Let’s start this post with a disclaimer. All of these photos were taken on an overcast, hazy, smoggy, cloudy kind of day. To get better photos, go when the sun is out. That is all. Anyway…
As I’ve mentioned previously, Elephant Mountain is undoubtably Taipei’s Popular hike. Google ‘Taipei’ or read any travel guide or blog, and it’s that view of Taipei 101, taken from one of Elephant Mountain’s mant viewing platforms, that will appear thousands of times.
And with good reason – Taipei 101 is an incredible building. Tallest building in the world until 2010 with an elevator that travels over 60km/hr. Built to withstand typhoon winds and earthquake tremors, it’s been called one of the most stable buildings ever constructed. It’s even got a 660 ton ball hanging within it which sways to offset strong gusts. This is before we even get into all of the symbolism involved in the design – but that’s probably better saved for another blog.
If you ask me, there’s one more thing that makes the building truly special – the mountains which surround it and the views which they give over Taipei’s remarkable cityscape. These views are why Elephant Mountain is such a popular hike, but also why you should go beyond Elephant Mountain and explore the other Beasts.
The ‘Four Beasts Trail’ is a collection of peaks located on Nangang Mountain – Elephant Mountain, Tiger Mountain, Lion Mountain and Leopard Mountain. You’ve also got Thumb Mountain and 9-5 Peak, but I’ll save those for Part II.
And whilst most people will get to Elephant Mountain, take a few photos and turnaround, I strongly recommend you push on. It’s not a difficult hike, but it’s well worth it and I’d argue that almost anyone could complete it providing they choose a pace which is suitable for them. The first time I followed this route, it took me about 2.5 hours – which was because I stopped to take a lot of photos. Several visits later and without my camera hanging from my neck, and I’ve completed it in about 70 minutes, just out for an enjoyable walk where you can almost completely disengage your brain.
I’m not going to include too much information on how to complete the hike – it’s really not my fortee (but I would recommend checking out Josh Ellis’ blog, which provides more useful information on this hike than pretty much everything else I’ve seen). Instead, as always, I’m going to focus on sharing a few pictures that I took along the way.
One thing I will say, however, is that I prefer starting with Tiger Mountain and ending with Elephant Mountain. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s easier at the start, has more gradual climbing and if you were looking for a workout there are many better hikes in Taipei. Secondly, I tend to blitz down Elephant Mountain pretty rapidly as it will always be the most crowded – and it’s nice to avoid the traffic on the way up too. Thirdly, as I found out reccently, there’s a really good Izakaya spot at the bottom of Elephant Mountain which is a great place to grab a beer/some food at the end of the hike.
As for exactly what trailhead you start on (Songshan Cihui Temple Trailhead, Fengtian Temple Trailhead, Songshan Road Trailheads, etc.), I have no preference – just choose whichever is closest to you. As for the weather – that can play a huge role if you’re going for the ‘gram. These photos were all taken on a cloudy day – go when you’ve got clearer skies.
One of the reasons I like starting at the Songshan Cihui Temple Trailhead, is that this is the first thing you’ll come across…
Without further ado…
In my opinion, this is probably where you get the best views. Which is probably why, after Elephant Mountain, it is definitely the most popualar stopping point. It looks better on a clearer day, trust me…
Just a short walk from Tiger Mountain. The clouds were starting to come in thick and fast. This area is identifiable by a monument for mining – this area was a mining area back in the day. As you can see, the view is almost identical to Tiger Mountain, but from a slightly different angle. There are likely to be less people here than Tiger or Elephant.
You probably think I’m joking with this pictrue – but I’m not. This is how you walk to Lion Mountain. When you arrive, do not expect the views offered from the other three peaks, or you’ll be bitterly dissapointed. There are no views – you’ll be surrounded by trees, on a muddy outcrop, with nothing to see. It’s worth the short detour to ‘complete’ the Four Beasts though.
I’m yet to see another person on this peak either time I’ve bothered to make the short 5-6 minute walk out of the way. This is the only part of the trail that isn’t paved.
And so we arrive to the most well-known, well-hiked route in Taipei. You’ve got various viewing platforms to check out, more details of which you can read here. Just be sure to bring patience (if you want a photo on top of the Six Giant Rocks) and your wits (for avoiding the wild fling of selfie sticks). Joking aside, the views from the top are magnificent.
There you have it. Next time you head up Elephant Mountain or Tiger Mountain, don’t come down the same way you went up.