Jiuzhaigou National Park
Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve (九寨溝自然保護區) is located in northern Sichuan province in China. The UNESCO World Heritage is famous for miles of attached lakes with brilliant blue and green colors and accompanying waterfalls.
"Jiu zhai gou", Chinese for "Nine Village Valley" is officially known as Jiuzhai Valley in English. The Jiuzhaigou National Park is a component of the Huanglongsi-Jiuzhaigou National Park. Jiuzhaigou is a major feature of the Sichuan Scenic area which encompasses a 400 km by 100 km area due north of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Jiuzhaigou is at the north eastern end of this Scenic area in the Min Shan mountains. It is part of the Aba Tibetan and Qiangzu Autonomous Prefecture. The main scenic area is some 80 km long in the form of a letter Y made up of the three valleys - Shuzheng , Rize and Zechawa covering 720 sq km and offering stunning views of lakes, waterfalls, and mountains. The valley derives its name from the fact that there are 9 ancient Tibetan villages within it. Its highest point is 4,700 m above sea level at the end of the valley with the main sight seeing areas between 1,980 metres and 3,000 metres high. The official park website is www.jiuzhai.com
Note prices and general information provided herein are referenced to the autumn of 2006.
Jiuzhaigou valley was “discovered” by a Lumberman in 1970 when exploring the area for timber resources. In 1987 it was listed by the local Authorities in the best forty scenic areas and by 1990 it was top of the list. In 1992 Jiuzhaigou valley was inscribed by UNESCO into the “World Natural Heritages List”. 1997 saw Jiuzhaigou recorded in the reserve net of “Man and Biosphere”.
The Park is accessed directly from the town of Jiuzhaigou which has rapidly developed as a tourism centre to serve the park’s 2.5 million+ annual visitors. The main entrance to the park and its Administration Office is at the southern end of the park.
650 sq km of the Minshan mountains provide the catchment for the water system of Jiuzhaigou. The highest peak in the range is a mountain sacred to the Tibetan people of the Valley, this is Xuebaoding with a height of 5,588 Metres. The waters of Jiuzhaigou are high in carbonates and deposit large quantities of light yellow travertine , a soft porous rock that hardens with exposure. As the waters flow through the valley the travertine deposits are responsible for the creation of picturesque waterfalls and dams that hold crystal clear lakes.
The average visibility of the water in the lakes of Jiuzhaigou is 12 metres. Fallen trees and other lake bed features are clearly visible and are preserved by the travertine deposits.
On the shelves of shallow water leading to the Nuorilang and Pearl Shoal waterfalls the travertine deposits have created a natural wonderland of Bonsai trees and bushes.
This watershed is part of the Yangtse river system feeding to the main stream via the Baishui, Bailong and Jailing rivers.
Flora and fauna
The park is the natural habitat for two of China’s most treasured endangered species – the Giant Panda and the Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey (金丝猴). Due to the parks size however, and the large number of tourists, the chances of seeing them are very small. You're much more likely too see birds, insects and fish. Despite all the lakes in the park, Jiuzhaigou is amazingly free of mosquitoes.
The flora changes greatly with altitude. In the lower regions of the valley grasses and reeds abound. These are quickly replaced by the bamboo forests which in term give way to a wide variety of deciduous trees and conifers at the upper end of the valley. Beyond them the rocky slopes and snow capped peaks of the Min Shan range dominate the view.
The scenic area of the park is situated at a height of between 2,000 and 3,000 metres. In summer the winds blow predominantly from the south and in the winter from the north. The following table shows the average monthly temperature and rainfall .
Umbrellas and wet weather clothing are highly recommended as the weather at these altitudes is fickle.
After the Sichuan earthquake of May 12th 2008 the road via Wenchuan and Maoxian is not recommended. It is possible to drive from Chegndu via Mianyang, Jiangyou, Pingwu and Nanping.
The main departure points for a visit to Jiuzhaigou are Chengdu - the capital city of Sichuan, famous for its Panda Breeding Centre - Chongqing and Xian. Although Jiuzhaigou is only around 350km from Mianyang ,and 460km from Chengdu (as the crow flies) the journey takes between 8 and 11 hours due to the winding mountain roads through some spectacular scenery along the valleys of the Fu or Min rivers. Many tour companies break the journey into two components with overnight stops either at Mianyang or Maoxian.
Flights between Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou Huanglong airport (IATA: JZH) are available on Air China, Sichuan Airlines, South China Airways and China Eastern. Jiuhuang airport is about a 1.5 hour drive from the park entrance. This can be done by taxi or mini-bus.
Private helicopter flights may also be obtained from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou.
Most visitors access Juizhaigou by road.
From Mianyang an early morning start gets you to Jiuzhaigou township in time for dinner and the Tibetan cultural show (120 RMB). The route initially follows the deep valley of the Fu river then over Longmen shan (Dragon gate mountain) to Qingchuan and Wenxian before reaching Jiuzhaigou township nestled in the valley of the Baishui river. The mountain and river views make even the journey a worth while tourist experience.
Public Bus services are available from the Xinnanmen and Chadianzi bus stations in Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou with 2 or 3 departures from each station daily depending on demand. Ticket price is approximately 145 RMB.
The Jiuzhaigou Administration centre contains the Ticket Office. Tickets are sold from 6:30AM until 7pm every day. The price is 220 RMB per person which includes an insurance fee of 3 RMB. Disabled visitors, Seniors between 60 and 70 years of age, students and soldiers get a discount price of 170 RMB. Children no taller than 1.3 m in height, Government Servants, and Seniors over 70 get in free.
A one day bus ticket costs 100 RMB, and even if you plan on walking in the park it is recommended to get to the furthest reaches of the park.
Tickets are only valid for one day. Previously there were two day tickets that are no longer on sale during the peak season.
Off peak ticket prices: Entry – 80 RMB
Student / OAP Entry – 70 RMB
One Day Bus ticket: 80 RMB
Winter 2nd day entry ticket: 20 RMB (must be purchased at the same time as the first day's ticket)
There are plenty of taxis in Jiuzhaigou. There are also mini-buses (they really are minivans) to the most popular tourist destinations in the Jiuzhaigou region. Car Rentals are also available and range from 500 - 900 RMB per day.
Perhaps the easiest way to get around without a tour guide is using one of the "self service travel websites" that are really popular with young Chinese tourists who are not looking to travel with a tour group. Unfortunately for people who cannot search the web using Chinese characters (ping yin does not work very well) these sites are near impossible to find. On these sites you can buy tickets to local cultural events, arrange for pick up service, rent cars, arrange for tour guides, and finding Tibetan local host families for a cultural experience. However, they are extremely hard to find with names that are usually just strings of letters and numbers like cq966.com. The mentioned website is actually ran by locals attached to Chang Qing （长青）hotel - one of the two hotels (other is the Sheraton) with the most credibility among tour guides within Jiuzhaigou proper. You can email these websites in English or contact them through MSN and they will be able to respond. Most local hotels are also good sources for advice on how to get around Jiuzhaigou but only a few speak languages other than Tibetan and Chinese
Inside the Park
Smoking and lighting fires withing the park are forbidden.
For environmental protection reasons, no personal transport, not even bicycles, are permitted within the park. However, with a bus pass you can take a bus to all of the sites within the park. Your pass gives you access to an efficient hop-on hop-off bus transport system. Every few minutes a bus will come to a site to pick up passengers. The buses are frequent and sometimes crowded during the peak season, running from early morning until the park closes. Don’t miss the last bus or you must walk out! When entering the park you will be herded effectively and politely into one of the many queues waiting for transport. Once in the system you are a free agent with respect to where you go and what you see. An effective way to use the system is to take the bus to the head of Rize valley and walk back towards the entrance and Administration building. Walking is a great option in the park, as wooden-plank trails wind through the lakes and forests. It is best to combine walking with taking the bus as the park is quite large and you won't be able to cover enough ground on foot.
Around the area
Public buses run from the centre of the town to Chengdu, Huanglong, Chadianzi, Jiangyou and Songpan. For up-to-date bus schedules and travel options from Jiuzhaigou the best place to check is the Jiuzhaigou official website
From Chengdu the public bus is around 100 RMB and takes around 10 hours.
Things to see and do
Jiuzhaigou is all about seeing! The colours of its lakes, trees and mountains are breathtaking and defy adequate description. The altitude changes within the valley to create continual variations of flora, which give each lake and waterfall a unique quality.
Although Jiuzhaigou is a great place to visit at any time of the year Spring and autumn are best. Winter provides many magnificent sights with frozen lakes and waterfalls, but the day temperatures are very low and accessibility by road is neither easy nor guarantee able. Summers can be slightly crowded with beautiful sunshine in the early parts and it often rains in July and August. The fresh air and lack of humidity make it a great break from the city. Autumn is, in my opinion, the pick of the seasons. In late September through October to early November the colour contrasts of red and gold leaves set against the greys of the Bamboo forest and the dark greens of the conifers provide the perfect backdrop to the blue, cyan and vivid greens lakes.
Jiuzhaigou has some 114 Lakes and waterfalls. Here are a selection of scenic locations to visit:
1. Long Lake is at the head of the Zechawa valley. At an altitude of 3,060 metres this is the biggest and deepest lake in Jiuzhaigou. The lake has a surface area of approximately 30sq Km’s and an average depth of 44 metres. On clear days its dark wooded hillsides and blue waters are viewed against the backdrop of the 5000 metre snow capped Min Shan mountains. This lake has no major inflow and receives its water from underground sources. The local Tibetans have their own name for this lake, which translates, to “The Lake that never dries out.” Take the bus to the Long Lake and Jade Colored Pool because it is too far to walk to.
2. “Five Colour Pool’ also known as the Jade pool, is a small lake of 5,600 sq metres at an altitude of 2,995 metres and with an average depth of 6.6 metres. It is fed by underground streams from Long lake. Although small this lake must be rated as having one of the most varied and intense colour ranges of Jiuzhaigou and should not be missed. The lake systems in the lower parts of Zechawa valley are seasonal and are often dry in summer. Walkways are provided from Long Lake to a bus pickup point just passed the lower seasonal lake.
3. “Grass Lake” at 2,910 metres is the highest lake in the Rize Valley. The valley here is narrow and steep. The lake was formed as a result of an ancient mudflow about 10,000 years ago and travertine sedimentation. The lake is shallow with large evergreen grassy beds.
4. At an elevation of 2,905 metres “Swan Lake” is surrounded by high rocky cliffs that drop vertically into the lake. The lake takes is name from large numbers of migratory swans that visit it each year.
5. “Arrow bamboo lake” is the first of the deep lakes. Set at an altitude of 2,680 metres and 6 metres deep it has a surface area of 170,000 sq m. An unusual characteristic of this lake is that it never freezes even when the Panda Lake 100 metres lower is completely covered in snow and ice. The lake is surrounded by Bamboo groves and together with the Panda Lake.
6. “ Panda Lake” has an average depth of 14 metres and as its name implies is in the heart of panda country. This 90,00 sq. metre lake at 2,590 metres altitude is surrounded by bamboo forests and a mix of deciduous and coniferous woodland. This vivid green lake becomes a feast of colour in the autumn. The lake is home to many small and curious Songpan Naked Carp that gather in large numbers when a leaf or pebble falls into the lake. The fish are protected and must not be fed by visitors.
7. Water exits Panda Lake via the spectacular “Panda Falls”. These narrow falls have a drop height of 120 metres and cascade down to the “Five Flower Lake” over a series of travertine terraces. A well-maintained wooden walkway allows visitors to descend beside the falls providing a unique way of seeing the spectacle.
8. Five Flower Lake” at 2,472 metres and just 5 metres deep is referred to as the soul of Jiuzhaigou. Its shallow cyan coloured waters provide the visitor with an outstanding display of is bottom sediments containing trees, bushes, and leaves in great array. Its waters drain via the peacock riverbed, claimed locally to be the shortest and most beautiful river in the world, to one of Jiuzhaigou’s most appealing waterfalls. The “Pearl Shoal Falls”
9. “Pearl Shoal and Pearl Shoal Falls” are best viewed by taking the walkway. This takes visitors across the “Golden Bell Lake” and “Pearl Shoal” down the left side of the falls then across the base of the Falls to “Mirror Lake”. The shallow waters rush over the 160 metre wide travertine shelf called” Pearl Shoal” creating a noisy bubbling cascade which from a distance looks like a shawl of pearls draped across the hillside. The falls have a drop height of 21 metres and are 162 metres wide providing a spectacular display.
10. “Mirror Lake” is so named because of its ability to reflect the images of the surrounding mountains and forests. The lake at an altitude of 2,410 metres is in a sheltered section of the valley running east west which produces its glassy reflective surface.The Lake was featured in the Zhang Yimou movie Hero. The outflow of “Mirror Lake” is through the “Rize Gully” a travertine ramp of small ponds and natural bonsai trees and bushes that lead directly to one of the great sights of Jiuzhaigou . The Nuorilang waterfall.
11. The “Nuorilang Falls” are situated, at an altitude of 2,365 metres, at the junction of the Zechawa, Rize and Shuzheng valleys. Best viewed from the Shuzheng valley road the 250 metre wide veil of water flows out of the thick shrubs and bushes of Rize Gully to drop 24 metres into a small ravine below the road.
12. “Rhinoceros Lake” at 2,315 metres and with a surface area of some 200,000 sq. metres is the largest lake in the Shuzheng valley, and also the deepest with an average depth of 12 metres. The lake derives its name from a legend that tells of a monk from Tibet riding a rhinoceros. When the monk came to this lake he was so entranced with the local scenery that he accidentally rode his rhinoceros directly into the lake.
13. “Shuzheng Village” bedecked with prayer flags, is one of the nine Tibetan villages that give Jiuzhaigou its name. Situated above the Shuzheng Lakes it is easily accessed from the roadway. Here you can visit a traditional Tibetan home and drink “Yak Butter tea“. The steep main street is lined with shops selling trinkets, Tibetan artifacts and souvenirs.
14. “Shuzheng Lakes” and waterfalls are at 2,215 metres the lowest series of lakes in Jiuzhaigou; Spread across the valley this series of small lakes and waterfalls cascade down the lower valley and drain directly into Baishui Jiang. The last three features are the Sleeping Dragon Lake, Reed Lake and Bonsai beach. Sleeping Dragon Lake contains a large travertine shelf that extends across the floor of the lake. Locals say it looks like a sleeping dragon and that the head and tail seem to move as the wind ripples the lake surface.
There are lots of Tibetian trinklets that could entice the younger ladies. There is a shop next to the entrance which sells a good collection of postcards and reading materials about the park itself.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Park in China does not mean it would be fully decked out for you and me. There is a centrally located, sort of a HQ area with a restaurant serving buffet lunch. Typically Chinese stir fry dishes. At the entrance there is a Chinese Fast Food outlet serving fried chicken.
I would advise a one-day stock of museli bars would help, especially if you plan to take in all the heavenly sights on foot, through the wooden planked pathways. Halfway through my own walk, I regretted not lugging along my hot water bottle and some pre-mixed coffee sachets. In Autumn and Spring the weather would be nice to rest along the wooden plank path and have a nice warm coffee while you wait for the lighting to be just right for your next photo shoot.
There are many areas to drink. You will find one of the best local Tibetan tradition is to drink Tibetan butter tea. There is a surprising amount of bars available on bian bian jie (边边街) which is one of the most famous cobblestone roads in China.
Despite whatever they tell you, lodging in the Park is illegal.
There are no hotels or commercial accommodation within the park. It used to be possible to stay at the home of a local villager for a small fee. The authorities however do not approve of the practice and as such it is not recommended.
There are now a number of 5 star, 4 star and 3 Star hotels just outside the park.
The price for a 5 star hotel such as the Jiuzhaigou Xilaideng International is from 600RMB to 1000RMB.
For 4 star hotels like Chang Qing binguan (长青宾馆), the Geshang hotel, the Chinese Travel hotel, and the Golden Harbour Hotel room prices are from 400 to 900 RMB.
A 3 star hotel such as the Xing Long binguan（鑫隆宾馆), Qianhe Hotel etc. is from 300-800RMb.
A lot of the hotels have different level "rooms" within the hotel which are priced accordingly. Thus you see a great deal of price ranges within the same hotel.
Prices vary according to the season and booking in advance is essential. Provided you speak and read mandarin bookings and purchase of tickets can be done online at www.jiuzhaigouvalley.com.
Using the local travel websites will allow you to purchase price for cheaper, kind of how the aggregate websites will allow you to get a room for cheaper. However, they are pretty hard to find unless you search with Chinese characters.
There is lodging located in Jiuzhaigou city on the street outside the park entrance. For budget travelers the best option is the Jiutong Bingguan (九通兵官) located next to the bus station. Touts crowd around arriving buses and can lead you to alternative budget options.
No camping is allowed in the park.
The highest tourist destinations reach heights above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) and altitude sickness is a possibility.
In the winter months the park is extremely cold and it is necessary to dress warmly to prevent frostbite.
Chinese tourists dread standing in line and there is a lot of pushing and shoving getting on and off buses. Make sure you don't get pushed in front of an oncoming bus. Crowded trails can also be dangerous and if you walk on the edge of a path it is likely a shoulder or elbow with push you off.
Everyday there are buses going to Songpan at 7:20AM and take two hours, Chengdu (10 hours) and Huanglong National Park. Bus times vary from time to time. It is best to keep an eye on the Jiuzhaigou website for up-to-date times.
This page was last edited at 08:12, on 21 February 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Victor John Davies, Scott, PengHeng LIM, M. Hogue, Jesse Houser and David Straub, Wikitravel user(s) Morph, Cacahuate, WindHorse and Felixboy and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.