Article by XIANEASE
With all the heat-absorbing/reflecting concrete and asphalt around town, Xi’an truly earns its distinction as one of China’s infamous “furnace cities.” It makes one wish for environments more natural and fortunately, just outside the city limits, there are plenty to choose from. Definitely give Huashan and its throngs of tourists a skip and try out some of these great nature parks, ones guaranteed to be five or ten degrees cooler than any nook or cranny you’d find in town. Summer is also the best season to experience all the parks listed here, so now’s the time to go.
TAIBAI MOUNTAIN 太白山
Taibai Mountain, or more accurately, the Taibai Mountain National Forest Park, is a AAAAA attraction in Mei County with a land area of 30 square kilometers, more than 90% of which is covered by forest. It’s also got the distinction of being the highest-altitude forest park in all of China (620m to 3500m above sea level, depending on where you are in the park).
That high-rising 30 square kilometers is filled with many wonders and hidden secrets. For starters, there are 1800 plant species and 1700 animal and insect species, including 26 protected (endangered) plants and 9 protected animals, earning Taibai the nicknames of “Natural Botanical Garden” and “China’s Natural Zoo.” Additionally, there are a couple of temples on the premises for you to check out, such as the famous Taoist temple at the northern foot of the mountain. The only restriction that exists is that foreigners aren’t allowed to summit Taibai Mountain itself (though you can still get about 3000m up the mountain).
All told, you’re recommended to stay for a couple of days to get the most out of your trip to Taibai Mountain National Forest Park. There are plenty of guesthouses around for you to stay at should you want to stick around, but otherwise a day trip will be just fine.
How to get there: Go to the Xi’an Bus Station at the eastern square of the train station, where you will find a dedicated tourist bus (Taibai Mountain, 太白山), approx. 80 min ride, 30 RMB per person.
Ticket prices: 100 RMB during peak season (summer), 60RMB during the off-season
ZHUQUE NATIONAL FOREST PARK 朱雀国家森林公园
The gem of Hu County, Zhuque National Forest Park is 26 square kilometers of forest fun. The main draws are the green mountains and rivers running through the park, as well as the great climate, which has temperatures rarely rising above 30ºC.
There are five main areas, and combined they boast 105 different scenic spots, which all but ensures that, whatever your interests are, you’ll find something cool to check out. If you’re into wildlife, there are hundreds of different plant and animal species (and, like Taibai Mountain, is home to some protected species like the golden monkey). If you want some natural scenery, there are areas such as the waterfall-filled Dragon Pool. If you are a fan of Chinese history and culture, you’ll find references to both all around the park, such as the Rock of the Monkey King, the Golden Toad Rock and Wenchang Lawn.
Zhuque National Forest Park is perfect for a day trip, but be warned that if you’re taking public transportation to and from, it can be quite limiting on your exploration time if you don’t plan it right.
How to get there: There is a direct bus (朱雀国家森林公园) from the Shaanxi Province Stadium on Chang’an Lu, but it only runs once a day, at 7:30am (110 RMB, includes round-trip bus fare and entry to the park). Alternatively, one can go to the South Bus Station, on Zhuque Da Jie outside the 3rd Ring Road and take bus 928 to Huxian (6 RMB), then take a second bus directly to the Forest Park (8 RMB)
Ticket prices: 50 RMB
NIU BEI LIANG NATIONAL FOREST PARK 牛背梁国家森林公园
If you don’t feel like going so far from the city, Niu Bei Liang National Forest Park might be just right for you. This is one of the newer conservation areas in Shaanxi, a product of some significant financial investments. It sort of hits a middle ground—it’s a beautiful slice of nature that contains the highest peak of the southern Qinling Mountains, but has quite a few man-made touches to make everything more accessible. It’s almost as if city slickers like us were kept in mind when the area was being developed.
It’s still a nice little departure from everyday urban living, however. If you decide to hike up the mountain, you’ll find waterfalls and flowers, and the area is still being developed into a better and better getaway. Niu Bei Liang National Forest Park may not be as naturally splendorous as the other two listed in this article, but if you’ve had it up to here with being in the city and just need to get out, it’s perfect for a quick retreat.
How to get there: The South Bus Station (same as that to go to Zhuque Park) has a bus to Zhashui for 28 RMB, then at Zhashui there is a second bus to take you to the park for 9 RMB.
Ticket prices: 90 RMB