Article by Malcolm Peak
In the Qinling Mountains, forty-four kilometers southwest of Xi’an, lies Taiping National Forest Park, nestled in a beautiful valley, complete with picturesque waterfalls, forested slopes and the possibility of seeing rare wildlife. Taiping is the same word as used for “Pacific,” as in the ocean. In this case “always calm” might be a better literal translation. The origin of the name actually dates back to the Sui Dynasty.
There’s a well paved road leading up the valley. Although the website says there’s public transport, it might be best to take a car. If you don’t have your own car, perhaps you could try twisting the arm of a local, because there are rumors of foreigners being coerced into take the expensive shuttle because the upper car park is supposedly full (when actually it’s half empty). At any rate, it’s a good 15km or so to the main car park and entrance.
Pay your obligatory entrance fee of 65RMB per person and you’re off. The path is well-formed and meanders at first beside the river. There are various “attractions” all the way up. Firstly there’s a channeled chute in which one can hire a small rubber raft and experience a presumably exhilarating ride of maybe 10 minutes. There’s also a “ship” stranded in the middle of a wide reach. Here there are picnic tables and food vendors. Further up the valley narrows and there’s an interesting cut out section with a low roof, which you must double over to pass. Fortunately for those with bad backs, there’s an alternative path on the left.
Finally, after perhaps 3km, a chairlift is reached. If you’re short of time or not keen on steep climbs, it might be advisable to take it, despite its 80RMB cost (or 50RMB one way). What follows is a series of steep concreted staircases leading up the valley, and the main attraction comes into view. The valley is known for its many scenic waterfalls. There’s a big one just downstream of the chairlift terminus.
Upstream from the chairlift’s terminus, the valley ahead looks impassable, but ingenious Chinese civil engineers have carved a track into the side of the cliff. There’s a big drop to the right, but there are good handrails. A mere fifteen minutes beyond and you’ll reach a wide open pool, into which flows a big waterfall that spurts out of a natural tunnel. This pool is a wonderful spot to stop and play. You can sun yourself on the rocks, or sit under the shade of the big trees. There are rocks to hop across and you can dip your feet in the water (although signs forbid swimming).
Cross the river and the track leads to more waterfalls. About half-an-hour’s walk later, the track tops out after a series of wide concrete stairs. Here you’ll find the Rainbow Waterfall, a beautiful 100m high waterfall which often shows rainbows due to the spray. It is truly an amazing sight. A track to the left promises peaks to scale, but peters out after 60m or so (it does, however, give a different view of the waterfall).
The return trip is, of course, easier. Downhill all the way, but watch those knees and be careful on the steep downhill steps. Look out for golden snub-nosed monkeys and takin (a kind of goat-cow type animal), both of which are supposed to inhabit the valley.
Fact file (estimates only- official figures unavailable):
Distance carpark to Rainbow Waterfall: 5km. (10km return)
Height gain: 600m
Time (return trip): maybe 5 hours. All up the trip is best done as a day trip, especially if you want to meander and take lots of photos.
Best time of year: Spring or autumn.