At 3952 meters, Yushan 玉山 is the highest peak in Taiwan and East Asia. I’ve climbed this beast three times in the past 20 years, and I can tell you that it’s by far my favorite trek in Taiwan! If you’re into hiking, trekking, climbing, and mountains, you simply can’t visit Taiwan and miss Jade Mountain.
On this page, I’ll share my Yushan experiences with you, and show you in details how you can prepare your own DIY hiking expedition to this most beautiful peak! Yes, it is an expedition, not just a walk in the park. In fact, it’s a walk in the clouds!
Yushan, also known as Jade Mountain, offers serious hiking opportunities as well as some of the most dramatic mountain views on the island. The whole area has a well-maintained, well-labeled trail system, comfortable lodges, and reliable water sources.
“Climbing Jade Mountain is one of the most exhilarating adventures you can experience in Taiwan!”
The vast majority of people who want to climb Jade Mountain give up that dream as soon as they start the permit application process online. It is not so straightforward, but not impossible either. I have a page dedicated to the Jade Mountain (Yushan) permit here.
Which Route to Climb?
There are two different routes to get to the main peak of Jade Mountain 玉山主峰: one on the Southwest side, near Alishan, and one on the North side, in Dongpu, called Batongguan. This page is about the Southwest Route, by far the easiest and most popular way to reach the top.
Yushan Southwest Route
Elevation Gain: 1350 meters
Distance: 21.6 kilometers round trip
Hiking Time: 2 days
This is the classic route to Yushan. 95% of people who climb Taiwan’s highest peak take this route. The trailhead (2600m) is near Tataka 塔塔加, not too far from Alishan. Midway there is a comfortable place to stay called Paiyun Lodge 排雲山莊. Most people do this trek in 2 days, but it’s also possible to complete in one, long, grueling day.
DAY 1: Tataka Saddle to Paiyun Lodge
The trailhead for the Main Peak is at Tataka Saddle. There is a shuttle mini-van service that can take you there from the Tataka Police Squad building – the place where you show your mountain permit on the morning of the climb. Try to start your hike before 9am, to give you plenty of time to reach Paiyun Lodge by mid-afternoon, as you will need about one hour to sort your bed situation and meals coupons once you get there.
The shuttle runs both ways every 15 minutes or so from 6:30am until 5pm and costs 100NT$ per person each way. The shuttle service is operated by the owners of the Dongpu Lodge. If you are somehow stranded on the side of the road and the shuttle doesn’t show up, you can call 0932832077.
From Tataka Saddle (also called Yushan Trailhead on Google Maps) it’s about 4 to 6 hours to Paiyun Lodge. The trail is a mix of natural dirt path, man-made steps cut into stones, and wooden stairs/ bridges. It’s not uncommon to be completely surrounded by thick mist along this section.
The first part of the trek does not cause any particular challenge, except that it’s ascending relentlessly, zig-zagging switchbacks ever upward on the mountainside. At one point, near the 3000m, most people start feeling the effect of altitude.
Paiyun Lodge and Meals
Paiyun Lodge is where you’ll stay if you do an overnight climb. The lodge can accommodate more than 100 people on basic, wooden bunk-beds. There dorm-style rooms have 10 beds, so you’ll want to bring earplugs.
There is a communal area on the first floor where meals are served 4 times a day. You are free to use this space any time of the day or night, but most people head to bed around 6pm and you’re expected to be quiet after that, to let people get enough rest for their 2:00am start.
You need to pre-order and pay your meals online beforehand. You must decide in advance if you want breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. They are served at specific times, and you want to be there as it is served, because it gets cold really fast.
As you arrive at the lodge, you need to go to the counter, show your permit (print or PDF on phone) and they will assign you a bed number. You pick up your meals tickets at the same time. By the way, make sure you do not walk into Paiyun Lodge with your boots. I did and I faced a storm from both lodge workers and hikers. Bring your own sandals or wear a pair of flip-flops that’s provided at the entrance.
Bathrooms are outside, you need to bring your own toilet paper, and obviously, pack it out, so bring Ziplock bags.
Hot water is provided in a big metal tank at every meal. It’s around 70 degree Celcius hot, so it’s good enough to brew your own coffee or cook instant noodles. The water does not stay hot for long, so you want to get it as the staff pours it into the tank. It is said the water is safe to drink. I did drink it and I was fine.
There is no power source for you to recharge your smart phone, so you’ll want to bring a power bank if you want to keep access to the internet. I use Taiwan Da Ge Da 台灣大哥大 internet company and I had OK reception throughout the hike. There is Wi-Fi at Paiyun Lodge, but it was slow and unstable when I tried to connect to it.
DAY 2: Paiyun Lodge to Yushan summit, then back to car
For most Taiwanese hikers, the second day will actually start in the middle of the night. Most people set their alarm at 2:00 am, and hit the trail around 3:00 in order to catch the sunrise. I personally hate this idea.
First of all, it means that you’ll have to follow around 100 people along tight bottlenecks along the trail near the summit. I’ve done it once, and I was stuck for ages where the trail is super narrow and only one climber can proceed at a time. If it’s cold and windy, it means you’re standing, waiting, and freezing.
Secondly, you’ll be sharing the peak of Jade Mountain with all those people and it just breaks the magic of being there on top of Taiwan. It feels more like you’re at Disneyland than in the wild open alpine.
Instead, sleep in a little bit longer, put your alarm around 6am, start your climb as the sun goes up, in the warmth of daylight, and enjoy solitude on the path to the summit. Once you reach the top, you should be able to get much better pictures, without the sea of bright jackets and selfie-loving tourists.
After summiting, it’s pretty straightforward – it’s downhill back the same way you came up. Grab your bag at Paiyun Lodge and walk back to the trailhead. Last time I went that route, it took me exactly 6 hours from summit to car.
How difficult is climbing Yushan?
Although it is rated as moderate to difficult, anyone in decent physical shape can do it. It’s just a very long walk, like a mountain-marathon, with some steep parts at the end. There are no major technical difficulties or overly exposed sections on that trail. Having said that, it goes without saying that you should have proper mountain clothes and equipment before you embark on your journey.
Note: I was told by a visitor on this site that my description about difficulty was inaccurate for people who suffer from vertigo. So I should mention that anyone scared of heights should not attempt the Yushan hike. There is serious exposure and potential risk of deadly falls even during the “easy” approach, on the many narrow bridges.
Is climbing Yushan dangerous?
The two main “hazards” you must be prepared for, or at least have some basic knowledge about, are alpine weather, and high-altitude sickness. Both of these hazards can put your health at risk if you are not properly prepared or trained. Go with someone who has mountain climbing experience if you doubt your own ability to deal with the elements for 2 days – the usual time required to climb the main trail.
When is the best time to climb Yushan?
Spring and autumn are considered the best seasons for climbing Yushan, although people climb it in winter and summer as well. Climbing this beast in winter is a whole different story as it can be completely covered in ice and snow. Summer can bring torrential rain and typhoons, which can make the whole experience miserable or extremely dangerous.
Winter Climbing on Yushan
Climbing Jade Mountain in winter brings some specific challenges. If there is snow at the top, you’ll be asked by park officials to bring snow equipment. The three main tools you’ll need to show are: ice axe, crampons, and helmet. If you do not carry those with you, they simply won’t let you go up. They’ll stop you at the Paiyun Visitor Center 排雲登山服務中心, also called Tataka Police Squad, where you show your permit before starting your climb.
My advice is for you to really know how to use those tools properly if you’re going to be climbing in snow. Using an ice-axe is not complicated, but it does require a minimum of practice to self-belay and self-arrest on a steep white slope.
Another important aspect of winter climbing on Yushan, or any high mountain in Taiwan, is the amount and size of clothing and sleeping gear you’ll need to bring. Winter down jacket, thick fleece pants, winter sleeping bag, hat, mittens, insulated sleeping mat… All these things add up quickly, and all of a sudden, you realize that your backpack is too small for a winter climb up Yushan.
Dongpu Lodge is a great option if you don’t want to wake up at 3 or 4am to drive all the way to Tataka the first day of your climb. A better option is to spend the previous night at Dongpu Lodge. It’s a bare basic dorm-style mountain accommodation, and it only costs 300NT$ per night. As far as mountain lodges go, it’s alright, it’s a solid shelter, and it’s got mattresses, blankets, toilets, showers, hot water, and even electricity to recharge your iPhone.
Note about really confusing names
If you are using a Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Taiwan 101 guidebook, you’ll find it extremely confusing when you search for certain places in Yushan National Park on Google Maps, Maps.me, or your favorite GPS app. Please refer to the following list to know which place is which, both in English and Chinese. Also, I have included a map at the bottom of this page to help you orient yourself more easily.
- The Tataka Police Squad 塔塔加小隊 is also known as Paiyun Visitor Center. On Google Maps, it’s misleadingly called Tourist Information Center 排雲登山服務中心. This is the checkpoint where you show your permit before you start your climb.
- Tatajia Saddle, or Tataka Anbu 塔塔加鞍部 is called Yushan Trailhead 玉山登山口 on Google Maps.
Which map should you use to climb Jade Mountain
Obviously, you could use a paper map while hiking Mt. Jade, like in the good old days. But I don’t use them anymore much to be honest, and I haven’t seen other hikers log those around for a couple of years already…
Google Maps is kind of OK, but it’s limited. My go-to app when hiking in Taiwan is Gaia GPS, which you can download for free on both iPhone and Android iOS. Maps.me is also another interesting option, especially when you are offline.
Getting to Yushan by Public Transportation
From Alishan and Sun Moon Lake
Bus 6739 from the Yuanlin Bus Co. can take you to Tataka from Sun Moon Lake or Alishan. The timetable is as follow: Departure from Alishan at 1:00 and 2:00pm. Departure from Sun Moon Lake at 8:00 and 9:00am. In Sun Moon Lake, the bus leaves from Shuishe Visitor Center. In Alishan, the bus departs from the Transport Center, just outside the park’s entrance.
Contact Yushan National Park
If you have any question about weather, permit, equipment, transportation, trail condition, give a call to the people who work at the National Park Headquarter at 886-49-2773121, or at the Tataka Visitor Center 886-49-2702228. You won’t believe how friendly and helpful those folks are.