Then you look at all your guides and hiking books, and you search online. There are tons of options, but it's hard to differentiate: "Which ones could I do if I left at noon?", you wonder. "Which ones take far too long to reach or complete even though they seem close to Taipei?"
I know it's happened to you, because it's happened to all of us. And what we usually do is sigh, drink our coffee, do a little Facebooking, and give up: we may go out, but we don't leave the city or attempt to surround ourselves with nature. For all of those times, I wish I'd had a post like this in my bookmarks. No such post seems to exist, so I'm creating it.
Well, one thing I love about Taipei is that it doesn't have to be that way. Specifically, Taipei is great because it doesn't have to be that way and you can get a touch of nature in your life without having to drive a car or scooter. For any of these short, fun hikes below, you can get there on public transportation (woohoo!) and you can leave in the late morning or even early afternoon without worry. So, go out and get those drinks, stay out until 3am, wake up the next day and never fear - you can still enjoy a little green and you don't even have to drive to do it.
All of these hikes are well-documented, in guides and on blogs. I noticed, though, that nowhere are they organized in such a way that some bleary-eyed refugee of On Tap or a Belgian beer cafe could do a quick search and find one page with one list of all the best options, so that's what I'm trying to do here.
1.) Little Gold Face Mountain
One of my favorite viewpoints around Taipei - you can get there on a long day hike starting from Jiantan and summiting two low mountains, or you can just go up at the other end. Start in Neihu at Huanshan Road (環山路), Sec 1, Lane 136 (as per Taipei Day Trips 1, the old version) and climb the steep, rocky ascent to the viewpoint at the top. There are other trails from there, but this outlet is the easiest to reach from a trafficked area in Taipei City (the rest of the hike - the long hike - crosses a few roads but all of them are very quiet - you won't find any buses on them and many are unknown even to taxi drivers).
I never actually blogged about this hike, even though I've done it - because I did it years before starting this blog. If you go up and down from Jingmei you could do the whole thing in maybe 2 hours, or 1 if you are a fast hiker and only linger briefly (I am slow and like to take breaks). It's steep at the beginning but not challenging, and then gets a lot easier, affording great views in both directions (although I prefer the one out over Muzha towards Maokong). From MRT Jingmei Exit 2, walk straight ahead until the end of the road. Turn right and look for the sign pointing to the trail (there's a temple nearby).
3.) Battleship Rock (軍艦岩）- a lot of photos for this one as I did it recently, but never blogged it.
4.) Elephant Mountain
An easy staple - I was able to give you an exact enough starting point for the other two, but sadly, I can't do that for this hike. I don't remember where it starts. Taipei Day Trips 1 doesn't give a good indication, either: if you walk along Xinyi Road past Taipei 101 (think Xinyi-Songren or Xinyi-Songde) and turn south, and ask most people nearby how to get to "Xiang Shan" (象山), you'll figure it out. I'm sure Google Maps would help, too. This one is very popular locally and has one of the best views of 101 in the city. The best part - it's popular at sunset (set up early if you want to get a good vantage point for photographs, because photographers and courting couples take and keep their spots), which means that you can head up here in the late afternoon and then walk down on perfectly-well-lit steps. If you have a little more time, continue on to the other mountains. With another hour or so you could make it to a lovely viewpoint on Thumb Mountain and head back. If you made a full day of this you could walk to Nangang, but this is a post of short hikes for those of us who like to sleep late, so I won't cover that here. Beyond Elephant Mountain and up Thumb Mountain there is no lighting after dark: the lights only go on closer to Xinyi.
5.) Tianmu Old Trail
6.) Maokong (Zhinan Temple or Maokongshan)
We did a hike further up from the famed teahouses of Maokong, a portion of which could easily be started in the afternoon - no reason to get up early. This hike starts out with great views over Taipei, but the summit has no view at all. If you keep going you could end up at Erge Mountain or all the way to Shiding, but that would take longer than an afternoon, so I won't cover it here. It's a great way to get some exercise before stopping for dinner and tea on Maokong and taking a bus or the cable car down. Alternately, you could hike up to Zhinan Temple and then continue up on foot or by cable car to a teahouse...or do the same thing going down. You get nature, you get convenience, you get some views, and you don't have to get up early!
7.) Adding one here - Paozilun Falls
This is a hike that begins in Shenkeng - the only one of the above hikes not technically entirely within Taipei city. Shenkeng is so close to Taipei, however, that it's still something you can easily do, even if you start in the early afternoon. It's a short hike through some nice woods along a clear path, ending at a waterfall that you can take a "massage shower" under - locals who do this pray first to ask Tudi Gong and the nature gods not to allow any large rocks to fall from the falls as they are under it. It's a refreshing stop after the hike, and you should dry off pretty well on your way back to Shenkeng if you didn't wear a swimsuit (there's no obvious place to change - I wouldn't want to enter the shack to the left of the falls). After the hike you can head back to Shenkeng for some shopping and stinky tofu before catching one of the many buses back to Taipei - the advantage of this hike is that while you should finish the trail part before sundown, you can stay later in Shenkeng and easily leave after dark.
To get there, get a bus to Shenkeng from MRT Taipei Zoo station (or take the 666 from MRT Jingmei, near exit 2, or MRT Muzha - 606 might also be fine) and get off at the old street - the one with all the stinky tofu. Instead of entering the old street, cross the bridge and keep right.
Cross the large road and head straight up the road that starts at the betel nut shop across from you. Keep right at the sign for 文山 spray painted on a metal fence. Keep going slightly uphill for awhile. Ignore the sign telling you to turn right for Paozilun Trail and keep straight up the steep hill. At the top where it evens out you'll see a very small trail inlet to the left - hopefully there will be cars parked around it, better marking it. It's very easy to miss and doesn't look like the right way (but it is). Turn in and walk up - it's "paved" with blue foam pads (???) and at one point, carpeting. Don't ask - I don't know either - and much of the trail is made of sandbags.
8.) Silver Stream Cave and waterfall
Directions in the blog post - basically you can start from Maokong and walk down to Xindian (start up the road immediately across the street from Maokong Station at the top of the cable car line, or you can start at the trailhead on Yinhe Road off of Beiyi Road (Highway 9) not far from MRT Xindian, accessible by bus or, optimally, taxi.
This hike gets you into some nature, gives you exercise on the steep stairs, takes in a waterfall, a temple and some good views and lets you off - if you start from Xindian - in the proximity of several food and tea options with an easy ride back to the MRT. You can start at at or later than lunchtime, no problem, which is perfect if you were up half the night and want to sleep in.