World’s tallest outdoor elevator offers views over ‘Avatar’ landscape

Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. September’s theme is ‘Build it Big,’ as we share the stories behind some of the world’s most impressive feats of engineering.

CNN  — 

The world’s tallest outdoor elevator might be two decades old, but it remains just as popular as ever, offering fast and effortless views of a national park many believe inspired the incredible scenery of the 2009 film “Avatar.”

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan, China is famed for its towering, pillar-like karst formations, and bears a remarkable resemblance to the floating landscape of alien-world Pandora, which plays a starring role in the movie.

The 326-meter-tall glass Bailong Elevator was built onto the side of a cliff in the national park and offers stunning views of the karst formations.

It consists of three double-decker lifts, each of which can transport as many as 46 visitors up the mountain in less than two minutes per trip.

The elevator serves as gateway to some of the main attractions of the park including Golden Whip Stream, Tianzi Mountain and views of the Southern Pillar of Heaven – which was later renamed “Hallelujah Mountain” in honor of “Avatar” director James Cameron’s floating mountains.

Alternatively, visitors can hike up the mountain, which takes about 2.5 hours.

Completed in 2002 with a hefty price tag of RMB 180 million ($26 million), the lift hasn’t always been celebrated. Local experts and scholars initially criticized the project, saying construction of the Bailong Elevator, which began in 1999, damaged the natural scenery.

Weighed down by debates and safety concerns, lift operations were halted three months after it first opened. Demolition was discussed, but the elevator ended up reopening 10 months later – a saga documented by China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV.

Some 20 years after its opening, the Bailong Elevator has proven to be one of the hottest attractions in the park, carrying more than 60 million tourists in the last two decades.

Zhangjiajie is also home to the world’s tallest bungee jump – which is located at the famous Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, once the highest and the longest glass bridge of its kind when opened in 2016.

This feature was first published in 2020. It was updated in September 2022.