Jiuzhaigou and Huanglongsi
Key information: Jiuzhaigou and Huanglongsi
- Deep in the mountains of the Tibetan fringe lies the weird and wonderful Jiuzhaigou World Heritage Site: deep valleys of bright mineral lakes and weird geology, set in unspoilt mixed forest beneath high, broken peaks.
- Walk beside streams gurgling, often in wide multiple strands, over pale, calcinated beds, cateracts and waterfalls of frozen stone, passing still little lakes that range from emerald to the palest turquoise.
- A day's drive away is Huanglongsi, an ancient Buddhist temple set amid milky-blue calcium-walled pools, high up a valley of streams rushing down calcinated beds and little waterfalls.
- Increasing crowds ruin the atmosphere at certain times of day. Pick your time carefully.
- Walkopedia rating87.5
- Natural interest16.5
- Human interest8
- Negative points5
- Total rating87.5
- Note: Negs: popularity - crowding at some times of day.
- Length: Day or less
- Maximum Altitude: 3,150m; up to 3,500m at Huanglongsi
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Jiuzhaigou is almost a joke, it is so beautiful, a pair of magical valleys of forests and shimmering mineral lakes nestling among soaring peaks on the crazed eastern fringe of the Tibetan massif in an inaccessible corner of Sichuan province in western China. Gorgeous waterfalls and cascades are everywhere; lower down, streams meander through glossy meadows grazed by herds of ponies. Jiuzhaigou has a famously rich variety of natural life and is the home of rhododendrons, pheasants and the reclusive panda.
Jiuzhaigou's inaccessibility has been its protection. It is now an official Beauty Spot, World Heritage Site and World Biosphere Reserve, and the risks of ruin by crowds from the plains are huge. Its Biosphere designation is particularly valuable, and the authorities seem to be working hard to conserve it, a welcome example of China's belated wakening to its heritage. But, the crowds are increasing.
Jiuzhaigou is over 30 km long and divides half way into two upper valleys. Something strange and geological has happened - in essence the interaction of earthquake, ice and water with the karst limestone rocks. This has resulted in pools and lakes of wondrous colours - from the lightest turquoise to the richest emeralds, blues, even purples - retained by pallid calcium based dykes. Waterfalls and cascades rush between the lakes over yellow chemical pavings, often punctuated by bushy islets and smaller pools on the way. The water and air are so pure that all colours are a little unreal in their intensity, a feeling increased by the bright autumnal trees when we where there, which created some psychedelic colour contrasts. Although parts were logged until 1979, much of it remains beautiful, virgin forest, a lot of it deciduous, protecting small populations of giant panda and golden snub-nosed monkeys, none of which you are likely to see.
At one valley-end is a silent primeval forest of vast, mossy proto-pines, sharply sunny glades and dank corners. At the top of the other is an exquisite lake which disappears away beneath peaks showing early snow under the clearest of skies. It is the Alps without the domesticity.
The most famous sites were, when we were there, briefly crowded twice a day as the buses come and go, when Tibetans do brisk trade in yak-perching fancy dress photo-ops. Then the yodels and hoots fade and you can walk down through the silent forested valleys beside the streams and lakes.
There are some fairly basic hamlets, from which Jiuzhaigou ("Nine Stockade Valley") took its name, with tattered prayer flags and occasional prayer wheels, some of them water driven and delightful for it.
From Jiuzhaigou you can get to Huanglongsi (Yellow Dragon Temple), in a day. This World Heritage Site is another weird valley of pools, falls and wide streams rushing over pale beds, where you can climb, breathlessly, to an ancient Tibetan Buddhist temple at some 12,000 feet. It is a gorgeous place with the palest blue pools behind white calcium retaining walls and deciduous forests, just turning to autumnal golds and russets when we were there. Massive peaks glowered overhead. In spring it is a blaze of rhododendrons.
You can stay in hotels outside the pack entrance, or in primitive guesthouses up the valley. Access is getting easier, which does not help atmosphere at some times of day, although it still takes getting on for two days to drive there.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Section in China’s Southwest – Lonely Planet.
Section in Southwest China: Off the Beaten Track by K. Mark Stevens and George E. Wehrfritz. Nice hand-drawn map. (1988 – now out of date.)
Section in Sichuan – Mary Holdsworth for Odyssey Guides. (1992 – also out of date, but good depth and quality of information.)
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Very cold winter. Very wet May to early October, when roads can be impassible.
Usually from Chengdu (major airport). Access is usually by bus or car (you can hire a taxi and driver). There is now an airport near Songpan.
It is said that there is a quota for entrance to the park. Check the current position and get organised accordingly.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude: likely to affect you a bit, especially at Hunaglongsi: expect to puff and perhaps a mild headache.
- Mountain weather: rain and severe cold are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently.
Some people form or join organized trips, although ones that focus on walking rather than sitting in a bus may be rare.
Overnight near Songpan, so you can enjoy this fascinating and charming place.
Hotels outside the park entrance. Basic guesthouses inside the park.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- www.wikipedia.org - excellent information on Jiuzhaigou. Bit thin on Huanglongsi
Other things to do in the area
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more