Shilin Pinnacle Karst National Geopark
Shilin Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan Province
About 120 km (75 miles) South of Kunming
The Chinese government has embarked on an ambitious long-range program to establish as many as 300 national geological parks throughout the country. Presently, nearly 30 such parks have been established. This month we will feature one of the finest geoparks in China—Shilin Pinnacle Karst Geopark.
This extraordinary geopark is likely the finest large-scale example of karst topography in the world. It is truly vast, covering an area of 400 square kilometers or 96,000 acres, and consists of a major and minor stone forest, caves, and many water features. This incredible stone forest is so unique that it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I visited this site twice—once in 1978 and again in 2008. The change is remarkable as it has been developed to accommodate millions of tourists annually while protecting and preserving the natural features. A visit here requires a full day if you are starting in Kunming, the provincial capital. It takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours by car or bus to drive the 112 km (70 miles) between Kunming and Shilin. Once you arrive, local guides from the Yi ethnic group are available for a reasonable fee to lead you on a tour. Taking a tram tour with a guide is the most efficient way to see these amazing stone formations. Guides are available in many languages. Allow 2 or 3 hours for one of the tours.
This area was formed about 270 million years ago when it was covered by a vast sea. The sea retreated many millions of years ago leaving behind these massive, upright limestone features. They were exposed to further weathering that led to some pinnacles toppling over. Today, you can walk trails leading through many of these fantastic formations. Walk the trails slowly, pause to look up on both sides, and then look back. Each view is breathtaking. It is easy to see how so many people fell in love with the stone forest and the sense of wonder it provides.
There are many concession stands at the main entrance, including two or three small stone shops. These contain mainly tourist grade stones; however, some nicer ones may also be found. If you wish to explore this area further, and perhaps visit some of the caves, plan to stay in a Shilin hotel. You can easily spend two or three days here and still not see everything. Visiting the Shilin stone forest is a memorable trip to one of the great geological wonders of the world.