Hiking In Taiwan
Your time abroad isn’t all about teaching. You’ve got to get out and play, too. And if you’re anything like me, the lure of the mountains will have you out exploring and hiking in Taiwan as often as you possibly can.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or completely new to it, and whether you’re looking for a quick half-day jaunt through dense, muggy jungles or a multi-day expedition up an epic snowy peak, Taiwan is truly a hiker’s paradise.
Since most people don’t typically think of mountains when they think of Taiwan, here are a few stats to give you some perspective on just how fantastic the hiking here is: Taiwan has nine National Parks, and hundreds of hiking trails. 70% of Taiwan’s land is undeveloped jungle and mountains. Jade Mountain, at 3,952 is the highest peak in East Asia, as well as the fourth highest island mountain in the world. Taiwan has nearly 300 peaks over 3,000m, making it first in the world in terms of number and density of high mountains.
And the best thing about hiking in Taiwan isn’t just how prevalent the opportunities are, it’s also that most of the trails are very easily accessible. It’s incredibly easy to go from the city to being surrounded by green jungles and mountain peaks, and a lot of trailheads can be reached using only public transportation. If you’re new to the country and are looking for people to hike with, meetup groups and clubs like 523 Mountaineering Association organize trips, from day hikes to multi-day treks up Taiwan’s biggest mountains. These groups can introduce you to cool hikes you’d never have found on your own, and can split up the costs of transportation to some of the more out-of-the-way hikes.
So, what are some of the best hikes to do? Let’s start with relatively easy day hikes that you can access with public transportation. Yangming Shan (陽明山)National Park, just North of Taipei, has some of the most accessible hikes. The tallest peak in the park, Mt. Qixing (七星山), gives you extraordinary views of the city, but be prepared for a calf workout—the trail is primarily stone steps the whole way up. For something a little bit wilder, (and much more fun) you can try Huang Di Dian (皇帝殿). With its multiple ladders and ropes, and relatively exposed ridgeline, it’s not for the faint-of-heart. It is, though, arguably one of the best day hikes in northern Taiwan.
For more challenging hikes, turn your sights to the Central Mountain Range. You’ll need to do a little bit of planning, since a lot of the mountains require permits. The central mountain range, though, has some of the most stunning scenery in the country, and is well worth the effort of dealing with a little paperwork. This is where you’ll find the two most popular mountains in Taiwan, Snow Mountain at Shei-Pa National Park, and Jade Mountain. It also has one of the best multi-day treks that Taiwan offers (experienced hikers only!): the Holy Ridge, an exposed spine of rock over 3,000m high.
Things to Know Before You Hike
Even if you’re just out on a day hike, it’s important to prepared and be careful. You might be just 30 minutes outside of the city, but the jungle can still hold all sorts of surprises.
In some areas, you may see signs posted at trailheads warning you to watch out for poisonous snakes and wasps. Even where you don’t see signs posted, make sure you use caution, keep your eyes open, and stay on the marked trails.
Heat can be a problem in the summer. With temperatures soaring to well over 100 degrees, and humidity in the 80% range, a summer hike can quickly turn from moderately uncomfortable to dangerous. Make sure you pack plenty of water and cool clothes for any summer hikes.
Taiwan’s higher mountains pose the same dangers as any peaks. Altitude, weather, and a lack of essential gear can cause trouble for even experienced hikers. Snow often lingers on the peaks well into spring, and night-time temperatures in the mountains can easily drop to below freezing, so make sure you are prepared. Also, since getting permits for some of the popular mountains can be difficult, make sure you plan as far in advance as possible.
You can find a ton of information about specific hiking trails at Hiking Taiwan and Taiwan Discovery. Both are written by expats who have been living and hiking in Taiwan for years, and offer great tips about transportation to each hike.
Hiking in Taiwan is one of the best ways to get to know the country, meet new people, and take in some of the most beautiful landscapes in Asia.