Forest Bathing at its Finest
Walking the Taiwan Hemlock Trail wasn’t originally part of our plans, but after getting up early it seemed like we’d have more than enough time to wedge this in too. And I sure am glad that we did, because I think it was probably my favourite of all of the walks that we did during our trip to Taipingshan National Park.
Distance: About 3km including the walk up the steps from the visitor centre.
Time: 2.5-3 hours at a relaxing pace.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – A bit of a climb, some muddy trail, and the walking is a little harder due to the elevation.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 4/10 – Quite a climb if you’re not used to it, but the path is very clearly marked, so just allocate enough time and you’ll love it.
Total ascent: Around 330m.
Water: 0.5L was enough.
Shade: Nice and shady throughout.
Mobile network: Chunghwa seemed ok, but Taiwan Mobile was week.
Enjoyment: This is one I’d whole-heartedly recommend, I thoroughly loved it. It’s beautiful and not too challenging.
Route type: There and back.
Permit: None needed, but you do need to buy a ticket to get into the National Park.
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.
The walk starts by leading you up the central flight of steps which climb between the visitor centre and Zhen’an Temple. At the time of our visit in mid March, there was a dazzling canopy of bright red leaves lining the steps, since the park’s Japanese maple trees were in their full finery.
Towards the top of the steps we passed Incense Cedar House, our home for the night before, then passed under the lantern-decked arch that spans the trail just below the temple.
Twin flights of steps curve around to either side of Zhen’an Temple, both take you to the same spot. The temple here was actually relocated from elsewhere within old Taipingshan, the loggers bringing their gods with them when they moved on. To the left you can find another toilet block, this is the last one you’ll see for the next couple of hours so make sure to use it. (We saw far too many signs of humans having done their business on the trail during our visit to the park.) From here take the only flight of steps leading onwards and upwards.
This little pocket of Taipingshan has two trails, the Chinese Hemlock Trail and the shorter Cypress Forest Trail (which also seems to go by the name Primitive Forest Trail on some signs and maps). The latter is a brief loop which connects with the Hemlock Trail in several places. Each junction is clearly signposted, and in every case you just need to bear left.
Two more junctions where the Hemlock Trail heads left then straight over.
Beyond this point the atmosphere suddenly seemed a little quieter, a little less populated. I really love the way that the path has been built to accommodate the natural landscape, allowing it to grow and shift almost entirely uninterrupted.
We made our way up to a kind of platform where a carved wooden sign indicated that we’d reached the true start of the Hemlock Trail. An abandoned path is visible further down through the trees on the left, a casualty to either a typhoon or an earthquake.
Right from the get go, it’s clear you’re going to be in for a treat. The trail cuts right through the centre of long-dead trees, almost as if enticing you to step through a portal into another world. From this point on there are no neat raised boardwalks separating you from the dirt, it’s all steps and stepping stones.
Their forms towering above you even in their cut-down state. Many have grown or rotted into intriguing shapes, the kind of thing that would definitely look like a monster if you were wandering around here at night.
At several places along the trail we encountered more Indian ghost pipe flowers, a special kind of chlorophyll-free plant which derives all of its nutrients from host trees.
A little higher up we encountered some of the same slippery stepping ‘stones’ that we’d come across on our jaunt around Cueifeng Lake. These weren’t quite as slippery as the ones over there, but judging by the wide muddy strip to either side, it’s clear that many hikers still prefer to avoid them. I was fascinated by the clumps of moss that have grown over the tree on the right.
We only passed one guy making his way down, and were overtaken by a couple whilst we were stopped to look at some mushrooms. Later on they found this photogenic cluster sprouting from a fallen tree and waited for us to catch up so they could point them out to us.
A shift in trailside flora and an information board indicate that you’ve reached the hemlock forest portion of the walk. The impressively tall trees grow twisted and knobbly, standing tall above the rhododendrons.
The very final hundred metres before the trailtop viewing platform has to be my favourite part. The trees are literally dripping in moss, the bright yellow-green kind which make the whole scene glow like a scene from a fairytale.
A map beside the viewing platform indicates the start of a much longer, tougher multi-day traverse that takes hikers up and over Duomen Shan (多門山) and on to Jialuo Lake (加羅湖).
There was no view from the lookout by the time we arrived, but apparently if the clouds aren’t there you can see Mount Dabajian in the distance.
We spent a while at the top enjoying a little snack, and by the time we were ready to return, the clouds had settled even lower, demonstrating precisely why the mosses are able to thrive up here.
On the way down we only passed another four or five people, this really is a very quiet and peaceful trail.
The downwards journey was far less taxing on the lungs, and ended up being about twenty minutes quicker tham the climb had.
When we rejoined the Cypress/Primitive Forest Trail we chose to swing left and head down one of the alternative paths. They all loop back to Zhen’an Temple in the end, so it doesn’t really matter which one you pick.
Along the way I noticed lots of this type of poo, obviously intentionally laid on the steps for all to see. Given the large number of signs urging visitors not to feed the yellow-throated martens, I’d have to guess that it was left by a territorial marten – although it’s a touch bigger than I would have expected.
Soon we linked back up with the trail that we’d started on, and from there made our way back down the main steps in hunt of lunch.
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
- Cypress Trail
- Jancing Historic Trail
- Maosing Loop Trail
- Maosing Main Trail
Taipingshan Taiwan Hemlock Trail Map:
GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)
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