A couple of hikes in Yilan that varied between dramatic and completely miserable.
In spring I walked the Caoling Historical Trail from Dali To Fulong. I highly recommend this walk. I used the route noted in Taipei Escapes 1 by Richard Saunders. I'd suggest buying that book and using that as it would be a bit cheeky reproducing his hard work here. This blog covers some of the other routes I saw on a map in the area and includes the beautiful Taoyuan Valley walk across the clifftops.
Taoyuan Valley Trail
I completed this walk after the ones below but it's the most beautiful one up here so it can go first. This trail winds it's way over the peaks of the 616m Mt Wankengtou and Mt Caoling before intersecting with the Caoling Historic Trail. A full day walk from the Neiliao Spur Trail (see below) down to Fulong or Dali would be do-able. The trail is not super challenging but it was extremely hot and there's no shade. The cattle that live up here had taken refuge in some muddy pools. The Taoyuan Valley is more of a sloping grassland on a ridge than a valley. It's very popular on weekends thanks to the views and the buffalo.
Despite the heat I really enjoyed this walk. There were a few eagles gliding around and some music drifting up from the Stone Guanyin Temple. Though not huge mountains they are folded enough to look dramatic.
To get there follow a rough road that leads to a small car park right at the top of the Stone Guanyin Trail. From there it takes about 90 minutes to cross Wankengtou and reach the smaller Mt Caoling.
Taoyuan Valley down to Daxi
Prior to the walk above I'd driven out to the trailhead of the Taoyuan Valley Neiliao Spur one humid Saturday. Apparently a bus goes up here but it's very infrequent. If you are not driving I'd suggest starting and ending at one of the train stations on the coast. The weather forecast suggested chance of thunderstorms. This is pretty much what it says most days from April onward so I didn't pay much attention to it. Unfortunately this was the day I got caught out.
The air was thick and by the time I'd walked the short spur to the Taoyuan Valley I was soaked.
I began on the Daxi Trail that would take me down to Daxi Village on the coast. This trail would not be very enjoyable on a nice day but in suffocating heat and humidity it sucked. It is almost entirely stone steps and paths. A lot of effort clearly goes into building trails with this material but it is a total waste of time. The stones easily become slippery and treacherous so most people walk on the dirt beside them. Wooden or compressed dirt steps are much better.
Most of the trail was in a not very lush forest and there wasn't much in the way of views or interesting historic sites. After a slow and very careful descent I was glad to reach Daxi. Right away a torrential rainstorm started.
Stone Guanyin Trail
Had I not been parked on top of the hills I would have gone home then. To reach the Stone Guanyin Trail I walked along the coastal highway a fair way until this gate appeared on the left.
This trail was a lot more pleasant and beautiful. It wound nicely up through a river valley before a heading up to a ridge. It is very steep in places, much steeper than the Daxi Trail, with a lot of steps. There were some good views before I entered the clouds. It was slippery in places but nowhere near the level of treachery the Daxi Trail has employed.
The Stone Guanyin Cave is an intriguing little cave temple. Statues of the goddess of mercy and her companions have been placed in a small hollow amid an incense mist. Although the current temple structure is modern the use of the caves as a shrine dates back to the Qing Dynasty.
As I reached the top the clouds closed in. The original plan was to walk the Taoyuan Valley Trail to where it intersects with the Caoling Trail and then double-back to the bike. But I could hear some rumblings of thunder getting closer and decided to abandon that plan.
To get back to the bike I followed a trail over a small hill. However on every rise another summit appeared out of the murk. By now thunder was getting closer and more frequent and I was getting quite nervous. I passed a small family on a lonely bare summit but didn't stay long. I realized I was the highest point for a long way with a lot of lightning approaching.
Although most lightning stays in the clouds in Taiwan I didn't want to chance it. I pretty much ran off the summit and was relieved to see a pavilion I recognized looming out of the fog.
Shortly after reaching the forest one of the most violent storms I've seen here arrived. I was very relieved I was not on the mountain anymore. After waiting out the lightning and rainfall for an hour I drove back cold and wet.
This view almost made me not regret the whole experience but not quite.