Hiking in Taipei: Qixingshan, Yangmingshan Park
Yangmingshan is the volcanic massif to the north of Taipei, constituting the northern tip of Taiwan. It’s also a national park, and by far the easiest to access from the capital. The park has multiple peaks, the highest of which is Qixingshan (七星山, Seven Star Mountain), at 1120m the highest mountain in Taipei (for a much shorter & easier alternative, you can hike up Shamaoshan just next to the Yangmingshan bus station, see here). Shamaoshan is a good plan B if the top of Qixingshan is in cloud (which it often is, and the cloud may roll in after you’ve already committed to Yangmingshan for the day), because if it is cloudy you’ll only see this:
Instead of this:
There are three trails, with trailheads at Xiaoyoukeng on the north side, Lengshuikeng on the east side, and Miaopu on the south side near the main bus station (these pics are of the info board at Lengshuikeng visitor centre):
The Miaopu trail is mostly in the forest (no views), while the other two give you cracking views most of the way. So my usual recommendation would be to traverse the mountain from Xiaoyoukeng to Lengshuikeng (or vice versa). The Miaopu trail has its uses too though, as you can access it on foot direct to/from the main Yangmingshan bus station – this saves you having to mess about with waiting for shuttle buses (see bus info in following paragraphs). Also note that Lengshuikeng has direct buses from Jiantan Station so that can also save you having to use the shuttle bus – so if it’s a busy weekend day you might want to totally avoid the shuttle bus by walking up from Lengshuikeng and down via Miaopu, using direct buses from Jiantan Station in each direction. This will be easier transportation-wise, but you’ll miss the views and fumaroles on the Xiaoyoukeng side. Again, best idea is to do Xiaoyoukeng to Lengshuikeng on a weekday to dodge the weekend crowds.
Access is straightforward, simply ride the MRT to Jiantan Station (on the red line) then hop on the bus up to the park. The bus stops are to the left when you come out of exit 1 (the north end of the station), and you want the R5 bus. It starts from Jiantan Station and terminates at the Yangmingshan bus stop so take a seat and ride to the last stop, which takes around half an hour in fair traffic.
(these directions assume you’re starting from Xiaoyoukeng. See bottom section of the page for directions to ascend from Lengshuikeng or Miaopu instead)
Once you reach Yangmingshan, switch to the Yangmingshan 108 shuttle bus which runs loops around the park (you can pay for both buses with your Easycard). Join the line just beyond the bus station building:
You’re boarding at stop 1, and getting off at stop 7 (小油坑, Xiaoyoukeng). Just be careful because half of the buses only go as far as stop 6 (二子坪, Erziping), so make sure to check the destination. If it says 二子坪, wait for a bus doing the full loop. Capacity is low, so if it’s a busy day you might have to wait for several buses before you can board one – again, because of this I’d generally advise against doing this hike on a weekend or holiday. You might only wait up to 30 minutes on a weekday (or not at all if you’re lucky), but it might be much worse when busy. Once you’re on the bus it takes about another 20 or 30 minutes to reach Xiaoyoukeng. All told you should allow roughly 90 minutes to get from Jiantan to Xiaoyoukeng (possibly less if the shuttle comes quickly, possibly more if it’s busy).
Note that the 108 is sometimes unavailable following typhoons due to landslide risk; if you get up to Yangmingshan and find there’s no 108 service that day, you can hike up Shamaoshan instead from a trailhead near the bus station, see here.
Xiaoyoukeng is the site of this large volcanic vent:
The hiking trail starts immediately behind the bus stop, but before starting up it’s worth heading over to the visitor centre (last toilets for a long time!) and checking the vents out from the viewing platforms.
From the bus stop the trail takes you steeply up around the vents and on up to the summit through these tall mountain grasses (if it’s hot the sun will batter you here and if it’s wet the rain will batter you, be ready for either):
Note also that due to the altitude, the weather on Yangmingshan is unpredictable even if there’s lovely weather in the city below. On the day I hiked from Xiaoyoukeng it was clear and sunny in Taipei, so I decided it was a good day to finally go and climb Qixingshan; but as you can see, low cloud cover had formed over the mountain by the time I actually hit the trail, and it didn’t let up much throughout the hike. There’s a viewing platform on the way up to the summit with cracking views on a clear day, but I just got this grey void:
At least it illustrates that you need to be ready for changeable weather on the trail – and with it being so exposed it’s definitely not a good choice for any day with threatening clouds. First time I climbed it, this was as good as it got:
But as you can see from the pics at top, I’ve had better luck since then.
After you’re done on the main peak, continue on down the other side and you soon see this sign:
Turning left takes you up the east peak, before descending to either Lengshuikeng or the Yangmingshan bus station, or for a more direct descent you can follow the sign straight down for the Miaopu trailhead. The direct Miaopu route goes straight into the forest on a paved trail:
You don’t get any views from there on down, so unless the weather sucks I recommend going up to East Peak then down from there to the radio towers, from where you can either turn left to end at the Lengshuikeng visitor centre bus stop, or right to walk all the way back down to the main Yangmingshan bus station.
Qixingshan East Peak views:
Going down from the east peak, follow the signs for Qixing Park:
As you can see, if it’s cloudy you don’t see much but on clear days you have great views most of the way down this side. The radio towers come into view below you, which is the point at which you can decide between turning left to finish at Lengshuikeng (closer) or turning right to walk down to Miaopu (longer descent, but you can walk to the main bus station and more easily get a bus & a seat):
Eventually the trail brings you down to this signpost, where you can turn left to pass the radio towers and descend to Lengshuikeng, which is closer (see bottom of page for more on the Lengshuikeng trail); you can also take a quick detour to Menghuan Pond by following the signs from the radio towers. At Lengshuikeng you can wait to get on the 108 loop shuttle bus back to Yangmingshan bus station, or maybe squeeze onto the S15 minibus direct down to Jiantan Station (this is the best option if you can get on, but this isn’t the first stop so might not be possible to board here on busy days). As noted up top, if it’s a weekend I’d suggest turning right at the signpost to walk down via Miaopu and all the way back to the main Yangmingshan bus stop.
To do so, take the right for Qixing Park:
This way (left branch):
This part of the trail is mostly stone steps going steeply down through the forest:
I don’t actually have a pic of Qixing Park, but once you’re through the park follow the signs for Miaopu Trail Entrance (if you skipped the east peak and took the more direct route down, this is the junction where the trails merge again):
Just keep on down the paved trail following the signs for Miaopu Trail Entrance and keeping an eye out for forest critters:
When you finally get down to the trail entrance at the road you still have a bit of a walk down to the bus station, or you can cross over the road to the bus stop and wait for the 108 back to the station, or the number 8 or 9 minibus to Shipai Station or Beitou Station:
To walk it, start by following the trail to the visitor centre:
The visitor centre, with Qixingshan behind:
Then from the visitor centre follow the signs down to the bus station, it’s another 10 to 15 minutes or so; at the end you go down a spiralling staircase through the hillside and under the road, coming out behind the bus terminal.
Hiking up from the main bus station
It’s possible to skip the shuttle bus by walking up straight from the bus station – however note that the trailheads at Xiaoyoukeng and Lengshuikeng are a fair bit higher than the bus terminal, meaning the decent from Qixingshan down to the bus stop is much longer than the ascent from Xiaoyoukeng. So if you reverse the direction (or go up & down from the bus terminal), you have a much bigger climb to the top – the Xiaoyoukeng trailhead’s at 800m, the summit’s at 1120m, and the bus terminal’s at 450m. If you do want to hike up Qixingshan from the bus terminal, turn right up behind the shuttle bus queue and walk this way under the road following this sign for the visitor centre:
When you get to this semi-circular seating area follow the sign for the pedestrian trail and turn right into the tunnel:
This tunnel goes through to the stairwell which takes you up to the visitor centre trail:
Then once you reach the visitor centre walk up to the Miaopu Trail Entrance, and then you’re on your way.
Starting from Lengshuikeng
You can also start from Lengshuikeng, which is what I recommend if you’re doing it on a weekend or holiday – you can take the S15 minibus from Jiantan Station direct to the Lengshuikeng visitor centre, which takes about an hour (it’s also stop #10 on the shuttle bus loop). Then you can hike up to main peak via east peak, then descend by the most direct route from the main peak to the Miaopu trailhead and all the way to the main bus station. This way you don’t have to wait around at crowded little trail bus stops trying to board packed out minibuses.
From the Lengshuikeng visitor centre just cross the road and head up the trail on the left here:
It’s pretty straightforward, just keep heading up:
After a short distance the summit cone of Qixingshan appears to your right:
When you get up to the radio towers, you have the option to take a quick detour to Menghuan Pond (I’ve never bothered):
Then just follow the signs up to the east peak, then over to the main peak, then from there you can either continue on down to Xiaoyoukeng or you can go back down into the saddle between the two peaks and follow the sign for Miaopu to take the direct descent down to the main bus station (as noted above, this is what I recommend on weekends).
So to recap, I recommend going on a weekday and walking from Xiaoyoukeng to Lengshuikeng or vice versa. Use R5 & the 108 shuttle for Xiaoyoukeng, and either the S15 minibus (Jiantan direct) or again the R5 & 108 combo for Lengshuikeng.
If you can’t avoid going when it’s busy, I recommend starting from Lengshuikeng (take the S15 up direct from Jiantan) then descending via Miaopu to take the R5 back to Jiantan from the Yangmingshan bus station (so you can avoid the 108 shuttle bus).
If you go up from Xiaoyoukeng (or Lengshuikeng) and descend to the bus terminal you should allow around 4 to 5 hours.
If you traverse from Xiaoyoukeng to Lengshuikeng or vice versa you need a bit less time, probably 3 to 4 hours.
(obviously allow more time if you like to take it easy, take long photo stops etc)
Have you been to Yangmingshan? Do you have any questions about hiking Qixingshan? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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