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Jiuzhaigou Valley Five Color Lake Inlet

Five Color Lake InletView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Primeval Forest_Young Bird

Young Bird near Grass LakeView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Road from Huanglong Airport

Road from Huanglong AirportView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Entrance and Visitors Center

Entrance and Visitors CenterView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Lakes Falls

Shuzheng Lakes FallsView All Sizes

JOURNAL : September 3, 2012

Gorgeous Jiuzhaigou Valley in Two Days

Sichuan > China

Series Gorgeous Jiuzhaigou Valley in Two Days
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High in the Min Mountains some 400km north of Chengdu in Sichuan is one of the natural scenic gems of China. Jiuzhaigou (means Nine Stockades Valley) is not only a national park and nature reserve, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and World Biosphere Reserve. It is home to numerous lakes tinted by deposits of minerals like calcium carbonate.

Map of Jiuzhaigou Valley

Home to rare giant pandas and Sichuan golden monkeys, it is unlikely the average tourist will encounter such exotics. Rather, enjoy the variety of birds and plants that inhabit Jiuzhaigou.

How to Get There

From Chongqing, Chengdu or Xi'an fly into Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport and grab a bus ticket to Jiuzhaigou Valley on the way out. The ride is over an hour but passes downhill from the airport's 3,448-meter elevation through some beautiful mountainous country before arriving at the town of Zhangzha which hosts all the hotels tourists stay at when visiting Jiuzhaigou Valley.

Huanglong is supposed to be a nice destination. On the way back to the airport a Chinese woman raved about the naturally terraced pools, showing me numerous pictures of her visit.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Flags on Road from Airport

Flags on Road from AirportView All Sizes

Getting Inside

Once there, the next task is gaining entrance.

The first day of my visit was Labor Day, so I thought the huge crowds jamming up the entrance plaza, walkways of the most popular attractions, and all the other tourist areas represented the climactic end of the high season. This was confirmed when I returned the next day to find the park mostly empty.

But that first day was teeming with people. Thick, clumps of people in large families or tour groups, and very few individuals. It took some time to locate the ticket booth, which is to the left before the shopping area. Tickets were 200 RMB, plus the optional bus ticket was 90 RMB. Nobody ever checked my bus ticket so it might be possible to pass, but not advised.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Lakes Water Texture

Shuzheng Lakes Water TextureView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Waterfalls

Shuzheng WaterfallsView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Lakes Scenery

Shuzheng Lakes SceneryView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Forest Stream

Forest StreamView All Sizes

More Queues...

The ticket line isn't so bad once you find the ticket counter. Have your passport ready. While I waited I chatted with a couple of Spaniards. They were two of only a half-dozen luowai I saw during my two days there. In fact, the second day I saw no foreigners at all.

The next line gets you into the park and immediately into a slowly moving stream of people moving towards the buses, which go to several immediate destinations with their own throngs of people.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Bus Stop at Long Lake

Bus Stop at Long LakeView All Sizes

By comparison, the second day, Tuesday September 4th, the entire park was accommodating only a small fraction of the visitors. Jiuzhaigou Valley seemed strangely empty that day after Labor Day. The buses were mostly empty, the crowds quite light, and the attractions more accessible.

Shuzheng Lakes

Three valleys form this fantastic land called Jiuzhaigou. Visitors enter from the north end into Shuzheng Valley, which contains the 19 Shuzheng Lakes and another 18 lakes called the Nuorilang Lakes. Near Nuorilang Waterfall Shuzheng Valley meets the Rize and Zechawa Valleys.

Carved by glaciers, then damned by moraine and geological forces like earthquakes, the Shuzheng Lakes are usually the first stop from the entrance. Little walkways lace through the lakes and waterways, offering an intimate view of the scores of waterfalls.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Lakes Waterfall

Shuzheng Lakes WaterfallView All Sizes

Shuzheng is often the first stop buses and this area can get very crowded.

If the road-side of Shuzheng Lakes is jam-packed, it is recommended to find a walkway that heads across the lakes towards the mountains and explore that side of the lakes, returning to see the other side when less crowded.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village and Lakes

Shuzheng Village and LakesView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou is a rather huge place where human installations are relatively few and far between, the roads and walkways narrow strands that link them. It is easy to find long stretches of natural beauty if sought in earnest.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Stores

Shuzheng Village StoresView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Entrance

Shuzheng Village EntranceView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Shops

Shuzheng Village ShopsView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Streets

Shuzheng Village StreetsView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Lakes Walkway

Shuzheng Lakes WalkwayView All Sizes

Shuzheng Village

Across from Shuzheng Lakes, and probably the most visible of the nine villages, is Shuzheng. Colorfully decorated, this village is a nice detour from all the natural beauty. Shops sell traditional crafts or offer refreshments. The steep roads quickly reveal lovely elevated views of the lakes and this end of the valley, or present glimpses into local culture that has existed here for hundreds of years.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Temple

Shuzheng Village TempleView All Sizes

Of the nine villages, seven are still populated with about 1,000 people in 112 families. Inhabitants rely on tourist dollars and government handouts due to a ban on agriculture in Jiuzhaigou Valley. These folk are primarily Tibetan, and can be seen around the village or at popular attractions posing for photos in beautiful traditional dress.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Tibetan Women at Long Lake

Tibetan Women at Long LakeView All Sizes

Although the touristy exterior of Shuzheng Village is open for business, walking into the village reveals it still contains authentic elements like mud-brick and rough-hewn wood houses.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Building

Shuzheng Village BuildingView All Sizes

Bright colorful flags decorate stone walkways, and I came upon an apple tree laden with fruit. One maroon building was decorated with a swastika. Remember that swastikas are an ancient symbol found on artifacts thousands of years old.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Apple Tree

Shuzheng Village Apple TreeView All Sizes

So, if you have time, do check out Shuzheng Village, or pick one or two of the other villages to explore. It's a great way to still see these ancient towns before they are completely converted to plastic and manufactured in Dongguan.

Jiuzhaigou Valley

Jiuzhaigou ValleyView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Rhinoceros Lake

Rhinoceros LakeView All Sizes

See Jiuzhaigou Valley in Two Days

That is exactly what I wondered when I planned this trip. The valley is over 30 kilometers in length and covers over 700 square kilometers, seeing it all can be difficult. Yet, it is actually quite easy.

First, see as much as possible by taking buses between major destinations, then strike out on foot. From the main entrance take the bus to Shuzheng, then walk south towards Nuorilang Waterfall and the main visitor's center at the junction of the Shuzheng, Rize and Zechawa valleys. This will take a coupla hours but is amply rewarding.

Next, catch a bus to the top of one of the two remaining valleys. Long Lake and Colorful Pool (a.k.a. Five-Color Pond) crown Zechawa, while the Primeval Forest sits aloof at the apex of the Rize Valley. To either end point is about a half hour ride up curvy mountain roads. Along the way is some spectacular scenery.

Once at either destination, walk north towards the visitor center again and pick up a bus when you get tired, or when the walkway you tread upon suddenly disappears between the surface of a lake.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Colorful Flags

Shuzheng Village Colorful FlagsView All Sizes

Interested in adventure off the beaten track? Check out Zharu Valley. Purportedly the best to see flora and fauna, it only opened recently and is mostly unknown. Zharu branches off to the east near the main entrance.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Nuorilang Waterfall from Platform

Nuorilang Waterfall from PlatformView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Nuorilang Waterfall

Nuorilang WaterfallView All Sizes

Nuorilang Waterfall

Just south from Shuzheng Lakes are the Nuorilang Lakes which include Rhinoceros Lake and Tiger Lake. Just around the corner from the main visitor's center is Nuorilang Waterfalls. At 270 meters wide and 20 meters high, Nuorilang is quite a sight to see up close and almost in it, or from above and farther back on the viewing platform across the road. It is said to be the widest waterfall in China.

Walking through the forest and happening suddenly upon Nuorilang Waterfalls is an exciting and refreshing experience and not to be missed. This is unlikely anyway, as Nuorilang is centrally located and near to a major transportation hub.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Nuorilang Waterfall Up Close

Nuorilang Waterfall Up CloseView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Panda Lake Tree Island

Panda Lake Tree IslandView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Lakes Fallen Tree

Shuzheng Lakes Fallen TreeView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Colorful Pool

Colorful PoolView All Sizes

Tree Islands

One of my favorite aspects of the lakes are these little islands that sprout up from the surface. The water is so exceedingly clear even into the depths that many fallen tree trunks can be seen on the bottom of most lakes. Some of these trees get propped up by other debris, or one end of the waterlogged log will float to the surface. And eventually the old trunk will either sprout a new tree, or catch floating seeds and vegetation so that a little floating island begins to form. If the entire tree trunk is horizontal on the surface of the lake its length might be covered with grasses, flowers, little trees and bushes. Birds can often be seen amidst these little habitats.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Five Color Lake Tree

Five Color Lake TreeView All Sizes

These tree islands were in such abundance that they became another charming aspect of the Jiuzhaigou Valley... at least for me.

Colorful Pool or Five-Color Pond

Depending on where the name is seen or who is translating it, many of the attractions in Jiuzhaigou Valley have multiple names. Maps, official sources and signs on location often contradict each other, and it is difficult to find consensus. Thus, I have tried to use the names which appear on signs in the park.

Colorful Pool (from a sign right in front of the actual body of water) is just north of Long Lake at the terminus of the Zechawa Valley. Long Lake, while large and beautiful, was not nearly as interesting as Colorful Pool. Upon arriving at the station, the thick crowd slowly disgorged from the bus and moved as an entity towards this small but famous attraction. However, the walkway directly in front of the pool was submerged and the mass of disappointed people inched passed the attraction on a higher walkway that nevertheless provided a spectacular view of the crystal clear water below.

Colorful Pool and Long Lake comprise my excursion up the Zechawa Valley. Also available are the three Seasonal Lakes, which may be empty depending on the time of year.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Primeval Forest Walkway Pine Trees

Primeval Forest Walkway Pine TreesView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Eagles Claws Cave

Eagles Claws CaveView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Primeval Forest_Bus Passing

Bus PassingView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Grass Lake

Grass LakeView All Sizes

Primeval Forest

Other names include Primitive Forest and Ancient Forest, but the basic nature of the place is the same. Jiuzhaigou Valley was logged extensively before such activity was banned in 1979. The Primeval Forest had apparently avoided this fate so many of its trees are hundreds of years old.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Primeval Forest Trees

Primeval Forest TreesView All Sizes

A brief walk into the forest is a large wooden pavilion with some benches here and there. Taking a cue from other weary travelers I laid down on one and rested.

Among the evergreen pines you'll see no multicolored lakes or cascading waterfalls. No spectacular vistas filter through the dense trees either. In fact, this spot is rather devoid of eye candy. Instead, Primeval Forest is a tranquil place of calm relaxation high above the valley, and one of the remote points from the entrance. For those reasons, it is also one of the least crowded places in Jiuzhaigou Valley.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Primeval Forest_Old Tree Sign

Old Tree SignView All Sizes

A Walk in the Forest

Upon completing the Primeval Forest loop I headed north on the walkway to Grass Lake and Swan Lake. During a day of battling endless crowds and being stuffed into buses, the shock of not seeing a single soul only grew over the few kilometers to the bus station near Eagles Claws Cave. The path followed and sometimes crisscrossed the stream. Flowers, birds and forest critters made an appearance in the lush green forest. Why was nobody else enjoying such exquisite natural beauty?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious: most people tend to grab the bus to an attraction, stroll around within 50 meters of the attraction and take a bunch of photos, then get on the bus for the next one. To find some much-needed peace all you must do is stroll out beyond their comfort zone.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Primeval Forest_Empty Walkway

Empty WalkwayView All Sizes

Out in the forest the only reminder of the massive crowds held entranced by the colorful lakes was an occasional bus that passed swiftly along the road.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Grass Lake Bird

Grass Lake BirdView All Sizes

Grass Lake

This lake is aptly named, as many names in Asian languages tend to be flatly descriptive. Other accurate descriptions might be “flooded meadow" or “grassy marsh" due to the fact that the lake is very shallow and filled with hydrophilic grasses.

At Grass Lake the lonely walkway spawned a companion rest area that extended to the edge of the lake. While I sat there, chipmunks scouted about, birds pecked at crumbs, ducks went bottoms up on the water, and a brown mouse swam between floating clumps of algae. Life abounds in this place where people are rare.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Mauve Flower

Mauve FlowerView All Sizes

Swan Lake

Another kilometer downstream is Swan Lake, at an altitude of 2,900 meters above sea level. Despite being much larger, and its depth varying from 2 to 13 meters, Swan Lake is very sluggish due to heavy silting and carbonate deposition. Its many algae-covered logs are frequented by birds and waterfowl, and adorned with verdant plants and beautiful flowers.

After walking the length of Swan Lake the walkway ended at a bus stop in front of Eagles Claws Cave. From Swan Lake I caught the bus back to the visitors center. Although it was late afternoon and my feet were sore (one foot swollen from a huge blister from walking many miles every day) I decided to check out the opposite side of Shuzheng and Nuorilang Lakes that I hadn't seen earlier, and make my way back to the entrance.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Five Color Lake Tree

Five Color Lake TreeView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Five Color Lake at Inlet Bridge

Five Color Lake at Inlet BridgeView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Five Color Lake from Viewpoint

Five Color Lake from ViewpointView All Sizes

Five-Colored Lake

Variously titled Five-Flower Lake, Multicolored Lake, Peacock Lake, and Five-Color Lake, the sign at the location calls it Five-Colored Lake. The sign further describes the lake as being 90,000 square meters, elevation 2,472 meters, and 5 meters deep. Furthermore, geologists attribute the spectacular colors to mineral concentration, and the view is crowned as a wonder of Jiuzhaigou. That's what the sign says. Its Engrish is above average.

And the sign is right. The view is pretty amazing. Witness the clarity and vibrance of the water. Note strange deposits on the many submerged tree trunks. Feel your eyes bulge from their sockets.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Five Color Lake Mineral Deposits

Five Color Lake Mineral DepositsView All Sizes

Walkways encircle the lake. On this visit, however, the walkways towards the south side of the lake were closed off. Five-Colored Lake can be approached from Pearl Shoal in the north, Panda Lake in the south, or via bus. A nifty bridge crosses the lake when the water flows out towards Pearl Shoal.

The best views are from the south end, on the road high above the lake. No buses stop there, many steps must be climbed to attain this viewpoint, and it's a round trip. Despite the crowds around Five-Colored Lake only a few people were on that walkway.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Shuzheng Village Woman Working

Shuzheng Village Woman WorkingView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley, The Rize Forest

The Rize ForestView All Sizes

Jiuzhaigou Valley Sheep on Highway from Airport

Sheep on Highway from AirportView All Sizes

Visiting Jiuzhaigou Valley

When planning this trip I had thought of taking a train from Chengdu or Chongqing, but due to the current inability to purchase train tickets on the internet in advance, the best option for planners is to fly in. As noted above, only a few nearby cities have flights to Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport. Many Chinese tourists take the 10-hour bus ride from Chengdu, but screw that.

Hotels here are easy to book but expensive. A high-end Sheraton is in the vicinity, but quite far from the entrance. I stayed at the very nice Chian He (Chon-HUH) International Hotel which, although one of the most expensive places I stayed while in China, was nonetheless one of the least expensive lodgings in this area. Overall, Chian He receives a recommendation. Their staff was attractive and very nice. The morning buffet was awesome and the dinners delicious too (except for some fatty yak meat).

If you are used to speaking English with locals in Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong, remember that the more remote the locale, the less a chance anyone speaks English. This was particularly true in Jiuzhaigou and the town of Zhangzha. Although I did meet an occasional traveler from the big cities who spoke some English, a pocket translator proved invaluable. You can also pantomime your intentions.

Jiuzhaigou Valley Rhinoceros Lake

About this day

Gorgeous Jiuzhaigou Valley in Two Days

September 3, 2012

Sichuan > China

Tags   Walkabout · Hiking · Mountains · Lakes · Rivers · Valleys · Parks · Favorites

China Series | All China Locations

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