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The Tower in the Sky: Nanling National Forest Park

By Jul 2, 2016January 8th, 20243 Comments

Grandad: I’m going to Nanling next week
Eric + Sarah: Thats cool, where’s that?
Grandad: China…want to come?
Eric + Sarah: Ok

And that guys is how we decided to go to Nanling…or so we thought.

In fact we weren’t travelling to Nanling but instead the Nanling National Forest Park! The park is found in Ruyuan County, part of the Guangdong Province. An important difference as Nanling is 1,137km north of where we were actually going, roughly 12 hours away by car!

With the correct location at hand we began our research, a quick search on Google images and our traveller tails were wagging once again!

Tell anyone you’re visiting China and majority of the time you’ll be asked if you’re going to Beijing. But being the 4th largest country in the world, there are many hidden gems in China which have yet to be swamped by the masses of tourists. And this is most definitely one of them.

Travelling to Nanling National Forest Park

We began our journey from Hong Kong heading over to Shenzhen via the MTR to cross the border. Upon arriving we took a short bus ride over to the high speed train station to make our way up to Shaoguan (closest station to the park). The high speed train is by far the best mode of transport if you’re travelling from Shenzhen. What used to be a 4 hour journey has now been cut down to 2 hours max! During our ride the train reached a speed of 309kmph but was surprisingly steady; even for a light sleeper such as myself I found it quiet and smooth enough to take a nap.

Nanling Pano

From Shaoguan station we took an additional bus over to our final destination. Unfortunately the last leg of the journey will take a further 2 hours! But a silver lining became apparent half way into the journey as we were treated to magnificent panoramic views of China’s mountain scenery. Sorry guys, no pictures though as the bus windows were insanely dirty! You’re just going to have to take my word for it.


So finally…we arrive at our hotel, the Nanling Forest Resort & Thermal Hotel ( 乳源避暑林莊溫泉大飯店), which is situated just outside the Nanling National Forest entrance. Staying at a luxury hotel is incredibly out of character for us but we made an exception this time as we were travelling with my grandparents and it came at a very reasonable price when compared to the other offerings nearby. Those looking for some relaxation would be pleased with this hotel as it consists of 26 different flavour hot springs, ranging from milk to rose flowers. All hot springs were located outside and on a clear night you can bathe whilst watching the stars in the sky.

Nanling hotel

With a full nights rest we were ready to venture into the forest. We had planned a relatively light schedule for this trip due to us travelling with my grandparents, who by the way are both over 80! We spent 2 full days in the Nanling National Forest, with 2 hikes in mind: Water Valley (Qinshuigu) and Little Yellow Mountain (Xiao Huangshan).

Water Valley

Water Pool

To begin our hike we had decided to hire a private car which took us to the top of the waterfall trail. Depending on your own fitness and time available it is possible to hike up to the start instead; this would make things simpler for those who neither speak Mandarin nor Cantonese seeing as they wouldn’t need to make arrangements with the local drivers.

Throughout the entire route you will find yourself following along the stream’s path as it weaves through the mountain formations. Each bending corner presented landscape beautifully sculptured by the power of nature. The steep gorges create crashing waterfalls sending water droplets floating into the air. Small clear pools of water dotted along the trail path. If you ever find yourself longing to connect with nature, this is a good place to start.


All in all the whole hike took a couple of hours to descend but it must be noted that we were stopping for photos at every corner. The hike itself is not a difficult one and the refreshing mist of water spray helps in cooling down in the heat of the sun. For those who have a small fear of heights, such as myself, you’ll be happy to hear there is very little to be discomfort about.


Little Yellow Mountain

Nanling National Forest

This is one of the main hikes people come to Nanling National Forest for. Once again we decided to travel by car to the starting point of the hike; the location is further and therefore I would recommend hiring a private car or jumping on one of the busses available.

Unlike Water Valley though, you have no choice but to walk up and back down.

Perched right at the right at the top of Little Yellow Mountain is an abandoned watch tower from which spectacular views of the entire park can be seen. From start to end the hike has over 1000 steps to climb, not your average set of stairs but also not impossible for those who don’t frequently exercise.

The hike takes you through the forest covering the mountain, almost all of the journey you will find yourself under the thick cover of trees. Most of the hike was pretty average and we were beginning to wonder what all the excitement was about when compared to Water Valley. As we approached the summit, we started to lose visibility as a shroud of mist enveloped everything around us. When we finally made our way out of the forest we came to realise that mist was in fact clouds…we were high enough to be inside the clouds.

Through the forest

Only a few metres of the path ahead was visible and it looked as though we were transported to a different world. At first the clouds created a shroud of cover over the watch tower, making it barely visible as we approached it. Despite the low visibility it was clear that the tower stood several stories high. I stopped to ponder just how incredible of a feat this was, the materials used would have been carried up the mountain through manual labour. Excited as usual, Sarah rushed off towards the tower first.

Then for a just a few seconds, magic happened.

A strong gush of wind and the clouds parted to reveal the tower in all its glory. The temporary gap in the clouds permitted a slither of light, faintly illuminating the scenery. By complete coincidence Sarah had placed herself beautifully in the composition. Click. The photo was taken. The clouds rolled back in. And the moment was gone.

Nanling National Forest Park Tower

We hope this post has put Nanling National Forest on your travel radar! If you have any questions or would like to get in touch, please feel free to drop us a comment below, shoot us an email or find us on instagram and facebook!


  • Your photos are INCREDIBLE! You have made me want to go….

  • Josh says:

    Looks stunning. Myself and my girlfriend are a month away from backpacking southern China. We will be landing in Hong Kong and from there taking a train to shaoguan to set up base for a few days. We are hoping to see danxia mountain and also the trails of nanling forest park. Neither of us speak more than a few words in Chinese. Is it going to be difficult navigating to and from the locations? The hotel you’ve posted is slightly out of our price range. Can you recommend any hostels/cheaper hotels in the area? By the way thank you. This post is why we want to go to nanling national park!

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