January Waterfall Updates/Trips

January was one of the busiest and best months I have ever had chasing waterfalls in Taiwan. The combination of great weather and seemingly endless holidays meant that I went camping 13 days on 4 different trips. Overall I visited 20 waterfalls and added 13 more to my waterfall guide.

February is also going to be a great month with the second half of Chinese New Year and the 4 day 2/28 holiday weekend. After that I will be slowing down and concentrating on blog/guide/website/social media updates. I currently have 9 waterfalls (+3 from the Philippines still), 8 hikes, 4 cool campgrounds and many blog posts to write or update. The goal will be to write 1 or 2 a day and try to get all caught up sometime this spring so I can direct my attention to website improvements and building my social media referrals. Instagram and Facebook are going quite well but I have only dabbled in Pinterest a little and haven’t even tried other forms. I find Flipboard particularly interesting and I should establish a Twitter channel but I hate the platform.

January started out with a fantastic 3 day holiday weekend. I first visited Caihong Waterfall 4 years ago but it was getting late and I only saw the 200 meter waterfall from the parking lot. I finally completed the hike and the trail ends at a smaller tier with a stunning swimming hole.

The main focus of the weekend was river tracing up to Sanzhan’s Golden Grotto. I spent all week checking the weather and luckily the temps remained unseasonably warm and the forecast was dry. I had really high expectations for this hike and it exceeded them. This is without a doubt one of my five favorite waterfalls in Taiwan. And I still need to write the waterfall guide and a separate blog for it.

We also visited three other smaller waterfalls that weekend. None of these will be on my favorites list although that is a pretty elite list.

Saguer Waterfall is a nice short hike in Hualien City and Caihong Waterfall (a second Caihong Waterfall) is part of a beautiful and rarely visited valley near Liyutan (Carp Pond).

My favorite was Zimu Waterfall near Mugumuyu in Hualien County. Mugumuyu is famous for its blue waters and swimming holes. It is so famous that they restrict entry to 600 people/day but it was unfortunately closed (and will be closed for awhile) due to a landslide. Outside of the police station I found a map with a mysterious waterfall on it. We checked it out and although the waterfall was small we found a perfect bluegreen swimming hole that Mugumuyu is famous for but without the hassle of a permit.

The following weekend I had planned to stay home but the weather was so nice and I really wanted to see maple trees so I planned a trip to Shimenggu and Shipangu in Chiayi County. Shipangu is a very nice hiking trail with several maple trees alongside the trail. The best spot was at one end of the suspension bridge but it doesn’t compare to back home or in Japan. So far in Taiwan I have seen scattered maples and other trees turn red, orange or yellow but not an entire hillside.

Shimenggu remains one of my favorite day hikes in all of Taiwan. This trail has it all. There is a giant suspension bridge, a deep and long valley, giant bamboo, a beautiful garden at an old farmhouse, maple trees, a waterfall, giant cypress trees, mossy forests and amazing pools. This time we hiked up a hidden canyon and believe that this is the reason that the place is called Shimenggu (Stone Dream Valley). This is a side hike that everyone should do when they visit. I plan on going back this summer when the waterfall in the hidden valley is flowing.

My only Tuesday hike this month with the Southern Taiwan Hiking Group was to Wanan Waterfall. The waterfall is impressively tall falling in 4 tiers but we found a secret butterfly valley (blog coming soon or perhaps someday…). We found at least a dozen different kinds of butterflies and the largest swarm of Maolin’s famous purple butterflies that I have ever seen. There were 100’s of them in the trees.

Every couple of months my junior high school students (4 classes) have a big test at their school and they study for that instead of coming to English class. I barely have any classes to teach that week and I go hiking and camping instead. This time I went to Hsinchu. I had been to Hsinchu twice before but I had a huge list of places I wanted to see and many I wanted to go back to. Yuanyang Valley Waterfall was my first stop. I had been there once before but I was rushed and didn’t go back to the final waterfall.

Next up on the list was one of northern Taiwan’s best waterfalls. Maliguang Waterfall is a long drive from pretty much anywhere but the hike is short and the waterfall is spectacular. They lie about the height though. It isn’t anywhere close to 80 meters tall.

After Maliguang I decided to check out the Guanwu Forest Recreation Area. It is a long drive but a couple of waterfalls have been on my list for years. I stopped at Baxian Waterfall and observed it from really far away since there isn’t a known trail that accesses the bottom. Followxiaofei and I are looking (more him than I…) for info on how to safely get to the bottom since the waterfall looks amazing.

My main goal was to find Guanwu Waterfall though. I had mistakenly thought that this waterfall was part of the Dabajianshan hike (the famous mountain on the 500 TWD bill) but there are other interesting waterfalls on that hike (which I must do sometime). Guanwu Waterfall is around 100 meters tall and has its own hiking trail in the park.

But the Zhenshan Trail stole the show at Guanwu Recreation Area. Dabajianshan deservedly is the main reason that people go to Guanwu but the Zhenshan Trail was spectacular even though you can barely see Zhenshan Waterfall through the trees. It isn’t an easy trail but I loved the forest and the views could be amazing if you get there before the afternoon fog. I also want to return and hike the Kuaishan Giant Tree Trail at Guanwu.

My final trip of the month was to Nantou for the first half of our Chinese New Year vacation. It was a little disappointing that the bridge to Momonaer Waterfall was being replaced but the Chunyang Hot Spring Campground was amazing. They have 19 private hot spring baths and a large community pool to relax after a long day hiking.

Our first hike didn’t involve a waterfall but Hehuanshan instead. Hehuanshan has 5 different peaks but 3 of them are fairly easy. They should be hiked but they are short walks on paved roads or stairs. North Peak however is a great hike and it is on the way to West Peak. Full details of Hehuanshan are included in this blog post but North Peak and West Peak are really difficult. We averaged a pathetic 1.25 km/hour due to the elevation gains and losses (and being slow). At the halfway mark we chose to turn around because we would have been hiking until 8 or 9pm or later (6pm sunset) to finish the hike. I will have to return another time to finish this hike.

Hehuanshan

We took it easy the next day and went to Jingying Hot Spring. Luckily Jingying Hot Spring has a really cool waterfall upstream.

On the final day of the trip we went to Aowanda Recreation Area which was predictably busy. The bridge and forests are still cool but they have built a new trail and viewing platform for the waterfall. They also built a new Maple Tree Trail which we didn’t have time to do this weekend.

The last waterfall for the weekend was a bit of a surprise. I had known about Shuishang Waterfall for a few years due to Richard Saunders but had never been in the area to check it out. I finally had a few hours on the drive home and took the opportunity to check it out. We started hiking down the trail and it was really, really dry. We expected the waterfall to be completely dry also but we found a little oasis. It was perfect.

So this was just January. I don’t expect to keep up this kind of pace any longer but it was a pretty great month. All (almost all) of the places above have been updated in the waterfall guide and I am busy writing up everything else. I hope you had a great January also.

Taiwan’s Secret Places – Shimenggu

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek and a great trail.

Shimenggu (Stone Dream Valley) is located in one of the most remote parts of Chaiyi County in Taiwan.  Shimenggu itself is a series of strange pools but the hiking trail is absolutely amazing with several different amazing sights.  At the beginning of the trail there is a suspension bridge that links to an alternate entrance to Shuiyang Lake (blog) (and another Shuiyang blog) and some stands of enormous bamboo while walking up a valley of 500+ meter walls.  After a hard ascent (300 meters in 1+km) you reach the perfect mountain garden.  This garden used to be the home to a nice elderly couple that we met in 2013 and they operated a part time B&B.  Since then they have moved away but their garden is still perfect.

The trail is nice before the garden but the best places are the furthest away.  I had hiked part of the trail 3 years earlier with Richard Saunders (Richard’s blog from that trip) but I stopped at the garden to rest because I had a 5 hour motorcycle ride home that day.  Richard and several other hikers came back gushing with how great it was.  It took me 3 years to return but I finally found out how great the rest of the trail is.

Directions to Shimenggu and Qingrengu can be found on my waterfall guide

Near the end of the trail is a loop that we hiked the loop clockwise.  The waterfall was much larger than expected and is one of my favorites in Taiwan.  Just above the waterfall are some great pools for summer swimming.  The hike becomes very steep after this going past a grove of ancient trees that remind me of Jianxibao.  Sadly most of the trees have been illegally logged.  Immediately afterward it changes to a damp forest with green moss hanging from the trees like it was part of the Lord of the Ring set.  Finally we arrived at Shimenggu.  Shimenggu is a series of bizarre pools in a stream that runs down a large piece of rock.  The hike is difficult but not impossible and it will take most of the day.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek and a great trail.

Looking up the main valley from the suspension bridge.  The suspension bridge leads to an alternate route to Shuiyang Lake.  We have looked a couple of times and the route to Dadianyu Waterfall seems to be blocked by a giant boulder.  According to some hikers it takes 4 hours to reach 1000 person cave and an additional 2 hours to reach Shuiyang Lake.  The trail was in much better shape on my 2016 trip though.  In 2013 we couldn’t find anything that looked like a trail but now it seems to be in decent shape although it is a very steep climb out of the valley.

The cables across the valley are for a small cable car that was used by the family to transport their personal items up the mountain.  The path shown leads to the small waterfall.  Instead the trail climbs 500 meters in 2 kms to the top of the cables.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Huge bamboo flanks parts of the first half of the trail.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

There is a fair amount of stinging nettles at the beginning of the trail and much more of it on the other side of the suspension bridge (a side trip and not the way to Shimenggu).  It isn’t serious if you touch it but it is VERY annoying.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The flower garden that was part of a beautiful home and part time B&B.  We met the owners 3 years ago but they have since moved away (likely into the village).  The garden is stunningly beautiful and you walk through a tunnel of rhododendrons, cherry blossoms and other flowers.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

This rather bizarre rock is right next to the trail.  I have no idea what caused this.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Qingrengu was just the first spectacular sight of many near the end of the hike.  The cave behind it is accessible and actually had an old stone wall built in it.  This one will definitely be on my favorite waterfall list whenever I publish it.

Directions to Shimenggu and Qingrengu can be found on my waterfall guide

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Directly above Qingrengu Waterfall are some perfect pools that would be awesome to swim in during the summer.  It is at 1500 meters of elevation so it might not be warm enough to swim even in early spring or late fall.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Asher (followxiaofei.com) stands directly on top of Qingrengu Waterfall.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The trail goes vertical again climbing 200 meters in the next kilometer.  This giant cypress tree is right next to the trail and is sadly one of the last ones in this area.  There is access to an impressive valley here that I will explore next time.  It looked like there was a nice waterfall and some vertical cliff walls.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Illegal logging has taken its toll on the giant cypress trees.  There were several recently logged trees and we only saw one giant cypress and several other much smaller ones.  I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to carry the entire tree (chopped up) out by hand.  And they would probably have to work at night.  This is a fairly difficult hike with a daypack.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

At the highest elevations the trail becomes a lush green paradise.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

One of the more creative parts of the trail.  I am guessing that this type of construction is no longer allowed to preserve the larger trees in this forest.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

This part of the hike was probably my favorite.  It occurs at the highest elevation on the trail (about 1700 meters) and almost the absolute farthest point of the trail.  It is definitely worth it to hike the entire trail even though is over 800 meters of elevation gain to reach this spot.

Shimenggu is a series of bizarre pools where the rock has worn away in deep pools that go straight down.  This hole was well over 1 meter across and 2-3 meters deep.  I think these would be good places to swim during the summer.  We didn’t have time to walk upstream from the trail but there is potentially something really cool up there.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The whole trail is nice but the best part is the loop at the end of the trail.  The bridge near the trailhead provides access to 1000 person cave (marked in Chinese in the top right of the map). It must be an exhausting hike since there are A LOT OF contour lines that it crosses. Shuiyang Lake is 2 hours past the cave.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

The isn’t quite as long as shown due to the off trail exploring across the bridge and the long breaks at the break area and the waterfall.  Overall the trail is about 10 km long.

It isn't easy to reach Shimenggu (Taiwan) but you will be rewarded with a waterfall, giant cypress trees, a 500+ meter deep valley, a mossy forest, little pools in the creek, a bamboo forest and a great trail.

Photo of the week #57 – 6 years in Taiwan

I have already been in Taiwan twice as long as I planned and I will probably stay here at least twice as long as I already have been.  Taiwan might not be perfect but it is an easy life and there are a lot of great places to explore.  This photo was taken on Banpingshan (click for directions).

I have a lot of exciting plans in the works for the next couple of years.  Some things will change while others will merely be tweaked but there will be more waterfalls, more hikes, more summits and more countries.

Beidawushan

Somehow I live only a couple of hours away from Beidawushan but I have never hiked it yet.  I guess I still officially haven’t but that’s another story for later in this blog.  Beidawushan is the southernmost of Taiwan’s Baiyue (top 100 peaks) and it is spectacular.  Overall there are 358 peaks taller than 3000 meters (9850 feet) but 40-50 years ago a group selected the top 100 mountains (several criteria) from that list and called them the Baiyue.  Some of the Baiyue are easy hikes (like Hehuanshan) and some are grueling 3-5 day treks (possibly even longer).  Beidawushan is a reasonably difficult 3 day (or very difficult 2 day) trip and is only a few hours drive from Kaohsiung.  I have wanted to hike Beidawushan for a long time but I always put it off.  Had I known how spectacular the trail was I wouldn’t have waited so long.

My hiking guide for Beidawushan

Despite Taiwan being in a 7+ month long drought (seasonal but worse this year) and the reservoirs emptying to the point that rolling water outages were happening it was raining on our trip.  This was almost the only place in Taiwan that got any rain that weekend.  It is inconvenient to hike in the rain but it is awesome to take photos in between rain showers.

Beidawushan was another casualty of the much written about Typhoon Morakot.  I moved to Taiwan shortly after one of the worst typhoons in Taiwan history and during the last 5 years I have seen all kinds of damage that in some cases still isn’t repaired.  At Beidawushan the typhoon caused a massive landslide that will never be repaired across the access road.  They have built a new trail to the old trailhead and the hike is now 2.8kms longer.  This really isn’t a bad thing since the new trail is spectacular and the first day was already a short hike to the Kauigu Cabin.  Unfortunately they haven’t built a new parking lot yet and it might not be possible given the geography.  Cars now parallel park along a narrow mountain road at the trailhead and it isn’t rare that a car will have to back down the road 50 meters because there isn’t any room to turn around on a weekend.

The rest of Taiwan might have been bone dry from the drought but Taiwan’s mountains have different micro climates and stay lush year round.  Our trip alternated between light rain, no rain and heavy rain.  It didn’t really affect my trip but it is obvious that I need to upgrade my rain protection system.  I’m currently considering adding a Packa rainponcho that doubles as a packcover and in theory ventilates better while keeping your pack really dry.

5 of us left Kaohsiung early Saturday morning.  Alastair, Wolfgang and Joshua were photobombed by a ghostly Taiwanese hiker coming out of the mist.

Nick walks into the abyss.

The access road might have been destroyed but overall the trail is in really good shape.  It is a natural dirt and rock trail and there are many sections where hikers need to scramble up or down rocks but the provided ropes make it relatively easy.  I say relatively because the overall pace of the hike is between 1 and 1.5 kms/hr.  That is partly due to the 1900 meters of elevation gain over 12 kilometers and partly due to rock obstacles on trail.  It isn’t an easy hike but I love hiking these kind of trails because there is a trend in Taiwan to overbuild trails with boardwalks or concrete.

My hiking guide to Beidawushan

One of the best parts of the trail is a narrow ridgeline that is within a very cool part of the forest.  This area must be prone to some awful winds and weather.  The trees were rather short and crookedly bent.  In some places the ridge is less than a meter wide and sharply drops away on both sides.

Kuaigu Mountain Cabin is a basic bunkhouse that offers all of the amenities (but nothing extra) that a hiker could want.  There is only one room and just outside there is a long counter for cooking.  One unique thing about Taiwanese camping groups is that they like to cook up elaborate meals in the mountains even if they are carrying all of the food and gear for many hours.  On a different hike one group carried an entire chicken and went through the long rotisserie process over an open fire.  It was interesting to watch but it would frustrate me after a long day of hiking.  Most foreigners seem to prefer survival food consisting of packets of noodles.  I’m a little more ambitious with my cooking and volunteered to cook for the group.  We enjoyed pasta (gluten free for me), fresh mini corn, green beans and garlic with canned chicken (Costco), olive oil, basil and seasoned salt.  It’s pretty awesome and not that hard if you know how to boil water.

The cook station in the morning.

There is only room for 40-50 people in the cabin but there about 30 tent platforms that are available on a first come basis.  We arrived around 4pm on a Saturday and got some of the last tent platforms downwind of the bathrooms.  Ironically we were camped next to the other foreigner group that weekend.  A pair of fathers brought their teen/preteen sons on a 3 day trip.

My REI quarterdome tent still performs quite well after 6+ years and dozens of trips.

I ultimately chose not to hike to the summit the second day and instead stayed in camp.  I have described the hike options on my Beidawushan guide but the 2 day option that we did requires a 12-14 hour hiking day.  That might have been possible but I had a lot of work to do that week starting immediately on Monday and I really wanted to also go on the Alanyi/Qufengbi trip the next weekend.  Most likely I would have been completely exhausted and stayed home that weekend if I had hiked to the summit so I will have to return sometime for the rest of the hike.  Overall I loved the shortened version of my hike and don’t regret at all not hiking to the summit.  The trail is absolutely amazing and I missed the best part.

My hiking guide to Beidawushan

This is just the ascent to the camp.  The summit is another 1000 meters up in less than 5 kms of hiking.

An even better map than mine.  I still have a lot to learn about map making.

Northern Yangmingshan National Park, Taiwan

Hongye Gorge hike

Taiwan is a very small island with 23M people and hiking and camping are becoming really popular.  Traveling on long holiday weekends can be absolute hell and several times I have just wanted to go home because of the mobs of people.  The first weekend of April every year is one of Taiwan’s traditional holidays.  Tomb Sweeping Day doesn’t always fall on a weekend but they use some creative scheduling (adding in an extra day called Children’s Day) to usually make it a 3 or 4 day weekend.  This year was no exception.

On one hand I hate traveling with mobs of people but on the other hand you can do so much more with an extra day or two.   Usually I try to find places that are a little more off of the beaten path during these holidays.  There are several somewhat famous places that I would like to visit but I have less interest in doing them with a larger than usual mob.  This year I chose to do 3 somewhat easy hikes on the north side of Yangmingshan that I have wanted to do for awhile.  Of course they all had one thing in common – waterfalls.  For the first day I chose to be a group leader for Taipei Hikers meetup group and scheduled a hike to Qingshan Waterfall near Laomei.  However I failed as hike leader since I was late to my own hike because I got lost in Danshui but I caught up and we had a nice hike.

The next two days I chose to go by myself since I had no idea what kind of schedule or where I would be at any time.  I hiked back to the largest waterfall in Yangmingshan (Alibang) on the 2nd day and on the last day Hongye (Red Leaf) Gorge became my favorite hike.  Neither of those days I saw anyone on the trail.  A couple of people would have been better but it was great to be surrounded by the serenity of the woods.

Qingshan Waterfall is a popular waterfall near the village of Laomei.  It’s possible to escape the crowds but you will pay a price for the escape.  The price is a steep but short ascent on a pleasant trail.  The trail now goes past an old Japanese monument (pre WWII) that was recently rediscovered in the 90’s.

Directions to Qingshan Waterfall (click)

The trail to Alibang was fascinating.  I preferred this little guy to the 4 snakes that I saw on trail though.

Directions to Alibang Waterfall (click)

There was a group of 4 swallowtail butterflies playing on the trail.  Rarely do swallowtail butterflies stop and pose for photos but they are amazing.

It is all uphill (2.5kms) to this viewpoint of Alibang Waterfall.  This looks amazing from here but when I hiked around to the base I thought I was at a smaller tier of the waterfall and that I needed to continue hiking to the main waterfall.  I was so convinced that I didn’t even take a photo at the base and went up this insanely steep hill/trail.  It wasn’t until I got to a junction at the top that I realized my mistake but I had no interest in going down that slope so I took an alternate trail out to the main road.

The trail started out nice but then it also went down an insanely steep hill.  There were ropes but I slipped in the mud several times and didn’t enjoy this route much.  The trailhead practically goes through someone’s house and that was a little awkward.  Luckily I didn’t see the owners and their giant dog didn’t take an interest in me.   I wouldn’t go this way.

Understanding basic Chinese is a big help on hikes.  Sometimes there are full size junction markers with English but these are very common throughout Taiwan.  My Chinese level is still very poor but the first character is towards and the last two characters are waterfall.  I also know Ali but towards waterfall is more than enough for me to get where I’m going.  When headed out it’s a good idea to have the Chinese names of the where you are going and the other trails/destinations that might be on junctions.

Hongye (Red Leaf) Gorge Trailhead

The other navigation aid in Taiwan is trail ribbons.  Hiking clubs have made a habit of overdoing it by needing to leave their club ribbon everywhere and imo it’s almost like bragging ‘We were here’.  There are trails that these are really helpful for navigation though.  I could have easily had been lost on the alternate Alibang Waterfall trail if not for strategically placed ribbons.

The forest has reclaimed the human encroachment from earlier in the 20th century.  Large rock terraces from indigo extraction have become overgrown along the trail and serve as a reminder of just how powerful nature is.

These concrete circles were indigo extraction pits.  This article (click) gives a brief overview of indigo in Taiwan and why it’s no longer a cash crop.

Hongye Gorge Watefall wasn’t a physically impressive waterfall at 10-12 meters tall but the combination of the forest, the history and the peacefulness of the trail made it my favorite for the weekend.  In addition to that this could become a special place in November or probably December when the maples turn red.

Directions to Hongye Gorge Waterfall (click)

Xitou Recreation Area, Nantou, Taiwan

Xitou is one of Taiwan’s most popular National Recreation Areas.  However that is both a blessing and a curse in Taiwan.  It is an incredibly beautiful forest with some excellent hiking trails.  There are enough trails to keep the typical hiker occupied all day.  We didn’t have time to hike the Fenghuangshan (Phoenix Mountain) trail but that looks like a nice trail to get away from the crowds.  That is the lead in to the mixed reviews.  Xitou is a very popular place to visit on the weekends.  Traffic becomes terrible going up the mountain and there will be people everywhere. This can be remedied by going on a weekday if possible.

Another interesting aspect of Xitou is that it is an experimental forest for National Taiwan University and you can visit several different types of sub forests including cedars, bamboo and gingko.  The other part that wows you at first but unsettles you is that everything is a little bit too manicured.  Many probably won’t even notice this and some will enjoy that everything is kept tidy but I enjoy the the natural forest with down trees and random undergrowth. Also the area must have also have been logged by the Japanese and replanted with Japanese cedars since the spacing is a little too perfect.  Despite Xitou being stunningly beautiful I prefer a more natural environment and a little off of the beaten path.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a great time or that I won’t return though.

One of the many pavilions to rest at.  The interesting part of the Xitou pavilions is that the wood is not really wood including the roof.  Most of the mountainous areas in Taiwan are continually damp and wood rots very quickly in this environment.  It is very common for trails and pavilions to be made from concrete but made to look like wood.  I was fairly certain that the roof was concrete but I had to touch it because it looks so real.

I believe this is Fenghuangshan (Phoenix Mountain) but the actual peak could be on this ridgeline to the right.  That looks like a worthy hike to do sometime and you should be able to escape most of the crowds.

The cedar forest was huge.  This trail was only 1.5kms long but I loved the trees.  Overall there must be about 15-20 kms of trail in the forest.

Adrian brought along Arthur and he was fascinated by everything.

One of the most popular things to do at Xitou is to walk on the skywalk.  The skywalk is basically a 22.6m high bridge (180 meters long) that makes a loop.  It takes you right next to trees but doesn’t touch any of them and is instead suspended on massive stilts.  I found change in perspective interesting but I preferred to view the forest from ground level.  It’s not scary but I find the plant life at ground level fascinating.