Located high up in the mountainous forests in the South of Yilan County, Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area is home to spectacular old forests. The park has numerous trails to explore and is well worth the effort it takes to get there. The route detailed here – the Cypress Trail – offers a very easy introduction to this special landscape.
Distance: A little over 1km.
Time: In a large group this took about an hour and a half, but it is really only a 45 minute loop.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 0.5/10 – This isn’t at all difficult, it’s surfaced the whole way and quite short.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 3/10 – Some of the less frequent walkers in our group said the steps were tiring, but even small kids were fine doing this at their own pace.
Total ascent: About 120m.
Water: A single refillable bottle was fine. There is a water dispenser in the service area at the start of the trail, and a coffee shop part way up the central set of stairs where you can secure your caffeine fix.
Shade: Parts are shaded, others not so, although you’re probably more likely to need protection from rain.
Mobile network: Weak but ok.
Enjoyment: Once you get into the foresty parts of the park it is like entering a magical world.
Permit: None needed, but you do need to buy a ticket to enter the park.
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.
Somehow I found myself a guest on a little excursion to Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area which had been jointly organised by Thousand Miles Trail Association and the Forestry Bureau. This was my second time coming into contact with the Forestry Bureau, a year earlier I’d taken part in another of their specially curated events (a three day highlights reel of their ‘Hidden Treasure of Asia’ tour), and although it was the first time I’d met any of the TMI Trail folk, it was definitely not the first time I’d heard of them. Their organisation is a non-profit group which does great work with regards to the preservation of Taiwan’s nature and culture, chiefly where these two things overlap with footpaths. They were the drivers who worked to get the Tamsui Kavalan Trails network re-established, and they’ve been involved in a host of other projects around the island too.
Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area covers a 12,631-hectare swathe of land in the hills just southwest of Yilan. It is accessible by bus from Yilan, and is best known for its diminutive and onomatopoeically named ‘Bong Bong Train,’ and the stunning carpet of moss that lines much of the forest floor. There are a number of trails promoted by park authorities, none of which is longer than 4km, and many of which are a very easy walk through some of the prettiest forest you will ever see.
For our casual walk, the bus stopped a little way up the road and we walked the remaining distance to Taipingshan Villa Service Station. Here you can pick up maps, use the bathroom, fill up your water bottle and solicit advice from the workers and volunteers who staff the centre.
Beside the visitor centre you’ll find the bottom of a 500-step flight of stairs. During our late March visit, we were able to see some of the white Taipingshan cherry trees in blossom, but if we’d visited a few weeks later in April we could have seen the bright red leaves of the maple trees which flank the steps. The stairs are a relic left over from Taipingshan’s first life as a mountainside logging village when the site had offices and dormitories built precariously on the steep slope.
As well as being a path to the past, the steps are your gateway to a few of the Taipingshan trails:
- Cypress Forest Trail (檜木原始林步道) – this is the one we walked
- Taiwan Hemlock Forest Nature Trail (鐵杉林自然步道)
- Maosing Reminiscing Trail (茂興懷舊步道) – actually there are two trails over here
The first two can be accessed on foot from here, but the last one involves a trip on the Bong Bong train. (No pre-booking possible, you just have to turn up and purchase tickets, and our guides said they sell out quickly. You can check the park’s website for more details about timing and price.)
If you’re less of a reader and more of a watcher then you will enjoy this video from Taiwan Everything about their experience of riding the train.
Those planning on catching a ride need to look out for the train tracks branching away on the right of the path. You’ll also find a couple of decommissioned train carriages to pose in front of if you’re into photo ops.
TheRE was no train journey in our itinerary, and so we continued up the steps. In case you had already forgotten that you have 500 steps to go, you’ll find handy reminders of how many steps you’ve already passed screwed into the path.
As the steps near this archway, you will find yourself passing the various buildings that make up Taipingshan Villa (on the right), as well as the recently renovated Taipingshan Heritage Centre (on the left). The latter is housed in a painstakingly reconstructed replica of the 1937 original, built in the Japanese style using the fragrant cypress wood that was logged from this area. Look carefully at the wooden archway above the steps and you might notice that the older Japanese-style torii gate has been modified by the addition of a tiled roof to better match the local style.
Steps curve around to either side of the temple’s front doors and the colours were just exquisite in the diffuse light.
A clearing at the top of the stairs is filled with the bright red, wooden structure of Zhen’an Temple (鎮安宮). Formerly Jialuo Shrine, it was moved to its current location in 1937 and has been renovated again since then. You can still visit the site of the original shrine, and it’s a walk that I’ve had on my “to-do” list for the longest time.
Moving on to a clearing a little beyond the temple make sure to look up to the tree tops – hidden on one of the branches is a kind of secret feature of the park: a knot of wood said to resemble the shape of a praying Madonna.
From here on out the trees become the star of the show, they’re magnificent.
An abandoned viewing platform slowly being reclaimed by the moss. Taipingshan has been a forest recreation area since 1983, and it seems park authorities have gradually grown into their role as environmental guardians. Now, new trails and facilities are all constructed with materials designed to have minimal impact on the park’s ecosystem.
The Cypress Trail is a small loop that leads you up a little way through cypress forest before all too shortly turning back around and taking you back down again. We did an anti-clockwise loop, but it doesn’t really matter which way you tackle it.
Perhaps the most breathtaking part of this trail is the abundance of moss and lichen draped over every untrodden surface. It is greener than green and the air feels impossibly clean. One reason for the lushness of the forest here is that Taipingshan has a year-round humidity level of 85% or higher – the east coast’s rainy microclimate does have at least one benefit.
A volunteer guide walking with us said that this is Yushan rhododendron (玉山杜鵑), one of a handful of rhododendron species that bloom in the park every spring.
When we reached the next junction we took a sharp left and started to make our descent. (The footpath continuing up is the Chinese Hemlock Trail.) I need to come back so that I have more time to explore a little further into the park. (I’ve since walked the Hemlock Trail, but I have yet to enjoy all that Taipingshan has to offer.)
The return part of the walk is just as pretty as the climb up had been. The photos really do not do it justice.
A tiny flower growing out from the forest’s mossy carpet.
An alternative branch of the Chinese Hemlock Trail joins from the right, but we continued to make our way down the steps.
By the time we made it back to the start of the loop, the other people in our group were already heading back down to the temple.
Looking down the central steps from in front of Zhen’an Temple.
We stopped halfway down the steps to have lunch at the park’s restaurant, and sat close to the window to watch the famous “Sea of Clouds” roll in. By the time we’d finished our meal, the whole area was enveloped in a thick layer of mist.
I was genuinely sad to be leaving the park after such a short time and will definitely be back to explore further.
When to visit Taipingshan
The park is open year-round, and is beautiful in any season, but the area is prone to heavy rain, so check the weather forecast before your visit. The park is open to guests from 8am to 9pm daily, and you should aim to arrive early if you want to see some views before the afternoon clouds roll in.
Tickets can be bought at the entrance to the park and cost $200 for a regular visitor on holidays and $150 on weekdays. There are concessions available for people over 60, kids under 6 years old, and people with some types of disability. There are also fees for parking (cars $100, scooters $20). For more information, you can check here.
Staying in Taipingshan
The park has accommodation in the form of Taipingshan Villa (which is actually five separate buildings, each named after a species of conifer). As of 2022, prices range from $1200 for a bunk in a four-bed dorm to $9800 for an eight-bed room. They can be booked through this website as far as two months in advance, but rooms tend to sell out early.
How to get to Taipingshan
Google maps address: Taipingshan is accessed by driving inland from Yilan, then crossing the vast expanse of Lanyang River and driving up Taiping Forestry Road. You’ll have to stop at the toll booth to pay the entrance and parking fee, then continue up the road for quite a way until you reach the carpark. The walk itself starts from in front of Taipingshan Villa Service Station.
GPS location: N24 29.545 E121 32.205
Public transport: Kuo-kuang Motor Transport (also known as King Bus) run the 1750 once-a-day service which picks up passengers from Yilan Transfer Station at 7:40am and Luodong Transfer Station at 8:00am. The bus makes its return journey from Taiping Villa (where this walk starts) at 2:30pm with an hour long stop at Jiuzhize (鳩之澤, also often spelled Jiouzhihze) on the way back. If you’re planning to walk more than one of the trails then you should definitely look into staying at the park in order to make the most of the trip.
Other trails in Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area:
- Cueifeng Lake Circular Trail
- Jancing Historic Trail
- Maosing Loop Trail
- Maosing Main Trail
- Taiwan Hemlock Trail
Taipingshan Cypress Trail Map
GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)
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