Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, spanning an area of roughly 130 square kilometers, is the second-largest subsection, after Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve, of Wulingyuan Scenic Area. Spread throughout the forest park are numerous mountain-peak remnants (remnants of aeons of erosion), some as freestanding sandstone "pillars" and many as large, massive tree-clad blocks, albeit, some of the latter of which are crowned, as it were, with an assemblage of semi-freestanding sandstone "pillars".
Originally, the forest park was much larger and encompassed most, if not all, of what is today called Wulingyuan Scenic Area, meaning that Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was a precursor to Wulingyuan Scenic Area. After some time, Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve and Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve were separated out of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and the new umbrella construction was called Wulingyuan Scenic Area. It was first in 1992, after the creation of Wulingyuan Scenic Area as the umbrella entity, that the site was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site.
The forest park is home to over 500 species of trees – by comparison, more than twice the number of tree species in all of Europe – including the dawn redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) that is a cousin to the giant redwood trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) of California. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the dawn redwood was believed to have become extinct in China, but in 1948 it was re-identified in the country, and later still, large numbers of the tree were found in the area of present-day Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
There are some 3000 species of other plants in the forest park distributed across the five major flora types: the rose family; the pulse family (the legumes); the grass family; the orchid family and the composite family. Over 80% of all of the plants naturally occurring in Hunan Province can be found in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
There are over 150 types of so-called chordate animals (creatures having a spinal cord or a spinal column (vertebrates), which naturally includes a great many acquatic animals along with most land mammals), including 28 species that enjoy state level protection as threatened species, such as the golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus, aka Chinese pheasant, a member of the large family Phasianidae), the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), the Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis inermis), the Asiatic wild dog (Cuon alpinus), the common leopard (Panthera pardus), the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and the giant salamander (Andrias davidianus).
Huangshizhai(Yellow Stone Fort)
Yellow Stone Fort, aka Yellow Stone Village, is situated at the western side of the forest park. It's scenic area (it is also a village – see below) consists of numerous specific natural features such as Five Fingers Peaks, Front Garden, Echo Wall, Clouds Drifting Cave and Golden Turtle in the Sea of Clouds, to name some of the most prominent of these.
Taken as a whole, the assemblage of natural features at Yellow Stone Fort represents a large grouping of angular, weathered sandstone obelisks and blocks as seen elsewhere at Wulingyuan Scenic Area, the main difference being that the Yellow Stone Village outcropping has slightly fewer freestanding sandstone obelisks, and in some cases the upper part of a large sandstone block will end in a clutch of mini sandstone obelisks.
Another feature that is more common at Yellow Stone Fort compared to other parts of Wulingyuan is that the tops of the obelisk-and-block rock formations – especially Front Garden – tend to be covered in dense vegetation, mainly in the form of shrubs and dwarf, or bonsai, trees, giving Yellow Stone Fort in general, and Front Garden in particular, the aspect of a potted landscape on stilts.
There is also, as the alternative name suggests, a village here, Yellow Stone Village, said to be the remote village where a renowned Taoist master, Huang Shi Gong, aka Master Huang, once produced elixir. Besides being a renowned Taoist master, Huang Shi Gong is known for having passed down the art of warfare to a disciple who would become even more famous, namely Zhang Liang. Zhang Liang served first as a military advisor to Liu Bang, a rival to the second two (last two) emperors of the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty (the first, Ying Huhai, ruled from BCE 209-207 while the second, Ying Ziying, ruled briefly in BCE 207), then became became Prime Minister under Liu Bang cum Emperor Gao, founder of the Western Han (BCE 206 – CE 009) Dynasty that succeeded the Qin Dynasty, and finally, Zhang Liang was crowned the "Marquis of Liu" for his long, loyal service to Liu Bang cum Emperor Gao.
Since the village sits atop one of the massive stone blocks in question (at an elevation of 1080 meters from the valley floor, or about 1300 meters above sea level), it provides an unparalleled vantage point for viewing the local terrain. If time is not of the essence, you can traipse up to the village on foot, otherwise there is a cable car that will take you there in minutes. When you reach the top, you will fully appreciate the truth behind the axiom: "a visit to Zhangjiajie without a trip to Yellow Stone Village is like not having been to Zhangjiajie at all!"
The local scenic sites at Yellow Stone Village are the following: Needle Peak (aka Magic Sea-Suppressing Needle), Five-Finger Peaks, Tianshu Baoxia ("Heavenly Book and Precious Box"), Jingui Tanhai ("Golden Tortoise Exploring the Sea") Imperial Edict, Tranquil Trail in Fir Forest, and Southern Gate to Heaven (a manmade gate – an arch, in the typical Chinese style – not to be confused with the South Pillar of Heaven, located in Yuanjiajie Scenic Area, a famous obelisk that now has an Avatar-inspired name). Southern Gate to Heaven is located at the edge of the forest park where it borders on Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve, and if one wishes to proceed from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park to Tianzi Mountain via Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve, the route goes via Southern Gate to Heaven.
Golden Whip Stream
Golden Whip Stream is a 7 ? kilometer winding brook located in the eastern part of the forest park with a walking path alongside it, which, in places, passes between sheer sandstone cliffs (sandstone blocks and freestanding sandstone "pillars") and in other places passes gentle waterfalls. The stream, or brook, is named after a prominent rock by the same name. Golden Whip Stream flows from Laomo Gully to Shui Rao Xi Men ("Stream Winding Around Four Gates"), then on to Suoxi Brook, finally emptying into the Li River, one of the four main rivers of Hunan Province. The local scenic sites include Golden Whip Rock, Rock of Welcoming Guests, Reunion Rock and Purple Grass Pond.
Sparrow Hawk Village
Sparrow Hawk Village, aka Sparrow Hawk Fort, is a visit that is decidedly not for everyone, since the only way to get there is on foot, and it is something of an arduous climb. The trip up the mesa is not a little spooky since the cliffs are sheer, so if heights make you dizzy, you should pass this trip up in favor of a less daunting climb. But if you are in good shape and do not suffer from a heart condition, you can easily make the climb of some 300 meters, and it is said that if there exists a scenic site in all of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park that is worth every kilojoule of expended energy, it is without doubt Sparrow Hawk Fort, partly because the view from the summit is so spectacular that it is impossible to describe it without descending into hyperbole, and partly because of the freshness of the air on the mesa, which is 98% clothed in vegetation.
Sparrow Hawk Fort was only opened for tourism in 2003, partly because the authorities wanted to ensure that opening the site to tourism would not spoil its pristine beauty and partly because the authorities were a bit unsure of whether it was entirely safe as a tourist site – and, as well, whether there would be any interest in visiting it. As it turns out, the site's very inaccessibility limits the number of tourist willing to make the on-foot climb, and the safety concerns – at least for all those who do not suffer from severe acrophobia (fear of heights), sometimes referred to as vertigo – have been adequately addressed.
A common feature of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park – and indeed, of Wulingyuan Scenic Area in general – is the many, strangely eroded sandstone mountain peaks, some in the form of individual, freestanding obelisks (I have elsewhere referred to these freestanding, vertical shafts as pillars, or columns, but they should perhaps rightly be called obelisks except that an obelisk is generally either square or rectangular in cross-section, and though many of the mountain-peak remnants in Zhangjiejia are indeed either square or rectangular, roughly, in cross-section, some are more round than square.
So the best term for these latter might instead be "tower") and some as large, flattened, highly eroded, tree-clad massive sandstone blocks, albeit some of these massive blocks have pieces or sections that are semi-freestanding. The most salient feature of these mountain-peak remnants is their distinct layering, and it is surely this layering that gives rise to the small ledges here and there that collect enough dirt to nurture various grasses and plants, from shrubs to regular trees – albeit, the latter often in dwarf, or bonsai, form.Together with the plethora of mountain-peak remnants (both massive blocks and freestanding towers), the placid lakes, the rivers and countless brooks and the many and varying waterfalls, the numerous interesting hiking trails of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park – not to speak of the lush, pervasive vegetation – make this subsection of Wulingyuan Scenic Area the most popular of the three subsections of the scenic area, even if there are individual parts of Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve, Yangjiajie Scenic Area and Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve that are supremely beautiful (of course, some say that the most spectacular part of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is its now most famous subsection, Yuanjiajie Scenic Area, and not just because of the obelisk there that reputedly inspired a Hollywood film).
Zhangjiajie Travel Guide