Located in northwestern Hunan, the Wulingyuan Scenic Area consists of three parts: Zhangjiajie National Park, Suoxiyu Nature Reserve and Tianzi Mountain Natural Reserve, covering a total area of 135 square miles.
Wulingyuan boasts some 3,100 quartz and sandstone peaks (of which over 1,000 rise at least 650 feet), which appear spectacular, lofty and elegant. It is a dramatic and unusual sight to have such a large forest of natural peaks with quartz and sandstone base. This, along with the the mysterious deep valleys and grottos, offers numerous fantastic views.
In dense forests covering over 90 percent of the scenic area, you will find rare species of trees and rare species of birds and animals. There also are streams, brooks, springs, lakes and waterfalls. Zhangjiajie, in particular, is rich in forest resources, featuring both virgin and artificial secondary forests. It is home to some 3,000 species of high-grade plants of which 35 are rare species under protection. There are also 116 types of animals living in Zhangjiajie, the first national park in China.
The Wulingyuan Scenic Area was listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 1992.
Covering some 50 square miles, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is known for being the first national forest park of China as well as for being the highlight of the gorgeous Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The park was originally a state-run tree farm, which was founded in 1958, and then was officially approved to be a national forest park in 1982.
Located in a subtropical climate, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is endowed with a unique “micro climate of forest”– cool in summer and warm in winter. It is home to abundant flora and fauna including civet cats, giant salamanders, satyr tragopans, dove trees, maidenhair trees, Chinese yews, and Chinese tulip trees. Such a dense forest serves as a huge natural “oxygen bar.” The park also serves as a museum for the pristine ethnic culture of the region.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has five scenic areas – Huangshizhai, Golden Whip Stream, Yaozizhai, Yuanjiajie, and Yangjiajie – open to visitors. At present, six travel routes including 468 sightseeing spots have been developed at the park and a wide range of up to four-star hotels provide visitors with more than 4,000 beds.
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Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is the most famous part of one of China’s best national parks (or national level scenic areas) — Wulingyuan. China’s first national forest park contains the essence of Zhangjiajie scenery: the towering sandstone pillars, sometimes in seas of cloud, rich wildlife, and tranquil streams.
The Park can be split into four areas: Gold Whip Stream in the south, closest to Zhangjiajie City; Yuanjiajie in the middle, accessed from Suoxiyu Town to the east; Tianzi Mountain in the north, and Yangjiajie in the west, most recently developed. Each has its own star scenic attractions. See below.
Tianmen ("Heavenly Gate") Mountain National Forest Park lies only 8 kilometers south of the city of Zhangjiajie, but does not belong to the unique, UNESCO-recognized block-and-obelisk, eroded-mountain landscape of the area north of the city of Zhangjiajie known as Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
In 1982 it was recognized as China's first national forest park with an area of 4,810 ha (11,900 acres).1 Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is part of a much larger 397.5 km2 (153.5 sq mi) Wulingyuan Scenic Area. In 1992, Wulingyuan was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.2 It was then approved by the Ministry of Land and Resources as Zhangjiajie Sandstone Peak Forest National Geopark (3,600 square kilometres (1,400 sq mi)) in 2001. In 2004, Zhangjiajie Geopark was listed as a UNESCO Global Geopark.
The most notable geographic features of the park are the pillar-like formations that are seen throughout the park. Although resembling karst terrain, this area is not underlain by limestones and is not the product of chemical dissolution, which is characteristic of limestone karst. They are the result of many years of physical, rather than chemical, erosion. Much of the weathering which forms these pillars are the result of expanding ice in the winter and the plants which grow on them. The weather is moist year round, and as a result, the foliage is very dense. The weathered material is carried away primarily by streams. These formations are a distinct hallmark of Chinese landscape, and can be found in many ancient Chinese paintings.
One of the park's quartz-sandstone pillars, the 1,080-metre (3,540 ft) Southern Sky Column, had been officially renamed "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain" (???-?????, pinyin: ?fándá h?lìlùyà sh?n) in honor of the eponymous film in January 2010.3 According to park officials, photographs from Zhangjiajie inspired the floating Hallelujah Mountains seen in the film.4 The film's director and production designers said that they drew inspiration for the floating rocks from mountains from around the world, including those in the Hunan province.56
In May 2016, the park is expected to have the longest glass bridge in the entire world.7
8 kilometers from the urban district, Tianmen Mountain is regarded as the symbol and soul of Zhangjiajie. Tianmen Mountain is the first recorded mountain in the history of Zhangjiajie. The highest peak is around 1518.6 meters above sea level. The mountain is named after the natural huge cave half way up the mountain just like a gate to the heaven, hence, the name Heavenly Gate Mountain - Tianmen Mountian.
Tianmen Mountain is approved to be National Forest Park in 1992, boasting abundant up-to- 90% vegetation. On the mountain there are a wealth of rare species of plant. Old trees grow very high to the sky. A 7.2-km long cable car was constructed in the park, which is said to be the longest of the same type in the world.
With profound cultural background, Tianmen Mountain is always considered as the holy mountain by locals. A 500-year-old Buddhist temple is nestled in the mountain attracting thousands of prayers every year. Many legends and stories about the mountain were inherited from generation to generation, which are widely spread in the west of Hunan Province.