Do you know about two-third of Taiwan is covered with mountains? The island is home to dynamic landscapes with a staggering number of mountains towering over 3,000 metres. To illustrate the dense greenery covering the island, 263 mountains peak at such high elevation that climbers are rewarded with panoramic views of the landscape, ocean, and stunning diversity of flora and fauna and wildlife.
With mountains all over the island, Taiwan is the perfect place to indulge in forest bathing. The island has well-established forestry infrastructure and extensive natural attractions. The Taiwanese people love and treasure their mountains so much that 2020 was designated the “Year of Mountain Tourism” to highlight the island’s mountains, hiking trails, and more.
This special guide is for first-timers and fans of forest bathing who are interested to experience Taiwan’s nature throughout the seasons. Hope this overview of forest bathing and guide to popular hiking destinations in Alishan 阿里山 and Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area 參山國家風景區 will be useful as you plan your next getaway to Taiwan!
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing has been gaining popularity rapidly as people seek ways to relax and escape from their hectic daily lives. Forest bathing or “shinrin-yoku” was developed in the 1980s by the Forestry Agency of Japan. The Japanese word “shinrin” means forest and “yoku” means bath. Shinrin-yoku is simply means “bathing” in the forest or taking in the forest atmosphere. Experience forest bathing as you spend time in nature and stroll through forested areas while connecting with the natural environment through your five senses.
What are the benefits of forest bathing?
The art of forest bathing is widely practised around the world as spending time in forests is beneficial for your health and well-being. The therapeutic power of forest bathing can help to improve psychological and physiological health. According to a research conducted by universities in Taiwan, forest bathing has positive effects on stress recovery. A group of women participated in forest therapy program in Aowanda National Forest Recreation 奧萬大國家森林遊樂區 and they showed increased positive mood and reduced anxiety levels.
Trees emit phytoncides and these chemicals are like tree essential oils with healing properties. Being “bathing” in the forests, you would feel more relaxed, reduction in stress and high blood pressure, and even improved concentration levels and sleep patterns.
Here are some tips for a fulfilling forest bathing experience:
- Choose a forested area for your walk
- Have a walking route in mind or feel free to follow your heart as you walk
- Take deep breaths and amble through the greenery
- Be present and try not to be distracted
- Engage all your five senses and immerse in the surroundings
- Leave your electronic devices and worries behind
Let’s visit two main forested areas in Taiwan, Alishan and Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area to experience the wonders of forest bathing!
Best places to experience forest bathing in Taiwan
Alishan is one of the more well-known mountains that comes to most people’s mind for nature activities like hiking and forest bathing in Taiwan.
To a certain extent, Alishan is “cursed” by its pristine greenery and natural resources. During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Alishan became a logging hub as materials from the mountains like precious cypress wood were extracted for commerce and development. These days, while trees are conserved and protected, the area has grown into a bustling centre that attracts truckload of local and international visitors.
Some locals find Alishan overly commercialized and prefer to seek quieter and greener pastures. Alishan is loosely used so when people talk about Alishan, they usually mean Alishan National Forest Recreation Area 阿里山國家森林遊樂區.
Alishan is colossal as it covers expansive altitude from subtropical to temperate regions and includes the more spacious Alishan National Scenic Area 阿里山國家風景區. In this section, I will highlight the two key areas of Alishan and recommended hiking trails and attractions.
How to get to Alishan?
There are a few ways to get to Alishan depending on where you start and if you can secure the precious Alishan Forest Railway train tickets.
Method 1: Alishan Forest Railway
The most scenic route to Alishan is via the Alishan Forest Railway 阿里山森林鐵路.
During the Japanese occupation period, Alishan forest railway was built to facilitate the transportation of valuable resources like cypress trees from the mountains. Completed in 1912, the railway connected Zhushan/Chushan station near the peak of Alishan at about 2,451 metres to the hub at Chiayi City. The railway was the only way to access the dense forested region before the Alishan highway was built in 1982.
Nowadays, visitors are lucky to have the chance to experience the main Alishan forest train route that still climbs the steep slopes and brings the passengers to various areas in Alishan. The highest narrow-gauge mountain railway in Asia traverses through steep mountains, a myriad of tunnels, and crosses many bridges. I was very entertained during the train ride from Chiayi City to the mountain. The ride (2 hours and 20 minutes) felt almost too short with all the excitement and sweeping train scenes.
The full railway is not fully functional yet so the train stops before reaching the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. Visitors have to catch a bus up the mountains to enter the recreation area.
Within the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, train enthusiasts can embark on short but scenic train rides on 3 train branch lines.
Shenmu Line 神木線 (Sacred Tree) (7 mins): This train goes through deep into the forest when you can get up close and personal with ancient, gigantic trees.
Zhaoping Line 沼平線 (6 mins): This train delves deeper into the larger forested area where you try longer hiking trails.
Zhushan (Chushan) Line 祝山線 (30 minutes): This sunrise viewing line brings you to famous sunrise spot in Alishan where you can admire the splendid sun rising in the midst of clouds. Even though the trains run early, they are usually packed with eager visitors on their sunrise-watching quest. Purchase train tickets one day before from 1:00-4:00pm on the second floor of Alishan station.
How to get get Alishan Forest Railway train tickets?
There are two ways to reserve tickets. Good luck trying!
1. Through their website
- You can book your tickets 14 days before your departure date (so set your calendar)
- Website is open 6:00-24:00
- Every person (with a valid ID) can reserve up to 6 tickets
2. At train stations
- You can purchase your tickets physically at main train stations (Chiayi station is the most convenient) 12 days before your departure day
- Ticketing counter is open 8:30-16:30
Find out more about how to reserve tickets and the train timings on Alishan Forest Railway and Cultural Heritage Office website.
Tickets are difficult to get there is only 1 train up and 1 train down the mountains on weekdays and a few more trains on weekends and during public holidays. I recommend planning early and reserving your tickets promptly.
If you have successfully secured the train tickets, congrats! Follow the next steps.
a. Start from Chiayi station in Chiayi City. Find out more about how to get to city in my Insider’s Guide to Chiayi’s Cultural and Culinary Secrets. I strongly recommend that you spend a few days in Chiayi City as it has amazing culinary delights and rich culture.
b. From Chiayi station, you can board the Alishan Forest Railway train if you have secured your tickets. The picturesque ride in the retro train takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
c. Stop at Fenqihu station to enjoy their famed bento lunch sets or even spend a few nights to explore the town before catching the bus (Taiwan Tourism Shuttle 台灣好行) up the mountains (about 1 hour) to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. You can also stop at other stations at Duolin and Shizilu if you like to explore the surrounding Alishan National Scenic Area before heading up.
Method 2: Take a bus
You can take a bus (Taiwan Tourism Shuttle 台灣好行) that goes directly from Chiayi train station or Chiayi High Speed Train Station to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. The ride is about 2.5 to 3 hours and it can be quite winding as it nears the top section of the mountains. If you are prone to bus/car sickness, please to take motion sickness pill before boarding.
What to do in Alishan?
Alishan is truly a nature sanctuary as you can experience five wonders: sunrise, “sea of clouds”, railway, forest, and sunset. The climate in the highlands is usually rainy and foggy and the weather conditions create a unique ecosystem for forests and wildlife to thrive. Immerse in the misty and mystical atmosphere as you explore the trails.
Alishan National Forest Recreation Area 阿里山國家森林遊樂區
Alishan National Forest Recreation Area is managed by Forestry Bureau 林務局 that oversees the forest recreation areas in Taiwan. Located at about 2,000 metres above sea level, it is an enclosed, protected nature reserve and you have to pay an entry fee to get in (TWD $200 for Taiwanese nationals and TWD $300 for foreign visitors). Remember to purchase admission ticket to enter the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area.
This is where most Alishan visitors head to spend one to a few days in nature. There are accommodations inside the recreation area where you can stay for your multi-day trips. Here are some highlights of the area!
Sunrise and sunset
Alishan is known for its legendary sunrise and sunset. Its high elevation sets up a natural viewing ridge for panoramic views of the sun merging with the vast skies, clouds, and greenery. Some great spots to watch the wonder of nature are the lookout points on Zhushan/Chushan (accessible by the Alishan Forest Railway, see information above) and Ciyun Temple.
Giant tree trail
The stars of Alishan National Forest Recreation Area are the ancient trees dispersed along the interwoven hiking trails. The locals regard the trees as sacred trees as they have been towering for so many generations and are almost spiritual with their energy. Observe the venerable trees and indulge in uninterrupted forest bathing sessions as you explore the gentle trails. Some trees and their branches have interesting shapes and some have memorable names like Elephant Trunk Tree and Heart-Shaped Tree.
Alishan National Scenic Area 阿里山國家風景區
I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t know that the Alishan National Scenic Area is so massive until I worked on this guide! It envelops Alishan National Forest Recreation Area and many other parcels of land. If you want a complete Alishan experience, you have to set aside more than a few days to explore the scenic area together with Alishan National Forest Recreation Area.
The mountainous town was one of the largest stations and trading centres for the Alishan Forest Railway. In the past, workers in the forestry and logging industries would take breaks there and fuel themselves with rice bentos. This tradition is why railway bento boxes are so well known there. Most visitors will make a pit stop in Fenqihu Historical Street to dig into their sumptuous lunch bentos before heading up the mountains.
If you enjoy slow travel, don’t rush up to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area after your lunch. Spend more time or even a night in this quaint town and explore Fenqihu hiking trails.
Eryanping Trail 二延平步道
This trail connects two mountains Eryanpingshan 二延平山 and Xidingshan 隙頂山 and offers otherworldly views of nature’s holy trinity–mountains, clouds, and blue skies. Photographers flock there to capture their winning shots of sunset.
Check out the live cam showing Eryanpingshan! Alishan National Scenic Area has thoughtfully set up live camera streaming on their website that creates a virtual window to the top scenic spots so you can enjoy Alishan from all angles from your home.
Shizhuo Trails 石棹步道
Shizhuo is a hiker’s paradise with its collection of trails that weave through diverse terrain like pristine greenery, rolling tea fields, and cedar and bamboo forest. This remote countryside is ideal for slow walks, savouring local tea, and even enjoying a homestay experience.
Six themed tours of Alishan
You can enjoy different types of themed tours in Alishan and the top 6 themes are tea, coffee, railway, indigenous culture, ecology, and even romance. Find out more about the sights and activities related to these travel themes in this brochure (front and back) and the informative video below.
Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area 參山國家風景區
If you are craving for a nature escapade far away from the tourist circuit (yes, away from Alishan), Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area should be on your mountain-hopping list. Spanning the northern and central parts of Taiwan, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area is extensive as it encompasses 3 mountains – Lion’s Head Mountain, Baguashan, and Lishan.
Each mountain is nestled within its own scenic area with diverse natural and cultural attractions. While the mountains are popular with locals, they are still under the radar and undiscovered by international travelers.
All 3 mountains are supported by public transportation from big cities so you don’t have to worry about finding your way. Here are meticulous transportation tips prepared by the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area team will prepare you to embark on free-and-easy trips.
Lion’s Head Mountain 獅頭山
There are 3 ways to access Lion’s Head Mountain from Taipei City.
Method 3: Take Taiwan Tour Bus for a guided bus tour. The one-day tour is about 8 hours and it brings you to Lion’s Head Mountain where you can spend about 2 hours and includes lunch and Hakka culture workshop. Find out more about the tour here.
Method 1: From Taichung High Speed Train station, take the first bus (Taichung 153) (2 hours) and then change to the second bus (Taichung 865) (1 hour and 30 minutes).
As the journey to Lishan is quite long but rewarding, most people spend a night at Guguan 谷關 to enjoy the hot springs before taking the second bus on the next day. The bus frequency is low as the narrow road to the mountains is controlled so reserve your ticket in advance.
Take local train (operated by Taiwan Railway Administration TRA) to Changhua station 彰化站 (2 hours 46 minutes).
Lion’s Head Mountain 獅頭山
Starting from the most northern part of the scenic area, let’s tour Lion’s Head Mountain that is situated on the boundaries of Hsinchu County and Miaoli County.
Why is the mountain called Lion’s Head? Back in the Qing Dynasty, a Hsinchu County Magistrate Li Sheng-Yi observed the mountain during a ceremony. He saw a mountain that resembled the head of the majestic head and decided to name it Lion’s Head Mountain.
Standing at 492 metres at its highest point, Lion’s Head Mountain is an ideal spot to experience forest bathing for half a day or a full day for beginners. There are many interconnected hiking routes on the mountain that can be accessed from Lion’s Head Mountain Visitor Centre on the Hsinchu side.
Lion’s Head Mountain Historical Trail 獅山古道
This popular trail runs through ancient temples where devotees frequent. One of the most visited temples is Quanhua Temple 勸化堂, an architectural marvel that is perched on the steep cliffs of the mountain.
Shuilian Cave 水濂洞
As you ramble through the Lion’s Head mountain paths, you will be surrounded by impressive natural landscapes and over ten cave temples. The largest cave in the mountain, the Water Curtain Cave or Shuilian Cave 水濂洞 can be accessed from the Shuilian Bridge Trail 水濂橋步道.
Penglai River Ecology Trail 蓬萊溪自然生態園區
A tranquil ecology trail (about 1.6 km) traces the river that has been protected from fishing. As you stroll on the boardwalk, relax like the carefree and vibrant marine life swimming down the river.
Jialishan Trail 加里山
Another “mind-blowing” route that offers spectacular scenery that the Taiwanese people describe the view of the mountains from the trail as Taiwan’s version of Mount Fuji. The 6.6 km trail goes up to an elevation of about 2,000 metres and it can be quite challenging so be prepared for some serious exercise for over 3-4 hours.
Nanzhuang Old Street 南庄老
Atayal and Saisiyat tribes were some of the first settlers in the area. After the Han Chinese moved into the area, they set up Hakka villages. Experience authentic Hakka hospitality by venturing to Nanzhuang Old Street in Miaoli County. Here you can indulge in local snacks and their trademark Osmanthus products from the Osmanthus Alley.
Beipu Cold Spring 北埔冷泉 and Beipu Old Street 北埔老街
The scenic area stretches to the rustic Beipu Township. After a long hike in summer, you can cool down in Beipu Cold Spring, one of the two cold springs in Taiwan. After a rejuvenating bath, amble over to the nearby Beipu Old Street for some local culinary delights.
Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area promotes diversity and inclusion and welcomes travellers from all around the world. Some of their facilities have prayer rooms for Muslim visitors and some restaurants and shops have Halal-certified food and products. For your trip planning, refer to Nick Kembel’s Lion’s Head Mountain and Nanzhuang guide for practical tips as he is a frequent visitor.
Ending the tour of this scenic area here with a fun video showing the best of Lion’s Head Mountain!
Spreading over Heping Township in Taichung City, Lishan is an iconic mountain range in Central Taiwan. Affectionately called “Pear Mountain,” Lishan is the top pear production region in Taiwan as its attitude at over 2,000 metres is conducive for cultivating fruits like peach, apples, and more.
The journey to Lishan takes about 3 hours and it traverses a rugged section of Central Cross-Island Highway, which was inaccessible to the public for almost 2 decades. Thanks for the designed public bus that is made available now (see above for more guidance about transportation), visitors can now access this remote part of Taiwan.
Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場
Lishan and the surrounding area is breathtaking and serene all year round. The locals love to visit in the fall as the resplendent cosmos are in full bloom and the autumn foliage shines in Fushoushan Farm.
Together with the neighbouring alpine farms Wuling Farm 武陵農場 and Cingjing Farm 清境農場, Fushoushan Farm is given the moniker “Taiwan’s Little Switzerland” because it is framed by picture-perfect mountain vista. Like the other farming areas in the region, the farm was originally established by soldiers who helped to build the Central Cross-Island Highway and veterans who eventually settled down in the area.
The farm has been developed into an agricultural and leisure site and locals like to spend their summer in the cooling farm. Fushoushan is famed for their sweet apples so grab some freshly picked seasonal fruits when you are in the vicinity.
1956 Maple Valley 楓之谷
Take in the radiant seasonal colors in 1956 Maple Valley! Its name illustrates the height of the valley at 1556 metres and its cluster of maple trees that burst into a symphony of earthly shades during autumn.
Seven heroes of Guguan 谷關七雄 and Guguan Hot Spring 谷關溫泉
When you are venturing into the scenic area, you will not miss the Seven Heroes of Guguan, a majestic mountain range. The trails to the 7 heroes or mountain peaks start from Guguan, a humble hot spring town that welcomes visitors who are on their expedition to Lishan.
Siliq Trail 希利克步道 and Lansheng Pavillion 攬勝樓
Hiking is a must-do activity in the mountains and a well-trodden path is the Siliq Trail where the 600-metre trail is constructed using environmentally friendly methods. The word “Siliq” is from the Atayal language and it refers to the grey-cheeked fulvetta, a spiritual bird for the Atayal people. Known as the “quiet trail,” Siliq trail is an evocative gateway to nature where you can enter in a meditative state in the midst of thick vegetation.
Lansheng Pavilion is a popular resting spot on the trail as you can let your sight and mind wonder with the mesmerising scenes of sunset and clouds against the Central Mountain Range.
Black Forest Trail 黑森林步道 and Jiayang Tribal Village 新佳陽部落
The pristine Black Forest Trail hosts a precious ecosystem of trees and plants. The forest merges with the Jiayang Tribal Village where you can participate in cultural and eco-friendly activities organized by the local community.
Lishan Culture Museum 梨山文物陳列館
Before leaving Lishan, drop by the museum to learn more about Lishan’s history, culture, and natural ecosystem. The second level of the museum has exhibits educating visitors more about the culture and traditions of the indigenous people of the region like the Atayal tribe.
The most southern mountain in the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area is easily accessible from Changhua station in Changhua city. Baguashan is closely linked to the Baguashan Buddha, a landmark of Changhua.
Baguashan Buddha 八卦大佛
Built in 1961, Baguashan Buddha is a place of pilgrimage for devotees. The awe-inspiring statue is divided into 6 levels and each level is dedicated to an aspect of the Big Buddha’s life.
Baguashan Skywalk 八卦山天空步道
Most visitors take the panoramic Skywalk when they explore the Buddha park. The longest skywalk in Taiwan, it bridges the 2 hiking trails in Baguashan and provides an elevated platform for trekkers to enjoy a bird’s eye view of various attractions in Changhua City.
The Songoling region is a prime tea production centre in Taiwan. Enter the tea plantations and indulge in the “Six senses of Tea 茶薰六覺體驗.” The locals believe that it is important to concentrate on the six senses to appreciate the essence of the tea. The six senses are: seeing (observing the changes in tea leaves before and after brewing; hearing (listening to the sound of nature and the process of brewing the tea); touching (feeling the texture of the tea leaves); smelling (taking in the fragrance of the tea); tasting (drinking the tea); and finally feeling the tea warming and nourishing your body. Go through the steps in a mindful way and you may attain “tea-nirvana!”
Tiaoshui Historic Trail 挑水古道
This historical trail or “Water Porters’ Trail” is a historical route connecting Dazhu and Xitou Village in Changhua, which locals used to transport water in the past. As you retrace the steps of villagers, spot trees bearing fruits like lychee and longan and even rare wildlife.
For foodies out here, Baguashan is the birthplace of the exquisite SunnyHills pineapple cakes. The fresh and nectarous pineapples used in the pastry are grown in Baguashan. SunnyHills embraces the Farm-Bakery-Store concept where they operate farms that supply the fruits and they bake and sell their premium products in their stores. Visit the charming countryside Nantou SunnyHills store in Baguashan to get some pineapple goodies. While you can get the pineapple cakes in Singapore, they will probably taste nicer and more special in Baguashan!
There is so much to do other than forest bathing in the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area. Visit the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area website for useful information like itineraries with Google map links. You can also find more information and inspiration in the Year of Mountain Tourism website. There is a dazzling selection of mountains, forests, and hiking trails to enjoy in Taiwan so don’t just go to Alishan!
This article is a supplement to the virtual travel session “Experience the art of Forest Bathing in Taiwan’s Mountains” organized by Taiwan Tourism Administration, Singapore. It is a special collaboration between whywendywrites, Alishan National Scenic Area 阿里山國家風景區, and Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area 參山國家風景區. Watch the video here!
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