The Bailong Elevator, located deep in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in the Hunan province of China, is one of the world’s most impressive engineering masterpieces. It stands at an impressive 1070 feet tall, made of glass and steel, and holds several world records including being the world’s tallest outdoor lift, the world’s fastest passenger elevator, and the world’s tallest double-deck sightseeing elevator. The elevator’s name means “The Hundred Dragons Elevator,” and it’s not hard to see why the structure is so high and mighty.
Construction of the Bailong Elevator took three years and started in 1999. The lift officially opened in 2002 and cost an impressive 20 million dollars to build. The elevator attracts many visitors each year due to its magnificent views and offers an alternative to hiking up the mountain, which can take almost two and a half hours.
The lift is separated into a 505 feet long lower section embedded inside the mountain wall and an upper section consisting of 565 feet of exposed steel derrick that is outside of the mountain and visible to all. It boasts three cars that can take visitors all the way to the top in just one minute and 32 seconds, each car capable of carrying 10,800 pounds or 50 passengers.
While the Bailong Elevator is indeed an engineering masterpiece, its construction also stirred some controversy. Some felt it was not right to build an elevator on a UNESCO World Heritage site and protected national park, and environmentalists argued that it was dangerous and unwise to build on the protected site because the elevator would attract even more tourists to an already overpopulated area.
However, supporters of the elevator claim that the construction protects the mountain trails by allowing tourists to bypass them when taking the lift, and it also greatly reduces travel times to the area. Previously, visitors had to drive for almost three hours and often book rooms at hotels and guesthouses on the site in order to stay longer. With the elevator, they could travel the same distance in a minute and a half, reducing the need to stay overnight at the forest park. This has resulted in a reduced number of hotels and guesthouses, creating less strain on the UNESCO site.
The elevator’s management has been very careful with safety. The lift was shut down for 10 months in 2002 and 2003 due to earthquake concerns, but to deal with this potential danger, the elevator’s cars are now equipped with earthquake detectors that allow for a quick evacuation in case of a quake alert.
The Bailong Elevator and its surrounding scenery are believed to have been the inspiration behind the fictional jungle in James Cameron’s movie, Avatar.
The site has remained a popular tourist destination even 18 years after its construction and before COVID-19, the elevator carried up to 18,000 tourists each day and has continued to be visited after the pandemic.
The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park also hosts the world’s tallest bungee jump and the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, the world’s highest and longest glass bridge. With so many record-breaking attractions, it’s no wonder why the park continues to be a popular destination for tourists from around the world.