With volcanic mountain lakes, snow capped peaks, cascading waterfalls, vast ancient forest, hot springs and abundant wildlife, the Changbai Moutain is one of China’s most stunning natural attractions. The Chinese name Changbaishan (长白山) means long white mountain. An apt name given the size of the mountain range and the cold weather that keeps the peaks covered in snow for most of the year.
Located in Jilin province, Changbai Mountain is a part of a mountain range on the border of China and North Korea that stretches from Heilongjiang province in China to Chagang in North Korea. The Changnai mountain is the center piece of the Changbai nature reserve that was established in 1960 and covers over 2,100 square kilometres. The wildlife and vegetation in the reserve is so rich and diverse that the Changbai reserve is considered as one of the world’s gene banks.
If you visit Changbai mountain you will see amazing and beautiful sites such as the Heavenly lake, the Baiyun mountain peak, Changbai water fall and wild mountain rivers.
Heavenly Lake (Tianchi)
The heavenly lake is the center piece of the Changbai nature reserve and is visually breathtaking. The Heavenly lake was formed in the volcanic crater of Changbai mountain 2189 meters above sea level and is surrounded by a ring of 16 mountain peaks. The lake itself covers an area of 9.2 square kilometres and has a circumference or border of 14 kilometers. The depth of the lake is 380 meters which makes it the deepest lake in both China and North Korea and one of the deepest lakes in the world. The border between North Korea and China cuts the lake in half with the northern part of the lake being in China.
Koreans attach special importance to the lake which is the mythical birth place of Korean civilization. According to legends, Hwanung the son of god and a bear that transformed into a woman started the Korean people in 2333 BC. So don’t be surprised if you see many North and south Koreans making a pilgrimage to Changbai Mountain
The Heavenly Lake is also the source of the Songhua river (2434 kilometers long), Tumen river (521 kilometers long) and Yula river (790 kilometers long).
Baiyun (Heifengkou) Peak
With a height of 2745 meters, the Baiyun peak is the highest point in the Changbai mountain range. Baiyun peak is one of the 16 peaks surrounding the Heavenly lake and provides the most stunning and magnificent views in the reserve.
Strong winds blow constantly on this peak and it is only accessible from June to mid September when there is no snow. Strangely enough it does not feature on the itinerary of local tour companies and most local Chinese tourist have no interest in climbing it. Go figure.
North of the Heavenly lake is the beginning of the Changcha river that has calm waters for the first 1.2 kilometers before it becomes wild with rapids and plunges down a 68 meter cliff to create a beautiful water fall. The Changbai water fall is the highest volcanic water fall in the world.
The best place to watch the Changbai water fall is from Baiyun peak. The only way to see this water fall is to enter Changbai reserve from the northern gate.
Changbai Hot Springs
These are a collection of hot springs two kilometres north of the Heavenly lake that cover over 1000 square meters. The average temperature of the springs is around 60C with the hottest being 82C. Some of these hot springs are reputedly hot enough to boil eggs so you don’t want to randomly jump in the first hot spring that takes your fancy.
Chemicals from surrounding volcanic rock cause bright colors in many of the hot springs. Body paint any one? Locals say that the hot springs can help medical conditions such as arthritis and dermatosis. Bet they can’t help with burns or scalds so be very careful here.
Slopes of Changbai Mountain
This slope is the most popular and developed part of the mountain, the easiest slope to visit and the place you’ll find Chinese tour groups. This slope includes Small Heavenly lake, the Heavenly lake and the under ground forest. Access to the Northern slope is through the reserve’s north gate where admission tickets cost 100 RMB.
This slope is much less popular than the Northern slope and much more visually spectacular with more impressive views. From the Western slope, the Heavenly Lake can be reached by a 1365 step climb. This is one reason why local Chinese tourists prefer the easier Northern Slope.
The western slope sites include Great Valley, Jinjiang waterfall, Jinjiang canyon, Tiger’s back and the Tizi river. In July this slope is carpeted with flowers in full bloom creating awesome views. The Jinjiang Canyon, together with the Heavenly Lake, is one of Changbai mountains must see attractions. The canyon was formed by an earthquake when the volcano erupted.
Admission is from the west gate near the Songjianghe town and cost 60 RMB
Southern and Eastern Slopes
Not much to say about the Southern slope because it is in Korea and mainly used by smugglers. No one I spoke knows anything about the eastern slopes and there is no tourism there.
Changbai mountain is in a remote part of Jilin province far from any major cities so getting there is not easy. My recommendation is to catch a plane or train to either Changchun or Jilin city then join a tour group to the mountain. Many tour companies in both cities have tour groups leaving daily for Changbai mountain.
For the more adventurous solo travellers, you can catch a train from Changchun to Yanji city which takes 10 hours then a bus from Yanji to the northern entrance of the mountain.
I’ll update this part later with more information on how to independently visit Changbai mountain.
Best Time to Visit
June to September is the main time to visit when Baiyun peak is accessible and July is the best time to visit when the flowers are in bloom.
Changbai mountain is open all year round and every season provides uniquely different and spectacular views. Winter though is incredibly cold though with temperatures as low as -45C so I recommend you stick to the June to September period.