Taiwan, dubbed by Portuguese explorers the "Ihla Formosa," or "Beautiful Island," is home to over 200 mountain peaks above 9,800 feet. From walking through deep green pine forests filled with birdsong to watching the sun rise over a carpet of clouds, a trip to the mountains is one of the best ways to appreciate Taiwan's immense natural beauty and biodiversity. What's more, Taiwan's hiking trails cater to outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities and ages thanks to well-marked signs, a plethora of rural lodging options and easy-to-navigate transportation systems connecting national parks and scenic areas to city centers. Traveling between cities and trailheads takes just a couple of hours; at most, half a day. From urban parks to the wilds surrounding Taiwan's tallest peak, here are seven incredibly majestic mountain adventures.
Yushan National Park
Mount Yushan, also known as Mount Jade, is not only the tallest peak in Taiwan, but also the tallest peak in Northeast Asia. The star of the island's 11-peak central mountain range and a bucket-list hike for many Taiwanese, it is wild Taiwan at its best, covered with fir, spruce, conifer, broadleaf and bamboo forests and home to all manner of wildlife, including Formosan macaques, black bears and goat-like serows. From the trailhead, you can reach the summit in two days. Spend the night at Paiyun Lodge before embarking on a series of rigorous switchbacks up to the summit for spectacular, panoramic views.
Taroko Gorge National Park
White marble canyon walls and piercingly turquoise waters draw continuous streams of visitors to the iconic Taroko Gorge in eastern Taiwan. Sculpted by glacial movements millennia ago, the national park has views for days. One of the most popular hiking paths through the park is Baiyang Trail. Passing through seven above-ground tunnels and vivid green scenery, it ends with a majestic "Curtain of Water" falling from the ceiling of the final tunnel and a view of twin waterfalls. Other scenic routes include Swallow Grotto Trail, along which swallows dart in and out of holes in the rock walls, as well as the Eternal Spring Shrine trail. Built in Tang Dynasty architectural style atop a cliff, the shrine offers sweeping views of the surrounding canyon.
Hehuanshan National Forest Recreation Area
Driving on the Central Cross-Island Highway up to Wuling Pass, you'll find yourself in the "saddle" between two of Mount Hehuan's most picturesque peaks: East Peak and Main Peak with access to their trailheads. In warmer months, wild flowers ranging from rhododendrons to high mountain juniper line the trails, and the melodic calls of laughing thrush birds echo through fir and bamboo forests. Another accessible and popular leisure hiking trail in the forest recreation area leads up to Mount Shimen, requires just 30 minutes to an hour to hike and features exceptional views of the Liwu and Hehuan Rivers.
Alishan National Forest Recreation Area
To the west of Yushan National Park is the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. A very popular destination, it offers easy to moderate hiking trails as well as plenty of opportunities for leisure and relaxation. From Chiayi Train Station, a mountain railway takes visitors up steep switchbacks to a central recreation area complete with lodging and restaurants. From there, visitors can walk or take another train to the main scenic trails, which pass by Taiwan's highest temple, storied ponds and ancient cypress trees shrouded in mist. Other trails take visitors past Tsou aboriginal villages and deeper into Alishan's varied landscapes, from subtropical broadleaf forests to frigid coniferous forests and lush tea fields. Early risers will want to book the early morning train to Zhushan to witness the sun rise over Alishan's famous sea of clouds.
Shei-Pa National Park & Wuling National Forest Recreation Area
Xueshan, or Snow Mountain, in Shei-Pa National Park is Taiwan's second highest peak and gives Mount Yushan a run for its money with views of the park's razor-thin Holy Ridge trail. Views aside, one of the best parts of the two to three-day summit hike is Wuling National Forest Recreation Area, where the trailhead begins. Home to multiple overnight accommodations ranging from a five-star hotel to campsites, Wuling is renowned for its beauty and filled with color. In autumn, the area's red maple leaves are particularly striking. As an extension of your Xueshan summit hike, head out on Wuling's Taoshan Waterfall Hiking Trail for a view worth the extra mileage.
Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area
Like Alishan, Taipingshan National Forest Area is a popular scenic area with eateries and lodging accessed by a narrow-gauge railway. Nestled in the mountains of Yilan County above Taroko National Park, it is home to historical relics and abundant natural beauty. Pass moss-covered train tracks and abandoned logging equipment that are slowly being reclaimed by the forest. Don't miss Cueifong Lake Circular Trail, which treats hikers to views of Taiwan's largest alpine lake.
Jiaming Lake National Trail
One of Taiwan's other iconic lakes is located at the edge of Yushan National Park. Officially called Jiaming Lake, this glacier-carved lake is also known as "Angel's Tear." With its deep blue waters and vivid green surroundings, it is a favorite destination for adventurous photographers. If you wait long enough, deer may wander over to its shores for a cool drink. Plan for a three-day hike to reach Angel's Tear. This trail is for experienced backpackers only, so you'll want to plan accordingly and take your time passing over the region's beautiful, but harrowing, cliffs and ridgelines. The Forest Bureau maintains simple, high-mountain cabins for overnight backpackers.