Updated: Jul 26
UPDATED May 1, 2022
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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. Don't worry if you don't live in this part of the world, though - you can still enjoy the pictures and get an idea of the kind of hike you should look for to take the next step in learning to be a better hiker!
Hikes in this series:
Fire Mountain (火炎山) Novice
Five Finger Mountain (五指山) Beginner
Gaotai Mountain and the Three Daotian Peaks (高台山 - 小，中，大岛田山縱走) Low intermediate
Jiali Mountain Part I: There and Back Again (加里山) Intermediate
Jiali Mountain Part II, The Hakani Mountain Loop (加里山 - 哈堪尼山縱走) High intermediate
Or, see the whole series at this link!
Don't worry if you don't live in this part of the world, you can still enjoy the pictures and get an idea of the kind of hike you should look for to take the next step in learning to be a better hiker!
Introducing this week's mountain:
Gaotai Mountain and the three Daotian Peaks
Gaotai Mountain and the three Daotian Peaks (高台山-小，中，大島田山回來) take a little more work to get to, and up, than Five Finger Mountain (五指山), but they are also much more rewarding. The hike is well suited for hikers in good physical condition who want to spend a day hiking and enjoying the foothills of Taiwan's mountains, along with some more adventurous - but still not terribly dangerous - rope and scrambling sections. (There is also an option to enter from the Xiaojinping Hot Spring area (小錦屏野溪溫泉區) - click here for details about that!)
Hiking down from Gaotai Mountain in the evening mist
The first section is a beautiful, mostly uphill hike through pine forest up to the campsite just past Gaotai Mountain. For those in good physical condition, this should not be difficult, but will definitely get your blood flowing. Less fit individuals will find this section strenuous, but the reward is worth it! You can also camp in this area if you want (but bring water with you!). It's one of the nicest, easily accessible campsites I know in Taiwan - though it's gotten pretty popular recently, so there may be crowds.
Gaotai Mountain #2 entrance sign
The second section is much more demanding, heading up three low peaks (the highest is only1824 meters / 5684 ft) to a low peak with a gigantic tree that you can climb up into and get some great pictures. As I said above, I'm a VERY fast hiker, so do take that into consideration when planning your times! There are multiple rope climbing sections which, while quite passable, make for good adventure (but not for your dog, I'm sorry to say...).
Gaotai Mountain #2 entrance, recommended for scooters. If you are in a car, #1 is much better.
Finally, one IMPORTANT NOTE: Once you reach the final peak (Big Daotian), you can follow the path to the right going down. BE CAREFUL HERE, it's very easy to get lost by going down to the left! Be sure to follow the flags, if you do you will soon arrive at an intersection in a clearing (see pictures below).
Hiking uphill through the beautiful, forested mountainside towards the peak. There are several rest areas on the way up.
At only 1510 meters (4954 ft), Gaotai Mountain itself is little more than a bump on the way to the campground. It does, however, provide a nice place for a break if you're tired! However...
...the campground is only 10 minutes or so downhill beyond the peak (this picture shows us going back uphill from the campsite at the end of our hike).
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 is obvious, and lays just to the right of the trail. However, if you stray to the left, into the undergrowth, 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. There are many, many such places in the mountains of Taiwan, and I hope to write more about them and establish a growing, English-language database about them in the future.
If you are interested in the Japanese Imperial ruins of Taiwan, be sure to check out the note below about the trail beyond Big Daotian Mountain!
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!
Camping at Gaotai Mountain campground
The Gaotai - Daotian Scenic Overlook is the next major rest point after the campsite
The clearing at Little Daotian Mountain
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
The view from Middle Daotian Peak
This is a popular area, especially on holidays and weekends, so it can be a bit crowded at times. On the other hand, it's a great opportunities to meet locals of all ages!
Big Daotian Peak
Though there are no panoramic views of other mountains, the peak is crowned with several very large, very unique, and very beautiful trees.
Once you reach the final peak (Big Daotian), you can follow the path to the right going down. BE CAREFUL HERE, it's very easy to get lost by going down to the left! Be sure to follow the flags, if you do you will soon arrive at this intersection in a clearing.
Turn right at the intersection and head downhill past this sign. It will take you back to the campsite, Gaotai Mountain, and the exit. The other trails go to other exits and other, much more remote mountains.
This trail goes to Shimada Mountain (石麻達山), and beyond it to Jinping Mountain (錦屏山), with a very challenging option to connect down to Xiaojinping Hot Spring (小錦屏野溪溫泉). Don't go very far down that way, if at all, unless you already know what you're in for (see below)! I may do a post on this in the future, but I have not included details here.
The trail passes many overgrown Japanese era police stations and, if you want to walk in just 5-10 minutes, you can see good examples right away. These include obvious foundations of walls and doors, a prominent, round stone structure that was once a cannonade, ominously overlooking the local aboriginal villages in the valleys below, and clearer remnants of the old Imperial road.
Going in 5-10 minutes may be worth it for most people, but I do not recommend going any further unless you are an experienced hiker with advanced trailfinding skills and have prepared adequate gear. The sign says 80 minutes one way, and while it is faster for me, that's because I'm very fast and I have a lot of experience hiking and bushwhacking in even more remote Taiwanese jungles. Note that if you go this way, the trail is much more demanding and difficult to follow, as it is small, somewhat overgrown, and only sparsely marked with plastic flags. There is also no water available, so you will have to bring your own. If you do decide to do this, I highly, highly recommend taking a bare minimum of a headlamp (not just your built-in cell phone flashlight), extra food, and, as always, a lighter, in case you take longer than you expect, get lost, or have an emergency.
The trail back to Gaotai Mountain follows an abandoned, Japanese Imperial era road. Some sections, like this one, have collapsed over time and, while they are easily passable, they make the hike a lot more fun!
Clouds and even rain can roll in in the afternoons in the mountains of Taiwan. It makes for an eerily beautiful hiking experience, but it's also a good reminder to always check the weather before heading into the hills!
Heading back down from Gaotai Mountain to the trailhead. Watch your step, it's steep and can be slick at times!
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
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, and personally uses the 1600 lumen Fenix HM70R Headlamp - (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!
Google Map links to trailhead 1
Google Map links to trailhead 2
Google Map link to the Xiaojinping Hot Spring area trailhead
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
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
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
NOTE: You will have to do section 1 again in reverse coming out.
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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