Tianmen Shan

Tianmen Mountain, China: How to Have the Best Experience

Julie China 17 Comments

Tianmen Mountain is one of the world’s most beautiful mountains. Why should you travel here? To ride in one of the world’s longest cable cars, walk the narrow, plank paths attached to vertical cliffs, walk on the glass skywalk, and climb the 999 steps to Heaven’s Door.

Tianmen Mountain is located in Zhangjiajie, in the Hunan Province of China. Most people travel to Zhangjiajie to visit Zhangjiajie National Park, where the landscape served as the inspiration for the movie “Avatar.”

Tianmen Mountain is a beautiful, thrilling place to visit and it is worth an extra day on your itinerary if you have the time.

Best Things to do at Tianmen Mountain

Tianmen Shan Cable Car

Some sources state that the Tianmen Shan Cable Car is the longest cable car system in the world (others list Ba Na Hills Station in Da Nang, Vietnam). Spanning 7 kilometers, it takes 30 minutes to travel from the city of Zhangjiajie to the top of Tianmen Mountain. The journey is stunning and much more thrilling than we were expecting.

For us, this cable car journey was the highlight of our trip to Tianmen Mountain. At first, the cable car passes over the edge of the city and then over farmland. About halfway into the journey, the cable car begins its ascent. Tianmen Mountain looms in front of you, and from the cable car you have a perfect view of Heaven’s Door, the oval opening in the side of the mountain.

Tianmen Shan Cable Car

Tianmen Shan Cable Car Ride

At the end of the journey the cable car makes a sharp turn upwards, making our ears pop as we approached the final station.

The Cliff Hanging Walkway

For another thrill, walk the narrow plank paths tenuously attached to the side of Tianmen Mountain.

Tianmen Plank Road View

It is called a plank road (maybe it was made from wood at one point) but now it is a poured concrete walkway with a railing. There is nothing underneath of the pathway except for air. Let me tell you, it is a long, long way down to the ground below. In fact, the walkway sits 1,400 meters off of the ground.

For a good thrill, we would stick our heads out over the railing, looking down at the valley far, far below.

Tyler Kara Tianmen

Tianmen Plank Road

China Dangerous Walks

Red ribbons were hanging from the trees here. Each red ribbon symbolizes a wish. People write their wish on the ribbon, hang it from the tree, hoping it will come true.

Red Ribbons Tianmen

The Walk of Faith…Do you Dare?

There is a portion of the Cliff Hanging Walkway that is constructed with thick glass. During our visit, this was the most crowded area of Tianmen Mountain. It seemed that everyone wanted to stand on this glass walkway with a chance to see down to the valley below.

It sounds scary and dangerous, right?

So, is it really that thrilling?

Maybe we are a little jaded by now, or maybe it’s just really not that great, but the four of us were not impressed with the Glass Skywalk. Even during the offseason, this very small section was overcrowded. The glass has gotten scratched and scuffed up, so much so that we could barely see through the glass. The thrill that we were hoping for turned out to be a disappointment.

I would still recommend doing it just to see what all of the fuss is about. But the cable car ride beats the Glass Skywalk in the thrill department, no doubt about it.

Glass Walkway Tianmen

Coiled Dragon Cliff…the Newest Glass Skywalk

This was added after our visit. This is another glass skywalk that looks down at the 99 bends, the winding road that leads up to Tianmen Mountain.

Tianmen Cave, aka “Heaven’s Door”

Tianmen Cave is a natural cut out in Tianmen Mountain. Believe it or not, men in wingsuits and fighter jets have flown through this narrow opening.

Visitors can climb the 999 steps to Heaven’s Door.

Is it worth it? Our answer is “maybe.” We never went to Tianmen Cave. To get there, you must take the bus or a series of elevators and cable cars to get to the staircase. Views from the cave are mediocre and it can be overly crowded. We were here at the end of winter. We were freezing cold and did not want to prolong our visit for something that may turn out to be a disappointing hassle. We decided to give Heaven’s Door a pass.

Drive one of China’s Most Dangerous Roads

With 99 curves, Tongtian Highway is considered to be one of China’s most dangerous roads. The best view of it is from the Tianmen Shan Cable Car.

For those visiting Tianmen Cave, buses make the winding, somewhat nauseating drive on this road.

Tongtian Highway

Planning a trip to China? Read this before you go:  China Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Traveling to China

How to Have the Best Experience at Tianmen Mountain

Best Time To Go to Tianmen Mountain

The best time to visit Tianmen Mountain is between September and November when temperatures are pleasant and the weather is dry. During the spring season (mid-March through June), the weather can be rainy and foggy. Peak season is between July and August. Expect large crowds and long lines for the cable car, buses, and the chair lift. The winter season has chilly, dry weather and the lowest crowds.

We visited Zhangjiajie in early March. For five days, it was always overcast with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 50°F (5°C to 10°C). Crowds were low and we never had to wait in queues to get on the cable cars.

Do Not Visit Tianmen Mountain on a Rainy, Foggy Day

If the weather is not clear, there is no point in visiting Tianmen Mountain. There are numerous reports of travelers ascending to the top of Tianmen Mountain on foggy days and having zero visibility.

Expect Long Queues for the Cable Car

Lines can be long to get on the cable car, even outside of peak season. To avoid long lines, arrive first thing in the morning, preferably a half hour before opening time. It is not unusual to wait several hours in line just to board the cable car.

The Cable Car can Close in Bad Weather

If the weather forecast calls for storms or high winds, the cable car can shut down. Keep an eye on the weather when making your plans.

About Tianmen Mountain

Hours: 8 am to 4 pm; the Tianmen Shan Cableway runs from 8 am to 5 pm

Cost: CNY 258, this includes the admission fee, a single journey on the Tianmen Shan Cableway, the shuttle bus, and the escalator to Tianmen Cave.

Additional Fees:  Peak Forest Cableway (chairlift) CNY 25; shoecovers for the glass skywalks are CNY 5; lower escalator to Tianmen Cave is CNY 32

Click here to view a map of Tianmen Mountain.

How to Plan Your Time

  • Ride the cable car to Tianmen Mountain
  • Walk the trails, plank roads, and glass skywalks (1 – 2 hours)
  • Ride the chair lift from Cherry Village to Yunmeng Fairy Peak and enjoy the view
  • Take the elevator or walk back to the cable car station
  • Take the escalators to Tianmen Cave
  • From Tianmen Cave, take the bus down the 99 curves of Tongtian Highway (skip this if you get car sick!) or take the escalator back to the cable car station and take the cable car back to town

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the Bajie Renwen Inn in Zhangjiajie. This hotel is located about 10 minutes from the cable car station, so we took a taxi to and from the cable car. We loved the location of this hotel. We were within walking distance of lots of restaurants, shops, and a grocery store. The hotel staff is very friendly and they do speak a little bit of English. Mostly we communicated with our basic Mandarin and by using translator apps on our phones.

Watch Our Video about Tianmen Mountain:


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Tianmen Mountain best things to do

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Comments 17

  1. We also try to travel as independents as a family.
    We are going to China in December.
    It seems that with several family members (3) that car with driver
    is a reasonable alternative to train because we need 3 fares.

    What are your thoughts / experiences with this mode in China?

    Thanks Frederick family

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      Author

      Hello Harold. We never rented a car in China. We either got around by train, bus, plane, or private driver/taxi (for short distances). In our experience, traveling by train was very economical. We traveled 2nd class and it was fine. To see what works out better for your family, you could price out train travel vs. rental car. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a car in the Zhangjiajie area. This would give you more freedom and flexibility to travel around the area. We relied on taxis, which was fine, but it required lots of negotiations and sometimes waiting for a taxi to arrive. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hi there,
    Thanks for this helpful blog!
    I will be going there in mid- October and was wondering how much time to plan for this in a day (including from and to the hotel near central bus station). There is no fixed time for my departure, but I will be on a tight schedule. I am later leaving for my next accommodation near Zhangjiajie National Park and I’d like to figure out timing for transportation.

    Thank you!

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      Author

      This can take an entire day, depending on how much you do (if you did everything on the list “How to Plan Your Time”). We spent approximately 6 hours on Tianmen Mountain, including the time for the cable car ride to and from town, but did not visit Tianmen Cave. For the visit to Tianmen Cave, I’d add about another 2 hours, for a total of 8 hours. Cheers, Julie

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      Author
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      Author
  3. Thank you for sharing such a nice purpose of traveling China is to the Great wall tour in Beijing which comes in the mind of every visitor. Apart from that, it covers historical places like the waterfall, nice sunset among great wall tracking, some historical monuments as per the idea got by Greatwall Trekclub. I am very interested to visit this place in the coming year with my family.

  4. I’m planning to go there but clueless. Which airport is the closes and how do I get a local tour guy or will I get lost?

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      Author

      There is an airport near the city of Zhangjiajie. A tour guide is not necessary but they can be helpful. There will be signs in English and a few English speakers, but most people just speak Mandarin. We got around OK but we could also speak the basics. If you would feel more comfortable then hire a guide. However, since we didn’t use one, I can’t give you any recommendations. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  5. Hi, thanks for the post. How did you get to Zhangjiajie ? I’ve read that it is a little bit complicated if you go by your own. Have you taken a bus, train, airplan? From where ? …

    Thanks in advance!

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      Author

      You’re right, it’s not the easiest place to get to. We visited Zhangjiajie after visiting Yangshuo, so we took a train from Guilin to Changsha, slept overnight in Changsha, and the following day took a second train to Zhangjiajie. It was not a fun journey but it was interesting traveling through that part of China. After spending several days in Zhangjiajie, we flew to Beijing. So, you can fly, and that’s the quickest, easiest way to get to Zhangjiajie. However you go, it’s worth the effort. Zhangjiajie, the city and the landscapes and Tianmen Mountain are such a great spots to visit and so different from Beijing and Shanghai. Cheers, Julie

  6. Interesting to read your experiences, I visited this scenic area in April 2017 and the weather was lovely. We took a bus up the winding (and scary) road and ended the tour with the cable car down. The cable car was the highlight for me.

    Unfortunately the steps up the mountain cutout were closed for renovations so tourists had to use the elevator rides (about 20 of them!) up to the top. That was probably the boring part of the trip. I walked one of the glass walkways but it wasn’t that great, seemed too much of a gimmick.

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      Author

      Totally agree about the glass walkway…it’s a big draw for some people but really not that thrilling once you are there. Cheers, Julie

  7. This was a very helpful and informative article!

    It seems like you made this journey without a tour. Did you find this not to be too difficult without speaking Chinese? (I’m assuming you don’t speak Chinese!)

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      Author

      You can get by without speaking Chinese. Many of the signs have English translations and some staff did speak English, as well. Cheers, Julie

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