Hiking in Taipei: A sea of green within a sea of buildings
Surrounded by densely wooded hills, Taipei offers an abundance of wonderful hikes and views. While the panorama from Elephant Mountain is justly famous, the (frankly quite boring) main ascent up there has become a tourist hotspot, so I prefer to stretch my legs elsewhere.
For example on this half-day hike that offers many surprises. It takes you east all along the ridges on the northern edge of Neihu, starting near MRT Jiantan (捷運劍潭站) and finishing near MRT Xihu (捷運西湖站).
Start off by climbing the hill just behind Yuanshan Grand Hotel, and you’ll soon have nice views across Shilin and Guandu towards Guanyinshan (觀音山) on the other side of the Tamsui River.
Get these books if you live in Taipei
I followed the invaluable advice of Richard Saunders, hiker and nature lover extraordinaire, whose Taipei Escapes books have inspired me to spend many a day out and about instead of being stuck in the city.
This Shilin to Neihu ridge walk is walk no. 24 in volume 2.
The hill behind Yuanshan Grand Hotel
The path at first leads through a wooded hillside area full of temples, badminton courts and rest spots that seems popular with elderly residents. It’s quite charming, and I could easily spend a whole afternoon just here.
As for the views, they offer some new perspectives on Taipei’s topography. This is a spot near the confluence of the Keelung (foreground) and Tamsui (background) rivers.
For whatever reason, there used to be a military presence on these hills that are not exactly Taiwan’s first line of defense. I came across several abandoned pillboxes and guard houses.
“Attack the communists, go to the Mainland.” Maybe they call this spot “Battle Tank Rock”?
It always amazes me how many of these little makeshift rest huts have been built in Taipei’s mountains, how lovingly they have been equipped with chairs and clocks (no hut without one!), and how most of them are still kept halfway usable. It’s a constant struggle against decay, dirt and vegetation.
Seeing the city from a distance
From this spot I had a good view of the narrow land brigde where the Keelung and Tamsui rivers almost touch each other.
This is where Shilin’s Shezi neighborhood becomes the Shezidao (社子島) peninsula
Leaving behind the badminton court/temple area, I quickly felt pretty secluded up here, surrounded by the city to my left and right, but sheltered by vegetation in largely unspoilt woodland.
Again looking back towards Zhishan and the slopes of Yangmingshan in the background, I could see the Minge and Shipai MRT stations neatly lined up (center right in the photo). I also realized that these northern parts of Taipei City have been heavily developed, with many residential highrises between Chengde Rd. (承德路) and the red MRT line.
The path passed by a place called “The Old Spot” (老地方觀影平台), a viewing platform with an unobstructed view south: Songshan Airport (松山國際機場), the Taipei 101 and the multiple layers of mountain ranges beyond.
Again, long stretches of the path didn’t feel like being in Taipei at all. At this point, I had probably spend a little more than an hour since my ascent behind the Grand Hotel.
A chance to end the hike early
The complete hike I am describing here takes more than four hours, so you probably won’t make it back into the city in time for lunch. If that’s too long, just after “The Old Spot” there’s a convenient set of steps down that ends up near Tongbei St. behind the Air Force HQ and near MRT Dazhi.
In German/auf Deutsch: In den Hügeln um Taipeh warten die schönste Erlebnisse
This time, however, I decided to go on and was rewarded with some good views of Dazhi and the Miramar Shopping Mall with its ferris wheel.
I also liked this view on the housing development with baby blue/pink pastel-colored roofs (I guess early 1990s) that had often caught my eye when cycling along Keelung River.
Follow the dirt trails
Following the instructions in Richard Saunder’s books, I followed a winding mountain road for a while when the hiking trail ended, and then took an inconspicuous dirt trail (those are always the most fun!) which, after a while, led to a place with a wonderful view north.
You can clearly see the National Palace Museum (故宮) embedded in the mountainside where the largest part of the collection is stored in undergrounds facilities. I also noticed a building I had never seen before, in the right of the picture: The monumental hillside Taipei Koxinga Temple (開臺聖王成功廟).
Here’s a look inside (not mine).
This place could well be worth an excursion of its own, the view from the platform seems to be spectacular.
The deeper the path led into the woods, the more spiders I saw. This was an impressively well-fed specimen.
I really liked those rolled-up fern fronds. Nature is wonderfully inventive.
The hike went on quite a while from here, along quiet mountain roads, eventually turning onto yet another dirt trail with some steep ascents and descents along the way.
Hang out with the Instagram crowd
A little more than four hours after starting out, having followed a long winding stone paved path, I arrived at Jinmianshan (金面山). This has become a popular spot for photographers, selfie-enthusiasts and young couples. Similarly to Battleship Rock (軍艦岩) north of Tianmu, it’s comparatively easy to reach (if approached from the other side) and offers quite spectacular perspectives, especially from the rocky outcrop called Scissor Rock/Jiandaoshishan (剪刀石山).
I took these last two pics a few months earlier. Since I had already been up here a few times, having started out from the south or east instead of the west, I decided to skip the peak this time and started my long descent towards Neihu and MRT Xihu just before climbing the last bit towards Scissor Rock.
If you go further, you’ll have the choice of climbing down Jinmian Mountain via an old Qing-era quarry. This route is not too difficult thanks to some ropes and handrailings in strategic places, but feels quite exhilarating.
I ultimately ended up at the same spot at the base of the mountains, at Lane 136 of Huanshan Rd. Sec. 1 (環山路一段136巷).
Discover Taipei’s great outdoors
So here you have it – a really worthwhile way to spend a half-day exploring new sides of Taipei, get close to nature and gaze down on the city from a distance, without really ever leaving it.
Looking at the map and realizing I had just covered the approximate distance from Taipei Main to Songshan Station, but in more challenging and so much nicer surroundings, gave me a feeling of accomplishment.
Every time I complete a little hike like this, I am glad that Taipei is a city that offers so many opportunities and unspoilt, quiet places. You just need to know where to start.
What are your favourite hikes in or near Taipei?
English posts you might want to have a look at:
- Discovering Taipei’s history on a special walking tour
- Urban renewal vs. traditional Taipei in Wanhua
- How Taiwan’s cities can be made less ugly by renovating old buildings
- How the Taipei Dome robbed citizens of a second forest park