One of 12 designated National Forests in Taiwan, Aowanda National Forest covers a massive area of nearly 2,800 hectares and is located in Ren’ai Township in north central Nantou County in the heart of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range. In the Atayal language, “Ao” means going deep and entering, and Aowanda means “going deep into Wanda”. Wanda is in reference to the name of the river that runs through the park. This protected area is famous for its remoteness, diversity of experiences and its beautiful maple leaves. Aowanda National Forest is unique in Taiwan, in that it truly has different faces during different seasons. From February to September, outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the comfortable and more mild weather deep in the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan. Also, the forests and the flowers are abundant and in full bloom. In May, fireflies come out at night and dusk, while late Autumn and winter are the seasons to appreciate the beautiful maple leaves and plants. Aowanda is perfect for hiking, bird-watching, and connecting with nature.
The Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area is located in a mid-altitude river valley in the mountains and the rugged valleys and steep mountains are characteristics of this region of Taiwan. It is not just the red maple leaves in winter that draw visitors here, but also the cherry blossoms in spring, waterfalls in summer and the perfect hiking temperatures in autumn.
There are several trails in the recreation area, including the Waterfall Trail, Forest Trail, Cherry Grove Trail, Haohanpo Trail, Maple Forest Trail, Bird-watching Trail, First Deck Trail and Forest Park Trail. Each has its own charm and several lead out to the incredible suspension bridge that spans over the Wanda River.
Hikes/Trails & Points of Interest:
There are several trails within Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area and they vary in length and difficulty – and by difficulty, we’re referring to steps and elevation change. The trail network here is perfect for day trips or overnight stays, as they are interconnected and loop to offer opportunites for visitors to have vastly different types of experiences here. The site itself is actually quite spread out, but there are a variety of different types of facilities throughout, including a coffeeshop, two restaurants, a gift shop and visitor centre.
While most of the trails can be connected to create looped hikes and total distance of hiking would be around 8-10km, depending which routes are taken. There are a few trails that feature an ‘out-and-back’ hiking experiences, such as the Flying Waterfall Trail and the Maple Watching Trail. The trails at Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area are really 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.
Waterfall Trail & Maple Viewing Platform / 瀑布步道 & 賞楓平臺(1.6km one-way) – This trail heads to the western portion of the park and is a mix of asphalt and cobblestones for the first kilometer or two. Once you pass the Retention Basin (water holding facility), the trail becomes more natural, compact soil with some slight elevation. Several side trails provide opportunities to get down to the river and relax. There are a total of four viewing platforms along this trail. Ending at the stunning “Flying Waterfalls” which presents a single chute waterfall straight down with a height of about 48 meters, Taking your time and enjoying the sites, this trail should take about 1 hour return from the visitor center. If you add in the 300m to the Maple Viewing Platform, it should add another 15-20 minutes.
Maple Forest Trail / 楓林步道 (1.2km) – This linear trail features some of the more elevation changes among any of the trails in Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area, but occurs over some distance and isn’t as demanding on the legs at the aptly named “Strongman’s Slope“.
Strongman’s Slope / 好漢步道 (100m) – In distance, this trail is short, but it’s steep and all wooden stairs. There’s a reason they call it what they do – 好漢步道 literally means “Hero’s Trail”. It offers a more direct route down to the river bed and alluvial plain below, but is a bit of a thigh burner.
Bird Watching Trail / 賞鳥步道 (500m) – The Bird Watching Trail is short, but is part of a longer Forest Park Trail that connects to the Bird Watching Platform and beyond to the Aowanda Suspension Bridge. A beautiful, flat trail offers perfect conditions for bird watching and the sounds of birds on the trail allow hikers to be immersed in nature. Getting here as early in the morning or at dusk are the best time for bird watching, as these creatures truly come alive. There are more than 120 species of 32 families that have been identified in Aowanda National Forest.
Cherry Garden Trail / 櫻花園步道 (500m one-way) – The Cherry Garden Trail is located on the terrace near the visitor center. Its trail head can be found behind some of the rental cabins and is flat and easy to walk. It ends at the starting point of the Hero Slope Trail. It takes about 15 minutes to walk and return and is positioned amongst a number of ecological ponds that are filled with frogs, fish and frequented by birds. A great place to wind down if you’ve got some extra time.
Forest Park Trail 森林公園步道 (1.4km one-way) – The starting point of the Forest Park Trail connects with the Maple Forest Trail, passing the Aowanda Suspension Bridge, the Forest Classroom, and the Jiuxiong Forest along the way. The trail should be considered easy to novice with the only challenge coming with slight elevation changes, but most of this occurs with stairs.
Points of Interest:
Aowanda Visitor Centre and other park features – This visitor center has improved in recent years, with a variety of available (bilingual) interpretation and information about the natural and cultural history of the area. You can also inquire about different services available in the park. Washrooms and drinking water are also available here. One neat feature is the live video broadcast of bird nesting boxes that are located through out the park. If the season is right, its a hot day or you have time, these are really interesting to watch. There are several picnic benches with shade available in and around the visitor centre.
Aowanda Suspension Bridge – Famously destroyed in a 2007 typhoon, the Aowanda Suspension Bridge was rebuilt in 2009 and now spans 180 meters long and 90 meters high. It’s not for the faint of heart, but worth every step to get there. Under the bridge, flows the north arm of Wanda River. The views from the bridge are spectacular and illustrate the grand tectonic work that occurs in Taiwan, as the plates collide with the crust and produces rapidly rising mountains and a sharp v-shaped valley.
Red Resort Village Restaurant – It isn’t much to look at, but this restaurant offers a hearty meal and popsicles to boot! The building is a clapboard, wood siding building and serves classic Taiwanese fare – stir fries, braised pork belly with pickled vegetables, sautéed greens and mushrooms, deep-fried stream fish, braised tofu, chicken and other dishes. You can order a-la-carte or choose one of several set menus designed for larger groups.
Flora and Fauna – In Aowanda, visitors can not only find Formosan gum trees, maple trees and pine trees but also Taiwanese zelkova, Chinese pistaches, and luanta-firs. Because this site is less visited than other National Forests in Taiwan, this forest is home to a variety of wild life. There are at least 120 recorded species of birds. Of these birds, the Taiwan blue magpie is the most unique. It was voted as the national bird of Taiwan, but some of the other popular birds you can spot include Crested Thrush, Tea-Bellied Nuthatch, Brown-faced Warbler, Blue-backed Tit, Yellow Tit and many others! Other animals that can be found here in Aowanda are the Formosan rock macaques, Japanese tree frogs, long-armed beetles, stag beetles, and many other birds, butterflies, insects and animals.
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