Heavenly peaks: Get to know the mountains of Jiangxi

With its pristine wildernesses, Mother Nature was particularly generous when it came to China’s Jiangxi province. But its mountains are revered more than anything else here…

Team Wanderlust
11 May 2023
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Jiangxi

Enclosed on three sides by mountain ranges, the province of Jiangxi has long been one of China’s best-kept secrets for travellers. An emerald wonderland of rice paddies and tea fields climbing the fringes of mist-swathed peaks, Jiangxi’s natural beauty unfolds like a Song dynasty scroll painting, all the more so when you venture into the hills and mountains that define this province. Exploring Jinagxi’s stunning national parks and scenic areas, you’ll discover historic mountain trails connecting Buddhist and Taoist temples, hidden waterfalls and hot springs, unique flora and fauna and so much more. Best of all, new high-speed rail links into the province have made Jiangxi more accessible now than at any point in its history. Here are just a few places to begin your adventure…

Lushan National Park: Hiking through Chinese history

Clouds blanket Lushan National Park

Long revered as a stronghold of Chinese culture, the mountain town of Lushan is the stepping off point for forays into Lushan National Park, one of the most mesmerising destinations in Jiangxi province. Mount Lushan itself, rising up to 1,474m at its highest point, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 for its cache of millennia-old temples and monasteries, Confucian landmarks and spidery calligraphy etched into cliff faces centuries ago. To hike here is to journey back through Chinese history, past faded stone stelae with inscriptions that reveal illustrious visitors from dynasties past.

For the adventurous, give your legs a workout and tackle any of the 30 or so hiking trails in the park, like a scenic ascent to Five Elders Peak that takes in Sandiequan (literally meaning ‘three-tier spring’), a waterfall hidden in a deep gully that cascades in three parts for nearly 100m down the mountain into a secluded pool. Or visit the easy way, by hitching a ride on the cable car and sightseeing buses that join the dots between scenic lookouts and points of interest. Best of all, the air up at Lushan is considerably cooler than the provincial capital Nanchang, making it the perfect summer escape from the big city.

Longhu Mountain: A sublime Taoist wonderland

The Luxi River snakes between the peaks of Longhu Mountain

Translating as Dragon Tiger Mountain, Jiangxi’s Longhu Mountain is famed as one of the four sacred mountains of Taoism. The cluster of peaks became a spiritual centre dedicated to Tao (which translates as ‘The Way’) in China around a thousand years ago during the Song dynasty, when at its height it boasted more than 100 temples and monasteries. Now one of the most family-friendly mountain escapes in Jiangxi, a ticket to the scenic area also includes a bamboo raft trip along the winding Luxi River, overlooked by peaks of scarlet sandstone, and access to Tianshi Mansion, a magnificent Taoist temple that has played host to many generations of followers of Tianshi Tao, the ‘Celestial Masters Sect’ of Taoism. After dark, the story of ‘the way’ is told in a spectacular sound and light show featuring dozens of costumed performers.

Longhu Mountain has also been inscribed as a UNESCO Global Geopark for its unique volcanic and tectonic landforms, which manifest in the landscape as isolated red peaks and steep cliffs known as danxia. One of the most unusual sights at Longhu Mountain are the mysterious ‘hanging coffins’ suspended from cliffs called xuanguan, an ancient funerary practice over 2,500 years old.

Mount Sanqingshan National Park: Nature’s sculpture gallery

A cliff-clinging walkway wrapping itself around a peak in Mount Sanqingshan National Park (Shutterstock)

Soaring granite spires, sculpted over aeons into fantastical shapes (many are said to resemble animals or humans in silhouette) and with delicate songshu pines clinging to their flanks, rise up from lush river valleys and forested gorges in this most sublime of Jiangxi mountain landscapes. Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) in neighbouring Anhui province might be more famous but (whisper it quietly) the scenery at Sanqingshan is just as spectacular, and it doesn’t get as crowded in high season.

Hikers, rejoice! The peaks at Sanqingshan have been tamed by thousands of stone steps and heart-stopping walkways cut sheer into cliff faces. The ‘West Coast Trail’, one such high-altitude hiking path, leads to the Ming Dynasty-era Sanqing Temple, while the ‘Sunshine Coast Trail’ cuts through thick forests of pine, fir and bamboo that bloom with wildflowers, and features a glass-floored platform for jaw-dropping views. Keep an eye on the trees for macaques swinging between branches. If you can, try to spend the night on top of the mountain; there are several guesthouses on the summit with inspiring views, particularly in May when the rhododendrons are in bloom.

Wugong Mountain: Grasslands in the sky

You can camp on Wugong Mountain for magical stargazing experiences

In the far west of the province, Wugong Mountain is home to Jiangxi’s highest point, White Crane Peak, at 1,918m. A beguiling mix of landscapes in the scenic area includes thousands of hectares of high elevation alpine meadows and grasslands that change with the seasons – a kaleidoscope of wild flowers in spring, lush green in summer, golden in autumn and flecked with white snow in winter.

You’ll also find tracts of thick forest and trails that climb up to waterfalls, natural springs, precipitous cliff walks and viewpoints that gaze across at towering granite pillars (some over 250m high) cast by wind and time into craggy shapes with whimsical names attached. Wugong Mountain is also the place to photograph the phenomenon of a ‘sea of clouds’ flowing across the landscape like tendrils of smoke, or as some describe it, a heavenly waterfall. Rare fauna in the scenic area includes salamanders (a lizard-like amphibian) and the elusive clouded leopard.

Uniquely, Wugong Mountain offers extensive outdoor camping facilities making it perfect for stargazing on clear nights. The mountain has also played host to an International Camping Festival which attracts tens of thousands of outdoors enthusiasts who carpet the hillsides with colourful tents.

Mingyue Mountain: Home of the Moon Goddess

A creek flowing through bamboo forest at the foot of Mingyue Mountain (Shutterstock)

Meaning ‘Bright Moon’ in Chinese, Jiangxi’s Mingyue Mountain is as famous for its mineral-rich hot springs as it is for the inspiring and often dramatic scenery that combines a dozen mountain peaks, forested valleys and cobalt-blue lakes. The cultural symbolism of the moon is all-important here, for Mingyue Mountain was once believed to be the abode of Chang’e, the legendary Chinese goddess of the moon.

Of rare purity are Mingyue’s Wentang Fuxi Hot Springs, revered for over 900 years. The steamy water issues from deep fissures some 400m below the earth and is rich in selenium, a powerful antioxidant, along with dozens of other healthful minerals. Maintaining a stable temperature of around 70°C all year round, the water is said to be clean enough to drink and perfect for soothing tired muscles after a thrilling hike along Mingyue’s 3,000m-long wooden plank cliff walkway.

Jinggang Mountains: Authentic food with a view

Clouds wrap around the Jinggang Mountains

Bordering Jiangxi and Hunan provinces, the Jinggang Mountain scenic area is huge, covering over 700 sq km and comprising rolling peaks, winding rivers, thickly forested ridges and numerous heritage sites that mark key moments in China’s recent history. Travellers will also find scenic waterfalls, karst caves and steamy hot springs. Far and away the most famous view of Jinggang Mountains is Wuzhi Peak, meaning ‘five fingers’ for the way the cluster of mountains resembles a human hand. Such is its iconic view that Wuzhi Peak was printed on the reverse of the 100-yuan banknote until 2018.

Jinggang is also a great place to sample the fiery bounty of Jiangxi cuisine, which ranks as one of China’s spiciest alongside the food of neighbouring Hunan and Sichuan. You’ll typically find chilli peppers used as vegetables (i.e. meant to be eaten rather than simply in a dish to enhance its flavour), along with stir-fries and stews that feature local bamboo shoots, wild ferns and herbs, and freshwater fish from Jiangxi’s many rivers.

Feeling inspired?

For more information about this charming corner of China, visit the official Jiangxi Facebook page below.

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