Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains is one of the most beautiful places in China. Follow my quick guide to find out how to organize your trip.
Out of all the most incredible places I’ve ever seen in my life, the Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye Danxia in Gansu 张掖七彩丹霞旅游景区 are at the top of my favorite list, along with Zhangjiajie and the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan.
Often claimed to be part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Zhangye isn’t currently included in the list, even though the park itself deceivingly still repeats the claim (this is the official list) in its promotional material.
Regardless, there is no doubt that this incredible area along the ancient Silk Road is worth visiting.
Here are 5 quick facts about Zhangye:
- The Rainbow Mountains are famous for their natural beauty, characterized by vivid colors and intricate patterns created by the layering of various mineral deposits over millions of years.
- The Zhangye Danxia Landform has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010.
- The colorful rock formations are believed to have been shaped about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The iron and trace minerals within the sedimentary layers are responsible for the vibrant hues.
- There are several designated viewing platforms within the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park to admire the Rainbow Mountains.
- In recent years, efforts have been made to promote responsible and sustainable tourism.
In this quick guide, you’ll find all the info you need to arrange a DIY trip to this area.
Best Time to Visit
Spring and Autumn are the best time to visit the Rainbow Mountains in Gansu. During the months between April and June, the weather is mild, and the mountains are adorned with lush vegetation, creating a nice contrast against the colorful mineral deposits.
September and October (avoid the first week of October since it’s a national holiday) are another ideal time to explore the Rainbow Mountains. During this period, the weather is cool, making hiking more comfortable. With clear skies and lower chances of rainfall, autumn is perfect for photography and capturing the vivid hues of the geological layers.
Remember that the summer months can be sweltering, making it less enjoyable to explore the area. Winters, on the other hand, can be freezing and are often accompanied by snowfall, making accessibility to the Rainbow Mountains more difficult. With overcast weather, the colorful formations are also much less visible.
The best time to visit the Rainbow Mountains is early morning or late afternoon when the sunlight hits the mountains at the right angle, and the colors are more intense and contrasted. The morning and afternoon are less crowded than midday when most tourists arrive by bus.
Where to Stay and for how long
One day is enough to explore the Rainbow Mountains, so you’ll need to spend one night in the town if you count the time to travel to and from Zhangye.
There are plenty of options on Trip.com, even cheap accommodations. Remember that if you stay in cheaper places, you may get refused since you are a foreigner. I’ll need to discuss this on my blog one day. Anyway, if you choose hotels that are a bit more expensive, you should be ok.
How to get to Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains
Getting to the Rainbow Mountains requires some planning due to its remote location. The nearest major city to the Rainbow Mountains is Zhangye. Here’s how you can get there:
By Airplane: The most common way to reach the Rainbow Mountains is by flying into Zhangye Ganzhou Airport. Several domestic airlines operate flights to this airport from major cities, including Beijing, Xi’an, and Lanzhou. Once you arrive at Zhangye Ganzhou Airport, you can take a taxi or shuttle to the city center. From Zhangye, you can easily arrange transportation to the Rainbow Mountains through a tour operator or by hiring a private car. To book a flight within China, I always recommend using Trip.com.
By Train: Zhangye is also accessible by train. There are regular train services from Xi’an and Lanzhou. Also, in this case, you can book your train ticket using Trip.com.
Local Transportation: You can hire a taxi to get from Zhangye City to the Rainbow Mountains. The journey typically takes around 1.5 hours.
How to explore Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains
Once you’ve arrived at the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, you can explore the Rainbow Mountains by foot or take advantage of shuttle buses that transport visitors to various viewing platforms within the park, allowing you to witness the beauty of this geological area. The park is shaped like a ring, and buses drive around it. You can hop on and off at every station.
The park has two main scenic areas: Zhangye Qicai Danxia and Binggou Danxia.
The former is more popular and has four observation decks to admire the rainbow mountains from different angles. The latter is less crowded and has more diverse shapes and formations. You can spend about two hours in each area.
Unfortunately, drones are NOT allowed because helicopters, gliders, and hot-air balloons are used in the park.
Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains: the good, the bad and the ugly
Zhangye is the perfect stereotype of what a Chinese tourist area looks like an amazing place with world-class natural attractions that has been turned into an amusement park for kids.
You’ll always be surrounded by stalls selling sausages, open-air KTV, and obnoxious live performances with horrendous music. Unfortunately, this is how Chinese people like to “enjoy” almost every place in China. I’m not saying this to discourage you from visiting this incredible place but to help you have the right expectations: don’t expect to be alone in the desert surrounded by mystical-colored mountains.
I talked a bit about this trend in an older article where I wrote about Xijiang, a nice Miao Village in Guizhou that has also been turned into an amusement park.
If you plan a trip to China, remember that you need a VPN to access the internet, and popular ones like ExpressVPN and NordVPN DO NOT WORK. At the moment, this one is working properly.
Here, you can find my quick guide to another incredible place: Fanjingshan. Here are some more pictures I took in Gansu.