Time: 1¼ hours with plenty of stoppage time.
Difficulty: 2/10 – the path is all paved and pretty well lit. The only slight challenge is the uphill and having to watch your step.
Total ascent: 107m
Water: 0.5L – most people just seemed to have brought a post-dinner milk tea with them.
Mobile network: clear through the this area.
Enjoyment: Who doesn’t love fireflies and other nocturnal wildlife.
Seasonal: Fireflies can be generally be seen around April, weather depending.
Other: I’d recommend wearing long sleeves to avoid becoming mosquito food. Also, keep your eyes open, if you’re lucky you might be able to spot plenty of night time insects and animals.
Tiger Mountain Trail Map
GPX file available here.
When to see fireflies on Tiger Mountain
The precise dates vary from year to year, but generally you can spot fireflies in April and May in the hours just after dusk. A sign on the trail this year says that the best time to view them is 6:30-9pm between the 14th of April and the 10th of May.
We parked our scooter at the side of the road near the entrance to the trail and walked up past the tofu pudding joints and massage stand to the corner where the trail starts. Actually, there are two paths here, the quickest way to the fireflies is up the steps on the left. There was a definite buzz in the air, and the trail was busy with families, couples, groups of old people making their way up and down the steps. Those heading up were mostly silent, (due to the difficulty of speaking whilst climbing), but those on their way down were varying degrees of loud. One little boy made me laugh by excitedly exclaiming “101 head”, when he caught sight of the top of 101 through the trees (he must have already seen it from several other places by the time he was heading down). Likewise, I was amused by the glum muttering of another woman to her partner: “Come here to see what fireflies? I just fed mosquitos.” Presumably she hadn’t seen enough in one place to satisfy her annual firefly quota.
The lighting on the trail is really good, we took headlamps just in case, but aside from being handy for lighting up things of interest, we didn’t really need them.
The firefly trail is signposted in Chinese and starts at the first junction on the right. The path here is wooden decking which heads down a little away from the lights of the main trail and into darkness.
The darkness is kept at bay by red lights which are presumably because they interfere with the wildlife less and allow your eyes to adjust to the dark so that you can spot the fireflies easier.
This is what they look like in the light, definitely not as magical as they look in the dark. There are some locations in Taiwan where it seems that swarms of fireflies turn the night landscape into a glowing, green, however Tiger mountain has a smaller population of the evanescent minibeasts. That’s not to say that it’s not amazing. Children and adults alike were delighted by their blinking progress through the air – it is just as enthralling to watch a lone one flutter its way through the undergrowth beneath a tall forest as it is to see a group clustered in one area.
The firefly viewing zone winds past a temple where a grouchy dog barked occasionally at those who got too close, and over a bridge spanning a series of small ponds. Looking over the side of the bridge and down into the ponds below, I could hear the sounds of many frogs but they were nowhere to be seen. After climbing a little way, the path reaches a viewing area where you can see towards the north. At this point we had to choose whether or not to loop back the same way we’d come, or extend the loop a little further so that we ended up walking back along the stream. We opted for the latter.
Along the way, we passed several very obviously inhabited dwellings – this one had a dog which was so relaxed that it didn’t even lift its head to look at Teresa. It momentarily crosses my mind that it would be awfully inconvenient to live here, but in reality it’s not that different from living anywhere without a car. And at least they’re in walking distance of the shops. Living in the village that I grew up in without a car, you’d have to walk to the bus stop and then wait an hour or two until the bus came – and even then, it wouldn’t take you to anywhere with anything like the variety of services on offer as Taipei.
At a crossroads with a shrine, we stopped because I wanted to check out the really cute set-up involving an umbrella. As we were looking at the gods, movement to the left caught our attention – a second look (and later, a quick Google to double check) confirmed that it was a ferret badger. It was the first time either of us had ever seen one, and they’re quite a bit smaller than I imagined (actually, so are badger badgers). It was smaller than our dachshund with a little pointed pink nose. It didn’t seem too bothered by our presence, but was able to slip back into the coverage of the foliage pretty quickly. We followed it by sound for a while, but only caught one more brief glimpse of it.
After leaving the ferret badger alone, we took the path headed downhill.
We had only gone a small number of steps when Teresa glimpsed something moving in the leaves to the side of the trail. This time it was a snake. A black and pale yellow banded snake. The markings made it easily identifyable for the older guy who stopped to see what we were staring at, “雨傘節”, he said. Better known in English as the many-banded krait, (the literal translation of the Chinese is actually umbrella segments). A monk who was walking up home to the temple stopped to say that he often encounters snakes here lying flat along the bottom edge of a step and that he always brings a stick when he walks the forest paths at night. Many-banded kraits are venemous (actually the most venemous land based snake outside of Australia) and although they are pretty unlikely to bite if unprovoked, they will become defensive if they feel threatened so don’t bother one of you see it. Also, that made a total of two potentially dangerous (but still cute and exciting) animals we’d managed to see in less than five minutes.
Following the path down quickly led us out onto a road where a temple was having its lights turned off for the night. We walked past the temple and then took the right hand fork immediately beyond it. The road leads down a little way before becoming a path once again.
Following the decking downhill led us to Hushan creek, a gentle stream full of vociferous frog, and then eventually back down to the same entrance that we’d started at.
How to get to Tiger Mountain
Google maps address: Sung Shan Tsi Huei Temple, No. 33號, Lane 251, Fude Street, Xinyi District, Taipei City, 110 – this is the temple at the start of the trail. Scooter parking around here should be ok, and there is also a car park.
GPS location: N25 03.185 E121 35.246 – this is the location of the trailhead.
Public transport: it’s easy to walk from Houshanpi MRT station. There’s also a YouBike stand near the trailhead so you could cycle here.
Further reading: there are loads of sites out there which list various locations for firefly spotting. And some with all the best spots over Taiwan mapped out. This Chinese article talks about the ferret badger in Taiwan in quite a bit of depth, however it’s probably not worth much unless you can read in Chinese since the translation is rather special. I particularly enjoyed reading all the ways in which the various names of the animal can be translated: faced racoon, quail, bunnies, small dolphin cat, snail dog, Hu mahi cat, smelly Aberdeen raccoon, beaver painted face, sowing fields pig.
My new words learnt on this hike:
- 毒 / dú / venom – actually there isn’t a distinction made between venom and poison so it could be either.
- 狂犬病 / kuángquǎnbìng / rabies
- 瞪 / dèng / glare (at sth.)
- 踩到 / cǎi dào / step on
- 你在演什麼？ / Nǐ zài yǎn shénme? / What are you playing at?
- ghi guai / (Taiwanese) 奇怪 / strange
- 衣櫃 / yīguì / wardrobe
- 我改變主意了 / wǒ gǎibiàn zhǔyì le / I changed my mind