Zhangye Danxia: A Chinese national park with stunning rainbow mountains

Ian Harvey
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Zhangye Danxia, a Chinese national park with famous Rainbow Mountains, is a geological wonder of the world. Nestled in the northern foothills of the Qilian Mountains, the park covers an area of 124 square miles and officially became a quasi-national park in 2012.

What makes this park special is its rock formations overlaid with the colors of the rainbow.

People often think that pictures from the place are actually photoshopped, but once they visit the Rainbow Mountains, their doubts are gone. They are overwhelmed by the picture-perfect sights of the rock formations and the color palette that seems almost unbelievable.

View from within the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park. Photo Credit

Formed as a result of deposits of sandstone and minerals that accumulated for over 24 million years, the rock formations and mountains reach several hundred meters in height and have a smooth, sharp surface.

Their surface is primarily dark red, formed by mixing water and iron oxide. The other colors laced throughout the mountains appeared as a result of other oxidized elements, such as magnetite, limonite, goethite, chloride, and iron silicate clays. The appearance of the rocks is usually compared to a layer cake due to the colored sheets.

The “layer cake model” is also used to determine the movement of the tectonic plates, which created parts of the Himalayan Mountains.

Tourists can explore the park with sightseeing cars available for rent at the national park because regular tourist buses aren’t allowed to enter. However, exploring the place by foot only takes 2 hours because the national park is partitioned into four main platforms.

Layers in the geopark. Photo Credit


The first platform is the nearest and best for viewing, located only 10 minutes from the entrance, while the second one is the highest of all four platforms with 666 steps, which require about 30 minutes of climbing.

As for the third platform, it allows a view of the famous “seven-color fan.” The final, largest one is the perfect place for observing the mountains at sunrise or sunset.

A landscape of Zhangye National Geopark. Photo Credit


No matter which of the platforms tourists choose as an observation spot, the panorama of the marvelous area always leaves them breathless, according to the crew employed at the park.

Besides the platforms, a series of access roads and boardwalks were built over the years to improve visitors’ exploration of the mountains.

Tourists who have visited the Rainbow Mountains say that people can’t see a rainbow without a little rain. The best time to visit the mountains is from June to September while the weather is still warm but moist. Apparently, the combination of a strong sun and mild rain brings out the colors of the mountains, providing an unforgettable experience.

Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park. Photo Credit


While summer and autumn are perfect for touring around the mountains, visiting Zhangye during winter isn’t recommended due to the wind and freezing temperatures. The national park is open to tourists every day from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As for the perfect daily timing for catching the most beautiful sights, sunrise and sunset are best because of the constantly-changing colors, showing a dozen shades of yellow, red, and gray layers.

A shot from within the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, China. Sep 9 2016. Photo Credit

Considering the beauty of the national park and its unusual colored rock formations, it’s no wonder that Danxia became a top tourist attraction for Zhangye.

Read another story from us: The 2,300-year-old Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite National Park

Undoubtedly, the breathtaking mountains and the peaceful city of Zhangye are like Heaven on Earth. People here can take a rest from their everyday routine, inhale some fresh air, and enjoy the beauty of nature’s lovely creations and marvelous landscapes.