Hidden away 200km northwest of Yichang in Hubei’s far west, Shennongjia Forest Reserve (神农架林区, shénóngjià línqū) encloses a rugged chain of mountains, culminating in the 3053m-high Da Shennongjia, the tallest peak in central China. The area has been famed for its plantlife ever since the legendary Xia king Shennong – credited with introducing mankind to farming, medicine and tea – scoured these heights for herbs. More recently, the botanist Ernest Wilson found several new species here in the early twentieth century. And more fancifully, Shennongjia has been the setting for numerous sightings of the Chinese wild man – even if he eludes you, there’s a chance of seeing endangered golden monkeys here.
As parts of the reserve are militarily sensitive, it’s best to visit Shennongjia on a CITS tour from Yichang. If you want to travel independently, the only area open to foreigners is at Muyu Zhen, which you can reach on public transport. CITS might be able to arrange PSB permits for other areas, but whatever you do, avoid Shennongjia town (known locally as Songbai or Songbo): arrive here and you will be arrested, fined and booted out.