An image of the stairway to heaven in China.

The Glorious Stairway to Heaven with 999 Steps in China!

Heaven really is a place on earth, but the path you need to take is long and hard.

Located in the Hunan province, Tianmen Shan or Heaven’s Gate Mountain claims to have not just the Stairway to Heaven but also “Heaven’s Door”. Tianmen Cave is the highest naturally formed arch in the world and it sits right on top of 999 steps.

Reaching the Stairway to Heaven

To get there, you need to ride the world’s longest cable ride for 28 minutes and 24,500 feet off the ground! Scared of heights? You can still get to the mountains by bus on 99 Bends, one of China’s most famous roads which turns – you guessed it – 99 times.

A Gondola that leads to the Stairway to Heaven.
A view of 99 Bends from a gondola. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this if you easily get carsick!

Once you’ve gotten off the gondola or the bus, you need to take a cliff-hanging glass walkway called the Walk of Faith (who picks these names?) or one of the other two lesser-known, but equally terrifying, glass paths. No one said that the path to ascension is easy!

One of the glass walkways.

Speaking of ascension, the mountain is actually home to a Buddhist temple. Tianmenshan Temple, formerly Lingquan Temple, was built in 870 A.D. but was destroyed by the war in the 1940s. It’s said to be the Buddhist center of Hunan and would be a great place to have a pit stop before climbing the rest of the mountain.

Tianmenshan Temple in winter.

After exploring the temple and taking pictures at the glass walkways, the only thing left for you to do is to climb 999 steps up the stairway, a difficult feat that takes about 30 minutes. Unless you want bragging rights for having “climbed the stairway to heaven” and “knocked on heaven’s door”, you’re better off staying on the ground with the rest of us.

Thinking of adding this to the bucket list? Watch this 4k video then decide!

The Enigmatic Past of Tianmen Shan

Tianmen Shan, a majestic mountain in China’s Hunan province, is home to the famed “Stairway to Heaven.” This remarkable site draws visitors from around the world, eager to experience its natural beauty and spiritual significance. The mountain’s rich history and entwined mythology paint a picture of a place not just of scenic wonder but of deep cultural importance.

Legends of Tianmen Shan

According to legend, the mountain is a gateway between the earthly realm and the heavens. It’s said that the “Stairway to Heaven” leads to Tianmen Cave, a natural archway considered the door to another world. This mystical gate has been the subject of many tales, where immortals and gods traverse between dimensions. The legends surrounding Tianmen Shan give the site its mysterious allure, inviting those who seek to experience the divine.

The Stairway to Heaven: A Path of Pilgrimage

The “Stairway to Heaven” is not just a physical challenge; it’s a spiritual journey. For centuries, pilgrims have climbed the 999 steps, a number symbolizing the ultimate path to heaven in Chinese culture. This journey is seen as a test of perseverance and faith, leading to the highest naturally formed arch in the world. The stairway’s significance is rooted in the belief that reaching the top brings one closer to the divine.

A Tapestry of History

The history of Tianmen Shan is as layered as its myths. The mountain has been a site of worship and contemplation for over a thousand years. Tianmenshan Temple, originally Lingquan Temple, was established in 870 A.D. and has been a focal point for Buddhist practitioners. Although the temple was destroyed in the 1940s, it has been rebuilt and remains a testament to the enduring spiritual heritage of Tianmen Shan. The “Stairway to Heaven” itself is a relatively recent addition, but it has quickly become synonymous with the mountain’s legacy.

Tianmen Shan’s “Stairway to Heaven” is a bridge between the past and present, offering a glimpse into China’s rich tapestry of history and mythology. Visitors who make the journey to Tianmen Shan are not just tourists; they become part of a centuries-old tradition of seeking connection with the divine. Whether drawn by the challenge of the climb or the allure of the legends, the “Stairway to Heaven” at Tianmen Shan is a journey into the heart of China’s spiritual landscape.

The Significance of the Number 999

At the heart of Tianmen Shan’s allure lies the “Stairway to Heaven,” a monumental staircase of 999 steps. This number is not chosen at random; it holds profound significance in Chinese culture and spirituality, deeply intertwined with the mountain’s mythology and the path to enlightenment it represents.

999: A Symbol of Ultimate Harmony and Spiritual Completion

In Chinese numerology, numbers are believed to carry specific energies and meanings. The number 9, being the highest single-digit number, symbolizes completeness, eternity, and the utmost level of spiritual attainment. The repetition of 9 in 999 amplifies its significance, representing the final stage of spiritual development and the achievement of harmony. The “Stairway to Heaven” at Tianmen Shan, with its 999 steps, is thus seen as a path to the ultimate spiritual destination, a journey towards perfection and enlightenment.

Architectural and Cultural Resonance

The choice of 999 steps for the “Stairway to Heaven” also resonates with the architecture and imperial symbolism in China. The Forbidden City, for example, is known to have 9,999 rooms, a reflection of the belief that the number 9 is auspicious and associated with the Emperor, who was considered the Son of Heaven. By incorporating 999 steps into the stairway at Tianmen Shan, the designers have embedded a connection to celestial power and imperial grandeur, reinforcing the stairway’s status as a bridge between the earth and the heavens.

The Journey Upwards: More Than Just Steps

Climbing the “Stairway to Heaven” and its 999 steps is more than a physical challenge; it’s a metaphor for the spiritual journey individuals undertake in their quest for enlightenment and connection with the divine. Each step represents a move away from earthly concerns towards a higher state of being. The number 999, therefore, is not just a count of steps but a symbolic representation of the transformative journey of ascension that Tianmen Shan offers to every pilgrim and visitor.

The “Stairway to Heaven” at Tianmen Shan, with its 999 steps, serves as a powerful symbol of spiritual ascension, cultural depth, and the pursuit of harmony. It invites those who climb it to reflect on the broader meanings of life, spirituality, and the pursuit of completeness. This stairway, steeped in the mystical significance of the number 999, continues to inspire awe and wonder in all who undertake its journey.

Tourist Guide to Tianmen Shan

Tianmen Shan, renowned for its breathtaking “Stairway to Heaven,” offers an unparalleled journey through natural beauty and spiritual elevation. This guide aims to equip you with all you need to know to make the most of your visit to one of China’s most mystical and awe-inspiring destinations.

Planning Your Visit

Best Time to Go

Visiting Tianmen Shan during the right season can greatly enhance your experience. Spring and autumn are the most recommended times for a trip to this majestic location. From April to June, the mountain bursts into life, with lush greenery and blooming flowers framing the “Stairway to Heaven” in vibrant colors. 

The weather is comfortably warm, perfect for hiking and exploring. Autumn, from September to November, offers a different but equally stunning palette of colors. The foliage turns into shades of red, orange, and yellow, creating a breathtaking backdrop for the “Stairway to Heaven.” These seasons also benefit from milder weather, fewer tourists, and clearer skies, ensuring you can fully enjoy the panoramic views and serene atmosphere of Tianmen Shan.

Getting There

The adventure to Tianmen Shan and its “Stairway to Heaven” starts from Zhangjiajie, located in Hunan Province. This city serves as the gateway to the mountain. You have the option to take a bus or a taxi to reach the Tianmen Mountain Cableway, a journey that introduces you to the local landscape’s beauty. The cable car ride to Tianmen Shan is an experience in itself. 

As the world’s longest cable car route, it spans over 7 kilometers and offers unparalleled views of the mountainous terrain below. This ascent provides a unique perspective of the region and builds anticipation for the “Stairway to Heaven” awaiting at the mountain’s summit.

Tickets and Tours

To ensure a smooth visit, it’s wise to secure your tickets to Tianmen Shan well ahead of your trip, particularly if you plan to visit during the busier spring or autumn seasons. Advanced booking can save you from long lines and potential sell-outs. 

For a deeper dive into the area’s rich tapestry of stories and natural wonders, consider booking a guided tour. A knowledgeable guide can enrich your visit with insights into Tianmen Shan’s history, mythology, and ecological significance. They can also point out details and stories that you might miss on your own, making the journey to the “Stairway to Heaven” even more memorable. 

Whether you’re navigating the glass skywalks, climbing the steps to Heaven’s Gate, or simply soaking in the views, having a guide can enhance your understanding and appreciation of this remarkable site.

Practical Tips for Visitors

Wear Comfortable Shoes

When planning your visit to Tianmen Shan and its iconic “Stairway to Heaven,” selecting the right shoes is crucial. The terrain varies from paved pathways to potentially slippery staircases and uneven natural trails. Opt for shoes with good grip, support, and comfort. 

Hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes are ideal choices. These will help prevent slips and falls, especially on steep climbs or during any inclement weather. Remember, your feet will be your main mode of transport throughout the day, so keeping them comfortable is key to enjoying your adventure.

Stay Hydrated and Energized

The journey across Tianmen Shan, including the ascent of the “Stairway to Heaven,” demands physical stamina. Carry a refillable water bottle and a selection of snacks to maintain your energy and hydration levels. Energy bars, nuts, and fruits are lightweight, nutritious options that can help sustain you. 

You can pause to eat and drink in several rest areas, but options may be limited on the mountain itself. Staying hydrated is particularly important to avoid altitude sickness and to ensure you can enjoy your exploration from start to finish.

Respect the Environment

Tianmen Shan is a tourist destination and a precious natural environment that requires our respect and protection. As you enjoy the breathtaking views and the climb up the “Stairway to Heaven,” be mindful of your impact on the surroundings. 

Always stick to designated paths to protect the local flora and fauna. Carry any trash with you until you can dispose of it in designated bins. This includes small items like wrappers, which can easily be overlooked but harm wildlife and degrade the beauty of the landscape. By practicing Leave No Trace principles, you preserve Tianmen Shan’s natural splendor for future generations to experience and enjoy.

Plan Your Route in Advance

Tianmen Shan offers several attractions besides the “Stairway to Heaven,” including the glass skywalks, Heaven’s Gate, and the cable car ride. Research and decide which attractions you want to visit beforehand to make the most of your time. Consider factors like physical fitness and interest level when planning your route.

Check the Weather

The weather on Tianmen Shan can change quickly, affecting visibility and your overall experience. Before you go, check the weather forecast. On clear days, you’ll enjoy stunning views, but fog can obscure the scenery. Dress in layers to adapt to changing conditions.

Reserve Some Time for Unexpected Discoveries

While it’s good to have a plan, Tianmen Shan is full of surprises. Allocate some time for spontaneous exploration. You might find a quiet spot with a perfect view or stumble upon local wildlife. These unplanned moments often become the highlight of the trip.

Be Prepared for Altitude Changes

The “Stairway to Heaven” and other attractions on Tianmen Shan are at high altitudes. If you’re not used to high elevations, you may experience shortness of breath or dizziness. Take it slow, and allow your body to adjust to the altitude change.

Capture the Moment, Respectfully

Photography is a must at Tianmen Shan, but remember to be mindful of your surroundings. Avoid blocking paths while taking pictures, and respect areas where photography may be restricted. Always prioritize safety, especially on the glass skywalks and near steep drops.

Stay Connected

Cell service can be spotty in mountainous areas. Plan accordingly by downloading maps and any necessary information beforehand. Inform someone of your itinerary, especially if you’re exploring less crowded areas.

Visiting Tianmen Shan and ascending the “Stairway to Heaven” is an unforgettable adventure combining natural beauty and spiritual depth. This guide will help ensure your journey is as enriching and enjoyable as possible, leaving you with memories that last a lifetime.

FAQ for Exploring the Stairway to Heaven

What is the best time to visit the Stairway to Heaven at Tianmen Shan?

The ideal times to visit the “Stairway to Heaven” at Tianmen Shan are during the spring months of April to June and the autumn months of September to November. These periods offer the best weather conditions, fewer crowds, and the landscape at its most beautiful.

How do I get to the Stairway to Heaven?

To reach the “Stairway to Heaven,” you start from Zhangjiajie, located in Hunan Province. From there, take a bus or taxi to the Tianmen Mountain Cableway, which will take you directly towards the “Stairway to Heaven.”

Do I need to buy tickets in advance for Tianmen Shan?

Yes, purchasing your tickets in advance, especially during peak visiting seasons, is recommended to avoid long wait times. You might also consider booking a guided tour for a more informative experience.

Are there any specific footwear recommendations for climbing the Stairway to Heaven?

Wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes for the “Stairway to Heaven” and other paths on Tianmen Shan is crucial. The terrain can be challenging, so hiking boots or robust walking shoes are recommended.

What should I bring for my visit to Tianmen Shan?

For a visit to Tianmen Shan, bring water, snacks, comfortable footwear, layered clothing to adjust to changing weather, a camera, and a small first-aid kit. Don’t forget to carry any personal medications you might need.

Is the Stairway to Heaven difficult to climb?

Climbing the “Stairway to Heaven” can be challenging due to its steepness and the high altitude. However, proper preparation and pacing make it manageable for most people in good health.

Can I visit Tianmen Shan if I’m afraid of heights?

You can still enjoy Tianmen Shan even if you’re afraid of heights. While the “Stairway to Heaven” and the glass skywalks might be daunting, there are plenty of other attractions that don’t require high-altitude walks.

How can I respect the environment while visiting Tianmen Shan?

You can respect the environment by sticking to marked paths, disposing of waste properly, and not disturbing the wildlife. This helps preserve the beauty of Tianmen Shan for future visitors.

Are there any facilities or services available on Tianmen Shan?

Tianmen Shan offers various facilities, including restrooms, snack bars, and souvenir shops. However, bringing your essentials is best, as options may be limited and prices higher on the mountain.

How long does exploring Tianmen Shan and the Stairway to Heaven take?

The time it takes can vary greatly depending on your pace and how much you want to see. A full day is recommended to comfortably explore the “Stairway to Heaven,” the cable car ride, and other attractions without rushing.


Tianmen Shan, with its awe-inspiring “Stairway to Heaven,” offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural significance, and spiritual enrichment. This guide aims to prepare you for a journey that’s as challenging as it is rewarding, providing practical advice and insights to enhance your visit. By planning ahead, respecting the natural environment, and embracing the physical and symbolic ascent, you’re set to experience one of China’s most remarkable destinations.

Thinking how you can fund your next adventures? Why not monetize your trips by reading our guide!



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