Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountain
Zhangye Danxia Landform GeoPark, a flurry of rainbow mountains created by natural formation, showcases the stunning geology of northwest China. Among China’s most beloved national parks, it is a major draw for photographers, geologists, and visitors. Perhaps nowhere are the forces of natural formation more incredible than at this UNESCO-listed geopark. Its perfect stripes of color attract over 2 million visitors a year. Wooden walkways, stairs, and platforms give visitors an opportunity to get atop the hills for a bird-view over the colored stratum, without damaging the fragile nature wonder.
English Name: Zhangye Danxia Landform GeoPark / Zhangye Rainbow Mountain.
Chinese Name: 张掖丹霞地质公园.
Location: Linze County, Zhangye City, Gansu Province, China.
Recommended sightseeing time: 3-5 hours.
Entrance ticket: CN¥ 54 per person (plus CN¥ 20 per person for sightseeing bus).
- 06:30 - 18:00 from March 1st to April 10th;
- 06:00 - 18:00 from April 11th to April 27th;
- 05:30 - 19:00 from April 28th to August 31st;
- 06:30 - 18:00 from September 1st to October 31st;
- 07:30 - 17:00 from November 1st to February 28th.
How was it formed
Zhangye Danxia Landform GeoPark, also known as Rainbow Mountains, is famed for the breathtaking colorful Danxia landform. The mountain range with brightly colored layers of orange, yellow, brown, white, green, is the result of red sandstone and mineral deposits over the course of about 24 million years. For millions of years, plate tectonics movement has brought these red sandstone and mineral deposits out, erosion of wind and rain has carved them into odd shapes and distinct layers with brilliant colors, resulting in the particular Danxia landform that we see today.
What to see at Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountain
Travelers to Zhangye Danxia Landform GeoPark are simply for the magnificent Danxia landscape. There are a total of 9 platforms set up inside the geopark, serving to amplify the scenic quality of this magnificent place. Travelers are required to park outside the geopark and hop the sightseeing bus from either the west or east gate. The sightseeing bus runs to 8 of the 9 platforms, and travelers will need to hike up some zigzag stone steps to reach the top of the platform.
By far the geopark’s most popular platforms are No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 platforms, which are covered in the regular entrance ticket (CN¥ 54 per person). For travelers who prefer an in-depth exploration of the geopark, they can buy another ticket that costs CN¥ 368 per person, but the ticket is only available for a group of 3 or more people. The ticket not only includes all the platforms from No. 1 to No. 9 but also offers a private car and a private guide for the group.
No. 1 Platform
With about 10-min walking distance, the No. 1 Platform is the first platform travelers will reach by sightseeing bus from the west gate. This biggest platform of the geopark offers a panoramic view of the Danxia landscape, after walking a few steps up to a wide and long slope. From the No. 1 Platform, travelers will notice numerous fantastic appearances of the rainbow mountains, some resembling a giant scallop, or monkeys overlooking the sea, or Buddha statues sitting together.
Tips: The color of the mountains seen from here is not as bright as the following platforms, we would advise spending about 30 minutes here to save more time for No. 3 Platform and No. 4 Platform.
No. 2 Platform
From the No.1 Platform, it takes about 10 minutes by walking or 3 minutes by sightseeing bus to the No. 2 Platform, the highest point of the geopark. The wooden path to the top of the platform has 666 steps, just like the Great Wall curved along with the mountain range. It takes about 30 minutes by trekking to the top, where the bird’s-eye view encompasses all colorful layers of the Danxia landform.
No. 3 Platform
The No. 3 Platform is the only one that the sightseeing bus doesn’t reach, as it is just hundreds of meters away from the No. 2 Platform. A few minutes walk along a boardwalk will take travelers to reach its top, where they will get a view of a huge rolling hill with clear and bright red color as its main color, just like it has been painted with a colorful palette.
Tips: The colors of the hill look pale in the morning when the No.3 Platform is in a poor light. The best time to visit the No. 3 Platform is late afternoon, before sunset when reds, oranges, and yellows radiate from the hill are brightened by scatterings of warm sunlight.
No. 4 Platform
A short ride by bus or about 40 minutes walking will take travelers from No. 3 Platform to No. 4 Platform, the park’s scenic heart. From the foothill, the most eye-catching view extends all the way to the top of the platform - the best location to enjoy sunrise or sunset. The iridescent hills are rolling off in a long panorama, resembling a sea of fire.
Tips: There are still hundreds of steps to hike up to the top. As the platform is quite cramped, while there are a lot of photographers aiming to take a perfect photo of sunrise or sunset, it’s better to get there early for a nice spot.
No. 5 Platform
In addition to the No.4 Platform, the No.5 Platform also offers a great place to appreciate sunrise and sunset with vigorous colors. At the top of the platform, travelers can enjoy the close-up view of the iridescent hills which they saw before at the No.4 Platform, with Qilian Mountain at the furthest distance.
No. 6, 7, 8, 9 Platform
The four platforms, not included in the regular ticket, actually provide the most beautiful Danxia landscape with clear and bright colors. No. 6 Platform is the best spot to photograph the lush valleys and rolling colorful hills. No. 7 Platform presents the most vivid colors of the landform. No. 8 and No. 9 Platforms, the nearest sites to the East Gate, are excellent places to admire the inspiring sunrise.
Recommended visiting routes in Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountain
The west gate is the most frequent entrance by travelers, hence the below recommended visiting routes are also started from the west gate.
- The most popular way to enjoy sunset: No. 1 Platform - No. 2 Platform - No. 3 Platform - No. 5 Platform - No. 4 Platform.
- Classic visiting route: No. 1 Platform - No. 5 Platform - No. 4 Platform - No. 3 Platform - No. 2 Platform.
- In-depth visiting route: No. 1 Platform - No. 2 Platform - No. 3 Platform - No. 5 Platform - No. 4 Platform - No. 6 Platform - No. 7 Platform - No. 8 Platform - No. 9 Platform.
How to get to Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountain
The geopark is about 40 kilometers/50 minutes driving distance from Zhangye city, the first stop of so many travelers’ China Silk Road tour. There are limited flights to Zhangye from Xi’an, Lanzhou, Dunhuang, and Urumqi. For travelers coming from Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan, another cheaper option is by high-speed train with a 2-4 hours ride. From Zhangye to the geopark, it is better to hire a private car with a local China travel agency for a reliable and flexible schedule to catch the sunrise or sunset. There are public buses to the entrance of the geopark from Zhangye West Station, which departs hourly in the morning and runs once at 15:30 and 16:30 in the afternoon. The public bus costs CN¥ 10 per person, though it is cheap, visitors can miss the opportunity to enjoy the sunrise or sunset.
Best time to visit Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountain
The best time to visit and photograph the Danxia landscape is at sunrise or sunset when the colors continuously change under the sunlight, that’s the reason why the geopark opens early and closes late. Visitors should plan their visit for early morning or late evening for the most dramatic views of this stunning geopark. Besides, summer and autumn (from June to September) are the best seasons to visit these rainbow mountains. During the period, the light rain and sunlight encourage the colors of the cliffs to be more bright and vivid, ranging from vibrant blue to glamourous crimson.
Useful travel tips
- The entrance ticket is valid for 2 days, but the sightseeing bus ticket (CN¥ 20 per person) needs to be purchased again on the second day.
- The geopark also offers air experiences by hot air balloons, gliders, and helicopters. The hot air balloon costs CN¥ 200 per person for 5-8 minutes, the glider costs CN¥ 380 - CN¥ 680 per person for 5-15 minutes, and the helicopter costs CN¥ 880 per person.
- A sunny day after the rain when the colors turn brighter is always the best day to visit the rainbow mountains. In addition, a clear day is also a good choice for watching the sunrise or sunset. While a cloudy day could be a bit of a let-down, as almost nothing can be seen.
- Flying drones are not permitted inside the geopark.
- To protect the fragile Danxia landform, visitors are not allowed to step over the guardrails to walk on prohibited areas.