Jiuzhaigou Park “Valley of Nine Villages” Winter Adventure

Jiuzhaigou Park is a mystical ecological wonderland in central China. The beautiful mountain valley is situated on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in northern Sichuan Province. As a result, the villages located in the valley are of Tibetan origin. Therefore, when you are finished touring the lakes and waterfalls in the valley, relax with a hot cup of wholesome yak butter tea in the village.

From Xian to Chengdu

Before I had arrived in China I actually had not heard of the Jiuzhaigou Park. However, while I was in Xian visiting my friend she recommended that I go there. She had been there previously and said how to get to Jiuzhaigou was to visit Chengdu first. Therefore, I want to Chengdu first and stayed for a week to see the Leshan Giant Buddha and the China Pandas. Then I traveled to Jiuzhaigou airport and stayed for 3 days and 2 nights in the Jiuzhai valley. As a result, I spent 2 full days exploring the ecological wonders the park has to offer.

Jiuzhaigou Park Mountains
Jiuzhaigou Park Mountain Scenery

The Jiuzhaigou Park Public Transport

Most western tourists will be in for a shock. My plan was to get a Jiuzhaigou map and spend a couple days hiking in the park. However, that is not how it works here! There is a system of roads in the park and you will use public transportation to get around. Therefore, use your map to figure out where you want to go and then ride the bus to the destination. Simple! After an hour or two it feels normal.

First Stop Jiuzhaigou Park – Long Lake

Long Lake Photo
Long Lake is crystal clear and it has a mirror like reflection during the Jiuzhaigou winter season.

I stayed on the bus as long as possible because it was so cold outside (unfortunately I was not well prepared for the Jiuzhaigou winter). That was perfect because according to my Jiuzhaigou map, the last stop was Long Lake. This gave me a 20-30 minute bus ride in order to warm up. As a result, I would work my way in from Long Lake stopping at the different attractions throughout the day. The lake was very still and the reflections on the water were astounding. I took advantage of the photo opportunities.

Due to the clarity and stillness of the water I was able to see the logs at the bottom and also still pick up the mirror reflection of the surrounding mountains. I am an avid backpacker, and I have never seen anything like this before!

Long Lake reflections
This is a pure mirror like reflection of the surrounding mountains at Long Lake. The tell tale sign it is a reflection is the feint image of fallen trees on the lake bottom.
Long Lake tree reflections
Alpine trees casting a reflection on Long Lake at Jiuzhaigou Park during winter.

Traveling in Jiuzhaigou Park

I had visited in late December and it was a lovely time to enjoy the winter scenery. However, the park is extremely popular in China year round. The number of park visitors was 1.2 million in 2004. Additionally, the park averages 7000 visitors per day with a maximum of 12,000 visitors per day permitted. The number of visitors let into the park at one time is regulated by park officials. The visitor cap is very welcome and it goes a long way to preserve this national treasure.

Not only is it a geological and geographical spectacle but there is also extremely rare fauna at the park. That is correct, the endangered giant panda and also the golden snub-nosed monkey still exist here. Unfortunately, I was not able to see any wild pandas in the park.

Next Stop, Sleeping Dragon lake

Sleeping Dragon Laka Jiuzhaigou
The falls at Sleeping Dragon Lake are very broad and make for some excellent photos.
Ice formations at Sleeping Dragon Falls
Ice formations at Sleeping Dragon Falls.

In close proximity to Sleeping Dragon Lake was this little emerald gem that had the most amazing turquoise water. Again as with Long Lake, the mountain reflections were amazing!

Lake Reflections at Jiuzhaigou Park
More wintertime lake reflections at Jiuzhaigou Park.
Mirror Reflection at Jiuzhaigou Park
Mountain ridge line is captured on the mirror like lake surface. The water has a turquoise tint to it.

Altitude at Jiuzhaigou Park

The alpine environment made for some excellent natural landscape photographs. Additionally, the park is situated high above sea level and that certainly contributes to the cold weather factor during the winter. The altitude in the park ranges from 2000-4000 meters. Although there was not heavy snowfall in the area the cold dry air increases the chill factor and also the higher elevation tends to be much colder in the winter!

Nuorilang Falls

Most definitely the main event of the Jiuzhaigou tour is Nuorilang Falls!  I had no longer been following the map and was just following the crowd. As a result, I had randomly hiked into these falls so they came as a pleasant surprise. In addition, the Jiuzhaigou weather was beginning to warm up (slightly) in the late morning. This was a welcome development!

The falls are estimated to be over 300 meters long!

Nuorilang Falls Jiuzhaigou Park
The Nuorilang Falls are 300 meters long and they are definitely the main attraction at Jiuzhaigou Park.
Nuorilang falls
Additional photo of the Nuorilang falls taken from the viewing area in front of the falls.

The Jiuzhaigou winter temperatures are freezing cold. Although I had started to warm up in the mid morning it was time for a break. Therefore, I decided to stop by the one of the Tibetan Villages and have some of the yak butter tea I had read about.

Tibetan Village

Tibetan Village Jiuzhaigou Park
The tell tale sign that this is a Tibetan village are the stupa and the prayer flags. Sichuan province (where the park is located) is situated at the base of the Tibetan Plateau.
Yak Butter Tea Photo Tibetan Village
This is an inviting photo of the yak butter tea that I had while visiting the Tibetan village at Jiuzhaigou Park.

The yak butter tea was perfect after spending the morning in the freezing winter weather. It is thick and rich and nice and hot. Perfect!

I ran into this kid in the village. Looks like his mom had definitely put a lot of effort into dressing him up.

Small Child, Tibetan Village Jiuzhaigou
This kid’s mom is standing nearby and she thought it was very amusing someone had appreciated how she had dressed up her son that morning.

By the way, panda hats are all the rage in China. Unfortunately, the hotel gift shop was all sold out when I was scrounging around for some warm clothing. Maybe I will buy one next time?

Woman with Panda Hat, Jiuzhaigou
Chinese tourist wearing the ubiquitous panda hat.

Jiuzhaigou Park is Highly Recommended

My Jiuzhaigou tour had turned out to be really awesome. At first, I was a bit discombobulated because of the sub freezing weather (especially in the morning) and the crowds. The crowds were in stark contrast to the type of solitary wilderness adventures that I typically enjoy. However, after settling in and warming up on the bus it worked out fine. The best parts of the Jiuzhaigou tour were the Chinese tourists and of course the ecological phenomenon at the park.

If you are a photographer then this will make an extraordinary trip. The winter is a good time to visit due to the ice formations and also the cold weather will keep the crowds at bay. As a result, of the Jiuzhaigou winter I found some great photo opportunities involving ice formations.

Jiuzhaigou Winter Photos
This pine tree was covered with ice crystals. These ice formations would appear in places that were shielded from the afternoon sun. As a result, the temperature in these areas was significantly lower.
Jiuzhaigou winter photos
Ice building up at the base of the waterfall.

I would have to say for Jiuzhaigou the best time to visit is in winter. This is because of the ice and also having the crowds thinned out a bit. However, if I go again I would like to time it for the fall season when the leaves switched over to their fall colors.