21 January 2020.
Jiufen, a small mining village on the northeast coast of Taiwan, may be wildly famous for its old street hung with hundreds of glowing lanterns, but it was the rugged mountains that rise sharply from its fringes that had me well and truly captivated.
Having just spent a few days in Taipei, hiking the misty peaks of Yangmingshan National Park and waterfall-laden jungle trails that surround the city, I had already come to accept that, even with my high expectations, I had drastically underestimated the astounding beauty of this country. But arriving to this particular corner of Taiwan, with its chiselled green peaks and dramatic coastline, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to the wild mountains of Hawaii rather than a tiny island adrift off the coast of China.
Behind the Yin and Yang Sea, a two-toned bay where the murky mineral stained river water mixes with the turquoise ocean, Teapot Mountain climbs steeply, morphing from dense grassland into an imposing dome of rock that, from the right vantage point, resembles a teapot. Beyond, the trail snakes along a narrow ridgeline, contorted and reptilian, towards the vertical cliffs of Banpingshan.
It’s a fun-filled adventure with phenomenal views that, unsurprisingly, makes it one of the absolute best day hikes in northern Taiwan.
Intrigued? This guide has everything you need to know about hiking Teapot Mountain, Banpingshan and a third optional peak for those that just can’t get enough of these spectacular mountains.
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There are a couple of ways to begin the Teapot Mountain hike depending on how you get there.
If you’re arriving by bus from Jiufen, you can take #788, #1062 or #965 which travel regularly along the main road and will drop you at the Gold Ecological Park which is the final stop for most buses. If you’re travelling by scooter, there’s a large scooter parking area here as well.
Technically, you need to pay the entry fee for the Ecological Park ($80/€2.50), though when I arrived the ticket office was still closed so I just continued straight in.
From here, finding the actual trail is fairly confusing and I relied heavily on Maps.Me to guide me in the right direction – I’d suggest you do the same. There are a couple of signs for Teapot Mountain (called Wuerchahushan in Chinese) but basically I went up some stairs, followed a beautiful stretch of abandoned train tracks, crossed a bridge and climbed another steep flight of stairs that creeps high above the bay and brings you to a small mountain road.
Continue uphill along the road for around 200m where you’ll reach a small viewing area that offers sweeping views toward the triangular peak of Keelung Mountain and the East China Sea.
Here, you’ll notice another flight of stairs emerging at the roadside which is the official Teapot Mountain trail and begins from a carpark in Jinguashi. I saw plenty of hikers coming up this way so if you’re arriving by car, I’d recommend you use this route instead.
The parking area is labelled as Quan Ji Tang Parking on Google Maps and reviews suggest it can fill up quickly so be sure to arrive early to ensure you get a spot, especially on weekends. From here, take the small tunnel which will lead you to an observation deck where you’ll find the entrance to the Teapot Mountain trail. It’s around 800m up steep stairs to reach the mountain road.
Now that we’re all in the same place, continue along the road for another 350m where you’ll see an information board and a steep staircase heading up on the right.
Now for the actual hike!
From the road, it’s not far to the summit – just 550m – but it’s straight up and will have your thighs burning if they’re not already. About two-thirds of the way up is a pavilion which makes a perfect stop to catch your breath and take in the spectacular views across the bay.
And yet, it only gets better from here.
The final section of the hike continues uphill along a steep dusty trail that leads you into (yes, inside!) the teapot!
As you approach the immense rocky mound, you’ll find a tunnel that weaves through the mountain top with a rope to guide the way. Inside, the trail veers right, but there’s a small hole straight ahead which you can crawl through for a last look over the bay before returning to the cave.
As you make your way to the other side, there are a few large boulders to scramble over and some tight crevices to squeeze through but epic views await. Really, it just feels like one big old adventure; back to being that kid again with scraped knees, dusty boots and messy hair.
There are a few signs in Chinese with the general gist being ‘Danger’, but provided you follow the ropes and take care clambering across the rocks, you should be fine.
From either starting point, it takes around an hour to reach Teapot Mountain and for many visitors this is as far as they will go. If you decide to turn back here, it makes for a great half day hike, but really, the best is yet to come.
On the far side of the teapot, the trail snakes away along a rugged grassy ridgeline toward a sheer cliff which marks the plateau of Banpingshan.
The first section is particularly steep and rocky with a taught knee-high rope to help you scuttle down with some level of dignity.
Beyond, the trail wiggles up and down some small hills across the ridgeline, through dense grasslands and muddy pools, with steps made from old railway sleepers.
When you arrive at the cliff line, you’ll quickly realise that the only way is up the near-vertical wall of rock. If you’re afraid of heights this section may be rather unnerving but it’s not particularly difficult.
The ropes are sturdy and bolted to the cliff and a series of footholds and standing platforms mean you’re not just hanging there the entire time.
From the top, the trail continues for a short way along a narrow ridge to the summit where you’ll be greeted by a simply magnificent scene.
The dramatic emerald hump of Mt Keelung, folded and furrowed like a crouched dragon, the gnarled bulge of the teapot, now resembling anything but, and the countless peninsulas and bays carved into Taiwan’s stunning northern coast.
A vast skyline of peaks and valleys awash with forest green that rolls toward the horizon, engulfed by the haze of cloud that blankets the interior.
Even after another month in Taiwan, watching this epic view unfold remains as one of my most memorable moments in the country.
The hike from Teapot Mountain to Banpingshan takes around 30 to 45 minutes and from here there are a few different options. You can either turn back and return the way you came, continue on and head directly back to Jiufen, return to Jinguashi via an alternate route or tackle a third and final peak.
If you decide to continue, follow the path onwards through a beautiful stretch of forest and tall grass until you reach the old road which should take around 30 minutes.
Canguangliaoshan, the third peak, may not have as impressive views as the previous two, but it’s certainly the most adventurous.
On the way up, the trail is particularly overgrown with long silvery grass which can make some sections difficult to navigate, but on the way down you’ll find some very steep and muddy patches where the equally muddy rope is essential for stopping you sliding the whole way down on your butt (or face). Easiest is to face the sometimes near vertical path and walk down backwards while holding the rope.
Hiking from one side to the other takes just 45 minutes and, if you’re up for it, it’s a lot of fun and will leave your legs feeling like jelly.
When you reach the road from Banpingshan, the trail begins a short way to the left, leading uphill on your right. At the other end, you’ll reach an old road which you’ll need to follow to the right and then continue straight ahead (veering slightly left) when you reach the intersection which will bring you to a small parking area and shrine in 1.5km.
If you decide to skip Canguangliaoshan, when you arrive at the road after descending from Banpingshan, turn right and continue to the T-junction where you turn right again.
For Jinguashi, continue along for another 200m where you’ll see a trail on the right which will lead you back to the Gold Ecological Park in around 30 minutes. The tiny streets become something of a maze as you approach the village so I’d recommend using a map to navigate this final section.
For Jiufen, continue on for 2km past the small parking area and shrine until you reach Ruishuang Road and the Shumeiping Observation Deck. From here, take the Shumeiping Historical Trail downhill which will lead you back to the main road on the outskirts of Jiufen.
I was staying on the other side of town so decided to take the bus back, but you could also easily walk as it’s only around 1 to 2 km to just about anywhere in town, though the hills are steep.
On the corner as you join the main road, there is a dirt parking area where buses wait before their service begins. I was able to just jump on here for the return journey to Jiufen, or you can continue along the road for 300m where you’ll find the Fushan Temple bus stop.
From the base of Canguangliaoshan to the bus stop takes around 45 minutes.
Depending on which route you take, the entire hike is between 5km and 8km and takes 4 to 5 hours.
At just an hour from Taipei, Jiufen is widely thought of as a day trip destination, but it’s actually a lovely place to stay overnight and will allow you to be the first to hit the trails in the morning, enjoy the stunning coastal views for sunrise and sunset and explore the chaotic Jiufen old street after the immense day trip crowds have dispersed.
When choosing your accommodation, do keep in mind that Jiufen is built on an incredibly steep hill so anywhere not directly on the main road will require climbing plenty of steps to get where you’re going.
First Stop Backpacker Hostel | The best hostel in town, First Stop sits just below the old town and has a wonderful view of the coastline. The hostel itself is relatively simple but local hosts Amy and Ann are a wealth of information about the area and cook a delicious Taiwanese breakfast each morning which can be enjoyed in the sunroom. Check rates and availability here.
My Story Inn | Another top-rated option, My Story is located right beside the Jiufen Police Station Bus Stop and offers simple but cosy dorm rooms with a balcony overlooking the bay. Owner Jenny is everyone’s favourite and, as well as being very knowledgable about all things Jiufen and Taiwan, also runs an onsite dumpling restaurant. Yum! Check rates and availability here.
Gen Product B&B | Located a short distance from the old street, here you’ll find a range of brightly-coloured rooms and a rooftop sun deck with a delicious breakfast included. Check rates and availability here.
Something Easy Inn | For somewhere a little special, this beautifully designed guesthouse offers spacious modern suites with impeccable views in the heart of the old town. Check rates and availability.
Take a map | Once you’re on the trail, it’s very easy to follow, but finding the correct starting point and making your way back to Jiufen afterwards is rather confusing so it’s definitely worthwhile having a map with you, if only for your peace of mind. I always use Maps.Me, a free maps app, which can be downloaded and used offline and has a comprehensive list of marked trails in this area.
Watch the weather | The way between these three dazzling peaks is very exposed, whether you experience scorching sun, strong winds, heavy rain or a combination of all three. Cloud and rain can roll in very quickly in this area so wet weather gear is always a good idea. If the sun is out, then a hat, long-sleeved shirt and suncream are essential.
Bring water + snacks | Though this hike isn’t particularly long, there’s plenty of uphill and if you’re hiking in the heat, it can be particularly draining. Bring plenty of water with you as there’s nowhere to fill up along the trail. Snacks or a packed lunch are also a good idea if you’re planning to follow this entire route.
Bring your EasyCard or cash | Don’t forget your EasyCard for fuss-free bus travel. You can order yours here for pick up at the airport when you arrive. Otherwise, be sure to bring enough cash for both the buses and entry to the Ecological Park.
Wear proper boots | Between the rock scrambling and steep muddy trails, wearing a sturdy pair of boots is not a bad idea.
Start early | Unsurprisingly, this is a fairly popular hike, especially the section to Teapot Mountain, so try to hit the trail early to avoid any day trip crowds, particularly on weekends.