One of 12 designated National Forests in Taiwan, Guanwu National Forest (觀霧國家森林遊樂區) (meaning “Mist Gazing” in Mandarin Chinese) is located at the cross-roads of two counties in Northern Taiwan. Situated on the border of Wufeng District in Hsinchu County and Tai’an Township in Miaoli County, this protected area is quite remote and also offers one of a few access points into Taiwan’s Shei-Pa National Park.
Like several of the other National Forest Recreation Areas in Northern Taiwan including Dongyanshan, Taipingshan and Daxueshan, Guanwu National Forest Recreation Area also boosts a unique history of resource extraction, in this case, timber. Located at elevations ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 meters, this mountainous destination is frequently immersed in mists and clouds (as the name suggests).
At around 3 hours south of Taipei (depending on traffic), this park is mountainous and difficult (and time consuming) to get from the north. The final 25km alone take over an hour as the road narrows, curves and switchbacks up the mountain. This makes it a perfect Parkbus Taiwan destination.
Hikes/Trails & Points of Interest:
There are several trails within Guanwu National Forest and they vary in length and difficulty. Most of the trails are accessible from the Guanwu Villas and a few start/end at the Visitor Centre which is located a few hundred meters up the road. While most of the trails are looped, there are a few that feature an ‘out-and-back’ hiking experiences, such as the Honeymoon Path. Being part of the National Forest system, there are many sections of the trails that are quite well-maintained and are suitable for all types of hikers from beginner to novice and advanced, depending on how far (and where) one wishes to hike. The trails vary in length, difficulty and accessibility providing visitors of all skill levels something to explore.
Yunwu Trail (850m) – This trail is has an easy rating and takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. This trail connects Guanwu Visitor Centre with the Guanwu Villas and many of the additional trails in the park. Surrounded mainly by grasslands, enjoy the odd glimpse of Taiwan lilies that bloom in summer. It is also a good spot to take the views of Zhenshan and the Holy Ridge.
Guanwu Waterfall Trail (1.5km) – While not overly long, this has a three star difficulty rating and is such primarily due to terrain. It’s and down & up experience with over 280 metres of elevation and takes about 30 minutes heading down and 50 minutes coming back up. The trail concludes at the Guanwu Waterfalls and view platform. It also connects with the Bird-Watching Trail.
Bird-Watching Trail (650m) – A 30 minute loop this trail starts from the far side of the Guanwu Villas/Cabins and concludes by connecting with the Guanwu Waterfall Trail. This trail showcases the multi-layered forest structure around the trail that attracts the many birds that frequent this section of the park. Shhhhh. Stay quiet on this one to perhaps spot some of the fantastic birdlife of Taiwan.
Honeymoon Trail (450m) – A short out and back trail that takes approximately 30 minutes round trip. This trail meanders through dense forest, including hemlocks, firs and more. This is also a trail that offers glimpses of the native “Touch-Me-Not” tree. This is also the key connection to the Kuaishan Big Trees Trail, which is a more difficult and longer trail.
Jhenshan Trail / 榛山登山步道 (4km) – The Jhenshan Trail is a looped trail with a total elevation gain of 290 meters between the trailhead and the peak viewing platform. Not far from the entrance hikers will cross over a creek. You’ll notice the temperature will cool down here. Shortly after cross over the creek, the trail forks with the ascent more immediately occurring along the right-hand side trail. Take in the beauty of this unique forest that is populated with many rare fauna such as a selection of conifer trees including the Formosan China Fir (巒大杉), the Taiwanese Plum Yew, the Taiwanese Hemlock and many more. The mountain trail takes an estimated 4 hours in its entirety, including taking in some time at the peak. While marked as 4km, there is an additional 3km along a wider road that takes hikers to the official trailhead entrance. This adds an additional 20mins or so on each end of the hike as it is relatively flat and easy terrain. This trail is well-crafted, however the elevation (6,000ft or 1,800m+) and steep inclines can mean this trail is more suitable for those with modest physical fitness. Also, one can prepare to enjoy nice, short switchbacks near the top.
Once hikers get to the peak lookout platform, they can enjoy a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. If the clouds are not settled in, you can pick out the barrel-shaped top of Dabajianshan (大霸尖山) jut out into the sky. Further to one’s right is Xueshan also known as Snow Mountain (雪山), which is the second tallest mountain peak on the entire island. Locally known as the “Holy Ridge” (聖稜線), these mountains make up a unique geographic landscape of Taiwan.
Points of Interest:
Guanwu Visitor Centre – The visitor centre at Guanwu National Forest Recreation Area is a state-of-the-art facility with a great interpretive area. The interactive commentary and guided tours available allow visitors to learn about the park’s history, ecology and future conservation efforts. This is also a great place to get caught up on the local culture of the area. The facility also features washrooms and a free place water refilling station.
Guanwu Villas/Cabins – Located a few hundred kilometers from the Guanwu National Forest Visitor Centre, these cabins offer overnight accommodation options for those wishing to stay inside the protected area. Originally staff dormitories, these facilities now cater to overnight tourists, but also act as a great hub to explore the many different trails available at the park. A small store on site sells hot beverages, hot and cold snacks, as well as cold drinks. Adjacent to the small park store, hikers will find public washrooms and a water refilling station.
Jhenshan Viewing Platform – Approximately 2.5km from the parking lot at the Guanwu Villas/Cabins, this is one of the better and more accessible platforms to view the famous “Holy Ridge” (聖稜線) Perched on top of Jhenshan, this 360 degree viewing platform is well worth the 5km return hike.
Guanwu Salamander Ecology Centre – The ecology centre covers all aspects of this relatively rare Taiwanese reptile, including the Guanwu Salamander’s habitats, unique characteristics and features, as well as the ecological crisis it faces. Along with the Taiwan Sassafras and the Wheelstamen Tree, the Guanwu Formosan Salamander has be living in Taiwan since the last Ice Age. Tours available withe booking.
Flora and Fauna – Guanwu National Forest Recreation Area features diverse habitats, and for those hikers who take the time to stay quiet and look about, this protected area has an abundance of flora and fauna to see including several endemic plants and wildlife. Mammals in the park include the Red-bellied Tree Squirrel, the Formosan Striped Squirrel, the White-faced Flying Squirrel, the Formosan Lesser Weasel, civets and macaques and many more. Birdlife is also abundant in the forest and hikers frequently spot Red- and Green-backed Tits, Formosan Laughing Thrush and the larger Mikado and Swinhoe’s Pheasant. Keep your eye out for the smaller insects and reptiles, such as snakes. On warmer days, hikers should be careful as the snakes enjoy coming out into the trails to bask in the sun.
Parkbus Taiwan offers direct and convenient transportation from Taipei to nature across Taiwan. If you’re looking for opportunities to explore Taiwan’s great hiking sites and outdoor destinations, be sure give this service a try.