Changbai Shan Reserve

Whatever number of Manchurian tigers survive are almost certainly in and around Changbai Shan (perhaps mixed with Siberian tigers), at 810 square miles (2,100 km2) one of China’s largest and most popular reserves on the North Korean border. But they and other rare, shy creatures tend to stay far from the crowds that get off tour busses to see and photograph Tian Chi—Heaven Pool, a volcanic crater lake surrounded by jagged rock outcrops and 16 mountain peaks—and wildlife-oriented visitors should too. Away from the crowds are leopards, sika deer, otters, sables, colorful butterflies, and more than 200 bird species, including golden-rumped swallows, ornamental red crossbills, rare oriental storks, scaly-sided mergansers, and gorgeous mandarin ducks looking like freshly-painted objets d’art. Wooded areas include some of the few undisturbed large tracts of old-growth forest in China’s temperate zone. Much can be seen on the many hiking trails.

Two warnings: weather is routinely changeable. Sunny warm mornings can turn into high winds, rain, and hail by afternoon. Hire a guide or take a good trail map or both. One British visitor strayed unintentionally over the border and spent a month in a North Korean jail. If relations ease, Changbai Shan could be an important trans-frontier reserve comanaged by the two countries. A variety of lodging, also transport, is available in nearby Baihe, reachable by train, bus or hired car from Jilin or Changchun or sightseeing plane from Jilin direct to Tian Chi daily.

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