Distance: about 9km without the unnecessary diversion that we went on – the first time we turned back after finding that the trail was a little less maintained than we wanted to tackle, and again when we turned the wrong way upon reaching the road.
Time: 5½-6 hours without our diversions. We walked for 6½ hours, and took an extra half hour break to eat in Sanxia old street.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hikers): 4/10 – for uneven terrain and not great signage, but given that it is a ridge walk, it’s not that difficult to stay on the right track.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hikers): 7/10 – this walk probably won’t be beyond you physically if you’re not a regular hiker, but it might feel a bit too long to be fun – especially if you haven’t got the right kind of footwear. Likewise, with few signs written in English, it is going to be tough to navigate if you’re not used to finding your way around the hills of Taiwan.
Total ascent: 540m between a low point of 43m and a highest elevation of 299m.
Water: I took about 1.5L, but didn’t get through all of it. There are plenty of stores in Sanxia where you can top up as you near the end of the walk.
Shade: the ridge section was very shaded, the road section was the opposite.
Mobile network: mostly ok, but a few black spots.
Enjoyment: I had hoped to do a ridge loop and return back along the ridge across the valley, but it seems that this route is a lot less traversed than the northern ridge which meant that we had to give up and road walk back. Road walking through little villages is something I enjoy quite a lot too, but since I’d gone hoping for all ridges, it was a bit of a disappointment. Also, compared to other ridge walks that you can do around Taipei, this is not the most spectacular. Additionally, we had prepared lunch and packed everything except for the cooler component of our gas stove, so I was a bit irritated by my own incompetence.
Other: gloves are a probably good idea.
Yuan Shan Trail Map
GPX file available here.
With a national holiday approaching, we’d been watching the weather for the past week, and with it looking set to be a drizzly National Day, we didn’t plan to head too far beyond Taipei. The ridge just south of Sanxia looked like a reasonable compromise. This was actually the second attempt to walk this, (the first time we’d started too late and underestimated the terrain, so we’d had to cut it short), but once again our plans were cut somewhat short by the realisation that we’d left one integral part of our cooking kit at home.
Parking our scooter up next to the giant bell and public toilets, we made our way to the start of the trail.
The best view of the whole walk is a short scramble up from the start, many little trails lead up the slope to the lookout point here. This is also the furthest point that many people manage to walk to.
Coming back down the hill, the path continues straight for a way. It is a pleasantly challenging walk; small ups and downs keep you paying attention, but there is nothing to make you too out of breath.
The path reaches an exercise area/view point/rest stop. The last time we came here, there was a black cat prowling around like he was the king of the jungle, but he wasn’t in attendance on this day.
In some places, the steps are formed by tree roots which are just about managing to hold in the mud – this earthy step had been colonised by dainty, pale latte-coloured mushrooms.
A sign to the left of one shelter indicates the times remaining before you are likely to arrive at several points along the way. We didn’t stop at the shelter because it was full of noisy older hikers.
Pressing straight on, we arrived at the third shelter so far. This one was pretty extensive, it had cooking equipment and an exercise area where at least two people were busy hanging upside down. We paused briefly at a table to drink a little before moving on.
Its actually only a very short distance to yuan Shan peak (鳶山), a matter of just metres. This is probably only one of two views along this hike, and if I’m honest, the one right at the start is the most photogenic.
Immediately after leaving yuan shan, the path splits in two. The right hand path veers downhill to a trailhead on Maobu Road. So we took the left trail on the left.
Again, very soon the trail forks. This time we went left again, but actually both paths merge again after a little under a kilometre, (although the right side is a bit longer and takes you down a little before coming up again). *
Just beyond the split comes proof that you’re on the right track with this sign indicating where you’re headed.
*When you meet the trail again, it comes at you head on, almost as if it has come from the opposite direction. Again, head left, keep looking out for signs directing you towards 五十分山.
Same thing at the next junction, keep heading towards 五十分山.
We came upon another shelter/exercise area, and at precisely that point we heard some loud aeroplanes fly overhead – presumably on their way to or from the 10/10 performance. This walk didn’t give us the clear vantage point that we’d had from the walk we did on 10/10 last year.
Leaving the rest area, (which was again full of loud people), the path gets a bit steeper as it starts to head down.
Continue down until you reach a road, (more like a farm track really). It’s not marked on the map as being a road. If you’re feeling tired, you could head back a little early by turning left down here. But to continue the walk, go straight over and up the path on the far side.
This little stretch of path looks to have been quite well maintained at one point, although it’s perhaps a little neglected these days.
Just a short way later, the path arrived at 五十分山 and we were rewarded with the third view of the walk. Here, the peak overlooks Dahan river as it feeds into Yuanshan lake. Beyond that is the Bade district of Taoyuan City, (where the curious can go and enjoy the delights of the Kimlan Soy Sauce Factory Museum).
We headed straight on from the peak and started so see these old signs advising us that it was just 30 minutes until we would be down on the road again.
At a junction, the path goes straight on and down to the left. Initially we tried to head straight on, but the path clearly hadn’t been walked for a while because huge orb weaver webs were strung between the trees at face height, and the trail became markedly harder to follow. This made walking not such a pleasant experience, so we decided to give up, return to the junction and go down the path on the left instead.
Almost immediately, the path becomes a farm track which clearly hasn’t been maintained (save for someone coming in with a machete to cut back the weeds) for an awful long time. At a clearing with an eerily placed white plastic chair, a sign points a little to the left and says to continue downhill towards the bus stop.
The road passes through small groves of betel nut trees which also look untended to, and we were dazzled by several species of butterfly. The road surface here was so slippery from disuse that I took to shuffling down in a kind of crouch in order to avoid slipping. I think Teresa did slip at one point.
As the track zigzags back towards civilisation, there are several murals on the walls depicting various aspects of local agricultural and industry. This is normal in Taiwan, communities and individuals decorate a multitude of surfaces that would be just left as they are back home, and generally these additions veer towards a saccharine-cute aesthetic. However, in this case, the artist’s best intentions were derailed by the texture of the wall. His or her creations were more uncanny than cute – the rocks protruding from the designs like tumours. Teresa told me off for laughing.
A chain strung across the road marks the end of the slippery surface. We didn’t see anyone here, but this house is definitely still lived in.
We continued walking down the road until we met a small lake and a couple of houses. A noisy puppy ran from the house across the road to bark at us until Teresa won him over with her dog whisperer powers, and one of the residents was drying something on sheets of plastic laid out on the road. Initially my sense of direction failed me so we turned right and walked quite a way up the road before realising that we should have gone left. Also, we just missed the one bus, but since we hadn’t expected there to be any bus, that wasn’t really a loss.
For a while we were accompanied by a couple of local residents and their dog (who kept following us despite being told repeatedly to go home). They were walking a little way down the road to tend to their land, so we lost them after a while, but the disobedient dog just kept on going where she wanted to. The road was flanked my small farms, old houses and the occasional factory. This house looked to have been done up relatively recently which is not all that common a sight – the vast majority of these brick houses are in a state of disrepair, which is sad really since they are infinitely more attractive than most new builds here.
There were a couple of small temples along the road, although I can’t remember if the others were along this part, or the wrong part. This one is along the right part.
Just before the road winds through a cemetery, a group of men sat next to the road playing mahjong. We almost got past them unannounced, but it wasn’t to be. One noted his companions to our presence and quickly everyone was staring at the foreigner.
As the road starts to enter into the outskirts of Sanxia, a cat sat high up on one of the graves, it was every bit as curious about our progress as the mahjong players. Just off to the right, some snuffling drew our attention to a big old pig in a pen. City girl, Teresa, was enchanted.
We turned right onto Datong road and followed that until reaching the junction with Minquan street.
At Minquan Street, we headed left towards Sanxia old street where we picked up some food here to see us over until we got back to Taipei proper, and then started the long trek back up the road to where we’d parked. At this point I was wishing that we had parked further down and walked up at the start, but then maybe not. Perhaps we’d never have made it up there in the first place.
How to get to Yuan Shan Trail
Google maps address: Guangfu Memorial Bell, 237, New Taipei City, Sanxia District – there is space for quite a few cars and scooters here. You should also use the toilet before you go because you won’t find any for quite a long way.
GPS location: N24 55.880 N121 21.320
Public transport: the 932 and 910 buses both go from Banciao Station to Sanxia, you’ll have to walk from the bus stop to the trail head, but that way at least you won’t have to walk up it at the end like we did.
The route information for the local bus service is here, I know there are only services at set times, but I can’t seem to find out when they are.
Further reading: there isn’t anything in English that I can find about this walk, but there is plenty written in Chinese. The people who wrote this post seem to have gone the same way we did.
My new words learnt on this hike:
- 廢物 / fèiwù / useless or crap (when used about a person – apparently there is another meaning though)
- 反應 / fǎnyìng / interpretation, translation or reaction – I heard this in the question “他給你什麼反應?”, as in “How did she see it?”, (at least that’s what I think it meant).
- 部分 / bùfèn / part – I hear two versions of this very often, the one which is easiest to understand is 大部分 which is like for the most part/mostly in English. For example “他們大部分都可以說法文“, or “Most of them can speak French”. Similarly 一部分 is like some of/a part of in English – “這家餐廳有一部分是賣素的‘ or “some of what this restaurant sells is vegetarian”. The one that I find hardest to understand is 的部分, which is used to specify which part or part of what.
- 瞪 / dèng / stare – I learnt this in the context of 你被瞪了.
- 高調 and 低調 / gāodiào and dīdiào / high profile or flashy and low profile or low key. We walked past a Ford Focus with some rather resplendent, iridescent blue and purple paint, and Teresa described the car as being 太高調 for her tastes.
- 虐待 / nüèdài / mistreat or abuse – I cannot remember why this came up.
- 自助 / zìzhù / self-service, as in the style of restaurant where you pick up what you want then get it weighed. (Personally I think I will be unable to remember this correctly as it is already getting mixed up in my head with spider/zhīzhū.)
- 眼睫毛 / yǎnjiémáo / eyelashes
- 陰毛 / yīnmáo / public hair – because why not after learning about eyelashes?