The Huangshan Scenic Area extends about 40 km from north to south and 30 km from east to west. As an important national scenic area, Huangshan Mountain was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 and as a result, the park is very well kept and amazingly enough in China, a no-smoking zone is strictly enforced.
There are 72 peaks in total with Lotus Peak, Brightness Apex and the Celestial Capital Peak being the three major ones, all towering above 1,800m. Although 1,800m might not seem too awe-inspiring at first, the sheer steepness of the peaks and sense of remoteness one gets when on Huang Shan coupled with frequent "weak knees" will make you think otherwise.
As you initially ascend the mountain, you'll come across stunted pine trees contorted into curious shapes. What's more amazing is that these gnarled trees sprout from rocks that are just as oddly shaped. Eroded by wind and time, the rock formations, together with the stunted pines growing off them, have long been the muse of many painters and poets. The gnarled trees and craggy rocks are the subject of numerous traditional Chinese paintings and poems and have become a recognised symbol of Huang Shan. If you see such a painting, chances are Huang Shan was the inspiration for the work.
At Huang Shan visitors describe it as floating on a sea of clouds. The sea of clouds in the Beihai Scenic Area is ever-changing and unpredictable; one moment you've got the picture-perfect shot of a twisted pine on the next peak and in the next, it has disappeared, engulfed in a swirl of mist and clouds. Resulting from the "now you see it, now you don't" effect, a certain surreal quality develops which can make you feel rather like an immortal.
There are hot springs at the foot of Huangshan, at Purple Cloud Peak. For those aching after a strenuous but unforgettable climb, this opportunity should be utilised to pamper those tired and aching legs and feet. First tapped over a thousand years ago, the clear waters remain at a constant 40°C year round and can be used for drinking and bathing, though not at the same time and from different pools! Special therapeutic baths and swimming pools have been built around the natural springs.
There are two main ways of getting to the top of Huang Shan, by foot or by cable car. A recommended route is to take the cable car up, ascending from the east side of the mountain to reach the Beihai, stay overnight at the summit and catch the magical sunrise, then descend by foot down the western side of the mountain. The western side is a lot steeper and isn't for the faint of heart. Although the scenery serves as a good distraction, don't be too distracted and lose your footing. If you do decide to climb the mountain, it's a 3-hour, 7.5km climb from the east and a hefty 15km from the western approach, which will take at least twice as much time.
On the eastern side of Huang Shan close to the summit, is the Begin-to-Believe Peak. It's probably the most visited peak in Huang Shan due to its deep chasms and classic Huang Shan scenery. Along the way you might notice many locks clasped around the chain railings; these locks are meant to represent everlasting love. Couples romantically fasten their locks and throw the key off the peak, thereby cementing their relationship. The Beihai Scenic Area is at the summit of Huang Shan. Paths are newly paved and well kept. This is the best place to view the sunrise above the eternal sea of clouds and pine tree-studded peaks.
Flying Rock in the western part of the summit area is a huge pear shaped rock 10m high perched precariously on top of the peak. Steps leading to the top of the peak have one dubious looking handrail allowing the brave to really experience being on top of the world if your eyes dare to stay open.
Along the central axis of the mountain is the Brightness Apex at 1,840m, this is the second highest peak on Huang Shan which separates the physically challenging western side from the more gentle eastern side. This is a good place to contrast the two faces.
Jade Screen Pavilion is also known as the Jade Screen of Heaven. These fantastic sheer cliff faces feature unique rock formations with green pines. It looks like a giant Chinese landscape painting brought to life.
On the western side Lotus Peak is Huang Shan's highest peak. Surrounded by a group of lower peaks, Lotus Peak looks like a lotus flower in full bloom. The top of the peak offers panoramic views of Huang Shan though sore and wobbly legs are also inevitably part of the deal.
The Celestial Capital Peak faces Lotus Peak in the west. At 1,829m, it's the steepest peak, but a stone stairway is cut into the near vertical cliff face and those wanting to venture up, much of it on all fours, are aided by heavy chains hammered into the rock face. This stone stairway can easily be spotted from afar as a thin white line creeping up to the summit. It should be noted that during winter this peak may be closed. Even so, just looking at the peak is mind-blowing enough to give anyone vertigo.
After leaving the Huang Shan Scenic Area, in Tunxi there is an old trading street known as Tunxi Ancient Street. This 1.5km street has been a bustling centre of trade since the Southern Song dynasty, taking its present day form during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Paved with bluestone, the street is lined on both sides with old shops in an unmistakable Huizhou architectural style characterized by fine woodcarvings on lattice windows and doors. The shops retain the essence of traditional stores of yesteryear, selling wares such as traditional medicines and local specialities including Shexian ink stones, Huang Shan Maofeng tea and Huizhou ink sticks.