The Incredible Rainbow Rocks of Zhangye

In one of the most unassuming parts of this vast country I stumbled across one of the most jaw dropping landscapes I have ever seen. My mind is still questioning whether what I saw was real or just some hallucination of colors and lines amidst mountains of desert. I saw pictures online and figured, they are making that up and really over did their color saturation this time. The first part of the park was impressive, but it wasn’t until the third stop did my eyes pop at the streaks of vibrant color slashed through the earth.


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Zhangye, a ‘small’ town of half a million, is the secondary capital of the Gansu province to Lanzhou. Not much appears to happen here. No-one has ever heard of it, and most traveller just pass right by to more well known desert landscapes in the north or mountains in the south. Zhangye just might be a good overnight stop on the long train ride to Urumqi, but upon checking in at our hostel, we were proven very wrong! There are about a zillion outdoor landscapes here. Wetlands, desert dunes, snowcapped peaks, rolling grasslands, dramatic canyons, badlands, and of course these rainbow hills. 


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Though the people of Zhangye always recognized their natural wonder, it wasn’t until 2011 that it became a national park and is slowly being recognized as one of Chinas most beautiful landforms. With that recognition, it is slowly being built up with boardwalks taking you right over these amazing rocks and access roads taking you deeper and deeper into the treasured sites within. But for now, it still has the charm of exploring the unknown and feeling like a true discoverer of natural beauty as you gaze out on this incredible landscape with only a handful of other tourists. 


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There are so many things that make this park unique. Of course the colored streaks of the rainbow hills, but their are also 512 square kilometers of other colored badlands filling the foreground of the majestic snowcapped peaks in the background. The park also includes some geographic pillars just down the road. Shoots of red rocks point straight to the sky overlooking a vast red rock canyon. Not too far from Zhangye, there is also the Grand Canyon of China with views very similar to what you would see in Arizona. I was so amazed by this natural wonder in the far west of China that very few people have heard about and even fewer have seen with their own eyes. Definitely don’t miss this geographic wonder on your trip across the silk road.

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11 thoughts on “The Incredible Rainbow Rocks of Zhangye

      1. Definitely hit Turpan and get a trip out to Flaming Mountains (once prison of ‘MonkeyMagic’), and the amazing 1000 Buddha Caves. Not much accommodation for wide eyes out there, but you can get a room at Dap Hostel. They are a wealth of knowledge. Enjoy!

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      2. From Urumuqi a good trip is to Tian Shan. There is possibility of an overnight or two in the yurts, plus a walk around the lake. However when I was there, there was a little disturbance going on (?) and foreigners were not allowed to stay. In true Chinese diplomatic fashion, nobody actual made any decision until the last bus back to the city nearly left. Good place for lunch all the same!

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