The Ultimate Travel Guide to Jiuzhaigou National Park
Located in the north of Sichuan Province and about 400KM away from the provincial capital Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou provides spectacular scenery throughout the year which makes it one of the most treasured scenic sites in China. Jiuzhaigou means nine Tibetan villages with valleys and is famous for six wonders: emerald lakes, cascading waterfalls, colorful forest, snow peaks, Tibetan custom, and blue ice. It is a must-see site for every traveler's Sichuan tour.
Jiuzhaigou is not only beautiful in scenery but also rich in animal and plant resources. With virgin forests everywhere, inhabiting more than a dozen rare and precious wild animals including giant pandas. Looking far away, there are many snowy peaks, white snow, and blue ice. Looking closer, the lake is very clear, and the lake water is blue and green. Besides the natural wonders, Jiuzhaigou is also dotted with wooden Tibetan buildings, colorful prayer flags, trestle bridges, mills, etc., making it just like a fairy tale and is amazing in all seasons.
Most travelers would combine the visit to the other nearby famous national park Huanglong, which is 128KM away from Jiuzhaigou Valley. Huanglong Park was also included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992 together with Jiuzhaigou National Park. It is well known for its colorful lakes, snow-clad mountains, valleys, and virgin forests. Follow the below ultimate travel guide to better plan your Jiuzhaigou tour.
Best time to visit Jiuzhaigou and Jiuzhaigou climate
The gorgeousness of Jiuzhaigou is different in the whole year, and the best time to visit Jiuzhaigou is autumn to photograph the colorful leaves, the particular date is October 15th to 30th, also called the golden time when the tourists are the most. Generally speaking, from April 1st to November 15th is the peak season to visit Jiuzhaigou.
Located at an altitude of 1,900-3,100 meters, Jiuzhaigou has a humid plateau climate. The top of the mountains is covered with snow all year round, it has a long cold winter, a short summer (without intense heat), and cool spring and autumn. Like other plateau areas, Jiuzhaigou has a large temperature difference between day and night, less rainfall which is mostly concentrated in July to August.
March-May: With the spring breeze blowing, Jiuzhaigou is covered with beautiful wildflowers, colored with peach, purple, blue, goose yellow, you will find prosperous and splendid scenery all the way.
June to August: Jiuzhaigou is a great place to escape the summer heat, and the cool climate brought by the high altitude keeps visitors away from the scorching heat. At this time, the lake has plenty of water, this is the best time to enjoy the "Green Sea" and "Waterfall" of Jiuzhaigou.
September-November: The romantic autumn breeze also blows the most splendid season in Jiuzhaigou. In addition to green, the leaves also show golden, fiery red, and other colors, which are colorful, reflecting in the bright lakes. This is the best time to watch the "Colorful Forests" of the Six Wonders of Jiuzhai.
December-February: The mountains and forests are covered in white, and the waterfalls are transformed into huge natural and artistic ice sculptures. This is the season with the least number of tourists, but the best time to watch the "Blue Ice" and "Snow Peaks" of Jiuzhai's Six Wonders.
What to see and do in Jiuzhaigou and surroundings
With 114 individual lakes in Jiuzhaigou, the lake water is its spirit. The water of the lake is blue and clear all year round, bright and beautiful, and with the change of light and the passage of seasons, it presents different tones and water charms. For travelers who have limited time, the below 3 lakes should not be missed during your Jiuzhaigou travel.
- Five Color Lake is considered by most people to be the most beautiful lake in Jiuzhaigou. Due to the calcium deposits at the bottom of the lake, the algae of kinds of colors, and the reflections of the colorful trees along the shore, the lake is stunning and amazing.
- Mirror Lake, the best place to see reflections in Jiuzhaigou. In the early morning, the blue sky and white clouds, distant mountains, and nearby trees are all reflected at the bottom of the lake. On a sunny day without wind, the water surface is as smooth as a mirror, and the scenery is copied into the water without distortion.
- Long Lake is ink-blue and surrounded by lush green mountains, which has the highest elevation, the widest surface, and the deepest water in Jiuzhaigou. In early autumn, the mountains on the opposite side are covered by snow. In mid-winter, the ice sheet of the Long Lake is as thick as 60cm.
There are several waterfalls in Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area, two of the most beautiful and famous are Pearl Shoal Waterfall and Nuo Ri Lang Waterfall.
- Pearl Shoal Waterfall is the largest Calcareous waterfall in Jiuzhaigou, which comes from the melted snow water in the mountain and rushes from a height of 21 meters into the valley bottom. Pearl Shoal is full of potholes, and the torrent hits the potholes, and the splashed water splashes like pearls under the sunlight, hence the name "Pearl Shoal".
- Nuo Ri Lang Waterfall is by far the widest Calcareous waterfall in China. In summer, when the water volume is at its peak, visitors can see the most spectacular waterfalls. In the middle of winter, mysterious ice waterfalls can be seen here.
3. Virgin Forests
Known as one of the six wonders of Jiuzhaigou, the colorful forest covers more than half of the area of the scenic spot, with more than 2,000 species of plants. The forests are full of exotic flowers and plants with gorgeous colors. Especially the plants that lived in the hazy mist, dark green and eerie, mysterious. The woodlands are covered with thick moss and are littered with the feathers of birds and beasts. The 30,000 hectares of wild virgin forest, with the change of the seasons, presents a variety of wonderful looks.
4. Tibetain Villages
Located in the transition zone from the northeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin, Jiuzhaigou is mainly inhabited by the Tibetan people. There are many Tibetan villages and tribes located in both Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area and Jiuzhaigou County. Tibetan people maintain their own unique cultural traditions, such as mysterious primitive religion, complicated architectural styles, clothing styles, and passionate festivals. The industrious, brave, wise, and simple Tibetan people thrived in this rich and magical land, creating a brilliant and unique Tibetan culture.
5. Huanglong National Park
Located in Songpan County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, Huanglong National Park is 102 kilometers away from Jiuzhaigou and takes about 2 hours by car. As the only well-protected plateau wetland in China, Huanglong is dominated by large-scale, ingenious structure and colorful surface travertine landscapes. It is famous at home and abroad for its rare karst landforms, which is regarded as a fairyland on earth. The best time to visit Huanglong Scenic Area is summer (when the pools have abundant water) and autumn (when autumn leaves turn colorful).
6. Mounigou Park
Mounigou Park is also located in Songpan County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. It is about 117 kilometers away from Jiuzhaigou and takes about 2.5 hours by driving. Munigou's scenery is mainly characterized by virgin forests, mountain lakes, hot springs, giant calcified waterfalls, ring waterfalls, and calcified colored pools. Erdaohai and Zhaga Waterfall are the two most famous scenic spots. Erdaohai consists of a series of small mountain lakes with exotic flowers and plants growing in the lakes. There are sulfur-containing hot springs under the ancient pine trees by the lakes, which can strengthen the body after bathing. Zhaga Waterfall is a stepped and cascading waterfall. The entire riverbed of the waterfall is travertine. It is the largest calcified waterfall found in China so far, and has the reputation of "China's first calcified waterfall".
The scientific name of Ganhaizi is “Fragrant Grass Lake", which is located at the junction of Songpan and Jiuzhaigou County and can be seen on the road back to Chengdu from Jiuzhaigou. Ganhaizi was originally a mountain lake, but due to geological changes, now you will see dense forests, meandering streams, fragrant grasses, natural pastures, flocks of cattle, sheep, mules, and horses. Lined with the distant view of the snow-capped mountains, this is an ideal place for viewing and photographing.
8. The Fairy Pool Scenic Area
The Fairy Pool Scenic Area is located in Dalu Township, 40 kilometers away from Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area, with an altitude of 2,200-3,200 meters. The whole scenic area is mainly by blue and green lakes, colorful pools, and calcium flower landscape, covering the characteristics of both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong landscape. Meanwhile, it is also one of the two most well-preserved and largest forest parks in Aba Prefecture, with a forest coverage rate of 73.83%.
9. Watch Tibetan Cultural Show
The Aba area where Jiuzhaigou is located is a gathering place for Tibetans and Qiangs, who are very good at dancing and singing. Watching the Tibetan evening show in Jiuzhaigou is a great choice to see their culture, as you will not only enjoy the Tibetan singing and dancing, but also feel the local warm and simple folk customs, and taste ethnic cuisine with them. If it happens to catch up with festivals and wedding celebrations, it will be an unforgettable experience.
How to get to Jiuzhaigou
Flight to Jiuzhaigou
At present, the most convenient way to visit Jiuzhaigou is to take a flight from Chengdu or Chongqing. Chengdu has the most flights to Jiuzhaigou, and the flight time is about 40 minutes, while Chongqing has the second most flights, and flight time is about 1 hour. In addition, Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Guangzhou also have direct flights to Jiuzhaigou during peak seasons from mid-April to end-October.
Jiuzhaigou Huanglong Airport is about 1.5 hours drive to Jiuzhaigou park entrance and about 1 hour to Huanglong park entrance. There are shuttle buses from the airport to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong parks, but with fewer runs, it's best to hire a private car. The airport's altitude is close to 3,500 meters, so it is normal for tourists who have just arrived to have a little altitude sickness. Please do not run or exercise vigorously and keep your mood calm.
Overland trip to Jiuzhaigou
The other way to visit Jiuzhaigou is taking an overland drive from Chengdu, which costs about 8-10 hours to cover a 400KM distance. Booking a private vehicle with a licensed driver through a local China travel agency is the best option, due to the long and picturesque journey. In this way, the time is more flexible and you can visit more scenic spots along the way. You can easily have the stops for a short break, photo taken, toilet break, etc.
For tourists who are looking for a budget trip, there are long-distance bus runs for Jiuzhaigou from Chengdu every day, and the bus ride takes about 10 hours. Most travelers choose to reach the Jiuzhaigou Tourists Center terminal, which is about 1km away from the park entrance. Chengdu Xinnanmen Bus Terminal and Chadianzi Bus Terminal are the two main terminals running buses to Jiuzhaigou Tourists Center terminal in the early morning before 8:30, costing CN¥ 120-170 per person depending on conditions and facilities of the tourist bus.
Recommended itineraries and tours in Jiuzhaigou
With the beautiful natural scenery and unique folk customs, it requires at least 3 days to fully enjoy the highlights of Jiuzhaigou park and surrounding Huanglong park. Travelers can also extend the trip to 4-6 days by adding the nearby grassland and Tibetan towns. There are many options for choice according to your travel time, travel cycle, and preferences.
- For first-time visitors, this 3-days Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong private tour by air is a perfect match, as it provides a full day of sightseeing in Jiuzhaigou and a half-day visit in Huanglong. If travelers wish to enjoy the scenery along the driving way from Chengdu, then you may consider this 4-days Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Park land tour.
- For travelers who also plan to experience Tibetan Buddhist culture, please refer to this 5-days Jiuzhaigou Huanglong parks plus Zoige Grassland and Langmusi tour. In addition to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Scenic Area, you will also see the magnificent grassland scenery and visit Langmusi, a prominent temple in Tibetan Buddhism. There is even a chance to see the holy Tibetan sky-burials.
- There is a saying in China: "You don't want to enjoy the gorgeousness of other scenic lakes after visiting Jiuzhaigou, nor do you intend to experience the wonder of other mountains when you have returned from Zhangjiajie." This 9-days Jiuzhaigou and Zhangjiajie National Reserves tour have connected both Jiuzhaigou and Zhangjiajie, which is an ideal choice for natural wonder lovers.
Accommodation, Dining, and Shopping in Jiuzhaigou
Most tourists will choose to stay overnight near Jiuzhaigou National Park and Zhangzha Town. Accommodation is not allowed inside in the Jiuzhaigou park, but there are many hotels 1-2 kilometers away from the park gate. From budget hotels, 3-star hotels to 5-star hotels, all grades are available here. Prices range from CN¥ 200 per night to CN¥ 1,800 per night according to different travel seasons and hotel standards. Zhangzha Town is about 6 kilometers away from Jiuzhaigou park, and most hotels will provide a free shuttle bus from the hotel to the entrance of Jiuzhaigou National Park. There are also various types and levels of hotels here, budget and 3-star hotels here are cheaper than hotels within 2 kilometers of the park gate.
Jiuzhaigou County is a 1-hour drive from Jiuzhaigou park. Jiuzhaigou County is the local people's place of residence, where the accommodation is better than the scenic areas, the price is cheaper, however, it will be a bit far away if you plan to start visiting Jiuzhaigou park in the early morning. There are also various government units, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and various small shops.
The daily meals in Jiuzhaigou are mainly beef, mutton, and pasta, but the Tibetan and Qiang people make slightly different dishes. Tibetan people mainly use smoked and roast meat and drink highland barley wine, buttered tea, or yogurt during meals. The Qiang people prefer spicy and sour meat dishes and animal offal. In addition, the local Han people have mainly regarded Sichuan cuisine as the main dish. The famous cuisines include Yak meat (air-dried meat, braised yak meat, yak meat hot pot, etc.), Chang (Tibetan Barley Wine), Yak Butter Tea (a specialty drink in Tibetan Regions, made of ghee and strong tea), Highland Barley Cake (the favorite food of the Tibetan people in Jiuzhaigou).
Since most of the food and materials are brought in from outside, the price of meals inside the Jiuzhaigou national park is very expensive. The restaurant at the Nuorilang Tourist Service Center is the only place inside the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area that provides meals. The Chinese buffet is CN¥ 60 per person (with very few dishes), and instant noodles are CN¥ 15 RMB per box. There is no mineral water for sale inside the park, hence, it is highly recommended to bring 1-2 bottles of drinking water, bread, biscuits, chocolate, etc. The consumption of Chinese restaurants or Tibetan restaurants outside the Jiuzhaigou scenic area is also not cheap, with an average of CN¥ 80-120 per person per meal. For noodles, fried rice, or dumplings, it costs about CN¥ 15-25 per person per meal.
As a Tibetan inhabited area, Jiuzhaigou's souvenirs are mainly Tibetan arts and crafts. For easy-pack souvenirs, we would recommend travelers consider Tibetan jewelry (made by jade, cat’s eye, crystal and turquoise, emerald, coral, sky eye, crystal, etc), Ox Horn comb (good massage effect on the scalp), and Shawls and Scarves either with Tibetan characteristics or Qiang characteristics. Although the Tibetan knife is very exquisite and has strong Tibetan characteristics, it cannot be taken away. The highland barley wine is also a good choice for alcohol lovers.
Useful Travel Information and Tips
- The currency exchange services are available at Jiuzhaigou Airport and top-end hotels (such as Howard Johnson Tianyuan Resort, Hilton Jiuzhaigou Resort, or Banyan Tree Jiuzhaigou). All branches of Bank Of China and other large banks offer currency exchange services as well. In addition, there are ATMs with both Chinese and English languages that can accept Visa or MasterCard.
- Even inside the Jiuzhaigou Valley, the mobile phones' signals are quite good, and there are even 5G signals.
- Jiuzhaigou is located in the high altitude region (2,000-4,000 meters) where the oxygen level is thin and breathing will become labored. If you plan to travel to Jiuzhaigou, you should eat more vegetables and fruits, drink less alcohol, and not do any strenuous exercise to avoid altitude sickness. There are oxygen cylinders and packs for sale inside the park, which can relieve some symptoms. Patients with high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart disease should not go.
- If you encounter temples, Mani stones, pagodas, and other religious facilities, please go around from left to right. Most of the people living in Jiuzhaigou are Tibetans, please respect their cultural beliefs.
- Private cars are not allowed to enter the Jiuzhaigou Scenic area. The scenic area provides Eco sightseeing buses to shuttle between various scenic spots. If possible, sit on the left-hand side of the bus so you can see many beautiful views through the car window.
- Since August 9, 2017, affected by the earthquake, Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area has stopped receiving tourists. Then on September 27, 2019, the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area reopened, however, due to the Covid-19, the tourism bureau is carrying out control over the number of visitors and shut down for foreigners' visiting. It is still not open to foreign tourists at this moment.