Welcome to beautiful Mt. Hehuan!
Here, I'll help you escape above and beyond the smog and chaos of the city... and show you some of the most accessible high altitude hiking trails in Taiwan. Are you ready? Strap on your boots... or make sure your scooter has good brakes and a full tank... You're off for a memorable experience!
At over 3000m, Hehuanshan is located in central Taiwan, on the western edge of Taroko National Park, way above the western plain. The area is characterized by rolling green hills that often disappear in a sea of clouds. The weather here is much cooler and provides a nice break from the heat on the coast. It's also the best place to see snow in winter, and for that reason, it really gets crowded on weekends between December and February.
In 8 words:
Hehuanshan is the best
Mountain Destination in Taiwan!
By the way, there is Hehuanshan the region (which is called Hehuanshan National Forest Area) and Hehuanshan the mountain. This page is dedicated to the entire area, and I will specify it when I talk about the peak.
Hehuanshan means "mountain of harmonious joy". As you've probably come to realize if you've spent some time in Taiwan, Chinese people love to give such poetic names to mountains, rivers, and other natural features.
Hehuanshan Natural Forest Area is located at the border of both Nantou County and Hualien County.
Most Taiwanese drive here on weekends to enjoy the spectacular views from the comfort of their cars and to snap pictures from the parking lot by Hehuanshan Visitor Center or Wuling - a pass which reaches the highest elevation of any road in East Asia, 3275m!
The area is extremely popular with hikers and trekkers because the peaks here can be climbed without the need for high-mountain permits. National Parks and police permits are complicated (if not impossible) to get, and they are quite time-consuming. Luckily, they are not needed in the Hehuanshan Area.
Note: You do need permits to climb Mt. Qilai.
Hike 1: Hehuan Jian Shan, 3217m
Duration: 45 minutes round-trip
If you're pressed by time or if hiking is not your thing, but you still want to "get high" then this short and easy (but steep) walk is for you. The trail starts just behind Hehuan Visitor Center. The summit is a great spot to have your coffee in the morning or to watch the sunset. Take it easy and walk slowly, you will definitely be feeling the altitude as you start climbing up. Drink plenty of water and take rests when you start feeling your heart pounding or when you're out of breath. The parking lot in front of the visitor center is a convenient (and free) camping spot.
Hike 2: Hehuan East Peak, 3421m
Duration: 2 hours round-trip
By far the busiest peak in the region and for good reasons... It's right by Hehuan Visitor center, it's not too hard, nor too long, and the views from the top are simply stunning!
The main trail begins right across from the cottage and ascends the north slope of the mountain. There are some steep sections where you have to use your hands, or where hiking poles might come in handy.
Two alternative routes exist. Here's how to get to the first one... Looking southeast from Hehuan Visitor Center, you can see a big building behind the public toilets across the road, that's Songshan Lodge. The trailhead is 25m past that building. This trail is the easiest way up the East Peak as it's mostly covered with wooden stairs. Halfway up you can see the old, dismantled ski lift. Yes, there used to be skiing here!
The other alternative route starts at Wuling, 1km southwest from the visitor center. This one ascends the exposed west ridge and is not for the faint hearted. Go up this way, and down one of the two other trails if you want to make it a nice round-trip. Walk back or hitch a ride from the visitor center. Allow 3 hours if you hike the entire loop.
Hike 3: Hehuan North Peak, 3422m
Duration: 3.5 hours round-trip
The trailhead of this scenic hike is about 3.5km north of Hehuan Visitor Center on the way east to Taroko, along highway #14. The mountain seems to be a favorite choice for hiking groups from Taipei and it can get very busy on weekends. The trail ascends the southeast ridge and presents no real difficult challenge except a short exposed section right at the beginning. From the North summit, you can continue on to Hehuan West Peak... which is a different story!
Hike 4: Hehuan West Peak, 3145m
Duration: 8 hours round-trip
Are you ready for a challenge? You better be! The west peak is a very long trail and you should only attempt it if you're in good shape. The first time my friends and I went there, we underestimated it and got fooled by the numbers. Sure, it's only 3145m high, (lower than most peaks in the area) but the ridge is like a camel back with 5 BIG bumps. Click here for the complete trail description...
Public transportation is not the most convenient way to travel in remote areas of the Central Mountain Range,
From Taichung HSR Station: The Nantou Bus Company has 5 buses that depart daily from the high-speed railway station, and go as far as Ching Jing Farm 清境農場, a hill station / cattle ranch, only 30 minutes away from Hehuanshan. Price is 251NT$ one way. You need to transfer bus in Puli.
If you take the 8:40am or 12:35am bus in Taichung, you can catch a bus from Puli which goes all the way to Cuifeng, a place even more uphill passed Chingjing Farm.
From Chingjing Farm / Cuifeng... It's only a couple of kilometers to Hehuanshan. Get on the side of the road and hitchhike! It shouldn't take too long for a car or blue truck to stop and give you a ride! Good luck!
The best advice I have for anyone interested in traveling to Hehuanshan is to get your own wheels! Having your own vehicle will add a sense of adventure. It will allow you to bring more stuff like camping / hiking gear, and you'll be able to go at your own pace and stop along the way to snap a few shots of the stunning scenery.
It takes about 3 hours to drive from Taichung to Hehuanshan along the Central Cross Island Highway.
By Car / Motorcycle (highly recommended!)
Make sure to fill up your gas tank at Ching Jing Farm before heading higher as the next gas station is pretty far and it closes early.
Don't drive too fast, don't be impatient or try to pass other vehicles without seeing what's ahead on the narrow mountain roads. Tons of high-on-beetle-nuts truck drivers travel down this road day and night and believe me - they don't give a sh** about other cars or bike.
Bring warm clothes and rain gear. Yes, even in summer. It's not uncommon for the temperature at Hehuanshan to be around 5 to 10 degree Celcius in summer months when it's 35 degrees on the western plains at sea level. Add to this a little bit of rain and/or wind if you're riding a scooter and you can imagine how bad things can get.
There are three places where you can get food and drinks in the Mt. Hehuan area: 3158m Cafe at the visitor center, the restaurant at Song Syue Lodge, and Acacia Hill Station for snacks and coffee. For real restaurants, Cingjing Farm is your best option.
Both of the following places to sleep are right by the visitor center. At 3150 meters of elevation, they are also the highest "hotels" reachable by vehicle on the island. If you come straight from the west plain or the east coast, expect to feel high-altitude sickness symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, dizziness, or a slight headache. Don't panic, it's normal. Avoid drinking alcohol at night if you stay here as alcohol makes high-altitude sickness symptoms more severe.
Song Syue Lodge 松雪樓
Reviews online and guidebooks will tell you it's overpriced, but keep in mind that when you have a monopoly (the highest accommodation in Taiwan, and the only real, proper hotel with hot water, flat-screen TV, and other high-end amenities) you make the rules and you dictate the price. It's expensive, but it's the best accommodation in the high alpine zone in Taiwan. I say go for it if you can afford it. I personally love this place!
Call this number to reserve: (04) 2522-9696. Good luck to catch an English speaker worker.
*** double room with mountain view, 3200/4100NT$, weekdays/weekend;
*** double room with view on a ditch, 2900/3800NT$, weekdays/weekend.
*** Rooms for 4 people also available
Ski Villa 滑雪山莊
Prices are cheaper than Song Syue Lodge, but you don't have your own private luxury room. Here, you sleep on a hard-wood floor, on memory-foam mats with 4 other travelers / hikers. Great way to meet other tourists, even better to save some cash for your next big meal! Highly recommended. Booking ahead is needed on weekends. About 1200NT$ per person for a mat per night.
Hotels in Cingjing Farm
Important Note: DO BOOK YOUR ROOM IN ADVANCE if you will be spending a night in Chingjing on weekends, regardless of the time of the year.
Chingjing Farm, in Ren-Ai Township, not too far away down the road, has a much wider range of options for accommodation (and food), and that's why most tourists head back there to sleep. You can check hotels / B&B / guesthouses room prices and availability here on HotelsCombined.com, the best site in Taiwan for hotel reservation. You can also use the following box:
Here's a list of other destinations in the area: