Morgen Mo
2014 Words/8 Minutes, By Morgen Mo, Updated March 09, 2023

Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area

Covering over 26,000 hectares, Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area in China’s Hunan Province is noted for more than 3,000 quartzite sandstone pillars and peaks across most of the site, many over which are 200 meters in height. Additionally, it is filled with many ravines and gorges with attractive streams, pools and waterfalls. It features 40 caves, many with large calcite deposits, and two natural stone bridges. In addition, the region is noted for its plethora of endangered plant and animal species.


Located at northwestern Hunan Province, China, Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area consists of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Suoxiyu Nature Reserve of Cili County and Tianzi Mountain of Sangzhi County, has an area of about 500 square kilometers. In recent years, a new scenic area was discovered and developed in Zhangjiajie.

Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area was discovered in the 1980s, and the landscape features stone pillars and peaks, cliffs, ancient and precious trees, sea of clouds, running waterfalls as well as rare animal and plant species. When visiting this landscape, you will feel as if you were in an art gallery created by nature.

The unique quartzite sandstone pillars are rarely found elsewhere in the world. Within the land area of 360 square kilometers there rise over 3,000 peaks, which tower toward the sky and extend into the distance. When the sun comes out after a rain or when it keeps raining for days, the peaks will be veiled in the mist that emerges from the valleys. The stone peaks amidst the sea of clouds, show their distinctive charm in changing weather.

The waters in the scenic area live side by side with the nearby hills, including a variety of waterfalls, springs, creeks, ponds and lakes. Jinbian Creek flows over 10 kilometers across the area, along which you can walk from Zhangjiajie to Suoxiyu. You can see the peaks on both sides confront one another all along the way. You will be also impressed by the reflected hill on the water surface.

The scenic area also houses many unique caves, among which the most famous one is Huanglong Cave in Suoyiyu stretching 7.5 kilometers. This cave can be divided into four layers, known to be one of the most renowned scenic spot in Wulingyuan.

Natural Heritages

Outstanding value in geographic formation

Wulingyuan belongs to the Neocathaysian Structural System when analyzing its rock formation. The long process of geographic transformation has caused tectonic movements such as Wuling-Xueshan Movement, the Indosinian Movement, Yanshan Movement, Xishan Movement and a series of other tectonic movements. Wuling-Xueshan Movement laid the foundation for the geographic formation of the region; the Indosinian Movement helped shape the basic structure of the region; Xishan Movement and the new tectonic movements mostly contributed to the unique quartzite sandstone pillars here.

The stratum that forms the unique quartzite sandstone pillars is said to be within the immemorial biosphere, featuring the presence of clasolites. The rocks here are thick and solid, taking on vertical textures. The structure of the rocks tend to be synclinal in nature, which offers insight into the conditions for the formation of the quartzite sandstone pillars. External forces of nature, such as water erosion, gravity, biochemical and physical weathering, are all external factors for the shaping of the rock formation today. The quartzite sandstone pillars are a result of long-term internal geographic movement and external forces of nature.

Unique landform

The tour guides working in Huanglong Cave of Zhangjiajie were inspired by the successful launch of Shenzhou and referred to the cave as the rocket base of China since many of the stalagmites are in the shape of a rocket. Most stalagmites have been given names related to a rocket.

Quartzite sandstone pillars are located in Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area.  There are 3,103 stone peaks towering 500 to 1,100 meters above sea level, with height ranging from tens of meters to 400 meters. The peaks come in shapes of various types, such as human figure, fairy, monster and beast. The following are the features of the quartzite sandstone pillars in this region: pure quality, thick stone with the proportion of quartz accounting for 75% to 95%. A stratum of rock here can be as thick as 520 meters. The interlayer structure features thick layer of quartzite sandstone, light micaceous sandstone or shale, which can be easily shaped by nature. The shale layer is exposed to the comparatively flat side, which is good for the stability of the shale and is also the prerequisite for the shape of the rising peaks. The shale layer has vertical textures and isometry with a distance between 15 to 20 meters, creating conditions for shaping various peaks and valleys.

Apart from those mentioned above, the mountains will be also shaped by forces of nature, such as water erosion, gravity, and physical and chemical weathering. During this process, the hills are shaped into peaks featuring steep cliffs and flat top.

Tectonic erosion landform is the geographical structure of Wulingyuan, which is exposed to the carbonate concentrated area of the Permian and Triassic period, with an area of 30.6 square kilometers. This landform can be subcategorized into five types of rock formation, which are thought to be the most typical Hunan-style cave landscape. They have various shapes, including funnel, stone forest, caves, low lands, shaft, underground river, cave spring, etc. Tens of the caves are concentrated in the northern region of Suoxiyu Valley and the southern part of the eastern side of Tianzi Mountain. Among them, the most common is Huanglong Cave, which is hailed as a treasure trove for the study of caves. In speleology, it is thought to be rich in tourist resources and can be tapped into through scientific expeditions.

Tectonic ablation landform is concentrated in the calcarenite area and is subcategorized as follows: (1) the cuesta landform of the calcarenite area covers the area from Mangjingjie to Haihutang and Chaotianguan Peaks, which are the outer regions of the quartzite sandstone pillar scenic area; (2) the V-shaped landform is concentrated in Huping, Shijiayu and Huangjiaping; and (3) the calcarenite landform is located on the flat outer edge and the velley comes in the shape of an open V.

Water erosion and sedimentation landforms are divided into three types, particularly piedmont plain, terrace and high floodplain. Piedmont plain is located in Shangpin Village. The two banks of Suoxiyu are the birthplace of the terrace which is 3 to 10 meters higher than the river surface. Junjiaping and Jiayuzui area is said to be the place where high floodplain emerged, with an area of 4 to 5 square kilometers.

Complete ecosystem

Wulingyuan is located at the juncture of the sub-region of the western plateau and the border of the sub-region of the eastern mountain and plain area, along Hubei Province in its northeastern side. It faces Shennongjia Nature Reserve in the west and linking Fanjing Mountain of Guizhou Province to its southwestern side. The complex geographic conditions, warm climate and abundant rainfalls here provide the breeding ground for the survival and multiplying of a variety of animal and plant species. It remains unspoiled by human activities as the transportation is far from convenient and the region is sparsely populated. As a result, many animal and plant species are well preserved there. It is known as a region that concentrates a number of rare and precious endangered plant species. Scientific evidence shows that Wulingyuan has never undergone dramatic weather changes, water loss and soil erosion, rock collapse or pest attack for the past thousands of years. This further shows that Wulingyuan has a compete and sound ecosystem that can shed much light on scientific study.

Wulingyuan is rich in natural resources. Among all plants, Wuling pine trees are widely scattered around the area with the largest number of plants with strange shapes. It is said that the thousands of pine trees have their roots in over 3,000 peaks in Wulingyuan.

Ancient trees are considered living fossils of natural heritages. The ancient trees in Wulingyuan are characterized by their old ages, large sizes, rarity, peculiarity and large number. Shentangwan and Heizongnao are said to be places that preserve  the natural state of forests. In Zhangjiajie, there is a ginkgo hailed as a living fossil of the natural heritages, which is as high as 44 meters with a diameter of 1.59 meters. The dove tree in Yaozizhai is regarded as a rare and precious variety under national protection. All these plant species are highly rich in scientific values, and their living environment, structure and preservation have become major research subjects.

Rare and precious animal species: Situated at the joint of the sub-region of the western plateau and the edge of the sub-region of the eastern mountain and plain area, Wulingyuan belongs to the Oriental Realm. It features complex geographic conditions, warm climate and abundant rainfalls. The longstanding weathering erosion of the hills led to the formation of quartzite sandstone pillars and rocks. The steep cliffs and the deep ditches, together with the thick forests, create favorable conditions for the survival and multiplying of a number of animal species. Scientific evidence shows that there are a total of 50 families and 116 species of vertebrates here, among which, 3 are labeled as the “A” level species under government protection and 10 the B Level. Among all the animals here, macaques account for the largest number, as many as over 300. Giant salamanda can be found in the creeks, rivers, springs and ponds. The scientific study of the animal and plant species and the whole ecosystem as well as the relationship between them can offer much insight into animal preservation and the balance of the ecosystem.

Geographic wonders

The wave patterns on the stratum of the Devonian System on the Echoing Wall of Wulingyuan, which is by Tiaoyu Pond, are rare among other geographic wonders. They are not only a feast to the eyes, but also are a testimony to the tectonic changes of the ancient natural environment as well as the land and the sea. The coral fossils in the Permian System of Tianzi Mountain feature their moiré patterns, are known for their superb materials for creating various handcrafts.

Landscapes created by shifting weather

The weather in Wulingyuan varies in different seasons. The sunny, cloudy and foggy weather contribute to the unique charm provided there. Foggy weather best contributes to fogs that are in various shapes: in can be as light as the mist, thick as a sea of clouds, turbulent as waves, torrent as waterfalls and even dyed with the color of sunset or sunrise glows. After a rain, the area is veiled in fog, which then becomes white clouds and dissolves into mist. The peaks just loom amidst the sea of clouds, making you feel as if you were in a fairyland. Sometimes, the clouds will be rolling over the peaks, making you feel as if heaven fell down from the sky. This is a spectacular scene for all visitors.

Morgen Mo

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