Hiking in Taipei: Yinhe Cave Temple (Maokong)
Yinhe Cave Temple (銀河洞, Yinhedong) is a wonderful little spot nestled in the mountains just south of Taipei, near the popular Maokong area; this area is famous for its tea plantations, temples, and hiking trails, and can be accessed using the Maokong Gondola from near Taipei Zoo Station (the southern terminus of the brown subway line). It sees plenty of day-trippers and the teahouse-lined streets in the immediate vicinity of the gondola station can be quite busy, but it quickly gets much quieter away from the gondola.
銀 means silver and 河 means river or stream, and taken together they can mean ‘Milky Way’, so we have ‘Silver Stream Cave’ or ‘Milky Way Cave’; either way, the name appears to reference the way the waterfall strikes a slab of rock halfway down the cliff, just in front of the cave, resulting in a fine mist. Built into the recess of this cave is the small temple, humble in construction yet wonderfully atmospheric; a most rewarding goal for your hike.
You can make a short, steep hike up to Yinhe Cave Temple from Yinhe Road on the Xindian side (accessed by bus or taxi from Xindian Station, see below), or you can hike down to it in half an hour from the gondola’s Maokong Station on well-maintained and clearly signposted trails; the main hike described on this page is for those looking to do it from the Maokong side, but eschewing the gondola and hiking up from the base of the mountain near Taipei Zoo Station and National Chengchi University, over the ridge and down to the cave, then back up the ridge to the upper gondola station, across the valley to Zhinan Temple, and then descending back to the university from there. The whole thing is a fairly long hike, but you can make it shorter by ending it at the upper gondola station and riding the gondola back down, and/or by taking the bus from Xindian Station to approach Yinhe Cave Temple from the south (both options described below).
The first 40 minutes of the walk from the station to the actual hiking trail are along city streets and through a university campus; you may well prefer to jump in a taxi straight to the trailhead, so on the map I’ve done the first bit in green, with the hiking trail proper in red. Being a university area, it’s fairly lively and has a plethora of food & drink options should you want to grab a bite or stock up on snacks, so there is an advantage to walking through it! You could of course also take a cab to the university, then walk up from there.
To walk to the trailhead from Taipei Zoo Station, take exit 2 and walk southwest on Xinguang Road (新光路, Xinguang Lu) past the gondola base station, and keep following the road as it turns south; after about 20 minutes you reach the end at a T-junction with Zhinan Road (指南路, Zhinan Lu). National Chengchi University is on the other side of Zhinan Road, and turning left here you’ll be in front of the main university entrance after a few minutes. The roads here are full of cafes, bakeries, convenience stores, bubble tea stands, etc, so grab whatever you fancy before tackling the climb.
Just past the main entrance to Chengchi University, you’ll see this road on the right:
Take this road (環山二道, Huanshan Erdao, 2nd Mountain Loop Road, given as ‘Round Top Circle’ on the street signs) and walk through the campus, over the bridge, and up the hill; when you reach some tennis courts on the right, take the steps just after the courts and cut through the playing fields, turning right when you meet the road again at the top. Another hundred metres or so uphill from there, you’ll reach the top of the road, with a car parking area on the right and the trailhead on the left (if taking a taxi from the station, this is where you want to be dropped):
From here to Yinhe Cave Temple you’re not actually following one single trail, but stringing together segments of other trails; from the trailhead your first goal is Zhangshan (sometimes given as Jhangshan) Temple (樟山寺), a walk of around 20 minutes uphill through the forest. It’s an easygoing trail like this:
You’ll spot these distance markers along the way:
When you arrive at Zhangshan Temple, stop for a rest and take in the views from the platform:
From the temple, walk a couple of hundred metres south on Laoquan Street (老泉街, Laoquan Jie), one of the vehicle roads that wends round the communities up here. From this vicinity you can catch some views of the enormous Zhinan Temple across the valley (if you do the full route described on this page, you’ll be descending via Zhinan Temple later on):
When you come to this bit:
You need to turn right at the bus stop, i.e. where the car in the photo is turning left, up towards the guy in the high-vis jacket. Where he’s standing, there’s a set of steps leading uphill from the fork in the road:
These steps are the start of the Zhanghu Trail, which you’ll be following up to the top of the ridge. It runs up through the forest, past a little village and its tea fields:
…and from there up to the ridge. It’s pretty overgrown at the back of the tea fields:
But that doesn’t last long, and you’re soon back on a wide path along the top of the ridge. It takes about 20 minutes from Zhangshan Temple to the ridge, where you emerge next to a large set of wind chimes:
From this point, you first want to follow the signs for Maokong Station (turn east i.e. left when you reach the wind chimes), walking along the ridge separating Taipei City and New Taipei City for 5 minutes until you reach the turnoff for the Yinhe Cave Trail:
It’s well signposted, so just keep walking down the trail past the odd farmhouse, over a little bridge, and down alongside the stream which is destined to tumble over the cliff at Yinhe Cave.
Views and wildlife along the trail to Yinhe Cave Temple:
After about 15 minutes of walking downhill you reach your goal, the magical little spot that is Yinhe Cave Temple:
The temple itself is very basic:
There’s a path leading behind the waterfall which takes you a short distance up past Tibetan prayer flags to a statue of a deity:
Not 100% sure, but I think this is one of the Eight Immortals.
Once you’re done at the temple, walk back up to the ridge and then you can either turn left to descend the way you came, or turn right to reach the Maokong Gondola.
It just takes 15 minutes or so to walk along the ridge to the upper gondola station, with views of distant Taipei 101. Conditions were muggy when I took these remaining pics unfortunately.
View of the gondola station:
And Taipei 101:
Area map at the gondola station:
Once you reach the gondola you can ride it back down, or you could opt to jump on for the quick hop over to Zhinan Temple and then walk down from there. There’s a convenience store and bathrooms at the station, and the roads around it have plenty of cafes and restaurants so this is a good area to get some food or drinks in.
Note that the gondola often gets stopped by bad weather, but don’t worry about it stopping if you want to take it down – there’s also a road with bus service and usually a bunch of taxi drivers will be hanging around the station looking for fares back down.
To walk over to Zhinan Temple (it involves going down a ways and then climbing back up again), take this road from the gondola station:
Follow it along for 15 minutes or so past a string of cafes and a temple, until you reach the tea center:
Just after the tea center take this trail heading down from the road off to the left:
Turning right at this little temple:
…and then turn left at this junction, following the sign for the Rainbow Bridge:
A quick little detour you can do here before turning left is to go straight (signposted for Pothole), descending the steps for another minute or two to a small stream with a rope bridge and a bunch of random panda and cat statues. It’s a nice little spot to take a rest before continuing on to the Rainbow Bridge and Zhinan Temple.
The Rainbow Bridge is rather less colourful than the name suggests, but still a nice red I suppose:
On the other side of the bridge turn left and follow the hiking trail until it brings you to a minor road, which almost immediately merges with another road:
Keep going straight (i.e. what would be a left turn if you were a car), past the random cat selfie statues:
…and then a short distance later turn right up these steps to start the climb back up to Zhinan Temple (from this road you have clear views of the gondola spanning the valley that you’re traversing):
At the top of the steps (after a fairly short but probably quite sweaty climb of 10 minutes or so) turn left and follow the road along to the Zhinan Temple gondola station, from where you can follow the signs a few more minutes to Zhinan Temple itself. It’s a huge temple of several large halls dramatically located on the mountainside with good views out over southern Taipei:
Once you’re done at the first temple building, look for this covered walkway which connects to another temple structure further around the hillside:
The steps down the mountain start from here. Just go straight down the steps and turn left this way:
When you come to the junction follow the sign for the university:
…the path takes you past a few houses and then these stone steps take you all the way back down to the same road that passes in front of the university entrance (you just come back out on the main road slightly further up from where you turned off it earlier), so you can then retrace your steps through the university district back to Taipei Zoo Station (or Muzha Station, which is actually marginally closer if you can navigate to it).
Alternative route: hiking up from the Xindian side
You can also climb directly up to the temple from the road in the valley below; this is a much shorter route than described above, basically just consisting of a steep set of stairs up from the trailhead. Access is via bus from Xindian Station, the southern terminus of the green line (for another Xindian hike see here); when you come through the exit gate the bus station is just in front of you on the left:
You’re looking for the Green 12 (綠12) bus, here’s the schedule at time of writing and you can see the Yinhedong 銀河洞 stop halfway along the top branch of the diagram:
You can pay using your subway Easycard, and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful – the stop isn’t very obvious, and it’s easy to go sailing past if you’re not paying attention. Don’t assume that others will be getting off or that the bus will stop without your input; listen closely as the stops are announced, and as soon as you hear Yinhedong’s next hit the buzzer to signal the driver to let you off. The stops as far as Yinhedong come & go pretty rapidly, but if you miss it the next stop is miles further on up the hill along a winding highway so you’ll have to stay until the last stop (Pinglin), disembark, and then re-board the bus when it heads back to Xindian. I know this because I once did exactly that! I’d say it was a total waste of 75 minutes, but actually the scenery along that road is spectacular – I didn’t manage to get any decent pics through the window, but it was every bit as beautiful as the mountain roads in places like northern Thailand or the Philippines.
Assuming you get off at the right stop as planned, look ahead up the road for this stone buddha:
Turn left along Yinhe Road:
…and after walking up the road for 15 minutes you reach the hiking trail off to the right (the brown sign points the way):
Of course you could also just jump in a taxi or Uber directly to this trailhead to save time.
It’s a steep trail so be ready for some sweaty work if you’re not doing this in winter:
After you’re done at the temple, keep going up the trail following the signs for Maokong Gondola Station:
Once you get up to the ridge turn right (again, well signposted) and it’s a 15-minute walk to the gondola. Then either ride the gondola down, or walk to Zhinan Temple and descend from there as described above.
Any comments or questions about Maokong or Yinhe Cave Temple? Give me a shout below and I’ll get back to you.
Accommodation: search & book rooms in Taipei
Make sure you have a good insurance policy; World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance you can buy even if already overseas – most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you’ve already left your country, and this can be a crucial point as I once found out the hard way in Thailand.
These are affiliate links i.e. if you use them to purchase insurance or book accommodation, 4corners7seas will receive a commission from World Nomads or Agoda – this commission comes out of their profit margin at no extra cost to you. I’m recommending them because I know and trust them from personal use; thank you in advance should you choose to use my links.