Before coming to Taiwan, I was admittedly under the impression that this tiny island was one that more or less consisted solely of large urban areas which had overtaken the majority of the island’s natural environment. Shortly after arriving however I quickly found out how wrong I was as the “Taiwan” that we often imagine in the west is not exactly what we’re led to think it is, nor how it is often advertised.
If you are like a lot of tourists who visit Taiwan and don’t bother leaving Taipei, I suppose you might not have much feel for what I’m talking about, but this country rivals any in terms of natural beauty with its mountains, valleys and coastal areas - The unfortunate thing is that while Taiwan’s natural beauty might be one of its best kept secrets, it is something that if marketed correctly could help to attract a considerably larger amount of interest and more importantly tourist revenue.
Taiwan’s North East Coast (東北角) for example is a breathtaking area to visit and is arguably one of the most accessible destinations for day-trips outside of the capital. Tourists who visit the area are not only able to get a feel for local Taiwanese culture and history but also its natural beauty which features a wonderful medley of the ocean on one side with high mountains that rise up almost out of no where on the other.
The coastal area has a number of popular tourist attractions which attract both domestic and foreign tourists for day trips - Whether you’re visiting the northern port city of Keelung (基隆), the Miaokou Night Market (廟口夜市), Yehliu Geopark (野柳), Jiufen (九分), the Golden Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Bitou Cape (鼻頭角), or any of the fishing ports along the way, you’re going to want to stop on the side of the road every few minutes to take photos.
In recent years, thanks to Instagram, several locations on the coast have gone viral in terms of the popularity that they have achieved with the local population - These locations are not usually big on the radar for foreign tourists, but places like Elephant Rock (象鼻岩) for example, have become hot spots with crowds of young people.
The mountainous areas near the coast are also quite popular with local hikers as there are countless trails that offer hikers spectacular views of not only the mountain range but also the ocean below. Teapot Mountain (茶壺山) and Jilong Mountain (基隆山) trails for example are well-known hikes that offer amazing views of the local landscape and are also easily accessible with public transportation.
Unfortunately, although most of the other trails in the area offer equally impressive views, they are not as easily accessible for your average tourist - Taiwan has a number of mountaineering groups though which often plan free day-trips as well as tour groups which will take care of all of the small details for any hike you want to go on.
If you are into hiking, it is always a good idea to check out some of these groups and get in contact with them to see if they have anything planned that you are able to join in on:
Stegosaurus Ridge (劍龍稜)
Similar to a few of the internet popular locations mentioned above, the “Stegosaurus Ridge” hike has become a hot spot in recent months as what was once a relatively unknown trail (outside of hiking circles) has become popular with photographers on Instagram. The hike up the ridge is a rewarding one with 360 degree views of the North East Coast landscape, but it should be taken into consideration that it is a relatively difficult and also a dangerous one for inexperienced and unprepared hikers who don't fully understand what they are getting themselves into.
Things to take into consideration.
- The hike is going to take you anywhere between 5-8 hours to complete - Start the hike early in the morning lest you get stuck high in the mountains after dark.
- There is almost nowhere on this hike that offers hikers respite from the hot sun - Wear sunscreen and make sure you wear a hat to protect yourself from sunstroke.
- The North East Coast is prone to rain which makes climbing the ridge dangerous. If it is raining, you shouldn’t bother with this hike as the ridge will be slippery.
- The trail is full of long grass which will slice up your legs if you wear shorts - You need to wear proper hiking pants as well as hiking shoes to protect yourself.
- There are ropes on the ridge where you are going to need to have a set of gloves prepared to save your hands from rope burn and blisters.
- You will need to carry a lot of water to stay hydrated as well as having snacks or a packed lunch available.
- For your safety make sure to follow the hiking flags along the trail as well as the arrows sketched on the ridge.
As I prefer to focus on photography, I’m not going to go into too much detail about the logistics of the hike as there are already quite a few resources online that explain things in great detail, so be sure to check out either Taiwan Tales and Trails excellent post about the hike in English or Hiking Diary’s (健行日記) post in Chinese which both offer detailed information about the hike.
Wait, I heard its illegal?
You might have heard that it is illegal to hike this trail. Is it true? Yes and No.
This trail is part of a loop that takes hikers from just above sea level to a height of around 700m offering access to over ten peaks. If you are planning on hiking the circuit, then there are trailheads which can be accessed that are not going to cause you any problems.
The entrance that most people use however is considered “trespassing” as you have to jump over a fence onto an abandoned state-owned property.
There are signs at this spot which warn hikers that entering the area will result in fines and/or prison time and on weekends there are often police who are stationed or are patrolling the area to deter people from using this entrance.
While this entrance offers the easiest access to the trail and cuts down the amount of time needed to complete the hike, it is illegal to enter and if you decide to take this route you may have to face the consequences if you are caught.
Hiking the trails in this area isn’t illegal, but using the copper factory entrance is, so if you are planning on doing this hike, it’s a better idea to use a newer trailhead that is located around the 80.2KM marker a bit further down the road (Close to Nanya Rocks) or starting the hike from the other direction just past Teapot Mountain.
For more information about the legal situation with this hike check out Taiwan hiking master extraordinaire Richard Saunder’s post about it - More Bad News Regarding Access to Taiwan’s Mountain Landscapes.
If you are relying on public transportation to arrive at any of the trailheads to this hike, you should first take a train to either Keelung Train Station (基隆車站) or Rueifang Station (瑞芳車站) and then transfer to any of the routes that will take you to the Nanya Peculiar Rock area. Bus #791 from Keelung or Bus #886 from Rueifang will both get you there.
Check the Keelung Bus Website for detailed schedules.
If you plan on doing this hike, you absolutely have to take into consideration the tips mentioned above as well as your safety at all times. This is a hike where you can easily fall to your death if you are not careful. If you found this blog post after seeing photos on Instagram, it’s important that you go into this hike prepared and are fully aware of its dangers.
All of that being said, this is an extremely rewarding hike that is exhilarating and offers spectacular views of the North East Coast’s landscape. This hike will tire you out, but will also give you a whole new level of respect for Taiwan’s natural beauty.