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Mt. Data: the Highest Point in Alishan

Posted by:  Anusha Lee
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Alishan is the most famous tourist attraction in Taiwan. Yet, few people know you could see the highest mountain, Yushan, aka Mt. Jade or Yushan, from the peak of Alishan, Mt. Data aka Mt. Ta/Data Mountain/Ta Mountain/Tashan. This post is about how to hike Mt. Data and enjoy the epic view of the Yushan Mountain Range with the stunning sunrise.
Mt. Data infographic
Mt. Data infographic

Table of Contents:

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About Alishan and Mt. Data 大塔山

Alishan was one of the three major logging centers in Taiwan during Japanese occupation. The biggest and most beautiful trees were logged and transported to Japan during that period, and later the ruling party of Taiwan, KMT, hacked down even more trees for years. Lucky for the land and us, the legal logging industry is a thing in the past, but illegal logging still happens from time to time.
Mt. Data: Trail inside Alishan
Tourists can take the easy trail to enjoy the beauty of Alishan.
Mt. Data is the highest peak in Alishan Range and under the administration Alishan National Scenic Area Administration, Tourism Bureau of Tourism Bureau. It is deemed as the sacred mountain for the indigenous people, the Cou (or Tsou) people 鄒族, who have resided in Alishan for generations.
There's a smaller mountain next to Mt. Data, called Mt. Xiaota (xiao means "small" in Chinese). Mt. Data and Mt. Xiaota belong to Mt. Ta. According to Cou people's belief, Mt. Ta belonged to Gods. That's why Cou people deem Mt. Ta as a sacred place. They also believed good people's spirits would go to Mt. Data and bad people's would go to Mt. Xiaota after they died.
According to Cao's legends, there was another world hidden underneath Mt. Ta, and there were many stories about lovers and lives in the two different worlds.
Later, Ministry of National Defense in Taiwan set up a transmitter station on the peak of Mt. Data for the rescue purposes and deployed guards. The trail was built up to maintain and supply materials for the transmitter station. After the station was discharged in July 1998, this trail was taken over by the nature until Forestry Bureau decided to transform it into a hiking trail and open to the public in 2002.
Mt. Data: old transmitter station in Alishan. Mt. Yu range in the back.
The old transmitter station near the peak of Mt. Data
Mt. Data trail is closed now and will be open to the public on June 30, 2021 or upon notice. Please check here before you go.

How to Get There

Since Alishan is a popular destination, there are many options to get there. Please click here for more details.
Mt. Data: a map of Alishan area
A map of Alishan area
Note: This is a two-day hike in Alishan area, but you can do those trails separately. Please click here to see my first day hike. Like Tefuye Old Trail and Mt. Zhizhong, you can also decide to take the difficult part or the easy one.

Peaks to Reach

Mt. Data: 大塔山 Data Shan, 2,663 meters (8,737 feet), is the sacred mountain of Taiwanese indigenous Cou People. Mt. Data is also the highest one in Alishan Range, and listed in Xiao Baiyue in Taiwan.
Mt. Duigaoyue: 對高岳 Duigaoyue, 2,444 meters (8,018 feet). No views.
Mt. Zhu: 祝山 Zhu Shan, 2,430 meters (7,972 feet). You can also take Alishan Railway to Mt. Zhu.
Mt. Xiaoliyuan: 小笠原山 Mt. Xiaoliyuan, 2,488 meters (8,162 feet). There's a observation deck on Mt. Xiaoliyuan, and it's one of the best spots to see the sunrise and Mt. Yu Range.
See the map and itinerary first

A Steep Hike to Mt. Xiaoliyuan Lookout

GPS coordinates of the trailhead: 23.511071,120.804683
Our group stayed at a hotel in Alishan after our hike to Tefuye. One of the things to do in Alishan is to watch the beautiful sunrise, but none of us intended to get up at 4 am, so we got an extra hour to sleep. If you want to see the sunrise and sea of clouds, you can take Zhushan Line Train to Mt. Zhu (aka Zhushan).
Mt. Data: a steep slope.
A steep slope to start.
The trailhead is on Zhushan Road. I forgot to take photos but there are plastic ribbons on the trees for hikers look for them. This was a steep shortcut to a small observation deck to see Mt. Yu peaks. You can also take the Zhushan Road to get there. When we got there, the sun was already up. We didn't see the sunrise, but we got to see Mt. Yu Peak. If you stand at the right spot, you can get to see the total 11 of them.
Mt. Data: We were hiking on the rigdeline of the lowest layer of the mountains.
View of Mt. Yu peaks and the ridgeline (the lowest one) we hiked on the previous day
Our guide told us that we were on the ridgeline of the lowest layer of the mountains on our first day of hike. Looking at the layers of mountains with different shades of blue and remembering the struggles to hike on one of them was truly an unique experience.
Mt. Data: view of Mt. Yu peaks
Watching Mt. Yu peaks from Mt. Xiaoliyuan Lookout
After the smaller deck, we walked around 15 minutes to reach Mt. Xiaoliyuan Lookout 小笠原山觀景台, and took a break. This lookout was huge. I can imagine how packed it would be for people waiting to see the stunning sunrise. The views were still gorgeous even without the sunrise. We stayed there and took as many photos as we could.
Mt. Data: view from Mt. Zhu or Zhushan to see Mt. Yu peaks
A view at Mt. Zhu. I'll never get tired of watching the beautiful Mt. Yu ridgeline.
The next stop was Mt. Zhu, and this is also a very popular tourist attraction to see the sunrise and sea of clouds. There is a shutter bus stop and Alishan Forest Railway station located at Zhushan.
Mt. Data: shuttle bus in Alishan
An easy way to enjoy Alishan
I remember many years ago my friends and I took this train in the early morning to catch the first glow of sunrise. At that moment, I didn't know I was watching Mt. Yu ridgeline. It was too dark and crowded to pay attention to the sign anyway. Now, I was standing at the same place again years after getting to know more about mountains in Taiwan.
Mt. Data: our guides to Alishan
Our guides helped us enjoy this hike.
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Hike Along the Railway Track and Forest to Mt. Duigaoyue

To get to our first summit on that day, we walked along the railway track heading to the trailhead of Mt. Duigaoyue 對高岳, 2,444 meters (8,018 feet). It was not crowded at that time and we saw monkeys watching us in the distance. It took us around 30 minutes from Mt. Xiaoliyuan Lookout to reach the trailhead of Mt. Duigaoyue.
Mt. Data: walk along railway track to Mt. Duigaoyue
A relaxing strolling along the forest railway track
The hike was very easy and felt like aimless wandering before we hit the endless stairs all the way up to Mt. Duigaoyue. The trail to Mt. Duigaoyue was not long, around 3 km one way, and all we had to do was just following the wooden stairs to reach the top. But if you are like me who is not good at taking stairs, this trail might still make you huffing and puffing.
Mt. Data: on the way to Mt. Duigaoyue
Endless stairs to Mt. Duigaoyue
Although the stairs were a little bit disheartening, it still felt wonderful to walk in the woods, watching the morning sun seeping through the dense woods mixed with Taiwan Red Cypress and Japanese Cedar Trees.
Mt. Data: view on the way to Mt. Duigaoyue
The view on the side of the trail to Mt. Duigaoyue was wonderful. Layers of mountains in the distance.
There was a shrine build on the top of Mt. Duigaoyue during Japanese occupation years ago. Now the shrine was gone and was replaced by a two-level pavilion. There wasn't much views on the second level because this structure was surrounded by trees, but I still managed to get a glimpse of Mt. Yu in between leaves.
Mt. Data: looking at Mt. Yu from Mt. Duigaoyue
Looking at Mt. Yu main peak through the woods at Mt. Duigaoyue

Mt. Data: Cao People's Sacred Peak

It took us around one and half an hours to hike to Mt. Duigaoyue. After exiting the trail, we hiked along the railway track again and got to the trailhead of Mt. Data 大塔山. A very popular trail, 眠月線 Mianyue Xian Trail (permit required) wasn't far from here. We took a lunch break at the big deck next to the trailhead to Mt. Data.
Mt. Data: fork to 眠月線 Mianyue Xian Trail
The junction to Mt. Data and Mianyue Xian Trail 眠月線
The trail to Mt. Data once again started with endless stairs. If you stay in Taiwan long enough, you will notice that many trails located in tourist attractions are made of stairs, either stone ones or wooden ones or mixed with both. Those stairs were built to maintain the old transmitter station built on the peak. To make my life easier, I decided to hide my big backpack in the bush and just carried the essentials with me since we had to take the same way back.
Mt. Data: steps to the highest peak of Alishan
Endless stairs to Mt. Data peak
The trees along the wooden stairs were as wonderful as previous trails. However, I hadn't totally recovered from our previous hike, and I felt exhausted already. One of our guides, Fion, still stayed with me as much as she could.
Mt. Data: our guide Fion
Fion took photos with the big Formosan Cypress.
Finally, we got to the last section of the concrete stairs to reach Mt. Data, 2,663 meters (8,737 feet) or to be exact, the deck next to the peak. After seeing the views on the peak, the effort totally paid off. I saw Mt. Data on my right and Mt. Yu peaks on the left. If you look down, the whole Alishan Forest Recreation Area was in front of you.
Mt. Data: last section of steps
The last section of stairs
In fact, we were not on the real peak of Mt. Data. The real peak of Mt. Data was formed by rocks and it was deemed sacred by one of Taiwan indigenous Cou people. It's not allowed to climb to the rocks now.
Mt. Data: the highest peak in Alishan range
Reached the top of Mt. Data
As to the view to Mt. Yu, it was difficult to get beautiful pictures without showing the old transmitter station near the deck, but Mt. Yu peaks were still magnificent. We were very lucky to have a great weather two days in a row and I was happy.
Mt. Data: view of Mt. Yu peaks
Looking at Mt. Yu peaks from Mt. Data
After spending some time admiring the views, it was time to leave. Climbing up those stairs wasn't easy, but it didn't mean it would be easier to descend. I could hear my knees complaining out loud when taking the same route back. The rest of our trip was the relatively easy.

Strolling in Alishan

We got back to the trail and it took us a while to get to the location to enter the main Alishan tourist area. The rest was a very pleasant hike. The trees around us were tall and straight, quite different from the bushes or jungles we used to see on the trails in Taiwan.
Mt. Data: Sign to Sister Pond in Alishan
The trail to Sister Pond in Alishan
Then we reached Sister Ponds, surrounded by magnificent Taiwan Red Cypress. There was a pavilion in the middle of each pond connected with a bridge, and from here you could tell why so many tourists love Alishan so much.
Mt. Data: Sister Pond in Alishan
Surrounded by tall trees, Sister Pond was popular among tourists.
On the way to our bus, we passed the most famous temple in Alishan, Shouzhen Temple 受鎮宮, which is also famous for moths to stay on the beard of the god sculpture, but I didn't go inside. There are some shops and restaurants here. For us, it was about the time to call it a day.
Mt. Data: Sister Pond in Alishan
The blue sky and sunshine made Sister Pond look stunning.

Thoughts about this Hike and Other Trails: Mianyue Xian and Axi Long Distance Hike

If you get a chance, please take Alishan Forest Railway, which has been operating for more than 100 years with the unique Z-shaped switchbacks to adapt the topology. Here's a great post from Foreigners In Taiwan to teach you how to take the train from Taipei.
Mt. Data: Alishan Forest Railway
If you get a chance to visit Alishan, it's a must to take Alishan Forest Railway tran.
There are so many things you can enjoy at Alishan Forest Recreation Area without going through the difficult trails, and you can find plenty of information on the official website. There are other tails to explore around Alishan, like Mianyue Xian 眠月線 and Axi Long Distance Hike 阿溪縱走, and I might visit those trails someday.
Mt. Data: from the parking lot
You can see Mt. Data from the parking lot at Alishan Forest Recreation Area
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Map and Itinerary

Group Hike or Solo Hike: Group hike with Taiwan Mountain LOHAS Association (LOHAS)
Date of Hike: December 1, 2019

Route map for Mt-Data-Alishan by Anusha Lee on plotaroute.com

Menu in the map to download, print or share the map.
Click timer to change the speed to meet your condition.
Due to GPS accuracy setting, there may be some difference between my GPS tracking and the exact distance.

Based on my hike on December 1, 2019

08:00 Arrived trailhead on New Central Cross-Island Highway
08:45 Reached a small deck to see Mt. Yu and took photos
09:00 Reached Mt. Xiaoliyuan Lookout and took photos
09:34 Reached Alishan Forest Railway and walked along the railway track
09:45 Arrived at the trailhead of Mt. Duigaoyue
10:20 Arrived at Duigaoyue Lookout and took a rest
11:20 Reached the deck before Mt. Data Trail and had lunch
12:10 Started the hike to Mt. Data
12:51 The wooden stairs were replaced by the concrete ones
12:58 Reached the summit of Mt. Data to see Mt. Yu ridgeline
13:07 Descending
14:15 Reached Sister Pond and took photos
14:00 Reached Alishan National Forest Recreational Area and walked through the forests
14:30 Arrived at Shouzhen Temple and took a rest
14:48 Arrived Alishan bus stop and finished the hike
Total time: 6 hours 48 minutes, including breaks

Recommended Blogs and Resources:

Chinese only:
Alishan National Scenic Area Administration
Hiking Biji: 大塔山
English posts:
Taiwan Trails and Tales: ALISHAN SISTERS PONDS LOOP (阿里山:姐妹池O型)
Qianshan: Alishan
Foreigners in Taiwan: Alishan Forest Railway Guide 阿里山森林鐵路指南

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Tefuye Old Trail and Mt. Zhizhong