Advice for Visiting Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan Province

five flower lake jiuzhaijou
••• Five Flower Lake in Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan Province, China. Getty Images / Cultura RM Exclusive/Philip Lee Harvey

A Family Trip to Chengdu

A reader (and good friend) returned from a trip to Sichuan Province with her family - including 2 small children ages 5 and 7. They spent a long weekend in Chengdu sightseeing and then added on a few days for Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou Chinese National Parks.

Huanglong National Park is famous for its brilliantly colored sulfur pools and Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve stands apart as one of the most beautiful parks in China for its natural scenery. The key here is for visitors to understand that these parks are at very high altitudes. And if you're flying in to Jiuzhaigou Airport or even driving from Chengdu, the altitude can be a serious risk. Your body does not have enough time to acclimatize and the effects of the high altitude can come on very quickly.

Jiuzhaigou Park has altitude ranges from 2,000 to 4,500 meters or 6,600 to 14,800 feet. Huanglong Park's altitude has a higher range from 1,700 to over 5,000 meters or 5,500 to 16,400 feet. If you are traveling - with or without kids - the altitude of these parks should be a consideration and you should plan as much as possible for both the effects of altitude and bad weather.

On to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou

Intrepid travelers, the family left for Huanglong from the Jiuzhaigou airport not realizing they'd be driving on narrow mountain roads dodging landslides and boulders all the while gaining altitude and heading into a downpour. Unprepared for the weather or the altitude, they survived, but half the party was so dehydrated and sick from altitude they missed the next day at Jiuzhaigou.

The reader described it as follows:

By the time we reached the 5km mark (in Huanglong), the kids were spent and it began to pour.  Not just a little rain, but a torrential downpour.  This was also the point in the park where you could walk 500m in the opposite direction of the exit to see the clear sulfur ponds.  Risking not seeing any of the sights we had come to see in the first place, we elected to head straight for the exit.  We were two hours into our journey with (unknown to us) two more hours to go.  It was at this point my 5-year-old simply could not continue...[carrying him on my shoulders], I was exhausted, but he kept whispering in my ear, "I love you mummy." "Mummy, do you think we will die here?"...

Then, on the way back to their hotel:

Occasionally, we would have to stop to wait for the rocks and boulders to be removed so we could pass. When they finally reached their hotel, the man helping us with our luggage took the time to ask if we needed altitude sickness medicine or oxygen.  This was the first time we realized what we had done.

The reader recommends stocking up on water, oxygen and altitude sickness pills either in Chengdu (before you head off to the higher altitude parks) or in little shops along the road (after you land in Jiuzhaigou airport) that sell these supplies as they are expensive in the hotels.

The reader hadn't understood how high they were getting (Huanglong average altitude is about 3200 meters and Jiuzhaigou average altitude is about 2400 meters) nor the sheer distances required to walk within the parks. She doesn't recommend Huanglong with small kids along but Jiuzhaigou is manageable because of its lower altitude and buses running through the park from which you can hop on and off.

It's one thing to read about these places in a guidebook. But it's great to hear from people who've actually been, especially with kids. Despite their harrowing time, she hopes to go back to Jiuzhaigou and spend more time. Thanks Denise, for your contribution!