Taiwan is a truly beautiful place, an island of forested mountains (with the higher peaks being snow-capped in winter despite the tropical climate), serene lakes, and dramatic cliffs towering precipitously over the Pacific Ocean down the east coast. The highest of Taiwan’s mountains is Yushan (玉山, Jade Mountain), which rises to a height of almost 4,000m – also making it higher than Japan’s Fuji-san, or any other mountain in Korea or eastern China. So that was of course the hike I most wanted to do in Taiwan, but unfortunately my attempts were foiled not by the effects of altitude, nor by bad weather or landslides, but by good old red tape – before I ever went anywhere near the mountain! Taiwan’s hiking permit system makes it a requirement for all hikers doing mountain hikes in Taiwan’s national parks (which cover all of the high mountain areas on the island) to have not just one, but two permits – a police permit and a hiking permit. The police permit is apparently easy to get and just a formality, but I never even got that far as I was repeatedly unable to secure a hiking permit even when applying four weeks in advance of my intended climbing date. So if you’re visiting Taiwan with the intention of climbing Yushan (or the other big ones like Xueshan) you need to apply for your hiking permit at the earliest possible time, which was 3 months in advance at the time of writing. Here’s the application page, and here’s an awesome explanation of how it actually works.
Having been frustrated in my attempts to get a permit for Yushan during my spells in Taiwan, I got stuck into the fantastic day hiking in and around Taipei instead (in addition to having visited Taroko Gorge on my first trip to Taiwan). Taipei sits in a basin, and the ring of jungle-clad mountains around it provide myriad hiking opportunities, with many points of interest to visit including waterfalls, lakes, temples, and tea plantations, and cracking views out across the city below; combined with the fact that many of the trails can be accessed directly from the MRT, this all means Taipei is pretty much a hiker’s dream (albeit a rather weather-dependent one!)
The most famous hike within Taipei itself is Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain), though what with the crowds it’s far from my favourite – that would be the Neihu ridge hike to Bishan Temple, or perhaps the Yinhe Cave Temple hike in Maokong. If you have time to get out of the city, the Dacukeng / Xiaocukeng trails in the abandoned mining area near Jiufen are a really good hike, and the popular mountain town of Jiufen is likely already on your sightseeing itinerary so you may as well hike to it! Taroko Gorge is further afield, but well worth the effort if you have a day or two to get out of the city – it’s doable as a (long) day trip from Taipei.
My Taiwan hike reports:
Jiufen / Houtong area: Dacukeng & Xiaocukeng trails
Neihu District: Bishan Temple and Jinmian Rocks
Yinhe Cave Temple (Maokong)
Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain)
Neihu District: Bailusishan and Kangleshan
Beitou District (Battleship Rock)
Shitoushan (Lion’s Head Mountain), Xindian District
For more detail on the hikes I’ve covered, plus an awful lot more on hiking in Taipei and around the island, check out these great Taiwan hiking blogs:
Synapticism (not strictly a hiking blog, but it’s an awesome Taiwan blog with a good dose of hiking)
Also check out this excellent Taipei hiking page; it’s in Chinese only, but it’s the most thorough online collection of Taipei hiking trails I’m aware of, with stats, maps and information for hikes all round the city.