Located in the north of Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaigou County (previously known as Nanping County) is part of the Aba (阿坝) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. Local Sichuan folk say, “If you haven’t been to Jiuzhaigou, you’re not a true Sichuanese!” Harsh words, but what they’re trying to express is just how dazzling this gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site really is.
Jiuzhaigou sees more than 1.5 million visitors per year and, like the Sichuan Opera, it wears many faces. In the spring and summer, the turquoise water sparkles in the bright scorching sun, but crowds are greatest at this time. During the winter, the lakes freeze as crystal white snow covers the black-tile roofs of the ancient temples, while the grounds are practically empty and discounts are everywhere. When autumn rolls around (perhaps the best time to visit), foliage paints the deep forest with great splashes of reds yellows and oranges, and the amount of visitors is neither scarce nor scary.There are a lifetime’s worth of true natural wonders to visit in this spectacular, world-renowned park. Some of the most famous sites include: Panda Lake (Xióngmāo Hǎi; 熊猫海), Tiger Lake (Lǎohǔ Hǎi; 老虎海), Sparkling Lake (Huǒhuā Hǎi; 火花海), Long Lake (Cháng Hǎi; 长海), Five-Flower Lake (Wǔhuā Hǎi; 五花海), Five Colored Pool (Wǔcǎi Chí; 五彩池), Bonsai Shoals (Pénjǐng Tān; 盆景滩), Huanglong Valley (Huánglóng Gǔ; 黄龙谷), Shuzheng Waterfall (Shùzhèng Pùbù; 树正瀑布), Pearl Shoals Waterfall (Zhēnzhūtān Pùbù; 珍珠滩瀑布) and Nuorilang Waterfall (Nuòrìlǎng Pùbù; 诺日朗瀑布). See the map for more details.A variety of small Tibetan and Qiang (羌) minority villages also dot the valley, so travelers can catch a bite of local life along with stunning scenery. In fact, it’s these villages that give Jiuzhaigou (which means Nine Village Valley) its name.Eco Tourism, which is quite rare in the Middle Kingdom, is actually thriving in Jiuzhaigou. Contact the ecotourism program (firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; phone: 0837 773 7070) or go to the visitor’s center in town for more info. At the visitor’s center you can book camping tours with guides and even borrow equipment from their stock. Another option is to do a home-stay with local Tibetan and Qiang families. For home-stays, contact the visitor’s center or ask your hotel or hostel for more info.
The Jiuzhaigou Administration Center contains the ticket office. Standard tickets go for ¥220, but the disabled, seniors 60 to 70 years of age, and students get a discount price of ¥170. Children under 1.3 m (4.2 ft) and seniors over 70 get in free. For more info, visit the website: www.jiuzhai.com/language/english
Low season tickets are ¥80 (Nov 16 – Mar 31). Keep in mind that during the low season many of the wooden trails and sections of the park are closed, making it impossible to hike. You can easily cover all the accessible areas in less than one day during the low season as most of the walking trails are closed, and you will need to take the bus to get around. During low season, the park ticket office opens at 8:30 and closes at 16:00, and the park itself closes at 18:00.
No cars or bicycles are permitted within the park, but with the bus pass you can go to all of the sites within the area. A good plan is to first take the bus to the head of Rize Valley (Rìzé Gōu; 日则沟), then walk back towards the entrance. It is best to combine walking with taking the bus, as the park is quite large and you won’t be able to cover enough ground purely on foot.
With heights above 3,100 m (10,170 ft), altitude sickness is a real concern for many. Also during the winter months, the park is extremely cold, so bringing your warmest clothes is essential. Temperatures can also drop quickly during the summer months, so pack accordingly.