the scenic areas are double-ended, with a shuttle bus available to connect the ends for ¥5 (every half hour).
|Scenic Area||Admission||Shuttle bus (return)||Combined ticket|
|Qiongtai Fairy Valley||¥65||¥30||¥82|
|Ji Gong's Hometown||¥30||¥5||¥29|
In addition, there is an electric golf cart shuttle service available between the Guoqing parking lot and the entrance to the temple precinct, if you want to save yourself a pleasant 600m walk overlooking farms and a creek.
There is a park shuttle bus network, but since every scenic area is accessible by private vehicles, few people use these buses, and some only run once an hour. Most destinations on the mountain only offer shuttle buses back to the tourist centre, not to each other. Having your own transportation is best, the buses work if you don't mind sitting around waiting for buses, or if you're in a hurry you can hire a car and driver. In principle you can also hike. There may be an old stone trail between Guoqing temple and the summit, but elsewhere you'll be lucky to find alternatives to the road.
Note that the shuttle buses, scenic areas, and the tourist centre all open not long after sunrise, and close well before sunset (in winter, typically 07:00-16:00), with the last buses returning at 17:00, so it pays to get an early start on the day.
Each scenic area takes 1-2 hours to visit, and charges its own admission fee.
- 1 Guoqing Temple (国清寺). 07:00-16:00. A large temple complex dating to 598, and the head temple of the Tiantai sect of Buddhism. Free.
- 2 Sui Pagoda (隋塔). A 9-storey hexagonal brick pagoda built in the Sui dynasty, this is 59.4m high and derelict. It's one of the oldest surviving brick pagodas in China. It used to have wooden roof structures, but these burned off in a catastrophic fire, leaving behind holes and turning the bricks yellow-orange. Part of the Guoqing scenic area. Free.
- 3 Shiliang Scenic Area (石梁景区). A trail winds through valleys and canyons past several waterfalls, temples, and a large rock that has been carved to look like a signature stamp. Most visitors walk from the lower entrance to the 4 upper entrance. ¥60.
- 5 Shiliang Waterfall (石梁飞瀑). Part of the Shiliang Scenic Area. One of the highlights of the park, this waterfall passes under an extremely rare granitic natural bridge 7m long and nearly 2m high but only 30-50cm thick, on its way down a cliff more than 30m high. Shiliang means "stone beam", so the waterfall's natural bridge lends its name to the waterfall, the scenic area containing it, Shiliang village nearby, and Shiliang town higher up the mountain. Calligraphy from the Song and Ming dynasties is carved into the upstream side of the beam and the canyon around it. It is possible to access this area and one end of the beam via Middle Fangguang Temple (中方广寺) at the top
- 6 Small Copper Teapot Waterfall (小铜壶瀑布). Part of the Shiliang Scenic Area. The waterfall falls through an orange-stained granite bowl in the cliff face, giving it its name. The cliffs facing each other above the top of the waterfall are claimed to resemble two apes drinking alcohol. A large boulder below the falls can be climbed for a better view, and there is a teahouse nearby.
- 7 Sword-Tonging Spring (铗剑泉). Part of the Shiliang Scenic Area, just below the upper entrance. This waterfall is over 40m high, and largely hidden from most angles because it occupies the sides of a narrow canyon which makes an abrupt turn just downstream of the falls. A small viewing pagoda next to the cliff face allows you to see it.
- 8 Qiongtai Fairy Valley Scenic Area (琼台仙谷景区). Spectacular rocky granite valley with a reservoir and a waterfall. Most people walk from the lower entrance to the 9 upper entrance. Some sections of the trail are concrete walkways attached to the sides of cliffs, and a few sections of an older, more adventurous trail survive, including old arch bridges and access to a three-sided pagoda via stairs made of rebar. ¥65.
- 10 A-Thousand-Feet Waterfall (百丈瀑). Part of Qiongtai Fairy Valley Scenic Area. Two-stage waterfall into a lovely pool, deep in the gorge.
- 11 Huading Scenic Area (华顶景区, 华顶国家森林公园, Huading National Forest Park). This area contains temples and separate temple buildings, tea plantations, ancient rhododendron and azalea forests, ponds with metasequoia growing out of them, fake thatched-roof cottages, and an international rhododendron park. It gets fewer visitors than most of the other areas (except perhaps in spring for the rhododendrons), and some of the tourist infrastructure is not actively used. The summit itself is a military radar station and cannot be visited. ¥50.
- 12 Huading Temple (华顶讲寺). The main temple inside Huading Scenic area
- 13 Chicheng Scenic Area (赤城景区). A large hill of conglomerate, with cliffs and caves. Dotted with temples and monasteries, with a large pagoda on top. As of November 2018, about half of it is closed while they install plumbing. ¥15.
- 14 Ji Gong Temple (济公院). Inside Chicheng scenic area. A major monastery associated with the monk Ji Gong.
- 15 Ji Gong's Former Residence (济公故居). Former home of Ji Gong, a Chan Buddhist monk in the 1100s (Southern Song dynasty). He purportedly possessed supernatural powers, which he used to help the poor and stand up to injustice. However, he was also known for his wild and eccentric behaviour, and for violating Buddhist monastic rules by consuming alcohol and meat. By the time of his death, Ji Gong had become a folk hero in Chinese culture and minor deity in Chinese folk religion ¥30.
With its long history of temples and pilgrimages, the mountain has plenty of stone trails available for hiking. Many are overgrown, not well maintained, or covered in algae, and very few are shown on maps, so exercise caution or find a local guide.
- 1 Tiantai Greentown Ski Resort (天台山绿城滑雪场). 09:00-18:00, 19:00-22:00. Shiliang town has a ski resort, open from late December to late February. It also has inner tube rides, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and other winter activities, ski rental, and a ski school. ¥200-260 per hour or per evening, higher prices on weekends and holidays..
Tiantai County at the base of the mountain has plenty of hotels, and there are several villages on the mountain, all of which are well-equipped with guesthouses. The tourist centre is in the middle of nowhere, with few accommodation options within walking distance.
- 1 Chicheng Hotel (赤城宾馆), ☏ . One of the closest hotels to the tourist center, so a convenient location for park shuttle buses but inconvenient for shops and restaurants. Quality is decent, prices aren't outrageous, and they accept foreigners. Rooms ¥200 and up.