We have been able to hike a pretty diverse range of hiking trails in Taiwan, but admittedly we’re just getting started on the Xiao Bai Yue (小百岳). While perhaps it doesn’t hold the same prestige as the more prominent Bai Yue (百岳) (no, we haven’t completed them either!), the Xiao Bai Yue is a unique group of 100 mountains that are oriented towards sub-urban destinations and routes suitable for a variety of hikers in Taiwan. This includes beginner routes like Dawulun Mountain in Keelung to novice hiking routes like Dongyanshan National Forest in Taoyuan to hiking trails that are more challenging.
The one thing we’ve found early on in our exploration of Taiwan’s Xiao Bai Yue is that the difficulty of hiking trails listed really range from very accessible and to more remote and from easy hiking to more technically challenging and physically demanding. There’s a ton of diversity in Taiwan’s Xiao Bai Yue and we think that’s the point.
We had a day off on a Friday in March and decided to conquer one of the more famous Xiao Bai Yue and hiking trails in general, Jialishan (加里山) in Miaoli County (苗栗縣). This hiking trail has been on our list for some time now, but it has always been a tough trail to access without a car. Luckily, we were able to borrow a car for the day and with a window of opportunity, we got out to this very popular hiking trail in Taiwan when the crowds were minimal.
One of the most talked about and amazing things about this hiking trail is the view you get from the peak. As with many hiking trails in Taiwan, there is a Class 1 triangulation station at the top of Jialishan. From the peak hikers can get magnificent views of Taiwan’s famed Snow Mountain and the picturesque ‘Holy Ridge’ in the distance. Or so we have been told.
The Jialishan Trail connects a number of small hamlets and villages in Nanzhuang Township in Miaoli County. These include Penglai, Fengmei and Luchang villages, each with populations around 1,000 people. This trail doesn’t have the distance of other popular trails in Taiwan, but it does measure up for those interested in a spectacular experience hiking in Taiwan. Located approximately two hours from Taipei or Taichung, both major transportation hubs in Taiwan, this trail is pretty accessible with a car. If you don’t have a car you can check out Parkbus Taiwan.
Getting Started on Hiking up Jialishan
When you arrive at the Jialishan parking area, you’ll notice a small little operation facilitating parking for hikers. When we got there on a Friday morning, we were the first ones there. The parking lot requires a payment of $100 if you’re taking a car and the largest vehicle allowed is a 9 passenger van. When we go with Parkbus Taiwan, this cost is included in the trip. There is a washroom that is clean and sink to wash hands and face as well.
Depending on which parking lot you get allocated to (there are a few) you may have a short walk or a bit longer of a walk to the official trailhead. The Jialishan Trail starts at the top of the parking area. The trailhead has a trail map and other useful information for hikers. One thing we found simply breathtaking is that you are almost immediately surrounded by spectacular (and pin straight) tall Japanese Cedars.
About 100m along the trail, you will find the first (of only a few) junctions that you will have to manage. You will follow the trail right and descend further down into the forest. The trail that goes straight heads on to Hakanni mountain (哈卡尼山). Follow the signs that read Jiali mountain (加里山).
During the first 600m of this trail, hikers on this trail will find themselves walking through a stunning Japanese Cedar forest with a picturesque underbrush of ferns. If you are able to start the hike early enough the song birds at this altitude are active and abundant. The sounds fill the forest and give you a feeling of walking through an enchanted forest.
For the first 10-15 minutes it’s not just the song birds that you’ll hear either. Walking through the forest, you’ll begin to hear the sound of running water getting louder. At about the 600m mark, hikers will exit the forest into a small clearing before descending onto a riverbed. Huge boulders hide a small stream that runs down parallel to the first section of the trail. The stream can be heard after the first 200m of the trail when it has been raining for a few days. This small section requires a bit of cautious walking on wet rocks to cross the stream before continuing up the far bank. Ropes help hikers on this little river crossing.
This is where the trail begins to ascend and the climbing starts. Generally, hiking along the Jialishan Trail is quite comfortable for the first 2.5km. The climbing is moderate, but it is steady. One of the only challenges along this first section of the trail are the exposed roots that can get quite slippery after a rainfall.
After crossing the stream, the forest becomes slightly more diverse. More broadleaf, deciduous trees can be found during this section of the trail. This is one of the enjoyable parts of hiking in Taiwan. Nobody likes to hike in a monotonous forest for too long. Taiwanese mountainous geography provides diverse landscapes and the forest can seemingly change even along one trail.
Except for perhaps the first 600m of this trail, hikers will be climbing the entire time. Sure there are occasional flat sections in which the climbing isn’t quite as steep, but as we mentioned before, it is steady. And it progressively gets more challenging as the trail and hike continues. There are plenty of trail markers and very few trail junctions, so you can really enjoy the trail with little concern.
For those seeking ‘Refuge’
As you approach the Refuge Hut, at almost the 1.5km mark, you’ll see the remnants of the past logging heritage of this area. The forest you walk through is stunning, but it is also a secondary forest likely replanted during the 1960-1970’s. Here you’ll see the old train tracks that would have been used to extract the lumber off the mountain to the mills located closer to major harbors or city centers.
The Refuge Hut is a simple structure with four walls and a roof to keep hikers out of the elements when the poor weather moves in. Seating is available inside and there are bottles of water and extra equipment that others have left behind including hiking poles and gloves. We didn’t spend too much time here. The trail up to Jialishan’s peak continues up behind the refuge hut. This is one of the remaining trail junctions that you should keep an eye out for.
Take your time between the 1.3km and 2.65km markers of the trail. The hiking is beautiful and features several wooden bridges that cross small streams that add cool features along this trail. When we hiked this in March, there had been enough rain so the streams were running with lots of water. This was a great place to rest for a short bit to catch our breath, take some pictures and drink some water. This is also one of the few structures along the trail that are man-made. Taiwanese trail builders are fantastic about building trails using natural materials found in the forest.
Getting to the Jialishan Peak
Throughout the trail, hikers will see massive boulders that would have fallen from the mountain above. Now covered in lush green moss, they give this trail almost a prehistoric feeling. Between the 2.65km mark and the peak of the Jialishan is some of the most interesting climbing and hiking on this route. It may not be enjoyable for everyone, But if you’re capable and have the right resources and equipment like gloves and good hiking boots this is a very fun trail to hike. There are several locations where you can sit on small wooden benches to enjoy a break along the Jialishan Trail.
The last 400m is where the trail begins to get interesting (and challenging). About 200m before that thought, is one of the most beautiful stretches of the trail. Large boulders the size of shipping contains (or bigger) seem to have fallen off the peak rolled into a lush forest. After who knows how long, hikers in Taiwan made their way here and blazed a trail through this unique and rugged landscape at 2000m. A small bridge and sections of ropes and narrow crevasses make this area one of our favorites stretches on this trail.
As you approach a red sign that reads “Climb with Care”, you’ll also see the last trail junction that leads to the Dapingshan trailhead. To get to Jialishan peak however, you have to start climbing. Behind the sign, hikers will find a rope and metal staples embedded into the rock face. A trail marker sign indicates that only 400m remains. This is where the final ascent begins.
The last 400m is a mix of rocks, roots and ropes that offer the most challenging sections of this trail. Gloves are really helpful here as are good quality hiking boots. Hiking in Taiwan offers up some gnarly roped sections and Jialishan is no different. In fact, you’ll be climbing above and underneath roots and this can all get tricky when the landscape gets a little bit wet. On the day we were hiking Jialishan the trail was just dry enough that we didn’t have to worry about it too much
After quickly scrambling up the rope section with metal staples the trail gets increasingly gnarly and convoluted. At first we didn’t know which section to climb, although after a short photo session of a really beautiful tree we found our way. The boulders and tree formations here are a lot of fun and very interesting.
Roots from one tree have been lifted and you can hike right underneath them. After a variety of roped sections that you really have to be careful and capable of, the final 20 meters or so are filled with scrubby brushes and frequent spots to (likely) see amazing views.
Unfortunately, when we made it up to the peak the clouds had moved in and we had zero visibility. When we hiked this trail we were lucky enough to not have seen a single other hiker. The clearing at the top of Jialishan is quite large and we can imagine on a busy weekend the area could hold 30 people or so. Were we disappointed that we didn’t get a view? A bit. But we know we’ll be heading back here on one of the upcoming trips that Parkbus Taiwan runs
When hiking in Taiwan one must always consider their capabilities before hiking. Reading up on blogs such as this or some of our other favorites, is always important and recommended. These blogs help provide insight into the terrain, the level of difficulty and what kinds of equipment or resources one should bring with us when hiking in Taiwan.
How to get to Jialishan
Parkbus Taiwan offers direct and return transportation to Jialishan Trailhead from Taipei Main Station. Check the homepage for upcoming trips.
If you are driving, you can set this as your location – HERE. Remember there is limited car parking spots and you must pay $100 for a parking spot. Note that the last 10-15 minutes if this road is narrow and a bit worn down.
GPS location: N24 31.631 E121 01.475
Public transport: There is no public transportation to Jialishan Trail.