石林 (Shílín, Stone Forest) is just a description of the landscape, there is a forest of tree-like rocks. The limestone of this karst area was continually dissolved by the warm rains of southwest China, resulting in up to 40 m high pinnacles. The V-shaped cracks and gorges cut the rock into alone standing stone pillars, a myriad of grotesque pinnacles which often resemble a stone forest. A stone forest is a form of limestone weathering, where the rocks are cut by karren or lapies, the cracks are widened, and finally only separate pillars with vertical furrows remain. Such a landscape develops only in tropical karst. And it is the end of the development, which starts with karren, and then limestone pavements. Some call it a late stage in karst development.
This place is so famous, it became the geologic term for such a formation, and this is the type locale of stone forests. And it is so huge, you will need a day to explore only the most interesting parts. There are actually seven more interesting spots which are called "Scenic Area" in China. Unfortunately the Chinese are not very accurate and the maps are poor. However, we did our best to actually list the seven scenic areas. Three of them are geotopes and have strange rock formations, Long Lake, Moon Lake, and Waterfalls of “Da Dieshui”. But as they are neither karst nor underground, lakes and waterfalls are not listed on showcaves.com, we have not listed them.
The central area Big & Small Stone Forest and some others are protected by the Shilin (Stone Forest) UNESCO Global Geopark. But the limestone formations cover about 500 km², the geopark covers about 350 km². Obviously not all of it are stone forests, but there are actually dozens of patches with such rock formation in this area. Since 2007 two parts, the 乃古石林 (Naigu Stone Forest) and 所各邑村 (Suogeyi Village) are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the South China Karst. Later other areas were added. The site is also classified as an AAAAA-class tourist site.
The county was lately renamed, before it was known as Lunan Yi Autonomous County and now it is named Shilin Yi Autonomous County. In other words, the political unit is now named about a geological feature, and not the feature named about the political unit where it is, as normally. As a result this place, which was formerly called 昆明路南石林 (Kunming Lunan Stone Forest) is now simply Shilin. Another former name, 万盛石林 (Wansheng Stone Forest), is still in use and creates further confusion.