Taiwan Hikes

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Smangus to Qilan: A Trail Ranging from Easy to Difficult to See Old Trees, Sea of Clouds, Virgin Forest and a Glimpse of 100 Peaks

Posted by:  Anusha Lee
Published date: August 25, 2020
Smangus infographic
Smangus infographic
Disclaimer: Please note some of the following are based on my personal condition, and I will try to provide the latest and correct information as possible as I can. Please feel free to let me know if I make any mistake and thank you for reading. Please also note that your safety is your own responsibility.
WARNING: This is a trail I will NOT recommend you hike by yourself, unless you just want to hike the easy path. If you want to go through the whole trail from Smangus to Qilan Yilan, which is a 2-day hike, it’s better to go with hiking associations for your own safety. Some parts of the trail might even trigger your fear of height.

A Brief History about Smangus and Apply for Permit to Qilan

Smangus (1,620 meters / 5,315 feet) belongs to Atayal Tribe, and is located in Jianshih Township, Xinchu City in Taiwan. It was so remote that Smangus didn’t have electricity till 1979. Therefore, it was once called Dark or Black Village. Now, it’s called God’s Village after Smangus has become a tourist attraction, which suits Smangus way much better than the prejudice one.
Smangus- parking lot and hotel
Smangus parking lot and hotel
The tribe in this village chooses a different lifestyle by adopting cooperative community to ensure all the members in this village are well taken care of, when more and more tourists are visiting. If you are interest, you can read Erv’s post or Smangus' website for more details.
Smangus- parking lot and hotel
Not many tourists arrived when we got there
If you have some time, I recommend you stay at Smangus village to have a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the amazing surroundings before you start your hike. Located deep in the mountains, Smangus’ tranquility and grit reveal a special quality which is unique among other indigenous villages. Perhaps the disadvantaged location helps Smangus perverse her beauty, which makes them one of a kind.
Smangus- experience the tranquility in the indigenous village
I took this photo near the coffee shop in Smangus
As to Qilan, you'll need to apply permit from National Police Agency at least 3 days in advance to enter Qilan Giant Trees area. The name of the destination is 100林道 (宜蘭-大同鄉). The Google translation on the website is 100 Forest Road (Yilan County - Datong Township).
Please note that hikers can only take the trailhead from Smangus to Qilan, not the other way around for safety reasons.

How to Get There

Smangus is in a very remote part of Jianshih Township in Xinchu City. There is no public transportation to Smangus. You have to drive or hire a car to get there. There are some traffic controls on the way to Smangus. The car you hire must be familiar with the traffic to Smangus.

Peaks to Reach

Mt. Xuebai: 雪白山, 2,444 meters (8,018 feet), no views
Mt. Shichushi: 西丘斯山, 2,427 meters (7,962 feet)
This hike is very special to me because it boosts my confidence in taking more challenging hikes and doing solo hikes. It also helps me discover the beauty of mid-level trails in Taiwan.
See the map and itinerary first

The Easy and Very Pleasant Strolling among Smangus Old Trees

Trailhead: 24.577818, 121.337632
I joined Taiwan Mountain LOHAS Association for this hike in early January 2020. We stayed at a nearby B&B and got up early to get to the trailhead. It was still early when we arrived in Smangus. The sky was blue like deep ocean without any cloud, but the early sun warmed us up in the cold weather.
Smangus- ready to embrace the amazing nature
A cute hand-made arch to welcome you
After letting some of our hiking mates taking photos, our guide Acer led us pass through the arch. The first things we saw was the photogenic valleys and beautiful slender bamboo woods, which tempted some of us want to stop and take photos again.
Smangus- a very cute hand-made sign on the trailhead
Another cute hand-made sign
Part of the trail was accompanied by tall bamboo woods. It's very relaxing to stroll here.
Smangus- slender bamboo woods
More slender bamboo woods welcoming you
The trail condition was surprising good. It was very flat and easy to hike. The trail from the entrance to the old tree area was taken care of by Smangus tribe, and you could tell they had done a tremendous job, not many annoying uneven stairs and the trail condition was kept very natural. It was such a delight to stroll here.
Smangus- morining sun shining on the relaxing trail
The morning light shining on the relaxing trail
You will see the old tree area approaching when you get close. Those trees were so tall, huge, and handsome. The oldest one in Smangus, Yaya Oparung, meaning Mama Big Tree in Atayal language, is the second oldest one in Taiwan. As you can imagine, Yaya Oparung is the most popular photo taking spot.
Smangus- Yaya Oparung
The oldest tree, Yaya Oparung, in Smangus
The distance from the trailhead to Yaya Oparung is 5.2 km / 3.2 miles, and you take the same trail back if you don't plan to go to Qilan.

Happy Hour Over and Here Comes the Challenging Hike

After Yaya Oparung, our happy hour was over, and the trail condition became more rugged as we started going uphill. The rugged terrains are very common on the trails in Taiwan, especially among Mid-level Mountain Trails 中級山.
Smangus- an easy trail turns into a tough one
The trail terrains no longer flat and easy to hike after Yaya Oparung
The tree roots were intertwined with each other and we had to get a hold of the roots to lift ourselves up. I could almost hear my quadriceps muscles whining. Even though the trail was not easy, the beautiful woods and great weather still could give me some comfort.
Smangus- tree roots intertwined on the trail
The trail was covered with intertwined tree roots
After around one hour, we reached a creek and it was time for lunch. I sat on a big rock to boil some water. While waiting for my hot chocolate, I looked at the surrounding. It seemed we were the only group on that day, which was great. At that time, I was thinking, if the whole hike was like this, it wasn’t too bad. I could manage this. Little did I know how wrong it was.
Smangus- a beautiful creek: the best spot to have lunch
The best spot to have lunch
Perhaps it wasn't a bad idea just sitting here all day.
Smangus- a small creek
The creek made me want to stay here much longer
The trail condition became steeper, and we had to pass several big slopes paved with fallen rocks. Our guide Acer took some time to teach us how to recognize the ridges and what we should do if we get lost in the woods.
Smangus- our guide Acer waiting for us on a rocky slope
Waiting at the rock slope
There were many big trees on the trail. Although those were not as famous as others in Taiwan, I was still in awe, imaging all those years they’ve been there and all those sunshine and storms they have been trough.

Scary Sidehill Trail That Brought Back My Nightmare

Then we made a turn to a very narrow sidehill trail. Hiking on a narrow sidehill trail isn’t anything new to me, but what made me panic was it was on a very steep slope without many trees to grab. In July 2017, I fell off a sidehill trail and landed hard on the riverbank, a story I'll share later. I was lucky to survive only with nasty bruises and little scrape, but this experience has haunted me ever since.
smangus-12-steep-ridge
Going uphill on the teep and narrow ridge
While hiking on this sidehill trail, I leaned to the slope closer and closer and I could feel my heartbeat faster than normal. I was too scared to stand upright, so I gradually squatted down and used my left hand to keep my balance instead of my tracking poles.
Smangus- scary trail on the sidehill
Can you see where the trail is? I took this photo after passing the really scare section.
I was so slow that I had to let my hiking mates pass me, and I ended up being the last hiker in the group. The guide who acted as a keeper was very nice and kept me company. I thought about taking more photos of this part of the trail, but I was too panic to do that.
Smangus-a narrow trail
You'll see this kind of trails a lot in Taiwan.
Finally, we reached our campsite, Xuebai campsite 雪白營地 (2,139 meters / 7,017 feet), and we started to pitch our tents and tarps. This campsite probably could accommodate 40 people. There was a water source nearby, and the round trip took around 20 minutes. I didn’t go because I had brought enough water.
Smangus- Xuebai campsite
Xuebai campsite can take up to around 40 hikers.
After some rest, we headed to Mt. Xuebai 雪白山, (2,444 meters / 8,018 feet), which was in between Taoyuan and Hsinchu, and also the highest peak in Taoyuan. But I turned back after a few meters. I guess I was still in shock after the scary slope and nothing much to see on the peak also deterred me. So, the keeper guide and I got back to the campsite to enjoy the quiet moment and got some rest.
Smangus- Our guides Fion and Acer on the summit of Mt. Xuebai
Our guides Fion and Acer took hikers to Mt. Xuebai on Day 1. Photo by LOHAS Association

The Second Day: One of the Most Wonderful Sunrises Waiting for Us

We got up around 3:30 am and headed to Mt. Shichushi 西丘斯山 (2,427 meters /7,962 feet) around 4:10 am to see the sunset, only carrying the essentials. I guess we accidentally woke bees up and there weren’t very happy about that. As a result, several of us got stung by the bees. I got stung on my left cheek and it hurt so much that I could feel one teardrop rolling down on my cheek. If you ask me, I will tell you leeches are way much cuter than bees and other bugs on the trails.
Smangus-sunrise
The color of the sky near Mt. Shichushi started changing
Some part of the trail shared the same one to Mt. Xuebai, which was a very steep, and I had to put up with the pain of the bee sting. By the time we almost got to the peak of Mt. Shichushi, I could see the sky was getting brighter through the trees. I was so nervous that we would miss the sunrise. Luckily, we arrived on time. When we reached the cliff, the most astonishing nature wonder was presented in front of us.
Smangus-beautiful sunrise and sea of clouds
Stunning sunrise
And the sea of clouds.
When I was soaking in and trying to enjoy this stunning view quietly, my excited hiking mates kept talking loudly and sharing food. This is one of the drawbacks to hike with a group. Looking on the bright side, at least, we were the only group on the peak, otherwise we would have to take turns to sit there.
Smangus-sea of clouds
The valley looked like a void luring rootless clouds into the unknown
I found a small trail in the bushes near the cliff so I decided to explore. Then, this was what I saw.
Smangus- Amazing sunrise through the woods
Can't get this amazing sunrise enough
Please note that the location to see the sunrise wasn’t exact the peak of Mt. Shichushi. We had to move toward the cliff a little bit to enjoy the stunning views.
Smangus-Summit of Mt. Shichushi
This is the exact location of Mt. Shichushi summit
When I turned around, our guides told us the Holly Ridge Trail 聖稜線, including Mt. Xue 雪山 (3,886 meters / 12,749 feet) and Mt. Dabajian 大霸尖山 (3,490 meters / 11,450 feet), was on the other side. The morning sunshine casted an orange hue on Mt. Dabajian and nearby mountains, and it was so spectacular. It's difficult for me to find words to describe what I witnessed at that moment.
Smangus- Mt. Dabajian in the early morning
The peak in the center is Mt. Dabajian
The wonderful view made me want to stay here much longer, but we still had a long way to go. We got back to our campsite, took our gear, and continued the rest our hike. Then, the reality struck again. The rest part of the trail was more demanding than the previous ones.
Smangus-tree cemetery
More rough terrains ahead

Tree Cemetery

Other than those tall standing trees, those fallen ones lying on the trail were so big and the number of them was so many in an astonishing way that I felt like crying whenever I had to climb over or crawl underneath them. From time to time, I was questioning myself why I put myself in this situation.
Smangus-tree-cemetery
Fallen Taiwan Cypress trees were everywhere
Our guide told us that this area was nicknamed as Taiwan Cypress cemetery. From those fallen trees, it was indeed a tree cemetery.
Smangus-tree cemetery
Climbing over those fallen trees was not an easy task
Some fallen trees were very big and blocked the whole sidehill we had to pass. Some of them were very thick, I had to bear hug the tree trunk with my arms and legs stretching out as much as I could, let my toe of my right foot touch the other side of the trail, shifted my weight over there and landed myself safely. I thought about asking Fion, who was on the other siding helping me, to take photos of me hugging the tree in a funny way, but I changed my mind because it might be dangerous for her.
Smangus-climbing over fallen trees
It felt like those fallen tree would neve end

Expansive Valley Covered by Clouds

After the sidehill trail, we turned up to an even much higher sidehill without trees, but the scenery totally opened up with mountains circling the valley. Those mountains were Holly Ridge Trail again. Instead of the orange hue in the early morning, the Holly Ridge Trail stood there with the ocean like blue sky in the background, hugging the valley and the sea of cotton-like white clouds above it. I was in awe. Our guide Acer knew we wanted to savor this moment, so he let us take a break.
Smangus-sea of clouds underneath Holly Ridge Trail
The view opened up and the sea of clouds was in front of us
Although it was January and we were on high altitude, the sun still made us feel like it was summer.
After getting our feet back on the trail, we passed a fork, and the other trial would lead us to a famous spot called Lake Yuanyang 鴛鴦湖. If you Google hiking Lake Yuanyang in Chinese, you will see many posts about it. However, this lake is preserved as an ecological research station called Yuanyang Lake Nature Reserve, and you have to apply for another permit to enter Lake Yuanyang.
Smangus-looking back at where we were
I missed the fork to Lake Yuanyang, but I looked back at the sidehill where we enjoyed the sea of clouds

Into the Mystic World

Lake Yuanyang was not on our itinerary, so we took the one ahead and continued our journey. I was not sure when we passed the fork, because I was tired. After that, we turned into a totally different terrain which was covered by thick ferns, and the weather became cloudier. The bright sunny weather turned into a cloudy one. And, I was getting really exhausted.
Smangus-Qilan woods
The scenery changed, so did the weather
Some people say this area looks like the jungle scene in the movie Avatar. I can’t comment because I never saw that movie. Whether it’s like the scene in Avatar or not, to me, this is Taiwan. It doesn’t need to look like something else to prove its worth.
Smangus-mystic world: trees covered by mosses
Mosses on those trees created an eerie but also dreamy world
It might look dreamy to hike here, but this mushy and wet terrain also made my legs feel heavier. I was getting out of breath and hiking on the wet and slippery terrain was making it more difficult.
Smangus-mushy and slippery trail
If I weren’t this tired, I would love to take more photos. During our previous break, I checked my feet and found a blister. I tended it with bandit hoping it would make it till the end of our hike. Obviously, I didn’t do a good job and I could feel the burning sensation.
Smangus-moss
I still don't know what those are but they look amazing
One more photo about this amazing plant.
Smangus-mosses
A closer look at those mosses
To make things worse, the downhill was steeper and more slippery, and my knees were not happy about that. By the time I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, we reached the trailhead. From that point, we just needed to walk on logging road to our hired bus, only extra 2 km left...
Smangus-trailhead
Finally, the end of the difficult hike

Other Things: Three of Us fell or Almost Fell off the Slopes

This trail isn’t labeled as mid-level trail for no reasons. Some of our hiking mates injured during the hike. The first slipped on one slope with the big tree blocking the sidehill. Luckily, she was stopped by trees below and managed to climb up.
Smangus-treacherous terrain makes hike more difficult
I have to say this trail isn't for everyone
The second incident was the young man in front of me. We were descending on some wooden stairs and for some unknown reason he lost his footing and tilted to the right, which was a big slope. I was shocked by his sudden losing balance and squatted down trying to grab his backpack. But the distance between him and me was longer than my arm length, I could only barely pinch his backpack raincover and dragged his raincover to the left as much as I could. Surprisingly, he moved back to the left and regained his balance. We continued our hike.
Smangus-hiking mate almost fell
The young man in front of me lost his footing around here. I took this before seeing him almost falling
Later, I asked him what happened. He said he lost his footing. Then I asked him how he got his balance back. He told me “a move” in English. I asked again: Did you feel I was pinching your backpack raincover? He gave me a look mixed with realization and confusion at the same time. Anyway, he was safe, which is the most important thing.
Smangus- humongous trees
So many gigantic trees either standing or lying down in the woods
The third incident was that a girl who wore a helmet and hiking boots slipped off a log when we were trying to pass a gutter. She fell off about one meter and landed on her right side. I think her helmet prevented her from possible head injury. She was shocked but suffered no visible harm. Most of us wore rainboots. There's nothing wrong with wearing hiking boots, of course, but it’s easier to hike in Taiwan with the rainboots. Luckily, she was doing okay.
Smangus- a hiker wearing a helmet in front of fallen trees
The girl was the only one who wore the helmet, which might have saved her life.

Some Thoughts about This Hike:

If you can arrange a transportation, Smangus is a great delight to visit, whether you take the easy strolling or the challenging trail all the way to Qilan, Yilan. If I want to take the easy trail, I will stay at least 2 days to enjoy this peaceful indigenous village, taking my time and absorbing the fresh air.
smangus-parking lot
The clear blue sky in Smangus in the early morning
If you opt for adventures, the trail from Smangus to Qilan will certainly not disappoint you. But there are many forks on this trail, I don’t recommend you do it alone. It's better to hire an experienced local guide to take you there. Going with a group might be a good option because you don’t have to worry about driving or hiring a car.
Smangus- experience the tranquility in the indigenous village
Please go with an experienced hike to take on the challenging trail from Smangus to Qilan
Before you go, please remember this is a physically demanding trail. I know I tend to choose hikes that are beyond my ability, but I think this one really kicks my butt not just because of the scary slopes, but also the treacherous terrains. As I said, there are dangers on some parts of the trail. Please be cautious when you proceed.
Smangus-mysterious world: trees covered by mosses
Don't underestimate the potential dangers on the trails in Taiwan
Overall, we were very lucky to stay safe and enjoyed a lot. We saw the most amazing views and see the mystic virgin woods. I highly recommend people who are fit and not afraid of height to take on the point-to-point trail, and to hike it with experienced guides. If you ask me whether I want to hike it again, to be honest, the easy one to see the old trees? That’s for sure. The one from Smangus to Qilan? Uh... maybe once is enough. But who knows?

Map and Itinerary

Group Hike or Solo Hike: Group hike with Taiwan Mountain LOHAS Association (LOHAS)
Date of Hike: January 4, 2020

Route map for Smangus To Qilan: Day 1 by Anusha Lee on plotaroute.com

Date of Hike: January 5, 2020

Route map for Smangus To Qilan: Day 2 by Anusha Lee on plotaroute.com

Click Menu in the map to download, print or share the map.
Click timer to change the speed to meet your condition.
Note:
Due to GPS accuracy setting, there may be some difference between my GPS tracking and the exact distance. Please check the infographic above for the more accurate data.

Day 1, based on my hike on January 4, 2020

07:20 Arrived at trailhead from our B&B
08:11 Arrived at Big Trees Trail trailhead
10:02 Arrived at Big Trees Area
10:15 Arrived at Yaya Qparung
10:26 Resumed the hike
11:26 Arrived at the creek and had lunch
12:12 Resumed the hike
13:10 Reached the big falling rock slope
13:26 Reached another big tree area
13:57 Arrived at Xuebai campsite, drew water, pitched tents. Some headed to Mt. Xuebai
Total time: 6 hours and 14 minutes, including breaks

Day 2, based on my hike on January 5, 2020

03:30 Got up
04:10 Headed to Mt. Shichushi to see sunrise. We left our tents and backpacks at the campsite
06:04 Saw the sunrise near Mt. Shichushi and took photos
06:53 Reached the real summit of Mt. Shichushi
07:30 Got back to Xuibai campsite, cooked breakfast, and got ready for the hike
08:00 Left the campsite
09:25 Reached fallen tree area
10:40 Arrived the sidehill where the video was taken to see sea of clouds and the Holly Ridge Trail and had a break
11:39 Arrived at another fallen tree area and had lunch
13:56 Reached the virgin forest after passing the fork to Lake Yuanyang
16:50 Reached the end of the trail and exited
Total time: 12 hours 40 minutes, including breaks

Recommended Blogs and Resources:

Chinese only:
Hiking Biji: 司馬庫斯古道越嶺鴛鴦湖
English posts:
ERV Travels: SMANGUS – ABORIGINAL COMMUNAL VILLAGE IN THE MOUNTAINS OF TAIWAN
Ryan Revern: Ancient Tree Groves of Smangus and Zhenxibao
Wandering Taiwan (bilingual post): Smangus
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