RE: Crowd vs Fall foliage
seen your question so late.
the best season to jiuzhaigou is as you mentioned, the 2nd half of October.
it will be crowd but much better than 0ct.1-7, the national holidays.
i don't think you need to wait for a long long time to catch a shuttle in the park, when you enter the park in the early morning, ususally you have to wait for the bus, but anyway there are lots of shuttles awaiting for visitors, therefore you will get on the bus no more than 15 minutes.
if you wait for the bus at the stops midway, sometimes you have to wait for two or more, due to the seats available or not, however, usually you don't need to wait for long time because of so many shuttles running.
it's better to walk on plank road along the rivers to avoid group visitors.
wish it's helpful to others
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