This article was published in en Voyage, EVA Air’s inflight magazine in 2016.
Taipei is a sprawling city of skyscrapers, busy roads, and high-rise apartment blocks, but it’s also a hiking paradise. The city is surrounded by hills and mountains that afford a wealth of hiking options that range from barren, exposed peaks to hills with dense, jungle-like vegetation.
During your stay in the city, you should get out and experience at least one of these trails.
Elephant Mountain is one of a number of peaks that border Taipei’s Xinyi District. At 183 meters in height, it’s really more of a hill than a mountain, but from its top, you will be afforded fantastic views of the city.
Several paths lead to the top, but the easiest to follow begins at the Elephant Mountain MRT Station about 600 meters from the trailhead. The route is well signposted, and moderately fit hikers should get to the top in about 30 minutes. Once there, the most popular place to stop is a small area with large rocky outcrops that people can clamber on and get great views of the city. The scenery is amazing during the day and possibly even better at night. If you are interested in a nocturnal walk, the route is always well lit.
This is a popular hiking path, and the noise and activity means you’re unlikely to see many of Taiwan’s more unusual animals. However, squirrels, birds, dragonflies, and death’s head spiders are common sights.
Elephant Mountain is one of the “Four Beasts,” a group of peaks that resemble the animals they’re named for – the others are Tiger Mountain, Leopard Mountain, and Lion Mountain. It is possible to walk over each of these hills, but the routes can be difficult to follow. A better alternative for those who want a longer hike is to follow the signs for 9-5 Peak. You’ll be taken up into the hills and high above the Taipei skyline. Depending on your level of fitness, expect a return walk of two to five hours.
Seven Star Mountain
At 1120 meters, Seven Star Mountain is Taipei’s tallest peak. Getting to the top is no easy feat, but your exertions will be worthwhile, as on a clear day, the views you get of the city are unparalleled. Even when the skies are overcast, this is an amazing walk that offers a wealth of geographical and geological features. The reason for this is that the mountain is actually a dormant volcano – the “seven stars” referenced in its name are the various peaks on the crater left by the mountain’s last eruption. In the surrounding Yangmingshan National Park area, you’ll also find hot springs and sulfurous fumaroles.
Getting to the hiking path’s trailhead requires a combination of buses and trains – or a much more expensive taxi ride. The easiest method is to take the MRT to Jiantan Station and from there, take either the 208 or Red 30 bus to their terminal stops. From there, follow the signs to the Visitor Center, where you can get maps and any extra information you might want. The route is well signposted, though, and even without a map, you’d struggle to get lost.
The walk from the Visitor Center to the Seven Star Mountain’s Main and East Peaks is only a few kilometers long, but it is steep and you’ll need to be reasonably fit to make it to the top. You should also come prepared for hot and sunny and also cold and rainy conditions. This is a fairly tall mountain, and unlike most of Taipei’s hiking routes, it’s very exposed and open to the elements. The weather can change quickly, and even if you leave central Taipei in warm sunshine, you might still encounter rain and fog on the mountain.
Maokong is an entire area rather than a mountain or particular hiking trail. It’s famous for its plentiful tea plantations, but the truth is that apart from these patches of cultivated land – often terraced hillsides – the area generally resembles an expanse of barely tamed jungle. Despite these appearances, Maokong is fairly easy to visit, and hundreds of visitors make their way there every weekend on the Maokong Gondola – a cable car ride that starts near the Taipei Zoo MRT Station.
A number of trails wind their way around Maokong, and whether they take you through tea growing areas, camphor plantations, or dense undergrowth, they will give you an amazing sense of the area and the conditions that there were once normal in this part of the world before Taipei’s rapid development into one of the world’s most important cities.
In addition to going hiking, visitors to Maokong should also go to one of the area’s many restaurants to try the local tea and sample foods flavored with tea leaves. Another local attraction is Zhinan Temple, which can easily be reached via the Maokong Gondola. This huge Taoist temple dates back to 1882 and features a number of elaborate chapels and statues. A popular local belief about the temple states that unmarried couples who visit it together are destined to break up. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
Teapot Mountain is a fairly small and easily climbable hill at the eastern edges of New Taipei City. Its slopes are exposed and weather-beaten, its summit is crowned by an outcrop of rock that really does look like a teapot, and the views you get from the trail are amazing: narrow ridges and valleys spread out like fingers to the nearby ocean. Teapot Mountain is an incredible day trip.
The easiest way to get there is by taking bus 1062 to the Gold Ecological Museum in Jinguashi. Once inside the museum’s grounds, follow the signs that lead toward the trailhead and head up the mountain. When you reach the top, you’ll discover that the “teapot” is actually a cave that you have to climb through to continue on your journey. On rainy days, the rocks can be slippery, but otherwise, the cave is surprisingly easy to navigate.
Depending on your energy levels, you may want to go back down the hill and wander around the gold museum or continue along the path up to the taller mountain of Banpingshan. To reach the top of this peak, though, you will have to scale a 30-meter-high, near-vertical cliff. There are ropes to hold on to and holes in the rock for your feet, but it’s still a nerve-jangling ascent. The 360o views from the top, though, are well worth the effort.