Trials of Miles – An Introduction to Taiwan’s Mountains

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Taiwan | 1 comment

Taiwan is a severely underrated travel destination in many respects. Its unjust neglect compared to its more well-traveled East Asia neighbors is perhaps most evident in its sensationally diverse range of hiking opportunities. Here are my top reasons any outdoor-loving travelers should seriously consider Taiwan.

The Density of Peaks in Taiwan

Views over the Guguan valley from the summit of Mt. Bo Jin Jia (波津加山) by Oliver Sanders
Views over the Guguan valley from the summit of Mt. Bo Jin Jia (波津加山) by Oliver Sanders

As a self-proclaimed mountain expert, I was baffled and somewhat disappointed with myself when I stumbled across Taiwan’s almost incomparably dense concentration of 3000m+ peaks. Indeed, Taiwan boasts over 260 summits over this impressive altitude within a country around a quarter the size of England.

It may come as no surprise, therefore, that Taiwan is a paradise for peak baggers. Although ticking off the famous 台灣百嶽 (a list of the 100 best 3000m+ peaks in Taiwan) can only be achieved by the most experienced and hardy locals, it is certainly possible to scale a handful of these breathtaking summits in the space of a short trip.

Those who figure out the logistics and complete a challenging two or three-day hike will be rewarded with a view from Yushan, the highest mountain in East Asia, which stands at a vertigo-inducing 3952m. Perhaps even more surprising than this density is the remoteness and emptiness of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range.

Solitude in Swarming

Further to Taiwan’s amazingly condensed mountains, the experience of true wilderness and seclusion offered by Taiwan’s hiking trails is similarly astonishing. Even my fellow expats, who have lived in Taiwan for months or years, are usually baffled when I talk about Taiwan’s secluded mountainous interior.

Those who attempt to venture away from Taiwan’s densely populated West Coast plains could be rewarded with hours, or even days, of complete solitude. Indeed, multi-day hikes such as the Holy Ridge and the Batongguan historic trail, although logistically and physically demanding, offer the potential for experienced hikers to experience mountain wilderness which overshadows anywhere in East Asia.

A Beginners Hiking Experience

Such a solitary and physically grueling, trekking experience is naturally not for everyone interested in hiking Taiwan’s mountains.

A secluded corner of Alishan National Scenic Area by Oliver Sanders
A secluded corner of Alishan National Scenic Area by Oliver Sanders

Those not wishing to embark on Taiwan’s legendary high-altitude treks can find great opportunities at lower elevations. Indeed, all of Taiwan’s three largest cities, Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung have some amazing beginner trail networks nearby.

These include Yangmingshan, Maokong, and Wulai in Taipei, Dakeng, and the Guguan Valley near Taichung and Shoushan in Kaohsiung.

As well as being less physically onerous, hiking these trails is not as much a logistical challenge for tourists. Whilst the Guguan Valley mentioned above is further afield, most of these areas are easily and quickly accessible by Taiwan’s incredibly convenient and affordable public transportation network.

Taipei’s Yangminshan National Park; well endowed with forested mountains, hot springs, and spectacular vistas, is even accessible from Central Taipei in as little as 35 minutes and for as little as 30NTD (1$USD). Such convenience is a feature of most of Taiwan’s lower-altitude trails. Although there are public buses to Taiwan’s high-altitude Shei-Pa, Yushan and Taroko national parks, these services are relatively slow, often late, and run only a handful of times a day.

Taiwanese Hospitality

Perhaps the one unifying feature of Taiwan’s incredibly diverse hiking experience is in fact the people you will encounter on them.

Part of my Taiwanese hiking family by Oliver Sanders
Part of my Taiwanese hiking family by Oliver Sanders

Taiwanese have long been characterized as among the friendliest people in the world, and this is nowhere more evident than on the country’s hiking trails.

Indeed, although Taiwanese people may often appear relatively shy and reserved in their day-to-day lives, hiking with their friends and family on weekends seems to bring out their profound warmth and hospitality.

Almost passers-by will give you a shout of 加油 (an expression of encouragement which literally translates as ‘add oil’) and most will use even the most broken English to ask about where you come from.

Many will stop to take a selfie with you and, upon reaching the summit of most trails, you might even be greeted with offerings of coffee and a range of Taiwanese snacks.

As the name ‘Trials of Miles’ suggests, hiking Taiwan’s mountains can be testing. However, those who make the effort to face these trials will have the privilege of exploring one of the best-kept secrets in East Asia. For the moment, though, Taiwan and its mountains remain as untainted by tourism as they are by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

by: Oliver Sanders