Located 120 km (74.6 miles) from Xi'an, close to the Shaanxi's eastern provincial border, Hua Shan makes for a stunning day trip and pleasant respite from the bustle of dusty Xi'an. The scenic area encompasses 204 square kilometers (79 square miles), the majority of which is protected land featuring sheer granite cliffs, verdant valleys and five cragged peaks.
Viewed from certain vantage points, the peaks are said to resemble the petal arrangement of a lotus flower, hence the name Hua Shan or "Flower Mountain." The southern peak is the highest, towering 2,160 meters (7086 ft) above the surrounding plains. You can either hike up—though the journey can be perilous in places with nothing but a chain between yourself and a sheer drop—or take in the dramatic views on the ten-minute cable car journey (weather permitting, of course), which will set you back RMB 110 round trip.
History records a multitude of battles fought for domination of the area surrounding this sacred Taoist mountain, once known as Xiyue (Western Mountain). For over two thousand years, the mountain has been a magnet for pilgrims and patriots.
Throughout the Warring States (770 - 221 BC), surrounding kingdoms warred over the mountainous region for centuries until finally it and the adjacent lands were unified by Qin Shihuang, China's first emperor and founder of the Qin Dynasty. It was Qin who designated Hua Shan an official Taoist sacrificial site, and many emperor's continued the tradition, making the journey to Hua Shan in hopes of bringing good fortune and prosperity to their reigns.
Hua Shan has been a Taoist refuge and place of learning for so long that it has developed its own unique sect, named, not surprisingly, the Hua Shan sect, which is a subordinate of the Quan Zhen sect. Mysteries and histories aside, Hua Shan is a beautiful destination.
Hua Shan has four distinct seasons. Summers are usually hot and humid with heavy rains, and winters tend to be cold and dry. Spring and fall are the most popular times to travel to Hua Shan, though the temperature is generally pleasant all year round.
Most, but not all, hotels and hostels in the immediate area offer dorm-style rooms and some private rooms, all with shared bathrooms. Clean but a bit rugged, most accommodations in the area tend to be overpriced, but you should be able to bargain for a bed in the RMB 30-40 range. Many visitors simply stay in nearby Xi'an or Luoyang and come to Hua Shan for a day. If you want to spend more time on the mountain, the aforementioned dorm-style accommodations can be found on the mountain's circuit route.
For a bit more money and comfort, as well as access to great views and spectacular sunrises, try the East Peak Guesthouse. The nearby village of Mengyuan, where the Hua Shan train station is, also an option, with several modest hotels to offer.
Eating at any of the summit restaurants will probably seem overpriced, but spare a thought for the porter who lugged the ingredients up there for you. If you're based out of Xi'an and doing a day trip, consider taking a packed lunch. The village of Mengyuan, home to the Hua Shan train station, also offers a handful of small but decent noodle shops and restaurants.
To and from Hua Shan
Hua Shan is 138 kilometers from Xi'an Xianyang International Airport, a trip of roughly 1.5 hours by bus.
Travelers board trains at any station along Longhai Railway Line (linking Lianyungang in Jiangsu Province to Lanzhou in Gansu Province) for stops in Huashan (called Meiyuan Station). The train from Xi'an takes 2-3 hours.
Buses from Xi'an Chongdong Bus Station (Tel: 029 8259 7222) leave every 28 minutes to Huayin City, which stops at Huashan en route (2 hours). Passengers get off at Huashan Bus Station, a few hundred meters east of the intersection of the town's main road. Please note that the buses departing the Chongdong Bus Station are much faster than the minibuses leaving Xi'an Railway Station because the buses travel along the expressway.
Getting Around (Up) Hua Shan
For those who choose to climb, there are three different trails up the mountain. Although they differ in difficulty, all paths involve thousands of stone steps to the top. An easier option, the cable car, takes you to within easier walking distance of the North Peak in about ten minutes. The five-peak circuit takes a good eight hours to complete.
Many local people set up small stalls on Hua Shan, selling local products such as straw plaiting, paper-cuts and embroidery. Stores are mostly at the foot of the mountain. You can also rent walking sticks and torches (flashlights) for after-dark excursions.