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Trip to the Stone Forest

Last Updated on 2020/11/04

The World Geopark, 78 kilometers from downtown Kunming, located in the Stone Forest Yi Autonomous County is a national AAAA scenic area.

石林 The Stone Forest, Kunming, Yunnan

The Stone Forest formed 200 million years ago is of typical Karst landform and enjoys a reputation as a world wonder. It is composed of Liziqing, Naigu, and other scenic spots. Every year the magnificent Torch Festival of the Yi People is held on the 24th of the sixth lunar month in the Stone Forest.

Map of Stone Forest

Attention: Traveling in the Stone Forest, you may see girls named “Ashima” in colorful clothes of the Sani People everywhere. You will not be refused if you ask to take photos with them.

The Stone Forest formed 200 million years ago is of typical Karst landform and enjoys a reputation as a world wonder.

Basic Information

Geographic location: in Shilin Yi Autonomous County, to the southeast part of Kunming
Scenic status: a world Geo-park; one of the 66 national 5A tourist attractions rated by China National Tourism Administration in May 2007
Tour time: 3 ~ 4 hours

Travel Tips

1. Stone Forest Yi Embroidery: embroidery, a craft of the Yi women in the Stone Forest, has a long history and a diversity of techniques. Among its products are ethnic costumes, headbands, aprons, embroidered shoes, backpacks, tablecloths, curtains and the like, with a relatively high artistic value. These products are known for their variety, exquisite designs, perfect craftsmanship, and strong ethnic flavor. Currently Yi embroidery is mainly made and sold in the Stone Forest Scenic Area.
2. Torch Festival: also known as the Yi Carnival. It is a major traditional Yi festival. It is recorded in Luquan County Chronicles that: “also called the Star Regression Festival, the Torch Festival falls on lunar June 24th, a day that the Yi keeps as the last day of a year, just as New Year’s Eve for the Han.” This festival is popular in Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, and also traditional for other ethnic groups including the Bai, the Lisu, the Jinuo and the Pumi. It begins on June 24th of the lunar year, and lasts for about 3 days.
3. Ticket Price of Stone Forest: 175 yuan per person (including the sightseeing for Big Stone Forest, Small Stone Forest and Naigu Stone Forest). Shuttle bus is available for visitors from Big Stone Forest to Naigu Stone Forest. The charge for a round trip is 3 yuan per person.

Recommended Tour Route

General introduction to Stone Forest → Stone Forest Yi Autonomous County → customs of Sani people → Stone Forest Lake → Lion Pond → Buffalo-like Stones → Rock Screen → couplets of marshal Zhude → the central wide square → Hair-trigger Danger → Sword-like Mountain → The Ideal Place for Short Break → Sword Peak Pond → The Narrowest Pass → The Window of Grand View → Two Feeding Birds → Elephant on the Platform → Ten-thousand-year Tortoise → Stone Bell → View-watching Pavilion → Lotus Lake → rock named Ashima in Small Stone Forest → the performance plaza

Key Points

Overview of Stone Forest, the formation of Stone Forest, Stone Forest Lake, Lion Pavilion, “The Most Wonderful Scene of Stone Forest”, Sword Peak Pond,  View-watching Pavilion, famous inscriptions, Small Stone Forest, the customs of Sani People, Torch Festival.

Among the scenic regions of Kunming, the most famous spectacle is the Stone Forest which enjoys an equal reputation with the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, the Rime of Jilin, and the Landscapes of Guilin. All of them are regarded as the four most fantastic natural miracles in China. When the term “The Stone Forest” firstly came to visitors’ ears, it usually can arouse strong curiosity. It is not a forest of trees, but a forest of Karst limestones in various shapes. The typical Karst landform here is so splendid that the Stone Forest is entitled “The Top Wonder” in China.


Seventy-eight kilometers away from the downtown of Kunming, the Stone Forest (Shilin) is located in the Stone Forest Yi Autonomous County in the southeast of Kunming. There are two roads from Kunming to the Stone Forest: One is the 120-kilometer Anshi high-graded road connecting Anning city and Stone Forest County, of which the section from Kunming to the Stone Forest covers 89 kilometers. It is the first high-graded road in Yunnan and was put into use in January 1991. The bus journey to the Stone Forest takes about two hours. The other one is the Kunshi Expressway which was put to use in December 2003. It takes only 45 minutes to go to the Stone Forest via the expressway. Therefore, the latter is more convenient and acceptable to visitors. Just as the famous saying goes: the best usually comes the last. On the way to the Stone Forest, there is a lot to see.

On The Way to the Stone Forest

On the way, the first county visitors can see is Chenggong County which is entitled to the homeland of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. In recent years, the local economy has been developing rapidly, and people’s living standards is greatly improved. Here appears one of the richest villages in the province—Dounan Village, where an international flower production base was set up, and flowers produced here are sold all over China and around the world. In 2008, five tons of fresh flowers here were airlifted to Beijing Olympic Games every day. Besides the production of flowers, the county is also famous for one local fruit—Pearl Pear. The pear is so popular because it is sweet, juicy, and tender. In Yuan Dynasty (1279—1368), the pear was identified to be the tribute to the emperor, hence the name of the county Chenggong which means “tribute” in Chinese. The reason why local people adopt “Pearl” to be the name of the pear is related to the history of the pear. Since the saplings of the pear were initially brought here from Dali by a monk whose Buddhist title was “Pearl”, local people entitled the pear with “Pearl” to commemorate the monk who brought the pear saplings and the fortune to the county.

Two railways can be seen on the way to the Stone Forest. One is narrow-gauged; the other one is wide-gauged. The narrow one, with a total length of 855 kilometers (1 meter wide), is the first railway in Yunnan, starting from Kunming and ending in Hanoi in Vietnam. The French built the railway from 1904 to 1910 to transport the abundant mineral resources from Yunnan to Vietnam which was one of the French colonies. At that time, China was a weak country under the colonization and invasion of many imperialist countries including France, so the railway construction was conducted by the French. At present, China, with its stronger economy, has constructed many modern railways. The wide one is good evidence. It is an electronic railway in standard width (1.435 meters wide), connecting Kunming and Nanning in Guangxi province. It is 898 kilometers long and was completed in 1997. Therefore, it is an important artery of railway transportation that can contribute to the economic development of both southwest and southeast China.

The brilliant lake next to the road is Yangzong Lake. Yangzong used to be the name of an ancient tribe that had ever inhabited this area, and the lake was named after the tribe. The lake belongs to the Nanpan River system, covering an area of 30 square kilometers with an average depth of 20 meters, and it is the 4th deepest lake in Yunnan. Because of the crystal water and the fresh air here, the lake and the lakeside area were developed into a provincial vacation resort in 1992. The resort is equipped with good tourist facilities which can provide visitors various amusements and comfortable accommodations. The villas, hotels, and a large golf course on the lakeside have entertained many visitors from home and abroad.

Another county on the way to the Stone Forest is Yiliang County. Yiliang is also reputed as “The Granary of Yunnan” because the county is well-known for the comfortable climate, abundant rainfall, and fertile land which results in the huge output of rice, fruits, and tobacco in good quality. In addition, the county is famous for a special cuisine—roast duck, which tastes tender and crispy. Together with the local sweet paste and green scallions, the roast duck tastes terrifically good and every visitor will be impressed. In Yiliang County, visitors can see Nanpan River which is upstream of Zhujian River. The source of the river is in the Maxiong Mountain in Qujing, and it empties into the Eastern Ocean through Guangzhou city. Therefore, it is an important river connecting inland provinces and coastal regions in southern China.

Stone Forest Scenic Region is located in Stone Forest County. The former name of the county is Lunan. There are two explanations for the origin and the meaning of the name. The first one is that the name comes from a Yi word “lunai” which means a place full of black stones. The second one is that the name originates from another Yi word “ludian”, meaning the rich flatland. With the development of tourism in the county, the Stone Forest Scenic region becomes more and more famous at home and abroad, and tourism based on the Stone Forest thus becomes the backbone industry in the local economy. Therefore, with the permission of the State Council, the county was officially renamed Stone Forest Yi Autonomous County in 1998. Due to the fantastic Karst landscapes and colorful ethnic culture, Stone forest County enjoys the following fames: “Home of Karst Landform”, “Home of Songs and Dance”, “Home of  Wrestling” and “Home of Tobacco”.

Stone Forest Scenic Region

The total size of the Stone Forest Scenic Region is about 350 square kilometers, but the area developed as the tour resort covers 12.9 square kilometers. It includes 7 tourist sections, namely, Liziqing Stone Forest, Black Stone Forest, Zhiyun Cave, Qifeng Cave, Dadieshui Waterfall, Yuehu Lake, and Changhu Lake. Liziqing Stone Forest (meaning Plum Valley Stone Forest) is the main tourist section. It consists of 3 parts: Big Stone Forest, Small Stone Forest, and Black Stone Forest. The major section for sightseeing usually covers Big Stone Forest and Small Stone Forest.

The Formation of the Stone Forest

In geography, the Stone Forest belongs to a special landform called Karst landform. The word “Karst” comes from the Karst Plateau on the borders of Yugoslavia and Italy where the typical limestone landform was founded. Since such landform was initially found in Karst Plateau, geologists adopted the word “Karst” to define the limestone landform. In China, Karst landform can be found not only in Yunnan but also in Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi, and Guangdong provinces.

The formation of Stone Forest here has undergone a long period of time. About 270 million years ago, this area was covered by water, which inhabited a lot of corals and creatures. When they died, their corpses sunk to the bottom of the ocean and piled up layer by layer. Since the ocean at that time was shallow, sunshine could directly reach the bottom of the ocean. The co-effect of sunshine and water gradually turned the corpses of creatures into the thick limestone layers. Later, due to the movements of the earth’s crust and the collision between the Eurasian Plate and the Indian Plate, the ocean slowly receded, and the limestone sea bed rose up to form a tableland. Rain and seeping water ate away at the limestone surface. The stones were eroded in different places, causing fissures to open around small pinnacles. In time, acidic rain devoured most of the limestones; hence formed the huge isolated, but densely packed Stone Forest visitors can see nowadays. Obviously, the conclusion can be drawn that the Stone Forest is a masterpiece of nature, so visiting the Stone Forest is to wander at the bottom of the ancient sea. Compared with the Karst landform in other places, Stone Forest in Kunming ranks No. 1 in its age, size, good preservation, and typical formation.

Consequently, the Stone Forest was identified as the “National Key Scenic Spot” and the “National 5A-level Tourist Region” by the Chinese government, and one of the “World Geological Parks” by UNESCO in February 13th 2004. Furthermore, the majestic Karst landform here is tightly combined with the unique culture of Sani people; hence forms the distinctive features of the Stone Forest Scenic Region. That is why the Stone Forest deserves the fame of “The Top Wonder” in China. The visit to Stone Forest is amazing because once the perspective changes, the views of the Stone Forest will be different accordingly. Therefore, when visiting the Stone Forest, the more imagination visitors can use, the more enjoyment they will get.

Highlights in the Big Stone Forest

At the entrance of the scenic region is the Stone Forest Lake. There used to be no lake here. However, when Chinese former Prime Minister Zhou Enlai visited Stone Forest in 1955, he suggested digging a man-made lake here because he believed a lake could become an ideal companion of rocks and mountains so as to avoid the monotony of the rock views. As a result, an artificial lake was constructed which is the present Stone Forest Lake. Decorated by the lake, the scenery here is indeed improved a lot because the crystal water and the dark reflections of limestone together create a tranquil picture. Since a rock in the lake looks exactly like the Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism, the lake is also called Goddess of Mercy Lake by local people.

The Lion Pond is named after the surrounding rocks, resembling the lions in shape, which seem to play with each other delightfully. The hill beside the pond is often compared to a huge lion guarding the whole Stone Forest. Next to the pond stands the Lion Pavilion, the highest point of Stone Forest with an elevation of 1750 meters, where visitors can overview the whole Stone Forest Park: Look, under the shades of clouds, miles of stones resemble the lays of rising waves; under the sunshine, they are like raging flames. However, on a rainy day, the rain will dye some rocks dark and some grey and finally makes the Stone Forest a charming traditional Chinese painting composed of natural strokes and elegant colors.

Not far away from the Lion Pond is a small pool, in which two rocks usually attract visitors’ eyes because both of them are similar to two lovely buffaloes playing in the pool with their heads up and backs exposed on the water surface. This is a typical farmland view that will impress visitors.

The Rock Screen is a majestic view at the entrance of the Big Stone Forest. It is a huge and high rock resembling a delicate screen which completely blocks visitors’ sights. Facing the rock screen, people are usually astonished by its magnificence. However, there are more wonders behind the Rock Screen.

Nearby the Rock Screen, there are some red inscriptions on the surface of another rock. This is the couplet composed by a famous marshal in Chinese revolution history—Zhude. When Marshal Zhu visited the Stone Forest in 1962, he was surprised by the marvelous scenery here, so he generalized the features of the Stone Forest by composing this couplet: Clusters of steep peaks tower into the clear sky; Layers of high rocks resemble jade screens. The couplet became well-known and is regarded as the best summary of the characteristics of Stone Forest.

The zigzag beside the inscriptions leads visitors into the maze of the Stone Forest. The center of the Stone Forest is a wide square called “The Most Wonderful Scene of Stone Forest” because the name of the Stone Forest can be seen here. There are two striking red Chinese characters inscribed on a huge rock—Shilin, meaning “Stone Forest”. The name “Stone Forest” was initially given by the former Chairman of Yunnan—Longyun. In 1931, when he made an inspection of the irrigation constructions of this area, he was amazed by such unique limestone scenery, so he entitled this area with a fantastic name “Stone Forest”. After the two characters were carved here, the name gradually became well-known and was passed from generation to generation. As the most representative view in the scenic region, the two characters frequently appear in newspapers, magazines, TV programs, and posters. Therefore, the inscription is the most valuable and meaningful scenic spot worth photographing. Meanwhile, more and more poets, writers, artists, and calligraphers came to visit the Stone Forest and sing high praise for the Stone Forest by leaving a large number of famous inscriptions on the surrounding rocks, such as “The Wonderful Scene Created by God”, “The Mainstay of the Southern Heaven”, “ The Great Majesty”, and “ The Top Wonder under The Sun”.

Close to the inscriptions is a breath-taking view: two stone peaks are supporting a huge rock dangerously hanging on their tops. It seems that a tiny shake will make it fall off immediately. Consequently, it gets a striking name: the Hair-trigger Danger, which means a danger that can be easily triggered off by a piece of hair. It is said that Sani boys usually sing loudly here to show their bravery, and it is the traditional way for Sani girls to test if their lovers are brave enough and qualified to be their husbands. Actually, the rock has hanged here stably for many centuries and its stability has been tested by many earthquakes.
Walking along the narrow path, many clusters of limestone appear. The rocks here are the typical sword-like limestone whose sharp tops and deep grooves resulted from the co-corrosion of water and earth for millions of years. Once some earth buried the limestone, water could be kept in the earth for a longer time when both soil and water ate away at the surface of the limestone. More earth could contain more water which caused more corrosion. Finally, the limestone was corroded into sword-like rocks. The distinctive shapes bring a special name to the limestone clusters here: The Sword Mountain.

Behind Sword Mountain, there is a natural yard surrounded by dense rocks and tall plants. Since the rocks and plants here prevent the strong sunshine, the yard offers visitors a pleasantly cool shelter to have a rest, so the yard is named “The Ideal Place for Short Break”. This natural yard also resulted from the co-corrosion of water and earth in limestone clusters. Above a small cave in the yard, there inscribed four Chinese characters “Wu Yu Ze Gang” which are derived from a famous couplet of an official named Lin Zexu in the Qing Dynasty (1644—1911). His original couplet goes like this: “The vastness of an ocean comes from its acceptance of countless rivers; the strength of hard rock results from its quietness and little desire.” Why was only the last part of the couplet carved here? This is a special way of quotation in Chinese traditional literature: The purpose of quoting the last part is to hint at the association of the first part. Therefore, the carving of the four characters aims to make visitors associate the words before them “the strength of a hard rock” so as to describe how powerful and strong the rocks in the Stone Forest are!

The Sword Peak Pond is another highlight in Big Stone Forest. As the lowest point of Stone Forest, the pond is surrounded by dense high rocks that look like bunches of swords, hence the name. In the middle of the pond stands a broken rock pillar with two characters “Sword Peak” carved on. In fact, the rock used to be a high peak in the shape of a sharp sword. Due to the earthquake in 1833, the upper part of the pillar dropped into the pond, and only the lower part was left. The pond is the most tranquil and mysterious part of the Big Stone Forest. Local people regard it as the eye of Stone Forest. All the water in the pond comes from the underground, so it remains clear and calm all year round. Additionally, the dark reflections of the surrounding sword-like rocks make the pond more charming.

In front of the Sword Peak Pond is “The Narrowest Pass”. The name of the pass originates from a famous essay of a writer in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317—420 A.D.) —Tao Yuanming, whose essay described a wonderful paradise behind a mysterious narrow pass in a mountain. Coincidentally, the narrow pass in the Stone Forest is exactly similar to the pass described in that essay, hence the name. Since it is only 30 centimeters in width, which is just wide enough for only one person to pass through, the rock surface of the pass has become very smooth after receiving millions of visitors. People who can go through the narrow pass without any difficulties are believed to have good fortune. After passing through the Narrowest Pass, visitors have entered the Stone Forest paradise full of rock wonders.
Above some stone steps, a natural cave on a rock comes into sight. The cave is called “The Window of Grand View” because if one stretches his head outside of the cave, he would find himself on a high peak, feeling the sky so close and the ground so far, which is defined as the “Grand View”.

The Big Stone Forest abounds in many rock wonders which are named after their diversified shapes. A rock named Two-Feeding Birds is a typical example. Due to the corrosion of earth and water, the rock was corroded into a strange shape like two feeding birds with their beaks together. Local people understand this rock wonder as an indication of the selfless love from a mother to her child. After Two-Feeding Birds, many other rock wonders amaze visitors, such as “Elephant on the Platform” and “Ten-thousand-year Tortoise”.

A rock named “Stone Bell” is another rock wonder. Although the shape of the stone shows nothing special, it amazes visitors due to the ringing when being beaten. The reason lies in its hollow structure inside. The beating on its surface can produce the resonance inside. Therefore, visitors always enjoy the pleasant ringing of the Stone Bell by beating it with palms. The sunken holes on the surface of the rock are the places frequently beaten.
The View-watching Pavilion is another ideal place to enjoy the panoramic view of the Stone Forest. Located on the top of a 30-meter high rock, the pavilion was initially constructed in 1931 and rebuilt in 1971. Standing in the pavilion, visitors can be completely refreshed by the gentle breeze and the boundless gorgeous views of the Stone Forest. Therefore, the pavilion is often regarded as an ideal place for rest and photographing.

Highlights in the Small Stone Forest

If the Big Stone Forest is compared to a strong man, the Small Stone Forest would be a graceful girl because the former one is characterized by dense rocks which manifest strength and power; however, the latter one is featured by solitary rocks scattering on the lawn which display elegance and grace.

The Small Stone Forest lies to the northeast of the Big Stone Forest. At the entrance of the Small Stone Forest, there is an artificial Lake called the Lotus Lake which is named after a huge rock in the lake, resembling a lotus in full blossom. The long corridors, delicate pavilions, stone tables, and chairs nearby make the lake an ideal place to have some drinks and to relax. Meanwhile, the lovely fishes in the lake are very good companies for visitors, and fish-feeding here is full of fun. Among the solitary rocks around the lake, four of them are the most striking and amazing ones because they are exactly similar to the four heroes in a famous Chinese novel The Western Journey: the master Tangseng, the Monkey King, as well as another two disciples Shaseng and Bajie.

The most attractive highlight in the Small Stone Forest is called Ashima which is a high rock standing on the lakeside of the Jade Bird Pond. Ashima is a well-known narrative poem in Yi culture. The heroine of the poem named Ashima was a pretty, kind-hearted, and brave Sani girl who did not yield to the temptation and pressure of a crafty and brutal landlord. Furthermore, she insisted on pursuing her freedom and true love for which she finally sacrificed her life. Her story was so touching that Sani people regard Ashima as the indication of bravery, passion, and perseverance, and the name Ashima, as well as her story, were passed by Sani people from generation to generation. The story of Ashima was made into a movie in the 1960’s and put on screen at the end of the 1970’s, which made Sani customs and Stone Forest very popular all around China. Coincidentally, the outline of this rock is really like Ashima in profile: She is standing quietly, looking at the distance with a flower basket on her back. It seems that she is waiting for her beloved. Therefore, the rock is regarded as the incarnation of the heroine in the poem Ashima. At present, the rock Ashima has been officially identified as the emblem of tourism in Yunnan.

At the exit of Small Stone Forest, there is a performance plaza where the traditional singing and dancing of Sani people are shown every day. Sani people’s singing and dancing are passionate and energetic, especially in their celebrations for traditional festivals. One of the most important festivals of the Sani People is the Torch Festival which falls on the 24th of the sixth month in the lunar calendar (often in May in the modern calendar). On that day, Sani people conduct the traditional performance by raising torches in hand, singing and dancing around bonfires. In fact, the origin of the Torch Festival is closely related to the traditional farming work of Sani people in ancient times. In order to protect crops from insects, people had a special way of farmland by using rosin and torches. Therefore, torch became an important instrument for their farm work.

Gradually, the use of torches developed into a special ceremony to celebrate the bumper harvest every year. In the ceremony, the most popular dance is called “Sanxuan (Three-stringed) Dance” because the dance performance is accompanied by a traditional three-stringed musical instrument of Sani people. In addition, the performers’ loud whistles, neat clapping, and strong music echo each other; hence create a joyful and ardent atmosphere. The most popular song of Sani people in the Stone Forest is named “May You Stay with Us Together My Friends”. The song expresses the Sani people’s sincere enthusiasm and a warm welcome to visitors. Besides singing and dancing, many other activities are conducted during the Torch Festival, such as bull-fighting, wrestling, swing competition, and horse-racing.

Images of the Stone Forest

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Stone forest

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