Portuguese sailors en route to Japan in the late 16th century deemed Taiwan “Ilha Formosa,” or beautiful island, for good reason. From misty mountains rising over 10,000 feet high, to tropical forests, grass plains and sparkling blue waters, its terrain offers visitors a chance to step into some of Asia's most stunning landscapes.
Stretching more than 60 miles from Nanya District in New Taipei City to Neibi Beach in Suao Township, the Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area is a crown jewel sitting atop Taiwan's natural bounty. Featuring numerous capes and bays, spectacular rock formations, golden beaches and rivers, the Northeast Coast takes visitors through some of Taiwan's most varied and beautiful coastal scenery. Snorkel in crystal clear waters, hike a century-old trail or try your hand at rock climbing at these five incredible destinations.
Marking the northern gateway to the Northeast Coast National Coast scenic area, Nanya is a must-see for its mesmerizing, conical rock formations. Over time, weather and waves have sculpted the sandstone shore, and the oxidation of iron ore within the stones has painted them with colorful bands.
Many fascinating formations, including one famously shaped like an ice cream cone, are visible from the Coastal Highway. The stones’ vivid swirls of colors pop against a backdrop of turquoise crashing waves and tranquil tide pools.
Bitou and Longdong Bay Geological Park
South along the Coastal Highway from Nanya, the Bitou-Longdong Geopark is renowned for its dramatic landscape. Most of the Northeast Coast's sea-eroded landforms are found here, including sea cliffs, undercut bluffs and rocky platforms dotted with formations resembling mushrooms, honeycombs and tofu bricks. Be sure to also keep a close eye out for marine fossils. A paved footpath takes visitors out to the tip of the Bito Cape and Bitou Cape Lighthouse, which provide panoramic views of Longdong Bay.
With crystal clear water and abundant marine life, including large numbers of colorful tropical fish, Longdong is an outstanding spot for snorkeling, scuba diving, rock fishing and bird spotting. Its sheer sandstone cliffs have also become one of northern Taiwan's premier rock-climbing destinations. Some 100 feet tall, with routes of varying levels of difficulty, the cliffs are perfect for those wishing to hone their skills.
Fulong Beach was one of the scenic area's first tourists destinations and remains one of the Northeast Coast's most popular stops. In addition to its long, open beach, the calm and sheltered water of the Shuangxi River, which empties into the ocean here, makes this an ideal spot for boating activities, including sailing, surfing, wind surfing, kayaking and canoeing.
The Northeast Coast National Scenic Area headquarters are located near the entrance to Fulong, as well as a Visitor Center which houses exhibits, video briefings and information about the area’s natural and cultural resources. Equipment, including kickboards, inflatable swimming rings and four-person rubber boats, is available for rent.
The Old Caoling Tunnel trail at Fulong hugs the coastline and is especially popular with cyclists. Constructed in 1924 by the Japanese as a railway tunnel, it was abandoned in 1986 and reopened to hikers and cyclists in 2008. After passing through the tunnel for a little over a mile, visitors are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Pacific.
Caoling Historic Trail
The Caoling Historic Trail starting just inland from Fulong is one of Taiwan's most famous hiking paths. The only remaining section of the old Qing dynasty trail, it was constructed 130 years ago to provide a land link from Taipei to Yilan across the Sandiaojiao Cape. The present trail spans roughly six miles, ending at the Tiangong Temple in Dali.
Two large boulders along the trail bear Qing dynasty inscriptions and are listed as third-class historic sites. One of the inscriptions has four Chinese characters meaning "Bravely Suppress the Wild Mists;" the other bears the single character "Tiger" (the tiger was believed to control the winds). Both were ordered by the regional commander of imperial forces in Taiwan and were meant to ward off the baleful influences of nature in this once-remote area.
To hike the Caoling Historic Trail, visitors take the train from the Fulong or Gongliao station and walk about 40 minutes to the head of the trail. From the other end, you can take the return train from the Dali station. If you are driving, consider leaving your car at Dali and hiking the trail out and back.
Beiguan Tidal Park
Beiguan Tidal Park is located at the southern tip of the scenic area at the entrance to Lanyang Plain. During the Qing dynasty, Beigang was a military outpost guarding the Yilan area to the south. Today, two 160-year-old cannons remind visitors of the mission.
The most notable geological features of this area are cuesta formations, with a slope on one side and cliff on the other, and tofu-shaped rocks. A footpath takes visitors through the park to the tunes of pounding waves. The Guanhai Pavilion, which overlooks turtle-shaped Guishan Island, is a perfect place to appreciate the sunset and to spot pods of whales or dolphins in the distance.