Qixingshan, and Hikes at the Top of Yangming Mountain

Yangming Mountain, hereafter to be called yangming shan (陽明山) is a volcanic area set in Taipei City's northern Shilin and Beitou districts. For anyone in the city the name implies a vast area of peaks and valleys which include entire communities, colleges, hot springs, farms, and basically any area shaded green on a map of Taipei. Getting up all of the lower mountains eventually leads you up to the ultimate peak at Qixing shan (七星山).

View from the top on a nice day

Climbing qixing shan is a rewarding experience for anyone looking to get to the top of the tallest point in northern Taiwan. The next highest peak, snow mountain, requires a permit to get into, so qixing shan becomes the defacto mountain that lay people must conquer. And conquer they do.

On busy days everyone waits around to get a photo with this. Note the heavy fog.

A view up towards the eastern peak.

Weekends are rather busy on the trails and on the roads during the early spring flower season when the temperature is cool and comfortable. People flock to see the cherry blossoms in bloom around the roads that ring the ascent to qixing shan proper, and many families make a point of getting up to the top on their day in the mountain. Weekdays are nearly always quiet, especially if you approach from one of the less popular trail heads.

A half day up and back itinerary

If you have a car or scooter, you should drive up to any of the parking lots, pay the nominal parking fee and then hike up to the top. You can usually find water at the parking area pavilions which have information centers, drink vending machines, and quite often small convenience stores. Driving is a great way to see this mountain, but the down side is you have to keep looping back to get your car either walking or by the minibus. Great for a quick hike, but you'll miss a bit of the splendor that comes from being away from the heavily visited areas.

Public transit users looking for a half day hike should take the bus up to the Number 2 parking lot (第二停車場) and get off. Most buses which stop here have service straight through the heart of Taipei City, so pick up one of the several buses that come here and ride it till the end.

If you just want to hike Qixing shan you shouldn't waste your time going to the yangming shan stop which is a fair walking distance down the mountain from where this hike actually starts. The only reason to go to the lower stop is to get on the minibus which will take you around the mountain to different lower altitude areas like Qingtiangang where the cows live. The flower clock, in my opinion, is not worth a visit but buses and trails do run there as well.

From the parking lot hike up the short distance to the visitors center and if you need, hit the toilets and grab water at the shop in the lower level of the building. There is a trail on the road side of the visitors center which leads up to a small stone pavilion where you'll hook a right up and into the trail for Qixing mountain.

No matter where you start, expect a bunch of stone stairs to stretch as far as your eyes can see until you reach the very top of this mountain. To avoid erosion issues from the huge number of people who make this hike every year the government has set down giant stones to make a fairly smooth path. As you ascend the gradient will get steeper, and you'll eventually be lumbering up switch backs to the peaks.

Stone steps sometimes give way to wooden boxes like these. Careful on the descent.

At the top you can rest on the stones at the top and hopefully the weather is clear enough for you to get a great view. There are two peaks which are about a five minute walk apart. It's a good idea to go up to the main peak first, over to the east peak, down into the park below, then follow the trail markers back the visitors center exit if you want to make a round trip. On your way up you'll notice a turn off for the park area. Skip it on the way up, and then return to the main trial via that route on the way back down.
The top of the mountain is often shrouded in fog, even on sunny days.

From the visitors center the average person will spend maybe two to two and a half hours to make their way up, slightly less to come down. People in great shape who practically run up and back down can do it in ~50 minutes up, 40 down. If you'd like, use the rest of the day to ride the mini bus and take photos at all the wonderful sites around the mountain. Be sure to make it back by the last bus which conventional wisdom is always at 5pm, but some minibuses cruise around the main roads after dark.

A full day itinerary for those ready to really hike.

Grab the minibus from the yangming shan bus terminal (NOT the number 2 parking lot) and head to the xiaoyoukeng 小油坑 stop. You'll be greeted by a smoking hole in the ground where the steam from the volcanic heart of yangming shan vents to the surface. From near the bus stop you can follow a steeper and shorter trail to the peak and enjoy some nice views - and smells - of the vent.

Once you get to the top of qixing shan head to the east peak, then down into the park/pavilion below. When you get to the open area full of picnic tables follow the trail to the left side when you're looking down the mountain towards a large radio tower. Keep heading down towards lengshuikeng 冷水坑.

Once you arrive at the bottom you can get a nice view of the milky lake. It's sort of hidden out of view unless you mount a platform, but worth it if you're over here. Its not worth a stop if you're going to be seeing these places via the minibus, unless you plan to hike it to Qingtiangang, which takes an hour and is a great walk.

As noted above, Qingtiangang is famous for the cows which live there. You'll be able to get plenty of pictures with these mostly gentle giants along with swarms of other visitors.

Once you've satisfied yourself here there are two more options for side hikes. If you want to take in another small mountain get yourself to the top of 竹篙山 - written as zhugao shan or Penny Hill on signs. If you are in the mood for a trek to a very small waterfall, follow the signs which lead down and away behind the small set of buildings near the parking lot. Bonus to the waterfall option is you can walk the trail to its end and pick up a bus back down to Taipei without circling the mountain again. If you stay around the pastures, once you're sure you're done with everything you can head to the parking lot and take the mini bus back to the yangmin shan bus station for the return to the city center.

Still not enough? Do an afternoon trip to 風櫃口.

Start at dawn. After mounting qixing shan and making your way past the milky lake and into the once fertile cow pastures of qingtiangang head towards the parking lot and turn right at the mini temple. Follow the signs for fengguikou 風櫃口 which will lead you along a path which skirts the farm land, passes an historic gate, and then deeper into the mountains.

Spanning at least 16km round trip this hike takes you into much less accessed parts of the mountain where the trail becomes actual dirt and grass. There is another family of cows here which rarely meets with their people-friendly cousins on the other side of the forest. Don't startle these cows because they're actually very, very aggressive.

This family was aggressively protecting their young

So much so they chased a man into the bush.

When you eventually get the road on the other side of this trail you'll be well east of the National Palace Museum, and forced to choose between a road descent to the buses which mostly terminate on Zhishan road 至善路, or walking the 8km back to qingtiangang to get the bus back around to the visitors center. There is a bus service near fengguikou, but service may be infrequent.

To answer an obvious question, yes I've done this itinerary before in a single sitting, although the trip started before the crack of dawn and we walked down to Zhishan road. We packed some hearty lunches and bought ample water and cookies from the stores which dot the mountain's parking lots. It's probably best to do this final leg on a second day unless you're in great shape and have really limited time to hike.