Do you have the travel bug? Are you already planning your next adventure?
Well, you’re not alone. After what seems like an eternity, we’re all ready for our next adventure in life and there seems to be a pent up demand for adventure travel right now.
So if you’re one of those international travelers who are looking for your next bucket list adventure travel experience, we think we have just the spot – Taiwan.
Where is Thaila…..Taiwan?
If you’re not familiar with the country of Taiwan, here’s a brief overview to bring you up to speed.
It’s not Thailand.
Taiwan is an island nation located in what is commonly called East Asia. This region includes countries like Korea(s), Japan, China and Taiwan. It is positioned roughly 180km or 110 miles off the eastern coast of China. This body of water, known as the Taiwan Strait is an important shipping lane and more importantly (in our view) a migratory path for many birds that frequent the shores of Taiwan at different times throughout the year (we’ll discuss this in more detail later!).
Just how small is Taiwan? For the Canucks reading this, Taiwan is slightly smaller than Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. For the American readers this is just a touch larger than the state of Maryland. For the Europeans, think of cutting Scotland in half. It’s not a big country.
But….Taiwan is a mountainous country by any measurement. In fact, mountains and foothills comprise 70% of Taiwan’s (main island) area. The mountain is symbolic in Taiwan and creates a defining characteristic of the country. The island has one of the highest densities of mountains in the world, with 268 peaks over 3,000m (we’ll get to this in a bit); the highest being Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) at 3,952m.
It also has a lot of people for a small, mountainous island. In fact, it is only 36,193 square kilometers large. Couple that with a current population of about 23.6 million people and it makes Taiwan the 17th most densely populated country on Earth.
While the majority of the population is of Han Chinese descent, the country also has a pretty rich tapestry of indigenous peoples. As of 2022, there are 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes in Taiwan: Atayal, Amis, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Paiwan, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, Sediq, Hla’alua and Kanakanavu. Each of these unique tribes has their own distinct language, customs, art and culture, dress and social structure. The Tribes of Taiwan currently make up approximately 8% of the total population.
While there has been a resurgence of interest and support for the indigenous languages of Taiwan, the most prominent still remains traditional Mandarin Chinese. There has also been a push for English to become an official language by 2030, although this is something that has a number of challenges ahead of it.
Taiwan is a country that offers a developed and, in many cases, an advanced economy with a highly educated society, fantastic airports and transportation networks (we’ll get to this later too) and a world-class healthcare system.
All that said, let’s get to the reason you found this post. Here are a few reasons why we think Taiwan is the best hiking adventure on Earth
The 3000 Club
No, this doesn’t have anything to do with career hits in the MLB. The 3000 club is a term we’ve just made up. It refers to the seemingly endless number of mountains in Taiwan that stretch over 3000. As we mentioned earlier, Taiwan boasts 268 mountain peaks over 3,000m. The highest, YuShan or Jade Mountain, at 3,952m however isn’t the most difficult. In fact, it’s popularity and accessibility mean that it is one of the most frequently hiked high mountain peaks in Taiwan. 268 mountains over 3000m. That’s a big number and likely more than anyone will climb in a lifetime (unless you’re really committed). Where does one even start to determine what is the best hike to climb in Taiwan. Well a lot of that will come down to one’s personal taste in hikes, hiking ability and time that you can allocate to a multi-day (or even single day) high mountain hike in Taiwan. Luckily, to make things a little easier for those wishing to climb the best of the best mountain hikes in Taiwan, the hiking community here has created just the resource for you.
Taiwan’s Baiyue (台灣百嶽) is a list of 100 mountain peaks chosen by a group of Taiwanese hikers who were members of the Taiwan Alpine Association. They were selected from mountain peaks known at the time to be over 3,000 meters in height as this was one of the main factors for selection. Additionally, selection criteria included factors such as beauty, prominence (in both indigenous and Taiwanese culture), uniqueness and danger. While it doesn’t refer strictly to the highest peaks, these ‘Top’ climbs are a great place to start when planning your next high mountain hiking adventure in Taiwan. These 100 peaks alone are enough to keep even the hardiest of high mountain climbers busy for a few years.
The Baiyue peaks are distributed across the island including 69 peaks in the Central Mountain Range, the largest of Taiwan’s five principal mountain ranges, while 19 were in the Xueshan Range, and 12 were in the Yushan Range. If you’re looking to conquer any of the Baiyue in either the Alishan Range and Coastal Mountain Range you’re out of luck. Both of these mountain ranges boast peaks below 3,000m and thus have no contributions to the list of Baiyue. That doesn’t mean there isn’t fantastic hiking in these areas though.
The best English resource for the Baiyue is this website featuring all 100 Peaks or use this Wikipedia. If you find a mountain that suits your ability and interest, we’d recommend doing a few things to find out the details you’ll need to get out on the trail. Find the correct Traditional Mandarin Characters (e.g. 玉山 for Jade Mountain), then search “玉山 hiking”. Two of the best (Chinese) references for hiking in Taiwan are HikingBiji and Hikingbook. Otherwise you can search in English for specific details about different mountain hikes in Taiwan. There are a lot of personal blogs detailing the ascents and all the information you’ll need.
Finally, definitely check out Taiwan Outdoor’s Ultimate Hiking Guide in Taiwan for more information on tour operators, transportation options, gear and guides, and much more!
Taiwan is, if anything, a very accessible destination with one of the best integrated and well connected public transit networks. Using multiple modes of transportation like bikes, trains and buses, hikers can get close to most destinations in Taiwan within one day (many times less). It may take a while, but lots of destinations and trailheads are accessible by public transit. Here’s a few of the amazing transportation options Taiwan has to offer hikers coming to the country (or those already here!).
Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) – The high speed train has made hiking and other outdoor (such as campgrounds, rivers, rock climbing) destinations along the west coast of Taiwan much more accessible. It helps when Taiwan’s HSR reaches speeds of 300km/hr. Traveling the entire high-speed network end to end takes less than 2 hours. That’s the entire island’s west coast. This means you can have all of the amenities of a big city and be in the back country before noon the next day (or earlier). Another reason hiking adventures in Taiwan are world class. There is also plenty of space for even the largest backpacks and all of your hiking gear. Traveling between the south and north of Taiwan is very affordable, easy and convenient. This website is also easy to use to plan your trip. Check out Taiwan-Secrets, who has also put together a great How-To Use Taiwan’s High Speed Rail service.
Taiwan Rail Administration (TRA) – Taiwan has a far reaching train network with rail lines that can help connect those seeking to get to smaller communities across the country. Lots of space for hiking packs and gear and if you’re bringing a bike, check out their bicycle friendly options. At the middle-sized train stations in Taiwan you typically find a few taxis, which can take you the last few kilometers to the trailhead if you need them.
Bus Networks – Bus connections from train stations are pretty reliable too and regardless of whether you’re traveling within a smaller county or longer distance for your hiking adventure, buses are arguably the cheapest way to explore Taiwan. The bus network in Taiwan is extensive and you’ll be surprised, impressed and sometimes downright shocked with the places the bus can take you in Taiwan. Convenient connections between cities and major attractions (including plenty of trailheads and some national parks and forest recreation areas) with some services running 24 hours a day! Taiwanbus.tw is one of the best resources for planning long distance trips by bus.
Here are some good resources for using buses to access some good hiking destinations in Taiwan:
- Yangmingshan National Park – Here, Here, Here, oh and this Ultimate Guide.
- Taroko Gorge National Park (and HehuanShan)
- Yushan National Park & Yangmingshan National Park (Also, check this Ultimate Guide)
- Alishan National Forest (from anywhere in Taiwan)
Parkbus Taiwan – This wouldn’t be an inclusive section about how accessible Taiwan’s hiking destinations are if we didn’t include one of the newest and exciting ways hikers in Taiwan are getting out to the trails – Parkbus Taiwan! Here’s a little background for those that want to know what they’re all about! Getting people outdoors and to difficult-to-get-to hiking destinations as easily as possible. Check out some of their featured destinations or upcoming events.
There are three truths in life. (1) Death. (2) Taxes. (3) Stairs on a Taiwanese trail.
While that’s certainly a reality (for 98.674% of trails in Taiwan), it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a tremendous amount of diversity in the types of trails and hiking experiences for those visiting the country. Also, don’t sweat the fact that you may not have found anything that tickled your fancy within those top 100 or Baiyue mountain peaks. There are plenty of other trails (and we mean ALOT) and different kinds of hiking experiences available for hikers of all abilities across Taiwan. The diversity of hiking experiences in Taiwan is one of the reasons this country is going to rival any destination and lay a rightful claim as the best hiking adventure destination on Earth.
In our 3000 club section we discussed Taiwan’s famous Baiyue or top 100 unique and distinguishable 3000m peaks. When it comes to diversity it would be a mistake not to mention the lesser known Xiao Bai Yue. Similar to the Baiyue, the Xiao (meaning small in Mandarin Chinese) Baiyue were selected as the top 100 suburban hikes for beginner and novice hikers across the island (including some of the outer-lying islands). These trails are shorter and located at lower altitudes, but are selected for their distinguishability and accessibility. Many stunning routes are featured on this list and they offer a whole slew of new hiking adventures that can literally take years to complete. Taiwan Outdoors have plotted the locations on a Google Map and have begun documenting them. This is a great resource for the Xiao Bai Yue, but it is only in Mandarin Chinese.
Moving past the Xiao Baiyue, hikers in Taiwan could spend another few weeks visiting the 21 National Forest Recreation Areas and Forest Parks in Taiwan! This website has segmented them by region. Even further to the diversity in experiences (e.g thru hikes, looped hikes, day trips and overnight options, etc), each of these protected areas is positioned at very different elevations, proximity to watersheds and regions across the island of Taiwan. Each of these protected areas has very unique ecosystems and sub-climates. This is what makes Taiwan a truly world-class destination for hiking. From sub-temperate broadleaf forests to cold temperate coniferous forests and even alpine tundra, Taiwan has the diversity in ecosystems and habitats that make hiking continuously enjoyable as you ascend and descend throughout the country.
Finally, starting in 2002, the Forestry Bureau of Taiwan has been promoting a National Trail System, however, it seems that many of these individual resources have been aggregated under the Natural Trail section on the Forestry Bureau website. There are over 130 trails featured on this section of the website. Many have bilingual, pdf maps, as well as KML files for those with GPS devices.
When it comes to the range of difficulty, the various ecosystems and the sheer number of high quality, well-maintained hiking trails, there are very few countries that rival Taiwan as the best hiking destination on Earth.
Birdlife & Wildlife
While the country isn’t particularly large, it is a hotspot for biodiversity. For such a small country, Taiwan contains an estimated 1.5% of the world’s species and an estimated 1/10th of the total marine species on Earth. Take that in for a moment.
This means there is a fantastic chance for visitors to Taiwan’s natural areas to spot some unique and rare wildlife on Earth. Before we get into what species of birds and other wildlife hikers can spot on the trails in Taiwan we should clarify something. Some may ask how this contributes to making Taiwan the hiking capital of Asia and the best hiking adventure destination on Earth.
Well. Here goes. As you know, there is more to a good hike than the steps it takes to get to the top or views we get along the way (although these matter too!). If we were only focusing on walking then we would direct you to a list of best treadmills of 2022. Hiking is about the experience and the wildlife, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals are all part of what makes a great hiking trip.
According to the Taiwan Wild Bird Federation, a total of 674 bird species have been recorded on the island! That’s a lot. Consider the country of Canada, a country that boasts a lake that is bigger than Taiwan (don’t believe us?). Canada has registered only 462 species. Of course we know that biodiversity is equally distributed across latitude and even longitude, but you get the idea. Taiwan has a lot of birdlife. Of the 674 recorded species, 29 of them are endemic species, 55 endemic subspecies, 14 summer visitors, 162 winter visitors, 91 transient migrants, 29 seabirds, and 171 vagrant species.
Protected areas account for nearly 33% of Taiwan’s total land area and are mostly located in the dense natural forests of the mountains in the center of the island. In addition to these general protected areas, Taiwan Wild Bird Federation (TWBF) has taken significant efforts to further protect specific critical habitats of Taiwan’s bird species. In collaboration with a variety of local partners and conservation groups, TWBF crafted a proposal to create 53 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas across the country (see image below). Ultimately successful, Taiwan is now home to 54 IBAs, which cover nearly 1/5 of Taiwan’s area. The purpose of IBAs is to promote the importance of habitat conservation by using birds as indicators of biodiversity.
Birds are abundant and vary throughout the year in Taiwan and this makes getting out into the mountains that much more enjoyable and rewarding. Bring a long lens or a pair of binoculars when you come. Make sure you check out the TWBF website or Taiwan Outdoor’s Ultimate Guide to Birding in Taiwan if you’re interested in learning more.
The range of topography across the country means that the island of Taiwan is home to a surprisingly large number of mammals. In fact, more than 120 species of mammals have been identified in Taiwan. Monkeys, bears, deer, pangolins, mongoose, flying squirrels are only some of the mammals one can see on the trail . These of course vary in terms of how easy they are to spot. For example, the Formosan Macaque and Muntjac Deer are relatively common, while the Taiwanese Black Bear (or Moon Bear) and the Pangolin are extremely rare. Insects, reptiles and amphibians are much more common to see.
There are an estimated 90 reptile species in Taiwan (including currently, the 13 endemic species of lizards including the Formosan Smooth Skink, Taiwan Alpine Skink, Kikuchi’s Gecko, Yami’s Scaly-toed Gecko, Formosan Grass Lizard, Hsueshan’s Grass Lizard, Sauter’s Grass Lizard, Stejneger’s Grass Lizard, Short-legged Japalura, Lue’s Japalura, Maki’s Japalura, Swinhoe’s Japalura and the Formosan Glass Lizard). There are also over 30 amphibian species and approximately 18,000 identified insect species. OF those 18,000 insect species, nearly 400 of them are butterflies.
Interestingly, there is no official National Animal of Taiwan, nor any official National Bird of Taiwan. That said, the Formosan Black, or Sun Bear and the Taiwan Blue Magpie are frequently regarded as the unofficial national species symbols. Two other native species rival that title. One being the Formosan Rock Macaque and the majestic Mikado Pheasant since they are not found elsewhere in the world.