Top 10 Attractions in Sichuan - Natural Wonders

 

Murphy Feng's picture

Sichuan is my hometown, and my footprints have almost covered all the attractions in Sichuan. Since first falling in love of travel I had struggled to pick my favorite but here are my top 10. 

Top 10 Natural Wonders in Sichuan

  1. Jiuzhaigou National Park. Its breathtaking scenery makes it the number one attraction among Chinese tourists and overseas travelers. You can see the most beautiful lakes (waterfalls), dense forest and snow-capped peaks. Offering a unique beauty in every season. Take a Jiuzhaigou tour right away.
  2. Mount Emei. You can watch the majestic Golden Summit sunrise, keep an eye out to catch the Buddha's Aureola (if lucky), the sea of clouds, and much more.
  3. Huanglong National Park. What you can see here is its high altitude unspoiled scenery, and be a part of the annual Temple Fair.
  4. Hailuo Valley. This glacier and surrounding ancient forests are not a short 6 hour drive from Chengdu, in southwest Sichuan. A great place for a short one or two hour trek into the valley.
  5. Danba. Known as the valley of beauty, for its’ attractive residents along with lush grassland, tranquil villages and ancient stone watchtowers. All beckoning to photography lovers.
  6. Mount Siguniang. You can see endless trees, covering the valleys with snowy mountains towering all around. It is a popular trekking destination with optional horse riding.
  7. Mount Qingcheng. You can feel the tranquilness of its thick forests and the omnipresence of its Taoist temples. Restored after the May 13, 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake.
  8. Shunan Bamboo Sea. Indulge yourself in a sea of green bamboo, and feel the surrounding rivers, karst caves and waterfalls.
  9. Zöigê and Hongyuan Grasslands. What you can see in this less visited wonderland are its prairies with pristine beauty and nomadic Tibetans. Its grasslands are amazing and have some of the best preserved Tibetan nomadic culture remaining.
  10. Yading Nature Reserve. Surrounded by holy snow mountains, it is celebrated as 'the last Shangri-la' in China. It is a much cherished land for photographers determined to capture its dazzling autumn vista.

1 - Jiuzhaigou National Park

Jiuzhaigou in Fall
Jiuzhaigou National Park in Fall

Jiuzhaigou National Park is a remarkable treasure and you will never forget a visit to this place. In my eyes, it should be always the top 1 choice on your Sichuan tour schedule.

Located on the eadge of the Tibetan Plateau in Northern Sichuan, Jiuzhaigou is world famous for its over 100 colorful lakes, waterfalls and dense forest. All are encapsulated by snow-capped peaks that range in elevation from 2,000 to 4,500 m. (6,600 to 14,800 ft).

Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997, now this national park attracts over 1.5 million people per year.

The Chinese name "Jiuzhaigou", meaning "Nine Village Gully", refers to the (9) baima Tibetan villages that can be found in the valleys. Currently 3 villages are open to public and they are called Zechawa, Rize and Shuzheng. Each offering a unique experience.

Shuzheng Valley is the main tourist route in Jiuzhaigou national park. The Nuorilang Waterfall in this valley is regarded as one of the symbols of Jiuzhaigou. With a width of 270 m. Nuorilang is the broadest highland waterfall in China. There is a viewing platform on the opposite side of the waterfall, offering a spectacular photography chance for you. 

Rize Valley is perhaps the wildest place in Jiuzhaigou National Park. Most areas are covered by virgin forests. Here you can enjoy the luxuriantly green trees, walk on thick and soft lichens. The highlights include Peacock River, Five-Flower Lake and Panda Lake.

Zechawa Valley is the longest valley in Jiuzhaigou National Park. Here you can visit the famous Seasonal Lakes, one of the best photography places in Jiuzhaigou. Made up with Lower Seasonal Lake, Middle Seasonal Lake and Upper Seasonal Lake, All the seasonal lakes have plenty of blue water due to the ample rainfall in autumn and are at a low level of green color water in spring and winter. 

Zharu Valley - The 4th Valley in Jiuzhaigou

There is a fourth valley named Zharu that is accessible only with special permits and is the only valley that allows camping.

Compared with the other Jiuzhaigou Valleys, Zharu Valley is a steep limestone and granite valley which has been reserved as an eco-tourism zone in Jiuzhaigou National park. It covers a smaller area and proudly stands in its tranquil and undisturbed alpine beauty, offering a unique landscape for those who want to have an alternative experience in Jiuzhaigou.

Most popular tours include 1 day in the park. However, for my personal opinion,  you will feel a bit rushed to spend 1 day on visiting Jiuzhaigou. So I suggest to choose a private tour that can be tailor made based on your requirements and spend 2 days to capture the beauty of this place. 

Plan a private tour in Jiuzhaigou!

2 - Mount Emei

Sitting on the western rim of the Sichuan Basin, Mount Emei is definitely a place not to miss when traveling in Sichuan. What makes this place unique includes the majestic Golden Summit sunrise, sea of clouds and abundant Buddhist heritage sites. 

2 days stay on the mountain will leave you the chance to see the sunrise among the Golden Summit (at an altitude of 3,077 m.). It is so splendorous that you are considered blessed to see.

Sichuan Mount Emei Sunrise
Cloud Sea at Mount Emei

Another famous sightseeing is the Buddha's Aureola which usually occurs on the rare afternoon. You may if lucky witness the rainbow rings attach themselves to a person's shadow in a cloud bank below the summit. The legend told to me that some devout Buddhist used to jump off the cliff of self-sacrifice they regarded as a call from the Buddha. However, I didn't really see it, so maybe it was just a local legend.

There are 2 ways to get to the Golden Summit, You can climb along the paths and witness the scenery as it changes with the increasing elevation, or for the direct routes, opt for a cable car. As you hike, there are many jampans along the path. The price is at around RMB30-40 yuan/ kilometer, bargain with the porters before you make the deal.

Mount Emei is plentiful of cultural relics; over 6,890 collections are kept in the temples and museums. The temperature difference between the foot and the top of the mountain is about 14 degrees centigrade. Combined with over 5,000 plants and 2,300 variety of wild animals on the mountains.

Monkeys can be seen everywhere in Mount Emei, looking to get some food from the travelers. Most of them are fat and can be aggressive toward people.  Seems like they are the real owners of Mount Emei.

Tips about the monkey during your visits:

  1. It is suggested to give the monkeys some peanuts or sweets and then hands up and clapping, in order to show you don't have food anymore. Never fool them or trick them as they may act wildly and hurt you.

  2. Keep some distance while watching and feeding the monkeys. Never touch them! Hide your pocket and packages as they may be robbed by the monkeys.

  3. Walk with a big group if possible. Ask for help if you get attacked by them or protect yourself with some simple weapons like the alpenstock. 

As you descent from Mount Emei, spend some time visiting the nearby Leshan Grand Buddha. This serenely seated Buddha, carved into a cliff face overlooking the confluence of 2 rivers, is qualified as the largest Buddha statue in the world. You could even picnic on the nail of his big toe.

If you think this giant statue was constructed by modern cranes concrete, you are absolutely wrong, as it has already stood here for over 1,300 years.

3 - Huanglong National Park

Drive about 3 hours from Jiuzhaigou, 1 hour from the airport you will see another national park resembling a remarkable gem embedded in the edge of vast Tibetan Plateau. Locals call Huanglong, which refers to the tail of a yellow dragon slithering through a valley.

Five Color Ponds in Huanglong
Five Color Ponds in Huanglong National Park

This place is a great stay for you to extend your trip in Jiuzhaigou. All the colors of the rainbow are here as the landscape studded with waterfalls as well as terraced limestone ponds of blue, yellow, white and green. All creating a great photography chance.

I have visited both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong several times. Compared with the crowded Jiuzhaigou sometime, I personally rave about Huanglong's beauty and love the peace, quite here.

When walking in Huanglong, you will never imagine what kinds of beauty hidden in the dense forest. I can still remember my astonished look when I first saw the colorful ponds deep in the valley behind Huanglong Temple.

A great time to visit here is during the annual Temple Fair, which is held around the middle of the 6th lunar month (usually in July). You will meet lots of traders from the Qiang minority coming to sell their local products.

Note that the altitude in Huanglong is higher than in Jiuzhaigou (ranging from 3,500 m, to 3,900 m.). Many travelers will have symptoms of High Altitude Sickness. If you feel any uncomfort here, tell your guide before it gets worse. 

4 - Hailuo Valley

Hailuo Valay is the place to see the glacier in Sichuan. Located on the eastern slopes of Mount Gongga, it is well-known for the lowest elevation glacier in Eastern Asia.

Sichuan Hailuogou glacier
Trekking along Hailuo Valley

Located 5 hours drive away from Chengdu,  Hailuo Valley is easily accessible by cars. The main glacier, called No.1 glacier, is 14 km. (7 mi.) long and covers an area of 16 sq. km. Climbing to the top you will be rewarded an incredible vistas of Mount Gongga and surrounding peaks. All above 6,000 m. (19,685 ft.)

An 1 to 2 hours trek up to No.1 Glacier is worth trying during your visit in Hailuo Valley. As you ascend the mountains, the ecosystems of the surrounding ancient forests keep changing. Constantly framed with a backdrop of snow capped peaks, all offering splendid scenery for you. 

En route over this trek there is a waterfall viewing platform at 3,000 m. (9,843 ft.) From here you can capture the main glacier tongue, plus No. 2 Glacier and Golden Peak at 6,368 m. (20,892 ft.)

Hailuo Valley has special climate characteristics, described by the saying “a ditch has four seasons, and ten miles of different weather”. It is cool in summer and warm in winter, offering an ideal for travel, resorts, mountain climbing, expeditions and adventure holidays all year around.

5 - Danba

Danba is a picturesque village in Western Sichuan where you will find a heavy Tibetan and Qiang populace. There are so many reasons for me to recommend this place to you, and even its geographical location is a natural wonder.

Danba stretches along an incredible valley of the Dadu River where you will see the cliffs gradually back of melt into imposing hills. Its rich landscapes include the high-altitude snow-capped mountains, the low-altitude grasslands and valleys.

Danba Zhonglu Tibetan Village in Spring

The small villages themselves are some great place to explore the cultural combination of Tibetan and Qiang minorities in Sichuan.

Surrounding these villages you will see dozens of ancient stone Qiang watchtowers gracefully aging as they still guard their locals, even after centuries.

Zhonglu and Jiaju are 2 of the most popular among these Tibetan villages. Climb up to the mountainside, you will see many elegant white Tibetan houses scatter in the forest, resembling many stars in the sky. If you can arrange it, autumn is a great time to visit, when the scenery, a riot of colors, is downright inspirational. 

A cannot miss trip in Danba is to head east out of town along Sanchahe Lu, where you can see a scattering of the legendary watchtowers at Suopo. The viewing platform along the way is a great place to take some photos of the surrounding river and mountains.

6 - Mount Siguniang

Drive about 5 hours from Chengdu towards west, you will get to the Mount Siguniang, an unspoiled scenic spot filled with natural beauty and touching stories.

The legend of Mount Siguniang

Mount Siguniang consists of four adjacent peaks, covered with eternal snow. Its name stems from a local legend that the place was once slammed by chilling northern winds and in order to protect the local residents, four beautiful girls turned into four peaks to shield the place from the blows.

Sichuan Mount Siguniang Overview
Snow Capped Peak at Mount Siguniang

The visit in Mount Siguniang is generally extended based on the three valleys in the mountains. Travelers can choose to visit one or all of them based on their personal arrangement. Here I personally advice you to mainly visit Changping Valley.

Mainly consists of forests, valleys, and snowy mountains towering over valleys, Changping Valley offers a great vistas of the steep and imposing ridges of Mount Siguniang. Only part of the roads are open to traffic and the rest are suitable for you to trek or ride horses on.

Walking along the narrow and winding alley, you will capture the coniferous forest, broadleaf forest, sub-forests, shrub wood, and weed clusters joggle together. All exhibiting their contrasting charms to offer a paradise for nature lovers.

7 - Mount Qingcheng

Entrance Gate of Mount QingchengWith a summit of only 1,600 m. (5,249 ft.), Mount Qingcheng has no Mount Siguniang's snow capped peaks nor Emei's magnificent sunrise and cloud seas. However, its quiet and beautiful scenery along with the rich Taoist cultures make me believe that this place should definitely be on my top 10 list. 

Located about 1 hour drive from Chengdu, Mount Qingcheng is a very popular choice during many of our Chengdu city tours. It offers the beautiful trails lined with gingko, plum and palm trees, Taoist temples and picturesque vistas. 

Compared with Mount Emei, the weather here is better so the views are far less likely to be obscured by mist and cloud. Cable cars are available to take you to the summit quickly. If you're planning a Chengdu tour, Mount Qingcheng will be a good choice.

The Secrets of Mount Qingcheng

Most nonlocal travelers don't know that there is an alternative way to explore Mount Qingcheng. 15 km. (9 mi.) northwest of the base of Mount Qingcheng, the Qingcheng Houshan offers an over 20 km. (12 mi.) of hiking trails. The entrance fee here costs only RMB 20 Yuan. You will receive a more natural environment and dramatic vistas.

 

It's possible to do it in 1 day buy a bit rush for me. If you have enough time, you can choose to stay one night on the mountains. 

While visiting Mount Qingcheng, Dujiangyan is the place I recommend you to stay for a little bit. It is a great irrigation project that was undertaken 2,200 years ago. It is still in use today, irrigating over 5,300 square kilometers of the region's land.

Widely regarded as the "ancestor" of the world's hydro-power culture, Dujiangyan is the only existing ancient hydro-power project, featuring diversions without a dam, in the world. It also functions as a means for preventing floods and plain shipping.

8 - Shunan Bamboo Sea

Sixty-eight kilometers southeast of Yibin City in South Sichuan, you find an extraordinary natural bamboo forest covering a large area of mountain slopes at an alevation from 600 to 1,000 meter. (1,970 ft. to 3,280 ft.) It is a natural museum as 58 different bamboo types you can find in here. 

Shunan Bamboo Sea
Shunan Bamboo Sea Scenery

Strong and dense, from a distance the bamboo forests seem to resemble a green ocean. The scenic area also features mountains, rivers, karst caves, lakes and falls. In the middle of the forest you find many cultural relics and historical sites, such as the Bamboo Forest Museum, the old folk residences on Mount Xijia and fish fossils.

Shunan Bamboo Sea offer a perfect summer resort as the weather here is enjoyable, with a year-round average temperature of 15.5℃ (60℉). It is the perfect place to enjoy some fresh air and gaze out over the beautiful landscape.

9 - Zöigê and Hongyuan Grasslands

These 2 places seldom known nonlocal travelers, but the scenery deserves to be on the top 10. The main draw here are the grasslands and the traditional, nomadic Tibetan culture. 

Hongyuan Grasslands
Hongyuan Grasslands

Zöigê is one of the three famous marshes in China at an altitude of 3,300 m. (10,826.8 ft.) to 3,600 m. (11,811 ft.). Small blue lakes such as Flower Lake scattered in green grassland with high and wide visibility. While Hongyuan Grassland, also located in Zöigê, resembles a sprawling carpet of green meadow sitting at an altitude of 3,400 m. (11,000 ft.).

These 2 grasslands are amazing and have some of the best preserved Tibetan culture remaining. If you do go to Zöigê, don't just spend a whole day here sipping tea in the county town. Get out and experience nomad Tibetan culture on the grasslands. The small town of Tangkor, roughly 60 km. (37 mi.) west of the county town, is a "wild west" type of town full of nomad traders. 

10 - Yading Nature Reserve

Daocheng Yading Natural Reserve
The Holy Snow Mountain in Yading

In October every year, red, yellow and green trees form a dazzling autumn vista at Yading Nature Reserve Park, which is now attracting a host of visitors seeking 'the last Shangri-la' in China.

The magnificent mountains and meadows in the vicinity of this 4,000-meter-high (13,123 ft.) plateau will surely blow your mind upon your arrival. Holy snow-capped mountains, lakes and temples, once accessed only by the odd explorers, now releases their mysterious veils to you and other travelers.

3 Holy Mountains in Yading

Chenresig (or Xiannairi in Chinese), Jampelyang (or Yangmaiyong) and Chanadorje (or Xiaruoduoji), all together, they were ranked as the most sacred mountains in Tibetan Buddhism. 

The three peaks were blessed in the 8th century, when Buddha Padmasambhava shed his divine light on the range, and named the three elevations after three Bodhisattvas. 

  • The 5,958-meter-high (19,547 ft.) southern peak, Jambeyang (or Yangmaiyong), represents Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom.

  • The eastern peak Chanadorje (Xiaruoduoji), of the same height, stands for Vajrapani, the Bodhisattva of Wrath. 

  • The 6,032-meter-high (19,790 ft.) north peak, Shenrezig (Xiannairi), represents Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron-saint of Tibet. 

Buddhists believe that a pilgrimage around these mountains is the spiritual equivalent of saying the Mani scripture 100 million times.

The Five-color Lake is the top spots you should not miss in Yading. Around 4,800 meters, It lies beneath the sheer precipice walls of Xiannairi's stunning south face. The lake changes its color amazingly from green, bright blue to deep ocean blue upon light conditions.

Sichuan is a place that filled with diversified landscapes and natural wonders that extend almost any place you will travel. No matter you are a photography fan, mountain trekking lover, or just want to find a summer resort with your family, there is always a choice for you. No trip to China is complete without a visit to Sichuan.

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