Changsha is the gateway city to Zhangjiajie. With the completion of the expressway in late 2005, the bus has become the most convenient way to travel between the two spots. Buses depart at the Changtu Keyun Xi Zhan (Long Distance Bus Station West) for Zhangjiajie every hour. The 4-hour ride costs ¥110.
Hehua Airport is 5km (3 miles) from Zhangjiajie City (formerly called Dayong) and 37km (23 miles) from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It has flights connecting with many major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. It also has air service from Hong Kong. If you arrive by plane, there's no reason to bother with charmless Zhangjiajie City (Zhangjiajie Shi). Go directly to Wulingyuan, which is just outside the national park entrance. By taxi, it's ¥70.
The Zhangjiajie Railway Station is 8km (5 miles) southeast of town. Short of flying, the overnight train from Changsha is the most comfortable choice. The N569/572 leaves Changsha at 8:18pm and arrives in Zhang Jia Jie the next morning at 7:23am; the N571/570 leaves Zhang Jia Jie at 7pm and arrives in Changsha at 6:10am the next morning. Hard and soft sleepers cost ¥183 to ¥276. The railway station is also 45km (28 miles) southeast of Zhangjiajie Village, which is at the main park entrance and is the best place to find lodging. As you exit the station, taxi drivers, porters, and kids selling maps will pounce, but just keep walking. A bus from the railway station to Zhangjiajie Village departs from the square when it's full (an hour-plus wait sometimes). An alternative is a bus for ¥1 leaving from the middle of the railway square to the bus station in town. From there, catch one of the many buses for the 1-hour trip to Wulingyuan; the fare is ¥10. To National Forest Park, the buses charge ¥8; to Tianzi Shan, ¥15. Or you can take a taxi directly to Wu Ling Yuan for about ¥70. As you exit, go to the taxi stand at the left end of the railway square. Taxi rates are ¥3 for 2km (1 1/4 miles), then ¥1.50 per kilometer. After 10km (6 miles), add 50% per kilometer.
Vehicular and hiking paths provide access to some 240 designated scenic spots within Wulingyuan. The scenic area comprises the three adjoining parklands of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park to the south, Tianzi Shan Natural Reserve to the north, and Suoxiyu Natural Reserve to the east. Cable cars for ¥48 lead to viewing platforms from Huangshi Zhai in the Zhangjiajie forest area and from the eastern edge of Tianzi Shan. A local bus connects Suo Xi Yu Village, located at the southeast entrance to the park, and Zhang Jia Jie City Bus Station. The 32km (20-mile) trip costs ¥8. Once you're inside the park, free buses will take you between designated stops, allowing you the freedom to alternate between walking and taking a ride.
In terms of lodging and proximity to the most sights, Wulingyuan makes the best base. The village has one main street, Jinbian Da Dao, with hotels and leads to the park entrance. As you approach the park, you'll see a small street to the left; it leads to the Xiangdian Mountain Villa and a few restaurants and Internet cafes.
For most of the sightseeing within the park, there's no need for a guide. But you must join a tour to go river rafting. This can be organized by Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Travel Service, which is conveniently located and much more customer-oriented than the CITS branches in either Zhangjiajie City or Village. Their office is in Zhangjiajie City and they are willing to either meet you at the train, or come out to the park (tel. 0744/822-7088; fax 0744/822-8488).
Freelance guides near the park entrance charge considerably less than the travel agencies, but you need to bargain. Price depends on the season and where you go, but generally the asking price for an English-speaking guide starts at ¥100 a day. Be sure the person has a guide's license; otherwise, you'll have to pay their entry fee.
Exploring the mountain means following stone paths through spectacular forests of bamboo, oak, and pine to scenic spots that afford breathtaking views. Since every tour group takes these paths, you won't be alone, but the crowds can be part of the fun. For solitude, take the less-traveled paths, where the setting and scenery can be as dramatic as the popular sights. Admission is ¥248, good for 2 days.
Internet Access -- Zhangjiajie Village has several Internet cafes on the side street near the park. Turn left off the main street just before the park. The cafes usually charge ¥2 per hour. Dial-up is tel. 163.