Located on the border between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Changbaishan (长白山, literally ‘eternally White Mountain’) in Jilin province is one of the great natural wonders of the northeast. Dormant since 1702, this volcano now holds the stunning Tianchi Lake in its crater. It’s truly one of China’s great spectacles.
But while the lake is the highlight of most visitors’ itineraries, there’s plenty else to see and do in the region. Most of the action centers around the Changbaishan National Nature Reserve (长白山自然保护区), which covers 2,000sqm of forest, snowy peaks and waterfalls.
The park is divided into two main areas, the northern slope and the western slope, whose entrances are about 100 kilometers apart. Between them, you can enjoy at least a couple of days of hiking and visiting “scenic areas,” (a name that Chinese signage often assign to beauty spots).
Aside from in September, when large numbers of Korean tourists are known to visit the park, Changbaishan is less crowded than a lot of China’s natural attractions. Visits between late May and early October should provide good hiking conditions, though with snow and average temperatures as low as -7°C in the coldest months, Changbaishan can be difficult to access in the winter (unless you’re skiing).
Lastly – and this is a genuine piece of advice – be careful about strolling into North Korea. Park rangers do their best to keep you on the designated trails, and they do so for good reason. The border is not clearly marked, and trespassing may not be viewed kindly by either side.
Overview: How to Get to Changbaishan National Nature Reserve Park
Image via Flickr
There are only two entrances to the park: The main north gate (长白山北坡景区), or a smaller west gate (长白山西景区). The former can be reached from Erdao Baihe Town (二道白河镇) by bus or taxi, while the latter is often used by those coming in from the nearby Songjianghe Town (松江河镇). Hotels and hostels organize group buses for as little as RMB35.
At the time of writing, entrance costs RMB125. Tickets can be bought at either gate and are valid only for the day of purchase. Check your chosen gate for the most up-to-date closing times (which should be either 4pm or 6pm).
Private cars are banned from the park, so most visitors rely on shuttle buses to get around. Pay a one-off fee for the eco-bus (RMB85) and you’ll be able to jump on and off at any scenic spot you like (the main one is simply called 长白山景区). Tour Tianchi in an SUV for an additional RMB80.
Attractions: Recommendations for the Best Things to See and Do in Changbaishan
The opening of the Changbaishan International Ski Resort is transforming winter tourism in the region. It’s by no means China’s largest, but the resort offers an abundance of natural snow and excellent infrastructure and accommodation.
Wanda Changbaishan International Ski Resort, Fusong, Baishan, Songjianghe 白山市抚松县松江河镇万达长白山国际旅游度假区, 万达长白山国际滑雪场 (https://www.wandahotels.com/resort/changbaishan)
Tianchi (or ‘Heaven Lake’) is the park’s main attraction. Situated in a crater on the Chinese border, the effervescent blue water is surrounded by soaring peaks. Also, be sure to see Changbai Waterfall (长白瀑布), which spills off from the lake.
There are a number of ponds and hot springs (温泉, wenquan) scattered around the lake. And while they’re not suitable for bathing, they make for a good photo opportunity. If you fancy a dip, check out one of the nearby hot spring water bathhouses.
Where to Stay in Changbaishan
With rooms for less that RMB100 (well, in off- season at least), the town of Erdao is often preferred by budget travelers. There are plenty of youth hostels and smaller hotels here, all of which offer quick access to the park’s north gate. Book in advance to avoid hustlers at the train station.
There is a handful of hotels located inside the park’s west gate, though the best options lie just outside. There’s a cluster of international hotels – including The Westin, Sheraton and Park Hyatt – about 30 minutes’ drive from the entrance. Accommodation is also available in Songjianghe.
How to Travel to Changbaishan
Open since 2008, Changbaishan Airport (长白山机场, NBS) now enjoys direct flights from most of north China’s hubs, as well as some from further afield, including Qingdao and Shanghai. The airport is located less than 10 kilometers from the perimeter of the park.
Songjianghe Railway Station (松江河站) is conveniently located about 30 kilometers from Changbaishan’s west slope. But Baihe Railway Station (白河站) is better connected, with trains to Dandong, Shenyang and Dalian. Expect to take more than one train if you’re coming from outside the northwest.
If you’re traveling on a budget – or just love the open road – you can reach Changbaishan by long-distance bus. The best route in is via Baihe (二道白河客运站), which can be reached from Jilin City (7 hours) or Changchun (12 hours).
This post was last updated on January 12, 2018.