Over 20% of Taiwan is made up of protected land – either in the form of a national park, forest or state reserve – and a further 30% is made up of forest. The country, it seems, is made for hiking.
Taiwan has a well-established network of hundreds of hiking trails, and the vast majority do not require a guide. Hiking tracks are rarely crowded, and visitors are more likely to meet rambling locals than other international visitors. When to go?
While it is possible to hike in the 'Heart of Asia' throughout the year, the conditions are at their best in the autumn (late August to early October) when the weather is slightly cooler and the air drier. Am I fit enough?
The choice of hiking routes is vast: ranging from gentle walks to extreme treks (like bagging the 3,952m Jade Mountain), and spanning a number of different climates from tropical to alpine. Shei-Pa National Park (Shutterstock)
Wuling Sixiu Trail, Shei-Pa National Park (north Taiwan)
This trail takes 3-4 days to complete and is one of the most challenging treks in Taiwan. Based in Shei-Pa National Park
, the Wuling Sixiu is a group of four mountains, all of which are scaled and descended on this trek.
The trail kicks off with a 1,500m climb, after which you'll be rewarded with a view of the 'sea of clouds' above the Yilan Plain, before continuing up to Taoshan – the peak of Mount Tao – which is 3,324m above sea-level. Stay here for the night.
The trail continues to the top of Mount Chiyou, which boasts sweeping panoramas across Shei-Pa National Park. Spend the second night here, enjoying views of the Milky Way if the sky is clear.
In the morning, earlybirds will witness a dramatic sunrise above the Central Mountain Range, before heading on to Mount Pintian. Towering 3,524m above sea-level, the last stretch of the trail is roughly 300m long and requires a strong nerve as it involves a number of narrow pathways, as well as fixed-rope sections with sheer drops.
It is strongly advised that those wishing to follow the Wuling Sixiu trail do so with a qualified guide. Taroko National Park (Shutterstock)
Zhuilu Old Trail, Taroko National Park (east Taiwan)
The 10.3km Zhuilu Old Trail traverses Taroko National Park
, and is one of the most easily-accessible hiking trails in Taiwan.
The trail leads hikers along the only remaining section of the old Hehuan Mountain Road that is still intact. At its most challenging part, it skirts along the side of the 1,100m-high Zhuilu Cliff, where you can walk along a ledge that is just 60cm wide at its narrowest point. The trail boasts bird's-eye views of the Liwu River, which lies a vertigo-inducing 500m below. A number of hikers have been known to abandon their plans at the sight of where they are going!
Those looking for a gentler version of the Zhuilu Old Trail might want to consider the Lushui-Holiu Trail, which is just 2km long and gives the same spectacular views of the gorge, without the extreme cliff edges!
The Zhuilu Old Trail was reopened in 2008 on a permit-basis only. Please note that applications for the permit must be made at least a week in advance. See the Taroko National Park
website for details.
The Beidawushan Trail (south Taiwan)
Beidawushan is the most southerly mountain in Taiwan, reaching over 3,000m above sea-level at its peak. This trail, which is 10km in length, is one of the most popular overnight hikes in Taiwan, as the majority of the trail is easy to follow and it promises some incredible panoramic views.
The Beidawushan Trail begins at an elevation of 1,520m and the majority of the path is clear and simple to follow. The second day of the trail includes a number of narrow ridges, as well as rope sections. You'll also encounter a 1,000-year-old red cedar tree that is 25m in circumference, as well as Japanese-era shrines and rare forests of hemlock spruce. The trail ends at the summit of Beidawushan, from which you can observe both the Pacific Ocean and the Taiwan Strait on a clear day.
The Beidawushan Trail does require transport to reach and while the journey to the trailhead may be complicated, the trail itself and the views are bound to make up for it. Yushan National Park - Zhang Zhing Temple (Shutterstock)
The Yushan Peaks Trail, Yushan National Park (west Taiwan)
The Yushan Peaks Trail is incredibly popular with visitors to Taiwan as it is suitable for anyone of average fitness. The route threads through Yushan National Park
and leads to the main Yushan Peak (Jade Mountain).
On the first day of the trail to the main Yushan Peak, you'll encounter views of the Cishan River, and the myriad flora that Taiwan boasts – including rare hemlock forests and collections of dwarf bamboo.
After an early start on the second day (essential if you want to reach the summit for sunrise), you'll find that as the altitude increases, forests are replaced by fields of rhododendron and juniper, as well as lichens and hardy plants at the peak. From here, you can continue by foot on to the Yushan West, North and South peaks.
You don't need a guide for this trail, but you must pick up a pass from the Paiyun Visitor Centre
before you set off. Main image: Suspension footbridge crossing Taroko Gorge National Park (Shutterstock)