Though relatively new on the backpacker trail, Taiwan is a country full of surprises. It boasts sensational food, an eclectic mix of cultures, incredibly hi-tech cities and ridiculously friendly locals.
Yet perhaps the biggest surprise here lies in its natural beauty. Known for centuries as ‘Ilha Formosa’ (Beautiful Island), Taiwan’s impressive scenery has an uncanny ability to win over travellers.
Think towering mountains, tropical forests, a whole host of alluring offshore islands and a staggering eight national parks to boot. Pretty darn impressive in a country just half the size of Ireland! The best way to soak in all this rather spectacular scenery is to strap on a pair of walking boots and get your hike on.
Taiwan has a vast network of trails to explore, and most can be undertaken without a guide. And the best part? Given that the country remains largely undiscovered, you’re unlikely to spot any other tourists along the way. So lace up, strap on that day pack and get cracking.
Yushan National Park (Jade Mountain)
Topping almost 4,000 metres, the imposing Yushan, or Jade Mountain as it’s otherwise known, is Taiwan’s highest peak and arguably one of the best places for hiking and climbing on the island.
To be fair, it’s not the most accessible of peaks, and you’ll need to do plenty of planning before you tackle it, but the rewards are ample. Hikes are challenging and certainly not suited for beginners, but the views from the top are out of this world.
The most common route is to the Yushan Main Peak, best done as a two-day hike starting in Tatajia with an overnight stop at the Paiyun Cabin. Note that the cabin is often booked up and you’ll need a permit in order to climb – so plan ahead!
Yangmingshan National Park
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Just a hop, skip and a jump from the buzzing metropolis of Taipei, Yangmingshan is arguably the most accessible of all Taiwan’s national parks. Trails abound within the park, and there are a wide variety suitable to all trekkers.
Among the most popular are the many routes around the Qixing and Datan mountain ranges, from which the views of Taipei are second to none. There’s also plenty of wildlife to spot along the way, including macaque monkeys, hares, wild boar and a whole host of bird species. There’s also cobras and vipers, so make sure you wear some sturdy hiking boots!
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko National Park
The six and a half mile Zhuilu Old Trail traverses through the magnificent Taroko National Park, one of Asia’s most impressive if less well known, nature destinations. The trail leads hikers along the only remaining section of the Hehuan mountain road, the highest road in the country.
At its most challenging part, it skirts along the side of the 1,100-metre-high Zhuilu Cliff, so this isn’t one for the faint-hearted. If you can muster up the courage however, you’ll get to enjoy stunning views of the Liwu River 500 metres below.
Note that trekking within the park requires a permit, and these need to be applied for at least a week in advance. Check the Taroko National Park website for further details.
Xueshan (Snow Mountain)
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At a whopping 3,886 metres, Xueshan is Taiwan’s second highest peak and arguably a must when in the country. The trail winds its way through the ancient ‘Black Forest’, a mystical forest of ancient fur trees.
If you reach the summit, you’ll get to enjoy some spectacular views of neighbouring mountains and Sheipa National Park. To really feel the magic, make sure you trek during the winter months, when snow blankets the forest floor. It’s like a scene out of The Chronicles of Narnia!
Note that this hike is more suited to an experienced hiker who is comfortable with high altitudes and carrying relatively heavy loads.