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Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area

By Carole Terwilliger Meyers

What is Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area?

Located at an elevation of 10,000 to 14,000 feet (3050-4270 meters), this spectacular site is known for its colorful, clear ponds and streams filled with travertine waters. Ponds vary in size, shape, and color, and estimates for how many are found here vary wildly – from a low of 693 ponds to a high of 3,400!

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Text: Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area, China. Images: two different views of the travertine water ponds.

Why is Huanglong a UNESCO World Heritage site?

This wildly scenic area is described in its official UNESCO listing as having “spectacular limestone formations, waterfalls, and hot springs. The area also has a population of endangered animals, including the giant panda and the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey.”

A group of visitors walk on a raised boardwalk next to a greenish-blue pond.

What can you expect on a visit to Huanglong?

Visiting this site requires taking a ride in an enclosed tram up to the top of the valley. The ride allows you to see an overview of the valley’s layout.  Huanglong – the valley’s name – translates as “yellow dragon,” and the terraced limestone pools cascading down the hill into each other do resemble a golden dragon winding through the valley. 

At the top, many visitors head for the visitor center hut, which features resting areas and oxygen for anyone who needs it. There is a fee to use these services. 

From the top, it is a long walk back down to the entrance. A wooden boardwalk with thousands of steps sashays down the hill, and you should allow 4 to 5 hours. This also allows time to tour an abandoned Buddhist temple. 

Looking down through tall pine trees at a wooden stairway and, beyond it, blue ponds.

Is Huanglong worth visiting?

This valley is definitely worth the long trip to reach. And there are plenty of other things you can see while here, including the nearby Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, also a UNESCO site. Two full days in the area is enough to see the sights.

What sorts of travelers would like Huanglong?

Travelers who enjoy the clear fresh air found at high altitudes, and who enjoy alpine scenery, will get the most out of a visit to the Huanglong site. The area will also be of interest to those who enjoy the traveling-to-the-end-of-the-world experience. I definitely did enjoy that aspect and also that there were so few westerners here.

A small temple, brown and white wood with grey roofs with curved roof lines. Mountains in the distance.

Tips for visiting Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area

The high elevation makes altitude sickness a definite possibility, so pack along medications prescribed by your doctor. Oxygen canisters can be rented throughout the area. Take your time, and do not overexert yourself.

Consider a guided tour to and from and all around this area. It is very challenging to do independently.

This 3-day tour includes Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou UNESCO sites, but there are plenty of other tours to choose from.

If you do choose to travel independently by car, you won’t find accommodations very near Huanglong. Instead stay in the Jiuzhaigou area.

Bring your hiking boots and start your tour early in the day so you have plenty of time. Late in the day, mountain shadows cool the temperature along the pathway down, so bring layers.

In the area, expect the exotic on menus. You’ll find local Sichuan and Tibetan dishes as well as yak butter tea.

Also expect some of the worst toilets in China. I came across one that was so bad the women on my tour bus mutinied. We refused to go! The urgency left us when we saw and smelled the terrible stench. Really terrible. Though the driver protested, he lost and took us to another squatter that was cleaner.

Several travertine ponds in shades of blue.

Where is Huanglong?

The Huanglong Scenic Area is located in the north of Sichuan Province in Songpan County, 223 miles (360 km) north of Chengdu: about an eight-hour drive. A part of the Min Mountains, it is situated on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

Though it is possible to drive, the best way to get here is via a tour, which allows seeing the sights in this vast, scenic area. Most tours are multi-day because the distances between sites are so long. Traveling by bus takes about 9 hours from Chengdu. Flying is also an option, into either Chengdu or Jiuzhaigou.

For more information about Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area, its opening hours and admission fees, see its official website (in Chinese only) or this commercial site.

Have you been to Huanglong Scenic Area? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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