It doesn’t seem to matter how long I’ve been here, the hills between Nangang and Keelung always seem to hold sites that are (to me at least), new and undiscovered – the quiet loop around Ruyi Lake for example, or the rural charm of Wudu’s Lion’s Head Mountain, or the unexpected peace of Yuemei Cave Temple. The trail and temple featured in this post definitely fall into the same category of unexpected and all the more enjoyable because of it.
Distance: Around 2km, although barely felt like it.
Time: You can cover the ground within an hour if you’re not interested in stopping, I spent two hours here and had a leisurely look at the temple, as well as a slow walk around the trails.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 0.5/10 – There are some steps, that’s it.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – As well as there being a few steps, it might feel a little hard to get to if you’re not too familiar with using public transport in Taiwan.
Total ascent: Less than 100 metres.
Water: A single refillable bottle will suffice, the temple has water dispensers.
Shade: I went on a very gloomy day, but I’d imagine that on sunny days I would have needed a little extra protection from the sun.
Mobile network: Clear throughout.
Enjoyment: This is probably the closest and easiest place to see red autumn leaves if you’re based in Taipei. Aside from it’s brief period of seasonal popularity each year, the temple itself is well worth a visit, and the trails are simple and pleasant. (If you’re looking for high energy adventure maybe head a little further up the road to Xin Shan.)
When to see the red leaves: The maple viewing season is usually in November and December – keep an eye on the location tag for 汐止拱北殿 to see when the leaves start turning (but bear in mind that not all of the photos you’ll see there are entirely true to life).
Permit: None necessary.
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.
Buses stop at Gongbei Temple Intersection, right in front of the much less elaborate Chongde Temple (崇德宮). Take the left fork heading uphill next to a rock bearing the name of Gongbei Temple.
If you prefer a gentler start you can stay on the road as it curves upwards, otherwise, take the steps on the left.
At the top of the steps bear right, and you can either choose to walk up through the carpark or head down the road to pick up the next bit of trail.
I opted for the latter and followed the road down until I saw these tori lanterns lining the steps up to the temple.
Take the lantern-lined trail up as far as it goes. I stopped to admire the lanterns on my way past and found both of them to be hosts to a huge number of different insect species.
The steps end up in the carpark, and even on a Monday morning it was quite busy. I imagine that if you go out of season you’re unlikely to find it like this though. Looking up in the direction of the temple you can see there are two side-by-side paths to choose from.
I took the one which goes through a fancy gate. Why? No reason in particular, it just made me feel grand.
The refined-looking structure that greets you at the top of the steps now is a 1960s rebuild of an earlier wooden temple. In fact, it’s the fourth iteration of the temple, and if you’re interested in this kind of thing, you can find lots of black and white photos of the construction process at the top of the stairs by the entrance to the temple – I enjoyed the shots of women in white dresses looking elegant even as they engaged in manual labour.
This most recent rebuild draws more heavily on the Chinese temple architectural style, but there are a few touches (like the lanterns flanking the path) that hint that this temple was already receiving visitors during Taiwan’s period of Japanese occupation.
To access the trails from this side, the quickest way is through the temple. Enter through the righthand door (look for the signs saying “入口”). When I visited they were installing a new glass roof over the central courtyard, but visitors were still free to wander around. And it’s a very good temple to wander in, there are connecting walkways, side chambers, lots of places to take a look at. In particular, I noticed an abundance of plant life, there is clearly a green-fingered custodian working here.
Enshrined within is Lü Dongbin as well as the rest of the eight immortals, and several other deities. Like most temples, this one has an origins story which adds a little human interest to the place. In 1901 several residents of Beigang (near present-day Wudu) heard of the prosperity of Muzha’s Zhinan Temple (then called Xian Gong Temple/仙公廟), and wanted a piece of that wealth for their community. They made the trip to Muzha to petition the temple’s deity – Lü Dongbin – for his permission to set up an affiliated temple in their neighbourhood. The immortal consented, so a small temple was set up in a Beigang teahouse, and it did indeed prove to be effective, attracting many believers and constantly filled with the smell of incense. Five years later, a visiting spiritual medium was overcome with messages from the gods and jumped onto one of the tables, right there in the tea house, and began hitting it repeatedly until it broke. It was then proclaimed that the temple needed to be rebuilt higher up on the hill by Sanxiu Shan (三秀山). And so that is why you can find it here now.
I decided to do an anti-clockwise loop, finishing at the double-arched bridge, so I headed for the exit at the right of the temple. You’ll find water dispensers here, as well as a cage full of young orchids. The trail continues through the steps to the front, but it’s definitely worth taking a brief detour up to Baxian Cave (八仙洞).
There is a balcony with great views over the rest of the temple’s eaves.
And on clear days I’m pretty sure you can see quite a long way south.
The main altar of Baxian Cave Temple is behind glass – looking at the reflection you can see the mountain view enjoyed by the deities within.
But the real reason you should take the time to visit is that there is a little tunnel running from the righthand side hall, behind the main altar, and out into the left hall. If you are as childish as me, then it will be irresistible. (Just make sure you go in through the entrance door “入口” and out through the exit door “出口“.)
After heading through the temple tunnel, I returned to the exit by the base of the stairs and made a start on the hiking trail.
Right beside the temple you can find a seating area with views over Beigang Stream’s valley. The temple has really gone to town with the maple theme – there are maple leaf-shaped cut-outs punched through all of the fence panels. To take the longest possible route around the trails, take the lower path on the right (it is still short whichever way you do it).
There’s one more junction on the left, ignore it and keep heading straight.
At the end of the stone trail take a left turn and start to climb the steps.
There is a longer route here which I’m going to have to come back and explore another day. It heads up towards Beigang Shan (北港山), before splitting off in three directions and definitely looks promising.
The steps soon pass one of the two earlier trails joining from the left, but keep going all the way up to the top.
The highest point of the trail is marked by this pavilion – I passed straight on by on account of the fact that it was full of noisy retirees.
Despite being the highest point, the pavilion isn’t actually on top of Sanxiu Shan. To find the peak, you need to take those steps carved into the sandstone right in the middle of the two more established paths. (Later on, take the trail on the right to get down towards the bridge.)
Sanxiu Shan is maybe ten metres off the main path marked by a loose triangulation stone and a summit name board, and that’s about all there is to see.
Whilst the peak itself was underwhelming, I did get to see this interesting creature – checking on iNaturalist suggests that it is some type of scorpionfly (something I previously had no knowledge of).
After heading down from Sanxiu Shan make sure to take the trail leading towards the bridge (the righthand trail from two photos up).
Keep a lookout for a flight of narrow steps leading down through an avenue of trees on the left. The large amount of people gathered here should let you know that this is the popular photography spot.
This stand of trees had the greatest amount of red leaves that I saw on my trip, although maybe there are more elsewhere if you go earlier in the season.
These steps lead down to ‘the’ view of the bridge that most visitors like to photograph. I can understand why, it’s not a commonly seen bridge design in Taiwan, and the leaves around it really do make it photogenic.
Some visitors take their photography very, very seriously.
There is a way down to the bridge from the previous vantage point, but it seems like it is one that has been carved out by people too lazy to walk the whole way rather than walk the way that the park management wants them to go, so it’s best to return up to the main trail and follow it as it curves downhill past another pavilion. (These steps joining from the right lead back up to the main pavilion.)
A couple enjoying the autumn colours.
As well as the pavilion, there is this octagonal viewing platform without a view (it also has benches below it if you’re more into skulking).
The bridge itself is more of a decorative feature than a practical one, and whilst most people choose to cross over it, you’ll find it almost as easy to slip through a gap to the right and just walk to the far side.
A view of the bridge from the temple side. There are a couple of benches here too – I think most people come to picnic and enjoy the scenery rather than to do any serious walking.
Head back towards the temple and through the door next to this concrete chimney. The door takes you into a hallway which accesses the main temple, the toilets and a function hall.
This might be a strange thing to say, but the toilets were kind of beautiful, all cream tiles, mirrors and open spaces, but dated. Take a look if you have time. The empty function hall was also rather aesthetically pleasing in its own way. Even the lone pile of dog turd in front of the stage appeared to have been arranged…
Through the windows of the hall you can see more red leaves framing the view of the carpark.
More red leaf detailing on one of the temple’s stairways.
From the stairs you can look down over the covered walkway leading up to the temple and the tree which stands guard over it.
Before making my way back to the starting point, I stepped out to take a look at the front balcony.
From here it’s easy to just retrace your steps back to the carpark or the bus stop.
I took the second path, the one that’s guarded by lions and multiple lanterns (presumably moved to their current resting place when part of the path was restored or moved).
A single maple leaf floating on the pool at the base of the steps.
How to get to Gongbei Temple
Google maps address: The main part of the walk starts from Gongbei Temple (拱北殿), No. 88號, Section 3, Xiwan Rd, Xizhi District, New Taipei City, 221. There’s more than enough parking here for both cars and scooters on normal days, but judging by the popularity of this spot, I imagine that peak season weekends might be a little busy.
GPS location: N25 05.615 E12138.495
Public transport: There are several buses which will get you to the trailhead. For both of the options below you’ll need to alight at the Gongbei Temple (or Gongbei Temple Intersection) stop (拱北殿(拱北殿路口).
- From Xizhi Train Station you can catch the 587 (every 30-50 minutes) or the 890 (only five times a day). Buses depart from the opposite side of the road to the station.
- From Nangang Train Station you can catch the 896 (roughly every 30 minutes). Buses leave from the stop on the westbound lane of Civic Boulevard (the part that’s under cover).
- Xin Shan and Dream Lake
- Ruyi Lake and Jinming Shan
- Cuei Lake and Neigou Shan
- Wudu Lion’s Head Mountain
- Yuemei Cave Temple
My new words learnt on this hike:
- 分香 / fēn xiāng / literally ‘split the incense’ this is the process of idol ‘splitting’ whereby the deity of a specific temple is replicated, believed to be cloned, and taken elsewhere in order to establish a new temple. Idols from the newer temples need to be taken back to their ancestral temples in order to maintain their powers.
Gongbei Temple Trail Map
GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)
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