For the 50+ Traveler

To the initiated, the 999 stairs that take one to the top of Tianmen Mountain, and on to Tianman Cave, are known as the Stairway To Heaven. To the uninitiated, those same 999 stairs were where we saw a Range Rover Sport traverse the 45-degree stairwell to the top back in 1998. No matter how you know it, it is one of the most spectacular views on earth.

The Stairway To Heaven at Tianmen Mountain in China.

Tianmen Mountain, The Stairway To Heaven

The Stairway To Heaven is located at the top of Tianmen Mountain, 24,500 feet above the city of Zhangjiajie in China’s Hunan province. The 999 steps lead visitors to Tianmen Cave, which is the world’s highest naturally formed arch, which is also known as the Gateway To Heaven. Here is where you will see the spectacular views and unique mountain formations that have attracted millions of visitors.

The Stairway To Heaven at Tianmen Mountain in China.

Travel + Leisure magazine explains the significance of the number of steps: “Nine is a lucky number in Chinese numerology, representing good fortune and eternity. Those who wish to avoid the long cable car can opt to take a bus up a narrow roadway that bends back on itself 99 times.”

The stairs take most visitors about 30 minutes to climb. And while the work is considerable, the reward is worth it. As you ascend, more stunning scenery opens up as you inch closer to Tianmen Cave, where, according to a Chinese legend, “the gods meet the mortal world.”

The Tianmen Winding Mountain Road in China.

How To Visit Tianmen Mountain

There are two ways to reach Tianmen Mountain. Neither is for the faint of heart, and both are remarkable in their own way. From Zhangjiajie in southern China’s Hunan province, travelers have the option of taking the longest aerial tramway ride in the world, scaling the 24,500 feet in about 30 minutes.

The final stretch of the tram ride is very steep, climbing at a 37-degree angle. Some say it’s the view of a lifetime, featuring beautiful mountain peaks, lush deep forested valleys, and the famed 99 twists and turns that make up the road to Tianmen Mountain.

If the tramway isn’t for you, there is always the Tianmen Winding Mountain Road, which is one of the most unique roads in the world. From Zhangjiajie, you can drive the 7 miles starting at about 656 feet and will climb to 4,265 feet at the top. And, don’t forget the turns, all 99 of them. The number 99 symbolizes the belief that Heaven has nine palaces. The drive is regarded as one of the most scenic -- and perilous.

According to the website Dangerous Roads, “The driver should be extra careful during the drive. Taking it slow and paying attention to every curve and turn. Not being overly careful could make it too easy to junk a car, or worse injure and even kill passengers. The scenery looks beautiful, but take your eyes off the road for a second, and you’re on the fast way down to the bottom.”

The Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge in China.

What Else Can Visitors Expect While Visiting?

As impressive as the stairs and beauty of Tianmen Mountain are, it’s hard to imagine how anything else in the city could manage to top it. Well, try this on for size: Zhangjiajie is home to the world’s longest and highest glass bridge. The Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge spans two deep cliffs, is about 1,400 feet long, and is suspended nearly 1,000 feet above the ground. And get this, they are working on installing a bungee platform in the middle of the bridge. When completed, it will become the world’s highest bungee jump, measuring 886 feet above the ground.

The Stairway To Heaven at Tianmen Mountain in China.

Know Before You Go

The one thing you need to consider upon visiting Tianmen Mountain is the weather. Try to avoid visiting if fog is in the forecast. Earth Trekkers wrote that visiting during foggy conditions will limit your visibility down to zero. They also say the best time of year to visit is between September and November, when the temperatures are pleasant and the weather is mostly dry.

Love beautiful natural formations? In the U.S. consider these 12 things to know before hiking Angels Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park, plus how to see Iceland’s Svartifoss waterfall, set against a backdrop of dark lava columns.