Yangmingshan’s (陽明山) most spectacular but least visited attraction; Datun Shan’s (大屯山) choicest route; a scary climb within spitting distance of Taipei 101; and an airy ridge walk: Taipei is fortunate in being circled by hills that offer hiking opportunities on every side. Here are suggestions for four excursions, all relatively short, yet each with its own distinctive thrill.
DA YOU KENG (入板坑) (YANGMINGSHAN)
Yangmingshan has two major vents of volcanic origin, each spouting a column of steam into the air amid sulfur-spattered rocks. The lesser of them has a parking lot, toilets and a convenience store and receives hundreds of visitors every day. The other, Da You Keng, is much more impressive but gushes away in lonely isolation. It’s the most astonishing natural phenomenon in the Taipei area and less than 45 minutes’ walk from a bus stop. But almost every time I’ve been there there’s been no one else in sight.
Take the S15 (小15) minibus from the left of Jiantan MRT Station (劍潭捷運站) to its terminus at Qingtiangang (擎天崗), 40 minutes away. Go up onto the grasslands and take the paved path, marked as leading to Fenggueikou (風櫃口), that runs along the left-hand edge of the plateau. After five minutes you’ll reach a prominent stone gateway marked “The Gate” with a sign “Bayan 6.6km.” Go through it and down the track, avoiding diversions to the left and right. After 15 minutes you’ll then find yourself in a wood, and a short way into it you’ll see a small shrine on the ground on your left.
Continue 133 paces along the track from this shrine and you’ll see the unmarked path to Da You Keng, beginning on your left on the opposite side of the stream. Cross the stream by the boulders, and after 10 minutes through low scrub you’ll arrive at a scene of awesome desolation and exceptional grandeur.
All is silent except for the hissing roar of the vent. The huge column of steam is sensitive to the slightest breath of wind and changes its configuration by the minute, presenting photographers with innumerable opportunities. Not a blade of grass grows among the white and gray rocks, and at the valley bottom stand rusted canisters from the now-abandoned sulfur works. It’s poetic beyond words, almost entirely because nothing has been touched by the hands of tourism officials. It’s where Dante would have entered hell after being lost in the very wood you’ve just left, and indeed the ancient Europeans always associated hell with such magnificent, lonely places.
There’s only one way across to the other side of the valley but you’ll find it easily enough. From there the broad trail formerly used by the sulfur workers descends by an easy gradient down to the coast road. It isn’t particularly overgrown, but buses along the road back to Yangmingshan village and Taipei are rare. For more certain access to public transport, return the way you came.
DATUN SHAN (入屯又) WEST PEAK
My favorite hike in the Yangmingshan area, this takes about five hours round trip from Beitou MRT Station (北投捷運站). Take the S7 (小7) minibus that leaves from the station exit (one departs at 12:30pm daily). It runs along the left of Hell Valley (地獄谷), then turns left, passing a mural depicting the joys of mountain life. At a T-junction, 20 minutes from the MRT station, it takes a left, and you get off 300m from there. There’s a store selling snacks [see photo], and the trail begins next to this. If an S7 isn’t in sight at Beitou, take the S9 (小9) instead, which shares the route as far as the T-junction, but there turns right. The trail entrance is 326 paces left from this T-junction.