Two weekends ago, my friends and I escaped to Wulingshan National Forest Park (雾灵山国家级自然保护) in Hebei. Over a period of six hours, we hiked 19km – around 1,000m in elevation – to the top of the mountain and stayed at the only hotel on the summit. Along the way, we saw “strange trees,” circled sunny mountain roads, and saw a cartoonishly beautiful sunset.
We left on the express bus (980快) on a Saturday at 7.30am from Dongzhimen; though there was a queue, it moved very quickly as buses arrived back-to-back. Tickets cost RMB 15 without an IC card and only around RMB 5 with an IC card. After encountering some traffic on the airport expressway, we arrived in Miyun around 3.5 hours later.
We got off at a pre-arranged stop where a driver with a minivan was waiting for us. You can also disembark at the Miyun bus station, where there are plenty of black cars available. It cost us RMB 350 to get to the west gate of Wulingshan Park.
Part 1: Strange Trees
We paid admission at the west gate and finally started our hike. This trek is best-suited to older kids, and even then it would be a stretch to scale the entire 19km to the summit. Luckily, there are several parking lots along the way so that families can opt to start their hike closer to the top or hire one of the numerous black minivans when they’re tired.
The first stretch consisted of easy stone paths and stairs winding underneath a canopy of trees. Relatively swanky squat toilets are scattered throughout this section, so take advantage of them while you still can. We soon arrived at the impressive Longtan Waterfall, where we had lunch; kids will have fun spotting tiny shrimp in the cold, clear waters.
Take a moment to read the bilingual English and Chinese descriptions; some of the translations were downright baffling. One entitled “Strange Trees” sat in front of some perfectly normal-looking trees. “The unique ecological environment, created the tree growth shapes, all sorts of strange things, part of this strange trees – strange trees,” read the sign.
There’s a cable car towards the end of this section, which the tout with the loudspeaker near Longtan Waterfall will try to convince you to shell out RMB 50 for. Personally, I didn’t think it was worth it because it only covered a short distance; tired kids may beg to differ. Be warned that the alternative path is quite challenging in parts, with steep stairs and roots jutting out of dirt paths. I don’t recommend it for people with bad knees.
Part 2: Winding Roads
Once we cleared the difficult path, we arrived at another parking lot where we restocked on water and had a break. Take the stairs to the top level of the parking lot; it’s worth the panoramic views.
We then set off for the second leg of the hike, which led us on paved roads winding around the mountain. At first, cars threatened to run us off the road but they soon tapered off, leaving us to admire the purple wildflowers and tree-covered peaks.
After about an hour of hiking, we arrived at a plateau with a garish orange hotel that someone compared to The Shining. We could see a telecommunications tower in the distance that marked the summit of Wulingshan, where we’d be staying overnight. So close and yet so far!
Part 3: “The Best Sunset I’ve Ever Seen”
The last stretch was the longest, if not the hardest; it took us around two hours to reach the top. We soon cleared the tree line, which made us stop and admire the breathtaking views. Half of us took off our shoes for the last 30 minutes of the climb, feet aching with the exertion of walking nearly six hours uphill.
Just before reaching the top, we could see rays of sunlight reflecting off the Miyun Reservoir; from far away, it looked like a diamond in the distance. We started to feel the mountain chill as the wind picked up and the sun started its descent.
When we rounded the bend and finally reached Wulingshan Summit Hotel (雾灵山顶峰西山宾馆), it was with an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment. We put in an order for roast lamb leg (RMB 220) at the attached restaurant and hurried to the peak to catch the sunset. One of us declared it “one of the best – if not the best – sunset I’ve ever seen.”
We took celebratory photos next to the stone marker on the peak – 2,118m! – and settled in to watch the sun go down. The view was only slightly marred by the telecommunications tower, which lent the scene a futuristic feel.
We then rushed down again for an unobstructed view of the sunset, but missed the last rays by a matter of seconds. Upon heading back to the hotel, we were surprised to discover the moon already in the sky – huge, round, and milky white.
Part 5: Mao Coats and Lamb Legs
There was only one problem: three of us rather stupidly forgot to bring warm layers. Luckily, a hut near the hotel rented out Mao-style padded cotton coats for RMB 10 (RMB 50 deposit required). As you can imagine, we took loads of silly photos.
After the sunset, we gobbled up our dinner like ravenous wolves. Apart from the lamb leg, we ordered two plates of delicious wild vegetables called “dragon’s beard grass” (龙须草, longxu cao), hot pot vegetables, shredded potatoes, deer meat omelet, and more. The country-style dishes tasted delicious after a long day of hiking.
Our accommodations were surprisingly pleasant, with clean sheets, western-style toilets, warm blankets, and plenty of hot water. Between the eight of us, we booked one room with a double bed and two rooms with three beds each. The latter cost RMB 320 per night and the former cost RMB 480 per night on weekends – a bit steep, but not surprising given the season and the fact that they have a monopoly on the summit.
Two people from our group got up at 4am to watch the sun rise, but most of us opted to sleep like logs. “Take a video,” we told them. As far as we can tell from the pictures, it was a glorious affair.
The next morning, we decided to rent a minivan to get down the mountain; some of us were adversely affected by the altitude, and had developed colds and/or headaches during the night. Secretly, I was relieved. After some haggling, a driver drove us to the north gate of Wulingshan National Forest Park for RMB 50 per person.
Our original driver was waiting for us at the foot of the mountain and took us to the Miyun bus station for another RMB 350. We were back in Beijing by 2pm, with plenty of time to do other things and full of great memories from the trip.
In a Nutshell
- Where? Wulingshan National Forest Park in Chengde, Hebei
- What? Hiking, admiring the scenery, and staying overnight on a mountain peak
- Who? Ages 10 and above
- How much? RMB 120 for admission to the park
- What to bring? Good hiking shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, comfortable clothes for hiking, warm layers and a windbreaker for the summit, and enough cash to cover food, transportation, and accommodations
- A simple Chinese breakfast of mantou, pickled vegetables, fermented tofu, and soup was included in the price of the hotel rooms. Chinese guests tend to eat very early, so get there before 8am if you can.
- It’s very cold at the peak (between 10-15°C at sundown), so make sure to bring warm clothes.
- Sunrise was around 4.20am in mid-July; check before going if you want to rise on time.
- The hotel staff don’t speak English, but were very friendly and accommodating; they can help you book a car from the summit to the foot of the mountain if needed, but you’ll have to do your own haggling.
- Don’t forget your passport for check-in.
Photos: Sijia Chen and courtesy of Wu Tong