Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, Sichuan Province

Visit the deservedly famous Jiuzhaigou National Park and then head on to nearby Huanglong, an equally scenic but less well-known area of still ponds and coloured rocks.

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A mossy tree trunk, Five Flowers Lake, Jiuzhaigou National Park
A mossy tree trunk partially submerged in the clear blue water of Five Flowers Lake, Jiuzhaigou National Park.

Trip overview

Day One—Fly to Huanglong via Chengdu, explore Songpan Ancient Town.
Day Two—Hiking and driving around the key sites of Jiuzhaigou.
Day Three—Hiking around Huanglong National Park.
Day Four—Visit Munigou Park, private bus back to Chengdu.
Day Five—Visit temples and food street in Chengdu, Huanglongxi Ancient Town, fly back to Beijing in the evening.

Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture

Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Parks are hidden in the mountains of the Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, in the north of Sichuan Province. The main ethic group in this prefecture is Tibetan, with the Han and Qiang ethic groups making up the majority of the remainder.

The area was largely unknown to outsiders until 1975, and, after a bit of exploitation by loggers, was declared a protected national park in 1982. Since 1992 both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong have been UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Before the Huanglong Airport was built reaching the parks involved a long drive along twisting mountain roads. Flying in to Huanglong Airport allows us to cut down on the travel time to the parks.


A clear lake surrounded by pines in Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan, China

A clear lake surrounded by pines in Jiuzhaigou National Park.

Jiuzhaigou National Park

The name Jiuzhaigou translates as The Valley of Nine Villages. Seven of the villages are still populated, and as at 2003 there was a permanent population of around 1,000. Previously residents worked farms and fields, but now the focus is on tourism.

Many of the residents are of the mountain-dwelling Qiang ethnic group, who carry on the old traditions for styles of clothing and hair. An interesting fact: some of the Qiang trace their line of descent through the female side, instead of the male side.

Nearly half of the 720 square kilometers of Jiuzhaigou is covered by virgin mixed forest, an amazing sight when covered by autumn colours. Even more amazing would be to spot one of the Giant Pandas or Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys, two endangered species that are said to inhabit the forests in tiny numbers.

However, the most well-known features, and the focus of our visit, are the greens and blues of the many lakes in the valleys. The colours of the lakes depend on the depth of the water and the concentration of different minerals in the water.

We‘ll use the park bus system to cut out some of the longer walks between scenic spots, but still hope to get some good walking in.

Five Flowers Lake

‘Five Flowers’ is a shallow lake surrounded by stunning scenery, with ancient fallen tree trunks and branches clearly visible in the water.

Panda Lake and waterfalls

Named for allegedly being a favourite drinking spot of Giant Pandas, Panda Lake feeds the multi-level, multi-stream Panda Waterfalls, said to be the oldest in the valley.

Pearl Waterfall

Atop the Pearl Waterfall are the Pearl Shoals, a broad expanse of rocks covered by brightly-coloured algae and plants. The water flows over a broad, rocky cliff, dropping from heights of up to 40 metres.

Huanglong Temple behind travertine terraces, Huanglong National Park, Sichuan, China

Huanglong Temple, seen behind the travertine terraces of Huanglong National Park.

Travertine landscapes

Travertine is a type of limestone formed by the buildup of minerals from spring water. It‘s usually porous, which makes it easy for colourful plants and algae to grow in and on top of it. Buildups of travertine often take the shape of terraces, which Huanglong is famous for. Other places that are well-known for travertine terraces are Yellowstone National Park and Mammoth Springs in the U.S.A., and Pammukale in Turkey.

Huanglong National Park

Huanglong translates as ’Yellow Dragon‘, a name given to the 3.6km long gully filled with pools and ponds of clear water covering colourful mineral deposits and concentrations of algae.

Yellow Dragon Gully itself is surrounded by scenery worth a mention: forests of spruce trees at the lower altitudes, and alpine meadows and permanently snow-capped peaks further up.

Huanglong Temple

In the heights of Huanglong is the Huanglong Temple, a Buddhist temple at the head of the main body of water in the gully.

Ponds, waterfalls, and caves

After taking the cable car up to the Snow Peak area, we‘ll make a 3-4 hour hike down the boardwalks of the park. On the way down, we‘ll pass all the key sights: the Colourful Calcification Pond, the Yucui Colourful Pond, the Golden Sand Beach, and the travertine pools known as the Dragon‘s Scales.

Peak season at Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong

We‘re travelling a little outside peak season and hope to avoid huge crowds at both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. We still may encounter large groups of tourists in the more popular areas.

Mountains behind a waterfall in Munigou Park, Sichuan, China

Snow-covered mountains behind a waterfall in Munigou National Park.

Munigou Park

Also in the area, and also very scenic, is the Munigou Park. A little further off the tourist trail, Munigou is quieter than both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. We‘ll walk up into the park to get a good look at the tall waterfall and take another path back down to the bottom, passing through forests and walking by small ponds, pools, streams, and more waterfalls.

Ancient Cities and Towns

While in the area, we‘ll explore two ancient towns: Songpan, and Huanglong Xi.

Songpan is an ancient walled city, first built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and fortified with thick walls during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It‘s currently inhabited by around 70,000 people - an interesting mixture of Tibetan, Qiang, Hui, and Han ethnic groups.

Huanglong Xi contains temples, archways, ancient houses and trees, split by a waterway that made it a regional center of trade in times gone by. We‘ll explore the alleys and lanes, and see if we can pick up a few trinkets from the streetside souvenir sellers.

Chengdu City

The last night of the trip we‘ll stay in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. While in town, we‘ll investigate the Temple of Great Compassion, and the Wuhou Temple before taking a stroll down the Jinli Snacks Street—a good way to get a look at the different culture and tastes of Sichuan Province.

Health warning

The Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Parks cover altitudes of between 2,000 and 3,500 metres above sea level. That‘s high enough that you might feel the effects of altitude sickness. For most people, this means sluggishness and perhaps a headache, but if you‘ve had altitude sickness before you may feel the effects more strongly.


On this trip we‘ll be at altitudes between 2,000-3,500m, making it necessary to bring warm clothes. There‘s quite a difference in temperatures at day and night. Shaded areas may be quite cold. There's a chance of rain, so bring a waterproof jacket. At this time of year we expect temperatures of 10-15°C during the day, with temperatures nearing 0°C at night.


We‘ll stay three nights in a 3.5-star guesthouse in the town of Chuanzhusi, and one night in a 4-star hotel in Chengdu city.

You‘ll be sharing a room at the hotel with another hiker. If you'd like a hotel room to yourself, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 1,200 RMB for the trip, if a room is available—usually not a problem!

Further details about room shares and single supplement can be found in the documents we send you as part of the registration.

Flights and transport

We‘ll be flying to Huanglong via Chengdu, and then back from Chengdu to Beijing on the last day. On the last day we fly from Chengdu direct to Beijing. We're going to drive from Huanglong back to Chengdu because the flights from Huanglong Airport are infrequent and can be affected by weather. (The drive back to Chengdu is also very scenic!)

Frequent flyers: Please let us know if you would like to use your frequent flyer miles or if you are a frequent flyer member. If you would like to organise your own flights, we can provide further details.


We‘ll take most of our meals at restaurants, eating local Chinese food. We‘ll provide snacks and ingredients to make tasty sandwiches to eat while we‘re in the Jiuzhaigou National Park, and we‘ll supply more snacks to keep you going until a late lunch after our Huanglong visit. You might like to bring along a few treats for yourself as well!

Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.

More photos

Things to bring

Aside from a few changes of clothes and regular hiking gear, the following equipment and clothes will make hiking much more comfortable, especially if it gets cold at the higher altitudes:

  • Hat with wide brim.
  • Sunglasses and suncream.
  • Warm clothes in case it is chilly in the evenings.
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers.
  • Warm thermal/fleece jacket.
  • Warm hat.

Included with this trip

  • Return flight tickets.
  • Transport by private bus.
  • Entrance tickets.
  • Accommodation.
  • Meals and water as described.

Full itinerary

  1. Day 1
    05:30 – Meet at Beijing Capital International Airport (exact time TBC)
    07:00 – Flight to Chengdu
    09:55 – Arrive at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport
    11:00 – Board for 11:50 flight to Huanglong
    12:40 – Arrive at Huanglong Airport
    13:30 – Drive to Chuanzhusi
    14:00 – Check in at guest house
    14:30 – Travel to the ancient town of Songpan
    15:00 – Explore Songpan
    18:30 – Dinner at Songpan
    19:30 – Drive back to the hotel

  2. Day 2
    08:00 – Breakfast at the guesthouse
    08:30 – Drive to Jiuzhaigou National Park
    09:30 – Begin our visit to the park
    11:30 – Arrive at Pearl Shoals Waterfall
    12:20 – Picnic at Mirror Lake;
    13:00 – Pass the scenic center on the way to the second valley
    13:30 – Arrive at Changhai Lake
    14:00 – Ride in park bus to Five Flowers Lake
    14:30 – Ride to the Nuorilang Waterfalls and walk up
    15:00 – Walk back down the valley, passing more lakes on the ay
    16:30 – Take the park bus to the park exit
    17:00 – Drive back to Chuanzhusi
    18:00 – Arrive at the guesthouse
    19:00 – Dinner

  3. Day 3
    08:00 – Breakfast
    08:30 – Drive to Huanglong National Park
    09:30 – Arrive at Huanglong National Park, ride cable car up to the top
    10:20 – Hike down to the ’Colourful Calcification Pool‘
    11:00 – Walk to Huanglong Monastery
    11:30 – Walk down to Yucui Pool
    12:00 – Lunch by Mirror Pool
    12:30 – Continue walking down through the valley‘s forests and waterfalls
    13:30 – Arrive at Huanglong waterfall
    14:30 – Hike down to the park entrance
    16:30 – Drive back to Chuanzhusi town
    19:00 – Dinner at our guesthouse

  4. Day 4
    08:00 – Breakfast at guesthouse
    08:30 – Drive to Munigou Park
    09:30 – Enter Munigou Park and explore
    12:30 – Begin the drive to Chengdu, stopping for lunch and a walkabout at an interesting village
    16:45 – Arrive at Chengdu
    17:00 – Check in at our hotel
    19:00 – Dinner at local restaurant

  5. Day 5
    08:30 – Breakfast at hotel
    09:30 – Visit Wuhou Temple
    10:00 – Visit Jinli Food Street
    11:00 – travel to Huanglongxi Ancient Town
    12:00 – lunch at Huanglongxi
    13:00 – Explore the town
    15:30 – Drive to the airport
    16:30 – Arrive at the airport ready to check in
    18:00 – Fly to Beijing
    20:40 – Arrive at Beijing airport
    All times are approximate, and depend on our speed of movement.

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Photos and trip reports: Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, Sichuan Province

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