Hehuanshan: Hiking Taiwan’s Mountain Paradise

With 286 mountain summits over 3000m, Taiwan is a country ripe for hiking. While many of its peaks require serious gear and permits, the Hehuanshan mountain and surrounding area is super accessible, and four peaks can be done in a day. Here’s how to do it.

GETTING THERE

Unlike many trails in Taiwan, the majority in this area do not require permits. This makes life a lot easier, but it does also mean the whole area is much more popular so expect it to be busy, especially at weekends and on public holidays.

Hehuanshan is actually in Taroko National Park, albeit on the far Western side and with easier access from Taichung than Hualien, the closest city to the more commonly used Eastern entrance. Getting there from Taipei is not overly simple. One option is to rent a car in Taipei and make the 300km drive, which will take around 4.5hrs in total. By public transport, take the HSR (high speed rail) to Taichung (1hr, $23USD) or the bus (3hr, $9USD) and then take a bus to Qingjing (which appears to be names after the massive farm in the centre of the village) where you can take another bus up to Wuling (the main bus stop for Hehuanshan) the following day.

Another option: hitchhike! Hitchhiking is very common and safe in Taiwan. Taiwanese people are quite possibly the friendliest and kindest people in Asia (I mean that) are often keen to practice their English with a foreigner too. Even government run transport websites will recommend hitchhiking to foreigners looking for a route not served by public transport!

The last option, if you are really brave, have an arse made of steel and by some miracle find a few days in a row in which it doesn’t rain (Taiwan is a very wet country!), you could also rent a scooter from Taichung and make the 2.5hr drive yourself. It’s a stunningly beautiful road and I thoroughly recommend this option if you have the prerequisites (waterproofs, international licence, steel arse). The road that traverses the Hehuanshan range is the highest road in East Asia. Even the bus ride is amazing, but without a doubt a motorbike is the best way to see this amazing road!

Buses and trains leave from Taipei to Taichung many times a day. From Taichung there are direct buses to Qingjing Farm via Puli. The last bus leaves around midday so you’ll want to arrive in Taichung by 11.30am at the latest. After a stay overnight in Qingjing, you can get a direct bus from there up to Wuling (Hehuanshan bus stop).

There are three buses per day up to Wuling, leaving at 8.30am, 11am and 2.20pm and returning at 9.45am, 12.15pm and 3.35pm. So basically, take the 8.30am bus up there and the 3.35pm bus back. Or better still, hitchhike both ways and save the $$! If you do take the bus, it does get filled up quickly, especially on weekends. I believe you can call up to book a seat (+886 (049) 2984-031) but they only speak Chinese. Best option is to take the bus from as far near to where it starts (Qingjing Farm) as possible, and get there early to queue up (or just hitch).

WHERE TO STAY

The vista from Qingjing

The nearest decent place to stay is without a doubt Qingjing Farm. It’s a cute village with a slightly bizarre European vibe in a fantastic setting on a mountainside surrounded by rolling hills. You’ll find amazing sunrises and sunsets here and it is apparently renowned for it’s stargazing too, although in my experience it was too cloudy to see very much in the evening.

Cotswold Villa

There are plenty of accommodation options in Qingjing. There isn’t really a super-luxury option but I’d say one of the best places is Cotswold Villa and for those on a budget, Mountain Traveler is a solid more affordable option. Both are in excellent locations right on the bus route both from Taichung and to Hehuanshan.

THE HIKE

Assuming you take the bus and arrive at Wuling at around 9.30am and intend to take the 3.35pm bus back to Qingjing, worry not, assuming you’re reasonably fit, this is plenty of time to do four 3000m+ summits.

Right off the bat, head up the hill right next to the bus stop. Hehuanjianshan is a 20 minute up-and-down job and straight away you’ll get a great view of the surrounding mountains, and especially Songsyue Lodge, perched precariously on the nearby mountainside (“isn’t area prone to earthquakes?!” you may be thinking to yourself).

Heading back down the other side, cross the road and head up again, this time to Mount Shimen (Shimenshan). This one is another fairly easy climb – around 1hr up and back – and will take you up to 3237m – so expect to feel the altitude! If you’re here between March and June you might spot some beautiful pink flowers on the side of the mountain (anyone know what these are called?).

Hard to imagine that this was once a ski area!

Heading back towards the bus stop, take a left towards the lodge and follow the trail around until it starts to head up the mountain. This is a harder one; Hehuanshan East Peak (3421m) is a leg burner, but not only will you be treated to spectacular views of the “Asian Alps” but you’ll also get to follow a now defunct and slowly rotting away cable car that used to take skiers up to the top of the mountain – yep, hard to imagine (especially on a blisteringly hot summers day) but this whole area used to be a popular ski resort.

You said it would be easy, Steve. EASY

At the top, take a rest, grab a bite to eat, and soak in the amazing surroundings. This is where you’ll get the best view of the hills around you. Quite a stunner.

Here you have two options to get to the next peak – Hehuan Main Peak – which is the nearest peak at roughly the same altitude. You could hike back the way you came and then head along the road back to the start of the trail.

There is a trail however, technically closed (so say the “DO NOT GO THIS WAY” signs) that takes a huge shortcut straight down the mountain, coming out almost directly opposite the trail that goes up to the Main Peak.

I’ll leave it up to you but we took that trail and it was our favourite trail of the whole day. It’s quite steep and narrow in parts, with a section that leads through the undergrowth on the edge of the forest, but we loved it.

Once you’ve hit the road, walk past the car park on the right and after a couple of hundred metres you’ll see a rocky trail leading up the right side. Head straight up there and eventually you’ll get to your fourth peak of the day – Hehuanshan Main Peak (3417m). It’s another leg burner but well worth it for the fantastic view from the top.

From the top, time to head back to the car park. It’s clearly visible on the other side of the valley, at the base of the East Summit which you climbed earlier. Here you have two options again: head back to the road and then walk along back to Wuling. Or, there is another trail that is technically closed but goes almost directly to the bus stop. Head more or less directly down the hill towards the bus stop and you should hit it. It’s a fairly well maintained path, a bit narrow, steep in parts and a little overgrown at the bottom (as you’ll see in the GIF above) but generally pretty good.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t recommend hiking trails that are closed. Anything you do is at your own risk!

We were back at the car park by 2.30pm, and rather than waiting an hour for the bus, decided to hitch hike. The third car that drove past picked us up, and a lovely Taiwanese couple from Taichung kindly took us to our hotel in Qingjing.

Hehuanshan is without a doubt one of my favourite hiking regions in East Asia, and for me, one day is certainly not enough. I will certainly be back.

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