Rainbow Mountains China
The Zhangye Danxia Geological Park (rainbow mountains China) is home to a collection of colourful peaks which were formed over thousands of years due to the movement of tectonic plates. The Zhangye mountains comprise striped layers of different sedimentary rock ranging in colour from red to grey, blue and green and are a truly impressive sight to behold.
What is there to see at the Danxia Geological Park?
There are four large viewing platforms located within the park which are all connected by shuttle bus. Each platform offers a different landscape with stunning views of the Rainbow Mountains. The bus ride that cuts through gorges and along dried up riverbeds is also impressive. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like you can hike off on your own within the geopark, but outside it should be possible.
Where is Zhangye?
Zhangye Danxia Geological Park is located 30 kilometres from the town of Zhangye in China’s western Gansu Province. The Rainbow Mountains form part of the Qilian Range which rises up from the Tibetan plateau in the South and stops short of Mongolia to the North.
How can I get to Zhangye?
Although Zhangye is located in China’s sparsely populated western region, it is relatively easy to get to with connecting flights and trains running daily from most major cities in China. It is easiest to reach from Xi’an, which in turn is easily reachable from Beijing or Shanghai.
Flight: During summer China Eastern has daily direct flights from Xi’an to Zhangye that take 2 hours. Cost is approximately ¥1,000 ($145) one way. See Trip.com for the best deals on flights in China!
Train: Zhangye is serviced by both the fast and slow train network. From Beijing travel time ranges from 18 to 29 hours depending on the train. From Xi’an the fast train takes 7 hours to reach Zhangye.
See my guide to train travel in China for more information.
How can I get to the Danxia Geological Park?
You will need to take a bus or taxi from Zhangye to the main entrance. A taxi from the station cost me ¥120 (July 2019) but as I arrived late I didn’t have an option. The bus costs ¥12 and leaves from Zhangye West Bus Station. Journey time is around 50 minutes. The first bus is at 07:30 and the last one is at 17:00.
When is the best time to see the Rainbow Mountains?
Sunrise and sunset are the perfect times as the sun’s rays cast a beautiful glow that accentuates the colours of the mountains. June to September are the best months to visit due to the temperate climate.
How much does a ticket to Zhangye Danxia Geological Park cost?
Entrance to the Danxia Geopark costs ¥75 which includes the shuttle bus and on-site insurance.
How long should I spend at the Rainbow Mountains, China?
The recommended time for a visit is 4 hours (my own visit was exactly four hours from start to finish), but this depends on how long you want to spend at each viewing platform.
However, the area itself is worth at least 2 days as the nearby Danxia Bingguo Geological Park is equally as impressive. Bingguo is home to unique rock formations that make the landscape seem like another planet. Giant columns of rock stretch skywards and in the distance you can see the snowy peaks of the Altai Mountains.
There is a direct bus from the rainbow mountains to Bingguo and the journey takes around 30 minutes.
What facilities are there at the Danxia Geological Park?
Outside the main entrances to the park there are many shops selling souvenirs, drinks and snacks and again near the platforms you can find refreshment stands and toilets.
What accommodation is there near Zhangye Rainbow Mountains in China?
There are plenty of hotels in Zhangye, but the most unique and convenient place to stay is in the Kaoshan Ger camp that sits next to the West Gate. The Gers are very comfortable and made to almost hotel standards and the shared showers and toilets (including western) are kept very clean. There is also a restaurant, bbq and bar on site. One night for a double bed in a ger costs from ¥365 ($53). You can book a stay on Trip.com.
Staying at the Kaoshan camp is also a great way to see the mountains at sunrise or sunset. I left at 5am to watch the sun rise and was back at 9am with plenty of time for breakfast, which I have to say was disappointing and overpriced, however the bbq was great.
For more information, visit the Zhangye Travel website.
As the Rainbow mountains are far from the main areas of population on China’s east coast and central areas, consider some of the other interesting places to see “out west”, such as the incredible desert landscapes at Dunhuang.
For a real adventure head to nearby Xining to take the highest train in the world to Lhasa in Tibet (you must book a tour and can’t travel there independently).