My second full day in Jiuzhaigou National Park dawned like the first day-early and crowded. Yep, another mad rush to the breakfast buffet and lots of crowds at the park. This day for crowds was even worse than the first day, because it was a Saturday. Rather than the orderly line to get entrance tickets, it was sort of a rugby scrum, with the numerous group tour guides pushing their way to the front and then hogging up the line getting 20+ entrance tickets. But soon enough I had my ticket in hand and boarded the bus for the long ride to the valley. This time I picked a different line for the bus, assuming that one side went to Ri Ze Valley and the other side went to Ze Cha Wa Valley, which was my first desired stop of the day. Nope. Yes, there are buses that go to different valleys, but the destination is labeled on the bus sign, which just happens to be in Mandarin with no English translation. But after some scrambling, I managed to get on the right bus and headed to Long Lake and Five Colored Pond, which were pictured in my first blog about Jiuzhaigou National Park.
So after fighting the crowd up at the top, I started my next full walk of the day, which was Shu Zheng Valley. I had originally intended to walk Ri Ze and Shu Zheng Valleys the previous day, which is about a combined total of 20 miles of walking. Yeah, my body had a different view and I modified my plan to include just the first two sights in Ze Cha Wa Valley and then spend the rest of the day walking out of Shu Zheng Valley to the park entrance. Shu Zheng Valley is the long winding valley you see on the first part of the drive up through the park.
The first stop of Shu Zheng Valley is Nuo Ri Lang Waterfall. This was actually my last stop the previous day before my body rebelled, but I decided to start here again, since it is technically the first stop in the Shu Zheng Valley walk, and I am glad I did. The previous day’s visit was around 1600, and it was hot with the sun high overhead, and the crowds were out in force. However, the crowds had not yet converged on this sight, since they all either had not yet arrived (it was around 0830), or they were located farther up the valley and still working their way down. So I practically had the waterfall to myself. It was such a blissful change from the previous day. I am not one for crowds, but I will fight them if I really want to see something. But this morning, the sun was still rising, so it was pleasantly cool, the waterfall was practically silent of human voices. I could take all the time I wanted drinking in the beautiful sight of this unique waterfall, and I didn’t have to block out the cacophony of human voices or be jostled out of my reverie so yet another person could pose like a model.
That peace and solitude was found throughout the entire walk. I finally found out how you can get peace and quiet in this park- walk the Shu Zheng Valley starting in the morning. Sure I encountered groups of people, but they were all walking up the park from the entrance and not walking down. For the vast majority of my day, I had the path to myself and it was quiet. I loved it.
Shu Zheng Valley is probably the second most beautiful valley in the park, after Ri Ze Valley, but not as many people seem to walk it. Like the other two valleys, the majority of the track is planked with wood, so the path is even and easy to walk. No worries about tripping over the stray tree roots or hopping from boulder to boulder like I often do when hiking in Korea. This is hiking as I love it-a well benched trail that allows me to focus more on the beautiful view surrounding me rather than staring at the ground so I don’t trip (which is a common problem with me).
The valley is a winding trail of lakes connected to each other by rivers. In fact, if you look on the map, the water flows continually from the top to the bottom of the park. Yes, there are parts where the water widens into a lake, but the water ways are ultimately all connected so the water continues to flow.
It is quite amazing how much the water does change throughout the course of the approximate 10 miles of the valley. Most of the lakes are iridescent blue and so clear, it is remarkable how deep you can see into the water. Much care has been taken to protect the park’s environment, and it is kept in pristine condition with no hint of pollution.
About a quarter of the way through the walk, I arrived near Shu Zheng village, which is the busiest village in the Jiuzhai Valley. I had stopped in the actual village itself the day prior and enjoyed some local snacks and did some shopping as I waited for the bus to leave the park.
This day I didn’t enter the village, but did venture out to Shu Zheng Waterfall. Like most of the waterfalls in this park, I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. It is a round, multi-level waterfall with thousands and water streams running through the stems and trunks of the plant life that flourishes around it.
That was actually a common theme in the waterways of this valley. It never ceased to amaze me how much vegetation seemed to thrive completely underwater and how the rivers would occasionally grow into basically thick wetlands before flowing into a waterfall and then into another clear lake.
While there were plenty of people around Shu Zheng Waterfall, the crowds thinned out considerably once I got past the waterfall and further down the path. You might think you would get tired of looking at lakes, but I didn’t find that to be true. I have a personal love of natural running water like rivers and lakes since I was a child, so I couldn’t get enough of the crystalline colors of the water and just how much the land looked like a fairy tale land.
As I got further and further down the path, the sights became further and further apart, with the final sights being Reed Lake, which is a semi-swamp lake with thick reeds throughout, and Bonsai Shoals, which is a stretch of travertine beaches, on which slow water blankets through the foliage until it runs down through the valley.
I originally intended to walk the entire valley, but by late afternoon, I was hot and my legs were tired, even after a nap by an old water mill. Luckily this park is well set up with frequent bus stops positioned near scenic views, so you can walk as long and as far as you want. If there were more unique sights downstream, I would have kept walking, but the rest of the way (which was really only a couple kilometers, but my body was ready to quit on me) was just standard woods and river sights I have seen the world over.
I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend visiting this park, and I highly recommend taking two full days to see as much of the park as possible. This is such a unique park, and it is stuffed to the brim with beautiful, awe inspiring sights. I have visited many places in the world, but some of the things I saw in this park, I hadn’t quite seen before, and it was just incredible to see more examples of unique natural beauty in this world.
Even walking most of the sights, you can easily this park at a leisurely pace. The park is open from 0730-1900 in the summer, which is more than enough time to see a valley (more if you really want to walk fast) at your own pace. I will say this as a tip, but this is a common tip and not some insider knowledge. The entire park moves down, meaning that the end of the valleys are at a higher altitude than the beginning of the valley. So the easiest and most recommended way to see the valleys if you intend to walk them is to take the bus to the end of each valley and start at the first site (Virgin Forest for Ri Ze Valley, Long Lake for Ze Cha Wa Valley and Nuo Ri Lang Waterfall for Shu Zheng Valley). That way you spend the entire hike walking down, which is much easier, particularly since this park is already at a high altitude. Seeing it from a bus as it speeds by is pretty, but nothing can really replicate getting close to nature and experiencing it first hand, hopefully without TOO many tourists around.