Climbing Elephant Mountain was the first thing I did on my first morning-off during my first business trip to Taiwan. Why?
Well, if you’ve read pretty much any review site, blog or guide to Taipei, you’ll find a hike up Elephant Mountain is usually in the top 3 things people recommend you to do – often taking the top spot.
Once you take a look at the views this short hike rewards you with, I’m sure you’ll understand why.
In this blog I’ll give you a bit of information about the most straightforward way to get to the top, what to expect on the way up and where to find the best photo spots. I’ll also give a brief shout-out to a couple of future blogs I’ll write for how to get ‘beyond’ Elephant Mountain (this is only a very small section of the network of trails known as the Nangang Mountain Hiking Trails).
First things first: Elephant Mountain is busy. I’ve been up there several times and I’ve never, ever been alone (very early in the morning, late in the evening, cloud, rain or 40 degree heat – there will always be people on [this part of] the mountain).
I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of crowds when I’m hiking – I enjoy getting into my stride and not having to slow down for others. I also enjoy the solitude that hiking can give you. You will not get that here. You’ll also need to be prepared to wait if you want that perfect photograph without hundreds of other people in. But you know what? It doesn’t matter one little bit. The reason Elephant Mountain is so busy, is because it’s so damn awesome. So it’s time to suck it up, deal with the crowds and get to the top of this sweet, sweet mountain.
The Elephant Mountain Hiking Trial
I hope you like stairs.
Because Elephant Mountain has a lot of them.
In fact, 90% of the Hiking Trial consists of well-maintained stairs (probably – I haven’t actually calculated that). As it has so many stairs, it means it’s real steep too – but it should only take you between 10-20 minutes to reach some awesome views. You don’t need to be the fittest person in the world and I believe that pretty much anyone can do this hike, providing they go at a pace that’s right for them. You also don’t need to be kitted out – I’ve done this in flip flops or trainers and never in hiking boots. I even saw a local gentleman running up and down barefoot not too long ago (would not recommend).
The walk from the MRT station to the trialhead is your warm-up, because once you’re there it’s straight up for about 183 metres. On the way up you’ve got benches if you want a rest, water fountains and even bathrooms (oh, and in case you’re going up or coming down at night, it’s also lit up).
There are a few viewing platforms on the way up, both before and after what most people would consider the main attraction – an area known as the ‘Six Giant Rocks‘. This area contains exactly what the name suggests – some giant rocks which you can climb on to have your photo taken with Taipei 101 and the rest of the city as your backdrop. Depending on the time of day that you arrive, you’re likely to have to get in line to get the photo you want.
A lot people turn around after the Six Giant Rocks, but I’d recommend continuing up to the other viewing platforms too (I’ve included my favourite viewpoints in the map below, but here’s a very brief description):
- Photographer’s Platform – The first stop you’ll come to, 5 to 10 minutes from the start. This is a nice place for a quick photo, but isn’t one of my favourites. Some people do turn back at this point, but if you can push on for another 5 to 10 minutes then you definitely should.
- Fireworks Platform – Continue on the flat instead of going up to the Six Giant Rocks, not many people do – I have actually been alone on this platform. It’s also one of my favourites and I would thoroughly recommend the detour. You will need to double back on yourself afterwards.
- Six Giant Rocks – This is why most people come; to get that perfect photo on one of the large boulders. Prepare to line up. Also, you’ll need a friend (or to ask another traveller) if you want to get the best shot – a selfie here just wont cut it.
- Chaoran Pavillion – This is my favourite photo spot for catching the sunset, but it does get very busy in the build up – so get here early if you can. It should only take you about 5 minutes from the Six Giant Rocks.
Beyond Elephant Mountain?
So… you’ve been to all the viewing platforms on Elephant Mountain but you want to see more? Perhaps with a few less people? You’re in luck! As I mentioned above, Elephant Mountain is only a small section of the network of trails available. In fact, I think you have two main options for how to continue (I’ll try and get around to writing full and detailed blog posts on these another day):
- You can continue on the ‘Four Beasts Trail’. Sure, the Elephant is the most popular of the four beasts, but in my opinion, it doesn’t even provide the best views. So why not continue onto Tiger Mountain, Leopard Mountain and Lion Mountain as well.
- You’ve probably noticed now you’re at the top of Elephant Mountain that you’re not actually at the top – there’s still a huge amount of rock above you. That’s because at 183 metres, you’re still under halfway. Continue up and you’ll find your way to Thumb Mountain, Nangang Mountain and 9-5 Peak (in that order if you’re coming from Elephant Mountain). Thumb Mountain isn’t the easiest to find – so I’ll make that blog a priority.
In order to maximise your hiking and photo-taking experience, I thought I’d offer a few short tips:
- The mornings are quieter. As are days where the weather is ‘less than perfect’. It all becomes a balancing act – are overcast skies more or less desirable than someone’s selfie-stick smacking you in the face?
- If you want to capture the sunset, get there early. You’ll want to pick your spot, set up your tripod and stick out your elbows (it really does get that crowded sometimes) about an hour before the sun goes down.
- If you want to capture the fireworks, get there REALLY early. Personally, I’ve never been, but I have been told stories of people camping out for a few days or even chaining their tripods in place and taking shifts to guard them. Yep, really.
- If you’ve got the time continue on from Elephant Mountain. The other beasts are far quieter with equally good views and if you climb higher the views get better still.
Getting to the trailhead?
So, you’ve arrived at Xiangshan MRT station at the end of the Tamsui-Xinyi (Red) line and you’re looking for the hiking trial? It’s real easy to find. Head out of Exit 2 and walk the entire length of Xiangshan Park, taking a left at the end. You’ll climb up a small hill, flanked by expensive apartment buildings. If you follow this round to the right, you’ll be at the bottom of the Elephant Mountain Hiking Trial in minutes. All in all this should only take you about 10 to 15 minutes.
The map below shows the Trialhead and all of my favourite photo spots and it’ll also give you an idea of how to arrive there from the MRT.
Any questions, criticisms or comments then please get in touch.