Zhangye’s Danxia landscape has lots of precipitous red cliffs, most of which are several hundred meters high, and multicolored ridges of weathered strata, sometimes stretching to the horizon. These formations, sometimes smooth sometimes sharp, stand out against the greens or grays of the plains , looking grand and magnificent, vigorous and virile.
Across the danxia landscape zone, a kaleidoscope of numerous red rocky outcrops resemble weird and wonderful shapes like castles, cones, towers; as well as humans, creatures, birds and beasts. Their peaks peeping through the mist and clouds, produce mirage-like scenery of fantastic mountains and pavilions.
Why the Zhangye Danxia Landscape Has Colorful Layers?
About 540 million years ago, the area was once part of the ocean. Due to tectonic plate collision, the land folded and formed mountains, and lifted above sea level.
Red sandstone was deposited when rivers formed in the area. When the ground sank into a basin, mudstone was deposited on the red sandstone. During different periods, varying sedimentary rocks were formed that contained different amounts of ferrous salt in the mud and stone. This is why the layers have different colors.
Because of the changes in sedimentary environments, the sedimentary layers formed have different colors of red, purplish red, yellowish green, grayish green, and gray. Every layer took thousands of years to form.
The movement of the Himalayas lifted the area higher and rivers formed. The river erosion formed gorges, and the early Danxia landscape was created. After further geological periods, river erosion and wind erosion formed the colorful layers we see today.
This is the highlight that attracts visitors from all over the world. The colorful layers are how the Zhangye Danxia landform area became known as the “Rainbow Mountains”.
How to Visit Zhangye Danxia Park
The Danxia national park is located close to the city of Zhangye — about 30 minutes west by car, in northwestern China’s Gansu Province. Alternatively, you can go to the city bus station first and travel to the park by bus.
The first viewing platform is the largest platform and the nearest to the entrance, at 10 minutes’ walk away. You don’t need to walk up many steps to get to the viewing platform. It’s practically at ground level and you can see the high, colorful mountains.
Use your imagination and you will see shapes in the mountains known as Monks Worshiping the Buddha, the huge “scallops”, Monkeys Rush into the Sea of Fire, and Rainbow Hill.
There are actually two platforms at this point — one at the base and one at the top of a hill. You only need to walk for a few minutes to get to the base platform but it takes a lot of effort to get to the top. At the base platform, you can see a mountain that’s shaped like a sleeping beauty.
The top platform is the highest viewing platform. It has 666 steps, which take about 30 minutes to climb. The wooden path to the top platform is like the Great Wall winding along the ridge. At the top, you can take a photo of the panoramic view. It’s also a good place to enjoy the sunset.
The third viewing platform allows a view of the famous ‘Seven-Color Fan’. The mountain looks like it has been painted with a colorful palette. The huge rolling hills look very soothing with their pastel colors.
The fourth viewing platform has the most stunning view. It is on a ridge that runs from east to west. Standing on the ridge and looking south, you can feast your eyes on the variegated colors of Qicai Shan (七彩山 /chee-tseye shan/ ‘Seven-Color Mountain’).
It is the perfect place for taking pictures of a sunrise or sunset.
Useful Travel Tips
You need to use the sightseeing buses within the national park because no private cars or tourist buses are allowed.
The distance between the four viewing platforms is about 8 kilometers (5 miles), and it takes 2–3 hours to finish the whole trip when taking the sightseeing buses.
After you’ve enjoyed one viewing platform, you can wait for the next bus and travel to the next viewing platform. Another bus will arrive in about 20 minutes.
Different Sightseeing Bus Routes
There are three different sightseeing bus routes, one for each of the park entrances:
- North entrance route: north entrance – platform 2 – platform 1 – platform 3 – platform 4 – north entrance
- East entrance route: east entrance – platform 2 – platform 1 – platform 3 – platform 4 – east entrance
- West entrance route: west entrance – platform 1 – platform 3 – platform 4 – platform 2 – west entrance
We usually recommend that our customers leave the most beautiful platform, the fourth one, to the end. You are recommended to follow your tour guide, so that you don’t end up on the wrong bus and backtrack to an area you’ve already been to, and so that you get back to your transport at the right park entrance.
Steps and Walking to the Platforms
Wooden stairs for sight-seeing
Each sightseeing platform has wooden steps and requires 10 to 30 minutes walking. Be well prepared and wear comfortable walking shoes.
Prepare for High UV and Exposure to the Elements
The national park has no areas that offer any shade. This means the tour will be hot in summer, especially on a clear day. Make sure you take a hat, plenty of water, and some sunblock.
A face mask or scarf will help protect against the strong, dry, and dusty wind. If you are worried about the hot temperature, take a paper fan or battery fan with you.
It’s important to remember to take water with you because there are no shops in the more remote park areas.
Best Times to Visit (Seasons and Hours)
The best time to visit Zhangye is from June to September when the weather is comfortable, and the combination of strong sun and a little rain brings out the colors more. The rest of the year is very dry. Zhangye is well below freezing and windy in winter — not recommended.
The rocky bands are well defined with colorful stripes, and, if it rains the day before, this color will be more gorgeous.
Try not to go when it is cloudy or raining, as only when there is sunshine will these mountains show you their gorgeous colors.
It is best to visit in the morning and at dusk, especially at sunset, when the colors change continuously, showing yellow and red layers covered by a light gray layer.
Approximate sunset time: 7:30 pm in spring and autumn; 8:00 pm in summer
Our local guide knows the best times, and will arrange your tour to make sure you get the most beautiful scenes.
How to Get to Zhangye
Zhangye is a small city, in the arid passage to the remote west of China, so access is limited. The best way to travel to Zhangye is to go to Lanzhou or Xi’an first and then travel to Zhangye by air or train. We will know how to combine Zhangye and your other destinations in the best way.
Zhangye has a small airport about 15 km (10 miles) southeast of the city, with limited flights from Xi’an, Lanzhou, Dunhuang, and Urumqi.
From there, you could take a taxi to the park, which is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) away.
Traveling by train costs half the price or less, but it takes two or three times longer. There are direct services to Zhangye from Beijing (18 to 29 hours), Xi’an (7 to 20 hours), and Chongqing (24 to 29 hours). Sleeper tickets are available for the long journey. Xi’an now has a high-speed train service, so you can take a high-speed train direct to Zhangye and arrive there within 7 hours.
Taking a high-speed train from Lanzhou: You might choose to make a stop in Lanzhou, especially if exploring the Silk Road. There are many trains running from Lanzhou to Zhangye. It takes 6 hours by ordinary train, 3 hours by high-speed train, and costs about 150 yuan for a second-class seat.
There are 17 high-speed trains daily that depart from Lanzhou West Railway Station and Lanzhou Railway Station. Be careful to get the right departure station’s name, otherwise you might miss the train.