When we think of China, we're usually envisage bustling metropolises, ancient temples, and vast swaths of smog. Okay, and maybe the Great Wall. But the nation is also home to some of the most magnificent natural landscapes on the planet. Here are six exceptionally stunning places that will make you want to drop everything and book a flight.
Jiuzhai Valley National Park, Sichuan Province
Getting there: Fly to Chengdu, then take a (slightly painful) eight-hour bus ride.
This park is also known as Jiuzhaigou, or 'Valley of Nine Fortified Villages', and is located on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Seven of those villages are still populated today, which adds to the breathtaking landscape of Jiuzhai Valley. There's also dozens of lakes that vary in color from vibrant green to turquoise, and are crystalline enough to see through. A must see is Five Flower Lake, where the water is so clear that you can see fallen tree trunks criss cross the lake floor. Jiuzhaigou is also home to the iconic (and endangered) giant panda.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province
Getting there: Fly from Beijing or Shanghai to Zhangjiajie (about three hours). From there, it’s an hour bus ride to the park.
If you’ve watched the hit sci-fi epic Avatar, Zhangjiajie will be familiar to you – the Southern Sky Column was the inspiration for the movie’s Halleljuah Mountains. No prizes for guessing the highlight here — a slew of pillar-like formations rising from the lush forest foliage as a result of years of natural erosion. Zhangjiajie attracts millions of awe-struck visitors, bolstered by the addition of the Bailong Elavator (the world’s tallest at 1070 feet), which is situated on the side of a cliff with three glass elevators. Maybe don't look down.
Li River, Guanxi Province
Getting there: Fly from Beijing to Guilin (about three hours).
The Li River runs 52 miles from Guilin to Yangshuo and has got to be China’s most scenic inland waterway. You can explore the river on half-day cruises, which take in stunning sights of lavish country pastures, rising hills and mountains. There’s also the opportunity to hike along the river, which is as fulfilling for Insta fans as it is for nature lovers. The town of Yangshuo itself is really peaceful, and home to a ton of pretty bars and hotels overlooking the river.
Changbaishan National Park, Jilin Province
Getting there: Fly from Beijing to Tonghua (about two hours), then grab a bus to Biahe.
Changbaishan is the largest natural reserve in China, and home to the Eternally White Mountain, a dormant volcano. Within Changbai is Tianchi Lake, an alluring lake surrounded by craggy peaks and trees. One third of this “Heavenly Lake” (as the name translates to) lies within North Korea, and the area is considered to be a sacred cultural haven for Chinese and Koreans alike. The reserve is also home to many rare animal species including the Siberian tiger.
Emei Shan National Park, Sichuan Province
Getting there: Get the high-speed rail from Chengdu to Leshan City (about one hour).
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a treasured mountain that's one of China’s most beloved parks, as well as a must-see destination for travelers and Buddhist pilgrims alike. The park is massive, with numerous trails and temples among its verdant landscape for hikers, in addition to cable cars for the more steep slopes. The prized sight to see is the Baoguo Temple at the mountain's summit – and dozens of monkeys en-route. From there, the sea of clouds you're greeted with is genuinely magical.
Huanglong National Park, Sichuan Province
Getting there: It's a three-hour bus ride from Jiuzhaigou, so visit both at the same time.
Huanglong (aka “Yellow Dragon Valley”), is located in the Minshan mountain range northwest of Chengdu. The park’s name comes from its stunning topography that contains calcite-formed pools that burst with color and amazing waterfalls tucked beneath snowcapped peaks. Additional highlights include festivals at the Huanglong Temple as well as the giant pandas and snub-nosed golden monkeys that inhabit the forests. No Insta filter required here – the entire park is gorgeous.