When you think of visiting China, most people conjure pictures of The Great Wall or The Terracotta Army. And while those tourist hot spots are certainly worth seeking out, there are plenty of underrated places in China that also deserve a spot on your bucket list. One such place is Jiuzhaigou National Park, an unspoiled land with waterfalls, lakes, towering mountain views, grasslands and villages with immense natural beauty.

This national park and nature preserve lies at the southern end of the Min Shan Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992 and a national park since the early 1980s. Jiuzhaigou spans 72,000 hectares (over 180,000 acres) of pristine and varied land with elevations ranging from 6,500 feet to 15,630 feet. This pristine nature preserve is home to 220 bird species and a vast number of endangered plant and animal species.

Jiuzhaigou, which translates to “Nine Village Valley” from the nine Tibetan villages found along the way, remained largely undiscovered until 1975, and was heavily logged until 1979 when the Chinese government outlawed the activity. Today, seven of the villages remain inhabited, and the mountains, waterways, and 108 lakes are considered holy by the Tibetan people.

The colors of the landscape are what you’d imagine a painter who’s taken artistic license would use — vibrant, rich and starkly contrasting. From turquoise lakes, to rushing waterfalls, snow capped mountains and deciduous forest backdrops, this landscape demands to be witnessed in person.

In 2017 a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit the area and caused extensive damage to the park. It’s only just reopened on March 8, 2018, and only to tour groups, not individuals. The park isn’t fully open, but the most popular and idyllic sites are available to view. Only 2000 tickets are on sale per day (before the quake 20,000 were allowed in each day).

How to get there

Jiuzhaigou National Park is 280 miles north of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province in southwest China, and takes about 10 hours by bus. You can also fly to Jiuhuang Airport, and drive the 55 miles to the mouth of the valley. More detailed instructions can be found here.

What to consider

  • Only 2,000 tickets are sold each day, and only to tour groups, not individuals.
  • Sightseeing busses transport visitors from spot to spot within the park scenic area.
  • Entry tickets cost 110 yuan (US$17) from April to November, and 40 yuan (US$6) in March, November, and December, and sightseeing bus tickets cost 90 yuan (US$14)
  • Children and the elderly get discounted tickets.
  • It’s suggested to take two days to see the park so you can peruse at leisure.
  • You could take the bus the entire time, but it’s not recommended. It’s possible to walk between several of the locations.
  • The park is open daily from 8 AM – 5 PM.