Unlike Emei Shan, Qingcheng Shan, and Nan Yue Heng Shan, Wudang receives relatively few tourists, and it has preserved its temples and its Daoist tradition more successfully than the less-remote mountains. The price of preservation for the traveler is a longer journey and less-comfortable lodging. However, the mountain’s rugged peaks covered in old-growth forest, along with its ancient monasteries — some built to fit the contours of the cliffs, others to mirror them—are well worth the sacrifice.
Another name associated with these mountains is Zhang Sanfeng, the Daoist Immortal credited with inventing the discipline of taijiquan in the late 14th century. Though less well known overseas, Wudang’s “internal” form of wushu (martial arts) is as highly regarded as Shaolin Temple’s “external” form. Students come from all parts of China to study at the many martial arts schools in town and on the mountain.
The famous swords used in the Wudang style are for sale everywhere. The best times to visit are April through June and September through October, when the leaves turn as red as the gorgeous temple walls.
The entrance to the mountain is less than a mile east of Wudang Shan Town. Tour vans pick up passengers outside the railway station and drop them at the entrance of the mountain.
From there to the main temples and trail head is another 12km. The peak can be reached on foot in 21?2 hours up stone stairs. The views are magnificent. Save energy for the final very steep leg to the peak.
Best preserved from the Ming dynasty building boom is Wudang Shan’s Zixiao Gong (Purple Mist Palace), located on Zhanqi Peak (below the cliff Taizi Yan). This large, still very active monastery was built in 1413. Its striking red halls often bustle with priests and pilgrims. You may also come upon a taijiquan class practicing on one of the open terraces.
The most dramatic of the existing temples, Nanyan Gong (Southern Cliff Palace), is built into the side of a sheer cliff, recalling Northern Heng Shan’s Xuankong Si—another Daoist temple that seems to defy gravity. From Zixiao Gong, follow the trail up the mountain (southwest) to Wuya Ling; Nanyan is just after Nantian Men. Jin Dian (Golden Hall), which sits on Tianzhu Feng, highest of Wudang’s 72 peaks (1,612m high), is part of the 15th-century Taihe Gong (Palace of Supreme Harmony) complex. Its two-tiered roof, covered in gilded bronze, is, naturally, best viewed on a clear day when it sparkles. To reach Jin Dian from Nanyan Gong, continue up the path to Huanglong Dong (Yellow Dragon Cave). From here, both ascending paths lead to the Golden Hall. The steeper route is to the right through the three “Heaven Gates.”