The Changbai Waterfall (长白瀑布 [Chángbái Pùbù]; Everwhite Waterfall) was a 68m tall side attraction to Changbai Shan (长白山 [Chángbái Shān]; Everwhite Mountain; also Mt Paekdu or Paekdusan in Korean) and Tianchi (天池 [Tiānchí]; Heaven Lake). The North Korea/China border actually passed through Heaven Lake, and the Koreans considered the waters of the lake to be sacred. In fact, Julie and I were told that they used to allow the use of a Korean-made path that climbed besides the waterfall to the shores of the lake where many Koreans would bring a bottle and try to capture some of that sacred water. We even saw the structures supporting that walkway still standing above the falls. However, during our trip, we learned that the walkway was closed for good so they those seeking to capture some of the lake's sacred waters now had to settle for the water as it flowed just downstream from the waterfall.
Speaking of which, it seemed to Julie and I that there were just as many Koreans as Chinese people touring the area even though most of the tourist action occurred on the Chinese side of the border. And as for crossing to the North Korea side, we were told to not even think about it! That was because there were cameras placed at the border where anyone caught on camera trespassing would be met by an armed soldier. So we were wise to stay with our guide and be content with the sanctioned viewing spots along the rim of the crater responsible for Heaven Lake on the Chinese side of the border.
Since Heaven Lake was at an elevation of about 2194m with the brutally frigid Siberian climate, we learned that the lake could be locked in ice until late June or July. Unfortunately for us, we visited the area in May and sure enough, the lake was frozen. Call it another case of bad timing on our part. To further add to the complications, the weather here was fickle so we had to pay close attention to the weather to assure that there would be views of the scenery and not just clouds.
In any case, the waterfall probably would have its fullest flow during those mid- to late Summer months as well as the early Autumn. Even if the summit would be clouded over (thereby possibly concealing Heaven Lake), the Changbai Waterfall would be the fallback option because it sat at a lower elevation. Yet like with Heaven Lake, we felt we showed up too early as part of the falls was concealed in snow so the Changbai Waterfall appeared shorter than it really was.
From some of the TV shows we saw about Changbai Shan, it appeared that the falls would be much thinner in the winter months yet would never completely freeze over since the only part of the lake that drained to the waterfall was still geothermally heated beneath the ice. So I guess they weren't kidding when they said this was a legitimate year-round waterfall (though I can't say the viewing experience here would be year-round).
So with all that had been said about the harsh climate of the area, the Changbai Waterfall was actually said to be accessible all year. When the road would snow over, we learned that they would use heavy-duty caterpillar-like trucks serving as shuttles to bring visitors to the trailhead. Then, there was a sheltered VIP path which was a window-covered walkway that took us right up to the falls. The VIP path was said to only be in use during the Winter, but we were still able to use this path during our visit in May.
The walk from the end of the road (and shuttle stop) to the waterfall took us about 40 minutes. Along the way, we saw some colorful springs and thermal pools (called Julong Hot Spring, I believe).
The colorful Julong Hot Spring seen on the trail up to the Changbai Waterfall
This valley appeared to be carved out by the runoff of Heaven Lake, which was seen as we looked downhill from our hike up to the Changbai Waterfall
Heaven Lake was still frozen when we managed to make it up to the summit of Changbai Shan in May 2009. Clearly we were too early in the season to see it
The entrance to the Changbai Village
We got this distant view of the Changbai Waterfall from the bus ride on the road approaching it
At the trailhead to the falls with the falls in the distance
The entrance to the VIP Path, which was useful on the first day we visited because we happened to run into a fairly fierce storm
Inside the VIP Path
When the weather got real bad, we tried to wait out the rain in this shelter, but that also meant dealing with the cigarette smoke indoors
While we were waiting out the storm, we looked out the window and got this view looking in the distance of the falls
The next morning, we came back to the falls, and this was the view from the trailhead, which was much improved from yesterday afternoon
Walkway which passes by the colorful Julong Hot Spring
Passing alongside the Julong Hot Spring as we made our way towards the sheltered VIP Path
Julie checks out the scene at the Changbai Waterfall just after leaving the VIP Path
Closer look at the Changbai Waterfall, which was partially concealed by residual snow
Interesting cliff formations flanking the valley containing the falls
Some people using the geothermal properties of the immediate area to boil eggs
The walking path leading up to the crater rim containing Heaven Lake
Looking further along the crater rim of Heaven Lake showing just how volcanic this place was
The frozen Heaven Lake (source of the Changbai Waterfall) at the summit of Changbai Mountain. A different shuttle (from the one to the waterfall) screeches up several switchbacks to the summit of the mountain where this view of the lake can be obtained.
Looking down towards the car park area at Heaven Lake
It took us about 3.5 hours to drive from Dunhua to the entrance to Changbai Shan (and our driver was going very fast). Once we were at the entrance, private vehicles weren't allowed beyond that point so we had to bring our stuff to the shuttle area where we rode a shuttle and continued further upslope to the Changbai Village.
From the Changbai Village, we had to ride the general shuttle further upslope for about 15 minutes to the road's end where the walk to the Changbai Waterfall began.
In Changbai Village, there was also another waiting area with small black SUVs screeching their way up to the summit of Changbai Mountain and Heaven Lake in a bit of a thrill ride.
To give you some more geographical context, Dunhua was 1,274km (13 hours drive) from Beijing and 295km (4 hours drive) west of Jilin.
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