By Nick Callos , eChinacities.com

Some of the best places to go to in Sichuan happen to be very close to Chengdu. While there are good nature spots within the province's capital, it's sometimes nice to actually leave the city to get your nature fix. So if you need to taste clean air and smell something other than granite being drilled, check out some of the most accessible nature getaways around Chengdu.

Qingcheng Mountain
Qingcheng Mountain. Photo: chinamountains.org

1) Emei Mountain 峨眉山
The mountain peak sits immersed in a sea of clouds, creating a foggy heaven that renders the avid trekker speechless. On top of Emei Mountain rests the multi-headed golden statue of Samantabadhra. Making it here fulfils you with a sense of accomplishment. Located just two hours south of Chengdu, this is the best nature spot close to the capital.

As the highest of China's four sacred mountains of Buddhism, hiking all the way up to the Golden Peak (金顶Jin Ding) does not suit the weak legged. It's step after step, after step. And in between one undoubtedly hits what are known as “monkey tolls”. Take good care of your valuables here, and be prepared to act tough. Otherwise the monkeys will be tough with you.

Yet the panoramic views offered at famous spots like the Elephant Bathing Pool (洗象池 Xi Xiang Chi), the peaceful scenery at Guangfu Pavilion, and soaking up the sun's reflection against the heads of the giant Golden Buddha at the peak make the gruelling, leg-crippling day climb worth it. If you plan it right, you can see the sunrise over a sea of clouds at the top.

Cable cars are offered, but cost 45 to 65 RMB one-way. The cable ride to Wannian Temple offers a unique glance at huge tea fields growing that famous Emei Mao Feng Tea, which you can even purchase on your way up.

Take into consideration the fact that Emei Mountain is packed during summer time. Choosing to go during winter will reward you with sceneries of snow covered trees, icy waterfalls, and a lack of large groups of tourists. Ice spikes will be required to climb to the top. Weekdays during the early spring and late fall stand as probably the best times for enjoying the mountain.

Price: Admission into the park is 150 RMB. A round trip hike takes at least two full days. Transportation from bus stations near scenic points costs 20 to 50 RMB a ticket. Lodging within the park costs 75 to 125 RMB.
Getting There: From Xinnanmen Bus Station, depart on a bus going to Emei Mountain. It costs 43 RMB.

2) Mount Qingcheng 青城山
As a centre for Daoism, this mountain has over 20 temples and over 30 scenic peaks. Waterfalls run down the mountainside and the sound of water flowing serenely echoes throughout the entire area. Many of the palaces here, like Jianfu Palace (建福宫Jian Fu Gong), were built during the Tang Dynasty and powerfully reflect classical Sichuan architecture and Daoist culture.

The Spectacular Pavilion (壮观台Zhuang Guan Tai) offers a particularly breathtaking scenic point. Tianshi Cave (天师洞Tian Shi Dong) represents where the heart of this mountain is, which in Daoist philosophy and culture is where the three supreme gods of Daoism were, and are, still worshipped. For anyone fond of Daoism, this is a must see. Zhangren Peak (丈人峰 Zhang Ren Feng) and the Summit (青城山第一封 Qing Cheng Shan Di Yi Feng) present overwhelming all-angle views of the mountain range.

Being just a 30 minute train trip from Chengdu, a visit to Qingcheng Mountain can be enjoyed within one day's time. Going during any time of the year is okay, but mid-spring and mid-fall offer the best environments in terms of climate and tourist levels.

Price: Admission is 90 RMB. It is rumoured that there is a secret ‘free' entrance in the back gate. The locals will help you find it for a small fee.
Getting There: Take a high-speed bus from the North Train Station. They leave every morning starting at six thirty. It only takes half an hour to get there.

3) Dujiangyan 都江堰
Fresh water. Clean water. Pretty water. It's much different than whatever muck runs through Chengdu. Situated right near Mount Qingcheng, Dujiangyan can be reached in less than 30 minutes from the North Train Station.

The great Li Bing created this irrigation system over 2,000 years and it is still running smoothly. And it's dam-less. Imagine that. For a good look at the whole irrigation area and a heart-jumping stroll, walk across the Anlan Suspension Bridge (安澜索桥An Lan Suo Qiao). The river is enveloped by mountains on one side and gardens and temples on the other side. Erwang Temple (二王庙 Er Wang Miao) is large, and worth a stop along the walking trail.

You can spend a half day here. The best times to go are during weekdays any time of the year, as tourist traffic won't be as heavy then.

Price: 90 RMB
Getting There: Take the high-speed railway from the North Train Bus Station. It costs 16 RMB.

4) Meng Ding Mountain 蒙顶山
This tea mountain possesses its fair share of scenic views, temples, and, you guessed it, tea fields. It is from this mountain that the famous Meng Ding Gan Lu Tea comes. Like Emei Shan, it is a great place to buy great local tea.

Located between Chengdu and Ya'an, the history of this place dates thousands of years back. The cultural and historical significance of this place enhances the experience of its natural beauty. After all, Sichuan's Ya'an is the birthplace of tea and it is on this mountain that travellers find authentic tea culture.

The cool thing about this mountain is that it has yet to be fully developed into a tourist trap. And hiking is hence unbothered by hoards of tourists. So take advantage of this while it lasts.

Price: 60 RMB
Getting There: Take a bus from Xinnanmen Bus Station. It costs 32 RMB.

5) North Lake Park 北湖公园
This spot is right near the Panda Research Base, and hence right outside the city centre. One thing you will notice is that lots of birds tend to flock around out here. Beautiful gardens of all types of flowers and bamboo permeate the complexes. And, of course, there is the classic goldfish pond there.

North Lake is a perfect place to take a family, and is one of Chengdu's largest ecological parks. The animal life is quite impressive. For those looking for an afternoon break outside the city, this is the closest and best option. Teahouses, leisure centres, restaurants, and places to exercise are also inside. Admission is free, which is nice.

Price: Free
Getting There: A taxi will be roughly 35 RMB from the city centre. It is possible to bike there in about an hour. Bus lines 531, 532, 534 and 902 go there as well.

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