Majestic limestone pillars of Shilin Stone Forest, China. Majestic limestone pillars of Shilin Stone Forest, China.

Ancient Formation, Modern Mystery: Can Science Explain the Wonders of China’s Stone Forest?

 There are different unknown destinations and iconic places in the world that are one of a kind. Sometimes, it becomes very difficult to even believe about their existence; but once we get to know about them, we get completely awestruck. I’ll tell you about one such iconic and beautiful place- the Stone Forest in China.

What is it, why was it formed and why should you actually visit it? You’ll get to know all the details about the Stone Forest in China here.

What Makes the Stone Forest in China So Fascinating?

Long back, the Stone Forest in China was known as the first wonder of the world because it’s at an elevation of about 1625-1900 meters above sea level. It is located 126 kilometers southeast of Kunming, in the province of Yunnan, and is connected with the Kunming highway and a railway station for good and accessible transport.

The Stone Forest in China
Source: Unlimphotos

You must be wondering why it is called a stone forest. I’ll tell you that. It’s due to the presence of rock pillars, highly concentrated in the area ranging between 5m and 30m in height. It is a very vast area of about 26,000 ha but only 80 ha is open for public viewing. The entire area has these rock pillars like a forest of stones and all these pillars are preserved with utter care.

Along with these pillars, you will also find caves that have stalagmites, stone pillars, and corridors; plus underground ponds, lakes, and waterfalls. It is an absolute scenic beauty and the water bodies have a high capacity of water storage available, that too filled with good quality water.

Some of the famous rocks of the Stone Forest are Mother and Son, Buddha Stone, and Camel Riding in Elephant. It has a very pleasing climate and beauty all along, with an addition of a huge variety of over 400 types of flora.

The Stone Forest in China
Source: Unlimphotos

In an interview with the Icy Whiz team, Aseem Jha, Founder and Head of Customer Delivery at Legal Consulting Pro, believed in the intertwining of nature and culture in China’s Stone Forest. Here is what he said:

Aseem Jha - Featured
Aseem Jha

“The Stone Forest in China is a mesmerizing blend of geological wonder and cultural heritage. Its towering limestone formations, shaped over millions of years, offer a glimpse into the Earth’s ancient past while also serving as a canvas for local folklore and traditions.

What fascinates me most is the seamless integration of nature and culture; walking through the labyrinth of stone pillars feels like stepping into a living legend.

My visit to the Stone Forest was a profound experience, as I marveled at the intricate shapes carved by nature’s hand and listened to stories passed down through generations.

To fully appreciate this unique landscape, I recommend taking your time to wander off the beaten path, allowing yourself to absorb the tranquility and mystery of the surroundings.

Engaging with local guides can also enrich your experience by providing insights into the geological forces and cultural significance behind each formation.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking awe-inspiring beauty, the Stone Forest promises an unforgettable journey through time and tradition.”

You Must Visit the Stone Forest in China- But Why?

  • The Stone Forest in China was listed as a heritage site in 2007 by UNESCO. It is only one of its type of karst landform which is located in the subtropical plateau region.
  • It is around 270 million years old and has undergone a lot of geological evolution, environmental evolution as well as complex paleogeography.
  • Moreover, it has actually taken this shape and form after a lot of years of pressure, uplift, sedimentation, and erosion.
  • In this culture, there is a very famous “Torch Festival” which includes and celebrates an array of traditional activities like bullfighting, dragon-playing, and lion-dancing. During this festive time, it is more lively and attractive as compared to the rest of the year.

The Icy Whiz team interviewed Mark McShane, Founder of Cupid Digital PR, and asked him about different aspects of this iconic destination. Here is what he said:

Mark McShane - Featured
Mark McShane

“The Stone Forest (Shilin in Chinese) of China consists of immense limestone spires that mimic a petrified forest. Formed over millions of years from deposition and erosion, it demonstrates how the Earth’s surface can be fluid.

However, this site also carries a rich cultural legacy, rooted in the folklore and traditions of the Yi people, which are woven into the landscape as an astounding story: the legend of Ashima, an innocent Yi maiden, who turned to stone to better protect her people.

Visitors who stray beyond the main paths in the forest can find less-trodden spaces and enjoy the solitude of nature. Robin Poxon of the Maleny Walkabout shares his practice of hiring local guides to fully grasp the historical and cultural aspects of the forest.”

I’ll Tell You the Must-Sees at the Stone Forest in China

The entire area is divided into 8 districts and you’ll have several options to explore and enjoy.

1. Major Stone Forest

This area has dense stone peaks which are kind of steel-gray in color. The highest of these stone peaks can reach up to 40 meters. While you walk in this area you will literally find new peaks at every turn you take and it will be like a whole new view each time.

Even if you’re not taking a guide, make sure to have a map while exploring this place.

2. Minor Stone Forest

As compared to the Major Stone Forest, this area is less dense and the peaks are not so tall, instead, it is spread out into small parks. The Ashima Stone is located here which is among the biggest attractions.

The Stone Forest in China
Source: Unlimphotos

According to the mythological texts, it has been said that Ashima was a brave and beautiful Yi girl who fought to gain freedom and eventually turned into a stone while doing so.

3. Bushao Hills

Bushao Hills are located in the east of the major Stone Forest area and are the highest part of the area with an altitude going as far as 1800 meters. The sea world that the place possesses is amazing and sight to secure as they have coral fossils and giant gastropod fossils which are more than 250 million years old.

The Stone Forest in China
Source: Unlimphotos

4. Lizi Yuanqing

Lizi Yuanqing is located outside the Ring Road which is built for sightseeing in the Stone Forest area. It is covered by old pillars and rocks, some parts are sparse others dense. But, all in all, they create that beautiful presence of nature.

The biggest attraction in this area is a stone painting that was made in primitive times. It holds a religious overview and is said to have been made by the ancient Yi people, probably their last words to us. It has drawings of beasts, humans, moons, and stars.

The Stone Forest in China
Source: Unlimphotos

5. Naigu Stone Forest

This is located in the north of the Stone Forest area and the meaning of the term ‘Naigu’ is actually ancient and black. This area’s highest peak has a black rock sea, which is symbolic of its name and is a great magnificent sight. The area is obviously ticketed for visiting by tourists but it is included in the whole Stone Forest ticket. It has about 9 karst caves, which are underground.

The Stone Forest in China
Source: Unlimphotos

The area is obviously ticketed for visiting by tourists but it is included in the whole Stone Forest ticket. It has about 9 underground karst caves.

6. Eternal Mushroom

This is located right next to the Lizi Yuanqing. Surprised by it’s name, I know. It is called so because it forms a mushroom-like shape. A top hill is placed on a rock that is 15 meters in height, large on the top, and small on the bottom, and looks just like a mushroom.

Matt Goren, Head of Marketing at Tom’s Key Company, found karst topography meets cultural history in China’s Stone Forest. Here is what he said on this topic:

Matt Goren - Featured
Matt Goren

“The Stone Forest in China is truly a marvel of natural beauty and cultural richness. Located in Yunnan Province, this area is not just a landscape of striking limestone formations; it also carries a deep cultural significance, especially for the local Sani people, who are part of the Yi minority.

I find the interplay between the geological formations and the cultural heritage of this area to be particularly fascinating.

The Stone Forest is a stunning example of karst topography, which occurs due to the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. This process results in the creation of ridges, towers, fissures, and many other unique geological formations.

Walking through the Stone Forest, you feel like you’re in a different world, with the natural stone pillars towering above in various bizarre and impressive shapes that seem to defy gravity. It’s like stepping into a giant, silent city sculpted by nature itself over millions of years.

What also strikes me is how this landscape reflects the cultural history of the region. The Sani people have lived among these stone formations for generations, and they have imbued the forest with myths and legends.

For instance, the legend of Ashima, a beautiful Sani girl who turned into a stone in the forest after being forbidden to marry the man she loved, brings a human element to the majestic scenery, making the stones narrate stories of love, resistance, and life of the Yi people.

For visitors looking to explore the Stone Forest, I recommend spending at least a full day there to truly appreciate its vastness and beauty.

Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to visit to avoid crowds and to see the stones in the soft light of the sun, which casts dramatic shadows and highlights the depth of the formations.

It’s also a good idea to wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking involved on uneven surfaces. Hiring a local guide can enhance your visit as they can share insightful stories about the history and legends of the forest, enriching your understanding of this unique place.

Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to experience some local Sani culture. If your visit coincides with any local festivals, you’ll get to see traditional dances, hear the local music, and perhaps even try some of the Sani cuisine.

Visiting the Stone Forest isn’t just a journey through a natural landscape but a deep dive into an ancient culture that has thrived in harmony.”

China in Its Natural Glory: A colorful view in Yunnan's Stone Forest

The Stone Forest in China holds a sight that is absolutely stunning and is among the best tourist attractions in the country. It is famous for its stone peaks along with other natural beauty avenues like waterfalls, caves, and ponds. It is a sight not only for its beauty aspects but also holds its historical importance.

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

Last Updated on May 17, 2024 by Pragya


Anushree Khandelwal
  1. Exploring the Stone Forest in China virtually through your detailed guide was truly captivating. The historical significance, unique karst landforms, and the rich Yi ethnic culture make it an exceptional destination. Your breakdown of the major areas within the Stone Forest, each with its own distinct features, adds a practical touch for potential visitors. This virtual journey provides a vivid and enticing glimpse into a remarkable natural wonder.

  2. I love stone architects and this stone forest seems marvelous. I would love to visit here one day. I didn’t know about it’s existence but through this article I came to know about it and I have grew an interest on it.

  3. The Stone Forest in China, a wonder at 1625-1900 meters above sea level, stuns with rock pillars, caves, and water bodies. Covering 26,000 ha, only 80 ha are open to the public, preserving these stone formations meticulously. UNESCO-listed, this karst landform boasts 270 million years of geological and environmental evolution. Mother and Son, Buddha Stone, and Camel Riding in Elephant are famed rocks. A true marvel worth exploring!

  4. I wish to project the greatness of such historical figures as Guo ShouJing (Yuan Dynasty mathematician, hydrologist, astronomer).

  5. Thanks for this article. Till now, I thought the Great Wall of China was the best place to visit in China. This stone forest is another place worth visiting as it is a UNESCO site. You have given a virtual walkthrough of the stone forest.

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