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Learn to Hike in Taiwan 3: Gaotai Mountain and the three Daotian Peaks (高台山-小,中,大島田山縱走)

Updated: Apr 27


 
 

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UPDATED April 27, 2024

 

*Please note that The Map Room participates in the Amazon Associate Program, and other affiliate programs, and may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

 


Welcome to The Map Room's Learn to Hike in Taiwan series!


This is the third in a series of five articles designed to take inexperienced hikers from raw novice level to ready to try their first Baiyue (台灣百岳, the top 100 mountains in Taiwan, all 3000+ meters / 10,000+ feet), all while touring around northern Taiwan.


Hikes in this series:

  1. Fire Mountain (火炎山) Novice

  2. Five Finger Mountain (五指山) Beginner

  3. Gaotai Mountain and the Three Daotian Peaks (高台山 - 小,中,大岛田山縱走) Low intermediate

  4. Jiali Mountain Part I: There and Back Again (加里山) Intermediate

  5. Jiali Mountain Part II, The Hakani Mountain Loop (加里山 - 哈堪尼山縱走) High intermediate

  6. Or, see the whole series at this link!

It’s easy enough to get your body to walk away from the mountain, but your heart? Well, that’s another matter altogether...

Introducing this week's mountain:

Gaotai Mountain and the three Daotian Peaks

(高台山-小,中,大島田山 / 高島縱走)


 
 

Chocked full of history and embedded in nature, Gaotai Mountain and the three Daotian Peaks (高台山-小,中,大島田山 / 高島縱走) make up a beautiful, rewarding hike in Hsinchu county, Taiwan (台灣新竹). Located in the foothills just beyond the charming Neiwan Old Street (內彎老街), the hike is well suited for hikers in fair to good physical condition who want to spend a day enjoying nature. It’s a great intro to the foothills of Taiwan's mountains, along with some more adventurous - but still not terribly dangerous - rope and scrambling sections.


Hiking down from the Daotian Peaks in the evening mist

As a bonus, there are Imperial Japanese ruins, it’s not far from Xiaojinping Hot Spring (小錦屏野溪溫泉), and there are great river tracing destinations such as Meihua Waterfall (梅花瀑布 and Bilin Waterfall (比麟瀑布 nearby.


Gaotai Mountain #2 entrance sign

This hike takes a little more work to get to, and up, than Five Finger Mountain (五指山), but it is also much more rewarding.


Gaotai Mountain #2 entrance, recommended for scooters. If you are in a car, #1 is much better.
Hiking uphill through the beautiful, forested mountainside towards the peak. There are several rest areas on the way up.

The first section of the Gaotai Mounain hike is a beautiful, mostly uphill hike through pine forest up to the peak. For those in good physical condition this should not be difficult, but it will definitely get your blood flowing. Less fit individuals will find this section strenuous, but the rewards are worth it!







Gaotai Mountain (高台山), 1510 meters (4954 ft)

There is a triangulation point marker (三角點) on the peak of Gaotai Mountain, but don’t stop there for too long! Your real destination is the campsite just beyond. You can camp in this area if you want (but bring water with you!), it's one of the nicest, easily accessible campsites I know in Northern Taiwan. It's gotten pretty popular over the last few years, though, and there may be crowds on weekends or holidays.



Many people pass by this campsite, and some even camp. It can be crowded on weekends and holidays, so come early, or come on Friday night.

Now, here's a bonus secret! The campsite, which is just to the right of the trail, is obvious. However, just off in the undergrowth to the left you will quickly notice the leftover foundations of ruined structures. These were once a Japanese Imperial 'police station' - that is, a military police occupation center constructed specifically to keep the local Aboriginal tribes under control.


Relaxing at the campground just beyond Gaotai Mountain. This is one of my favorite, easily accessible campsites in all of northern Taiwan - though there is no water source!

Not only that, but the trail itself was actually originally a Japanese road, and you can still see remnants of it at various points along the hike. There are many such places in the mountains of Taiwan, and they offer a fascinating way to explore Formosa, The Beautiful Island’s, unique and varied history. If you are interested in the Japanese Imperial ruins of Taiwan, just keep on reading! We’ll be coming back to them below.



For those who just want an easy hike, whose time is limited, or who are still getting into shape, getting here is already a good turnaround point. But for those who want a bit more, just keep following the trail – the Daotian peaks await! This section of the hike is more demanding, but still quite manageable for those in shape.



 Just follow the trail and you will soon reach the Small, Middle, and Big Daotian Peaks (小,中,大島田山). At only 1824 meters / 5684 ft, Big Daotian is a low peak with a gigantic tree that you can climb up into and get some great pictures. On the way up, you will go through multiple rope climbing sections which, while quite passable, make for a good adventure (for you, but not for your dog, I'm sorry to say...).



It won't be long until you get to the next stopping point, the Gaotai - Daotian Scenic Overlook. Offering by far the best views of the entire hike, you can sit and rest here with views of mountains stretching off to the distant, but still visible, coastline of the Taiwan Strait.







Another trail going down - DO NOT go down this way!



The section between the Little and Middle Daotian peaks involves ropes and is definitely NOT suitable for dogs. It's a bit adventurous, but nothing too extreme.



Middle Daotian Peak (中島天山)
Middle Daotian Peak (中島天山)
The view from Middle Daotian Peak (中島天山)



Big Daotian Peak (大島天山)

Although like many of Taiwan’s lower foothills Big Daotian Peak only has a small, forested clearing and little to no view at the top, it is by no means boring! The trees look like something out of a primordial forest, and you can climb right up into the biggest one for some great pictures.



The giant tree on Big Daotian Peak (大島天山)

The primordial vibe continues as you head down the back of the peak, with gnarly, moss covered roots and beautiful trees giving it a really prehistoric feeling. Make sure to follow the path to the right going down though, it's very easy to get lost by going down to the left! Just follow the flags and you will quickly arrive at a three way intersection in a very obvious clearing.


The giant tree on Big Daotian Peak (大島天山)
The giant tree on Big Daotian Peak (大島天山)

To return to the trailhead, turn right and head downhill. This will take you back to the campsite, Gaotai Mountain, and the exit. The trail off to the left heads off towards Shimada Mountain (石麻達山) and is the beginning of a labyrinthine network of trails that snake their way throughout a series of much more remote and challenging mountains.


Turn right at this sign to return to the campsite, Gaotai Mountain, and the exit.

So, do you remember the Japanese police station from earlier? Well, the Shimada Mountain trail passes by many more overgrown Japanese era ruins. If you walk in just a short distance, you can see good examples right away. These include obvious foundations of walls and doors, a prominent, round stone structure that was once the base of a cannonade, ominously overlooking the local Aboriginal villages in the valleys below, and the clearest yet remnants of the old Imperial road.



Going in 5-10 minutes may be worth it for most people, but going any further than this is not recommended unless you are an experienced hiker with advanced trailfinding skills, know the trail system, and have prepared adequate gear. This trail is much more demanding, overgrown, and difficult to follow. It is only sparsely marked and has no water sources. For experience hikers looking for an interesting challenge, this may be worth your while; otherwise, just take a quick look and then head on back to the trailhead.


Following the imperial Japanese road back to Gaotai Mountain (高台山)

The trail back to Gaotai Mountain circumvents the Daotian peaks, following the abandoned Japanese Imperial era road instead. Some sections are in amazing condition, displaying clearly what the entire road would have looked like in its heyday, while others have collapsed over time, crumbling into the misty jungle landscape like the remnants of some lost and forgotten ancient civilization. While these are easily passable, they add a lot of ambiance, and definitely make the hike a lot more fun!


Following the imperial Japanese road back to Gaotai Mountain (高台山)

Clouds and even rain can roll in in the afternoons in the mountains of Taiwan, so it’s important to check the weather forecast and bring rain gear just in case. It makes for an eerily beautiful hiking experience, though, and the afternoon and evening mists in the area make a great setting for just letting go and letting your imagination take flight.


Hiking through the mountain mists at Gaotai Mountain in Taiwan's Hsinchu County (台灣新竹高台山) can be misty, and mystical, experience...
Hiking through the mountain mists at Gaotai Mountain in Taiwan's Hsinchu County (台灣新竹高台山) can be misty, and mystical, experience...
Hiking through the mountain mists at Gaotai Mountain in Taiwan's Hsinchu County (台灣新竹高台山) can be misty, and mystical, experience...
Hiking through the mountain mists at Gaotai Mountain in Taiwan's Hsinchu County (台灣新竹高台山) can be misty, and mystical, experience...

Soon you will return to the Gaotai campsite, and from there it’s only a matter of minutes before you start heading back downhill. Watch your step here, it's steep and can be a bit slick at times! Don’t worry too much, though - by this point you’ve already finished most of the hike, and it won't be long until you're back to the trailhead.


Hiking through the mountain mists at Gaotai Mountain in Taiwan's Hsinchu County (台灣新竹高台山) can be misty, and mystical, experience...
Heading back down from Gaotai Mountain to the trailhead. Watch your step, it's steep and can be slick at times!

You might think you’re leaving Gaotai Mountain behind. But if you’re like me, it might not be as simple as all of that. After all, it’s easy enough to get your body to walk away from the mountain, but your heart? Well, that’s another matter altogether.



THE NITTY-GRITTY

 

Skill level: Low intermediate


Length of hike: Part 1: 1.6 km. Part 2: 5.4 km. Part 3: 1.6 km. Total: 8.6 km.


MY Time: Part 1: 52 minutes. Part 2: 2 hours, 9 minutes. Part 3: 45 minutes. MY total: about 3 hours, 45 minutes. IMPORTANT: I am very fast, and I was moving fast. I advise planning more like 5-6 hours total for this. Better yet, leave early in the morning, dedicate the day for it, and come back in the evening.


Water sources: None





Food:

Bring snacks (if you are fast) or a lunch (if you are not).


Gear and provisions: Decent hiking shoes, hiking-appropriate clothes (see remarks), enough water (see remarks), a lighter (always!), a headlamp or flashlight (in case it takes longer than expected), snacks and a light lunch. Hiking poles recommended, though you can get away without them.



The Map Room recommends Fenix headlamps for high-quality, durable headlamps for hiking and river tracing (Amazon affiliate link*).


Sun protection: Mostly unnecessary on this well-shaded, forested hike.


Family friendly: Yes. One of TMR's team has taken his 8-9 year old children on the whole Gaotai-Daotian loop, and the section to Gaotai alone is significantly less challenging. Keep in mind that this is a family who often go outdoors together. Out of shape adults will find both parts of this hike strenuous.


Dog friendly: Only for large dogs on the first section, no for the second.


Camping /overnighting options: There is a wonderful campsite just after Gaotai Mountain - one of my favorites in Taiwan - right where the two secions meet. It is an old Japanese 'police station' (i.e., military police occupation post) in a beautiful pine forest with wide, flat, soft dirt areas for pitching tents. NOTE that there is no water source, and this hike has gotten significantly more popular over time...


NOTE: I recommend trailhead 1 for larger vehicles, but trailhead 2 if you're on something small like a scooter.


GPX file 1 of 3: Gaotai 1 Trailhead - Campsite - The Map Room 登山扣-高台山營地-地圖寶庫

Gaotai 1 Trailhead - Campsite - The Map Room 登山扣-高台山營地-地圖寶庫
.gpx
Download GPX • 22KB

GPX file 2 of 3: Gaotai 2 Campsite - Big Daotian and back - The Map Room 高台山營地-大島田山縱走-地圖寶庫

Gaotai 2 Campsite - Big Daotian and back - The Map Room 高台山營地-大島田山縱走-地圖寶庫
.gpx
Download GPX • 15KB

GPX file 3 of 3: Xiaojinping Hot Spring to Gaotai Mountain - The Map Room 小錦屏野溪溫泉-高台山 - 地圖寶庫


Xiaojinping Hot Spring to Gaotai Mountain - The Map Room 小錦屏野溪溫泉-高台山 - 地圖寶庫
.gpx
Download GPX • 36KB

NOTE: You will have to do section 1 again in reverse coming out.


https://goo.gl/maps/DbLDGRibNeyz2NFW8



Google Map links to trailhead 1 


https://goo.gl/maps/zCqZ2SqcdSggh33TA



Google Map links to trailhead 2 


https://goo.gl/maps/yJA7AebkeXHr6Edm6









Remarks:

Water: For this hike, I personally drink 1.5-2 liters per day in winter, 2+ in summer, but I drink a lot of water and you may drink less than me. It's better to have extra than too little, though!


Route notes: A further network of hiking trails branches out into the mountains from behind the highest peak, Da Daotian, but these require a map, good direction finding skills, and advanced trailfinding skills. I may cover these in a future post, but I do not recommend them for beginners!


Clothes: Regardless of the hike, it ALWAYS pays off to have appropriate hiking clothes! These should be clothes you don't mind getting dirty and/or messed up. Pants, shirts, socks, and underwear should all be quick wicking to get sweat off of your skin and quick drying to get it off of your clothes. For these reasons, you should NEVER wear cotton hiking! Sports pants and a sports shirt are a good place to start, but hiking pants have many advantages. A bandanna, headband, or other light cloth for wiping sweat is also advisable.


Be sure to watch for the next post in this series, Learn to Hike in Taiwan 4: Jiali Mountain Part I: There and Back Again (加里山)! Missed the previous installment? Check out Learn to Hike in Taiwan 2: Five Finger Mountain (五指山). Read the whole series here!

 

Loved this article? Make sure to check out the whole Learn to Hike in Taiwan series here!

 

All information on this page is intended for reference only. Preparing adequate food, water, and gear for your adventure, as well as following local rules and laws are, of course, your own responsibility! Always make sure that you check the weather for outdoor destinations, be careful and sensible for enclosed spaces like tunnels and bunkers, and bring a lighter - you never know when it could save your life! Now... get out there and have an amazing time!

 


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