Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park – Rainbow Mountains
Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park is located in the eastern foothills of the Qilian Mountains in Gansu Province, China. The geological park has a spectacular area of Danxia (/dan-sshyaa/ “red cloud”) that covers about 50 square kilometers.
The relief forms of Danxia are a masterpiece of nature. The colorful mountain ridges are like an upturned palette from the sky.
Our guides know the best viewing platforms and the best route to see the most beautiful parts of this region.
Landscape Features of Zhangye Danxia – Red Rocks and Rainbow Ridges
Zhangye’s Danxia landscape features many steep red cliffs, most of which are several hundred metres high, and multicoloured ridges of weather-altered strata, sometimes extending to the horizon. These formations, sometimes smooth, sometimes steep, stand out on the greens or greys of the plains, of a grandiose and magnificent appearance, vigorous and virile.
Throughout the Danxia landscape area, a kaleidoscope of many red rock outcrops resemble strange and wonderful shapes such as castles, cones, towers; humans, creatures, birds and animals. Their peaks, rising through mist and clouds, produce a landscape of mirrors, mountains and fantastic pavilions.
Why Zhangye Danxia’s landscape has colorful layers
About 540 million years ago, the region was once part of the ocean. As a result of the collision of tectonic plates, the earth bent and formed mountains, and rose above sea level.
Red sandstone was deposited when rivers formed in the area. When the ground entered a basin, mudstone was deposited on the red sandstone. Over different periods, various sedimentary rocks formed that contained different amounts of ferrous salt in mud and stone. That’s why the layers have different colors.
Due to changes in sedimentary environments, the formed sedimentary layers have different colors of red, purple red, yellowish green, grayish green and gray. Each layer took thousands of years to form.
The Movement of the Himalayas raised the region and rivers formed. River erosion formed gorges, and the landscape of primitive Danxia was created. After other geological periods, river erosion and wind erosion have formed the coloured layers we see today.
It is the highlight that attracts visitors from all over the world. It is thanks to these colorful layers that Zhangye Danxia’s relief has been known as “rainbow mountains“.
How to visit Zhangye Danxia Park
Danxia National Park is located near the city of Zhangye – about a 30-minute drive west in gansu province in northwest China. You can also get to the city bus station first and get to the park by bus.
First viewing platform (called the fairy platform of colorful encounters)
The first observation deck is the largest and closest to the entrance, a 10-minute walk away. You don’t have to climb a lot of stairs to get to the observation deck. It is 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 worshipping the Buddha”, the huge “scallops”, the monkeys rushing into the sea of fire and the hill of the rainbow.
Second observation platform (called colorful sea cloud platform)
There are actually two platforms at this location – one at the base and one at the top of a hill. You only have to walk a few minutes to reach the basic platform, but it takes a lot of effort to get to the top. At the base platform, you can see a mountain that has the shape of a sleeping beauty.
The summit platform is the highest observation platform. It has 666 steps, which take about 30 minutes to climb. The wooden path that leads to the upper platform is like the Great Wall that winds along the ridge. At the top, you can take a picture of the panoramic view. It is also a good place to watch the sunset.
Third viewing platform (called colorful embroidered platform)
The third viewing platform allows you to see the famous “seven-color fan”. The mountain seems to have been painted with a palette of colors. The huge rolling hills look very soothing with their pastel colors.
Fourth observation platform (Colored Cloud Platform)
The fourth viewing platform offers the most spectacular view. It lies on a ridge that extends from east to west. As you stand on the ridge and look south, you can enjoy the varied colours of the Qicai Shan.
It’s the perfect place to take pictures of a sunrise or sunset.
Useful tips for travel
You must use the tourist buses inside the national park, as private cars and tourist buses are not allowed.
The distance between the four observation platforms is about 8 kilometers and it takes between 2 and 3 hours to complete the full journey by taking the tourist buses.
After enjoying an observation deck, you can wait for the next bus and get to the next platform. Another bus will arrive in about 20 minutes.
Different tourist bus routes
There are three different tourist bus routes, one for each of the park’s entrances:
– North Entrance Route: North Entrance – Pier 2 – Pier 1 – Pier 3 – Pier 4 – North Entrance
– East entrance: east entrance – pier 2 – pier 1 – pier 3 – pier 4 – east entrance
– West Access: West Entrance – Pier 1 – Pier 3 – Pier 4 – Pier 2 – West Entrance
We generally recommend that our customers leave the most beautiful platform, the fourth, until the end. We recommend that you follow your tour guide, so as not to get the bus wrong and not to return to an area you have already visited, and to find your means of transport at the right entrance to the park.
What to do and access to the docks
Each tourist platform is equipped with wooden steps and requires 10 to 30 minutes of walking. Be well prepared and wear comfortable walking shoes.
Prepare for high exposure to UV and UV elements
The national park has no areas that offer shade. This means that the visit will be hot in the summer, especially on a clear day. Be sure to take a hat, plenty of water and sunscreen.
A face mask or scarf will help protect you from strong, dry and dusty winds. If you’re worried about the heat, bring a paper fan or battery-powered fan.
It is important to remember to take water with you as there are no shops in the most remote areas of the park.
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 sunshine and a little rain brings out more colors. The rest of the year is very dry. Zhangye is well below freezing and windy in winter – which is not recommended.
The rock bands are well defined with colored stripes, and if it rains the day before, this color will be more beautiful.
Try not to go when there are clouds or rain, because it is only when there is sunshine that these mountains will show you their beautiful colors.
It is best to go in the morning and at dusk, especially at sunset, when the colors change continuously, showing yellow and red layers covered with a light grey layer.
Approximate sunset time: 7:30 p.m. in spring and fall; 8:00 p.m. in summer
Our local guide knows the best times and will organize your visit so that you can enjoy the most beautiful scenes.
How to get to Zhangye
Zhangye is a small town, located in the arid passage to the remote west of China, so access is limited. The best way to get to Zhangye is to get first to Lanzhou or Xi’an, then to Zhangye by plane or train. We’ll know how to combine Zhangye and your other destinations in the best way.
On a plane
Zhangye has a small airport about 15 km southeast of the city, with limited flights from Xi’an, Lanzhou, Dunhuang and Urumqi.
From here you can take a taxi to the park, which is about 65 kilometres away.
The train journey costs half the price or less, but it is two or three times longer. There are direct connections to Zhangye from Beijing (6 to 29 hours), Xi’an (7 to 8 p.m.) and Chongqing (24 to 29 hours). Tickets with berths are available for the long trip. Xi’an now has a high-speed train service, so you can take a direct high-speed train to Zhangye and get there within 7 hours.
Take a high-speed train from Lanzhou: You can choose to make a stop in Lanzhou, especially if you are exploring the Silk Road. Many trains connect Lanzhou to Zhangye. It takes 6 hours by regular train, 3 hours by high-speed train, and costs about 150 yuan for a second-class seat.
There are 17 high-speed trains a day departing from Lanzhou West Station and Lanzhou Station. Be careful to include the name of the departure station, otherwise you may miss the train.