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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
Last update: April 9, 2021
Smangus infographic
Smangus infographic
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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, a 2-day hike, it’s better to go with an experiencecd hiking guide for your own safety. Some parts of the trail might even trigger your fear of height.
This trail is also my first attempt to take on more challenging hikes. Thanks to our hiking guides, Acer and Fion, I get to know more about the beautiful trails in Taiwan after this hike.

Table of Contents:

About Smangus, Qilan and Yuanyang Lake Nature Reserve

Smangus

Smangus, 1,620 meters (5,315 feet) above the sea level, belongs to indigenous Atayal People, 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 prejudiced one.
Smangus- parking lot and hotel
Smangus parking lot and hotel
The majority of Smangus people choose a different lifestyle by adopting cooperative community to ensure all the members in this village are paid equally and well taken care of, when more and more tourists are visiting. If you are interested to know more about their liefstyle, please check out Erv’s post or Smangus' website (Chinese only) for more details.
Smangus- parking lot and hotel
Not many tourists arrived when we got there
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. Smangus’ tranquility and grit reveal a special quality which is unique among most indigenous villages. Perhaps the disadvantaged location helps Smangus perverse her beauty and make their people one of a kind.
Smangus- experience the tranquility in the indigenous village
I took this photo near the coffee shop in Smangus
Please note that you might need to apply for permit during some high seasons, like cherry blossoms. Please check out Smangus' website for more information.

Qilan

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).
There is a Cilan (Qilan) Forest Recreation Area, which is famous for primeval forest, is not the one we hiked on this trail, but this is a great place to visit if you just want to have a relaxing trip.
Please note that hikers can only take the trailhead from Smangus to Qilan, not the other way around for safety reasons.

Yuanyang Lake Nature Reserve

One thing worth mentioning is Yuanyang Lake Nature Reserve 鴛鴦湖自然保留區, loacated on Mt. Xue Range 雪山山脈 on the borders of Hsinchu 新竹, Taoyuan 桃園 and Yilan 宜蘭, and the area of this reserve is 374 hectares (924 acres). The maximum depth of Yuanyang Lake is 15 meters, the area of the lake is 3.6 hectares (8.9 acres), and is 1,670 meters (5,479 feet) above the sea level.
Yuanyang Lake, photo by Acer Lee
Yuanyang Lake Nature Reserve. Photo by Acer Lee
This place is NOT open to the public, only for academic research only. It's amain to protect the precious Sparganium fallax Graebner 東亞黑三稜, which was discovered in Taiwan in 1972. If you hike this trail, you might get a cance to see this lake from the distance from the trail.

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 and Places 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), a great place to see sunrise.
Xuebai Campsite: 雪白營地, 2,050 meters (6,725 feet), and the distance from Smangus trailhead to this camp is around 7.9 km (4.9 miles). There is a water source near the campsite and the round trip to the source is 20 minutes.
See the map and itinerary first

Day 1: The Easy Part: A Pleasant Strolling among Smangus Old Trees

GPS coordinates of the trailhead: 24.577818, 121.337632
I joined Taiwan Mountain LOHAS Association for this hike in 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

Relaxing Bamboo Woods and Magnificent Big Trees

After letting some of our hiking mates taking photos, our guide Acer led us pass through the arch to start the hike. The first things we saw was the photogenic valleys and beautiful slender bamboo woods, which tempted us to stop and take photos again.
Smangus- a very cute hand-made sign on the trailhead
Another cute hand-made sign
It's very relaxing to stroll here.
Smangus- slender bamboo woods
More slender bamboo woods welcoming you
The trail condition was surprisingly 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 people, 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.
Smangus 08 old tree area
The signs in Smangus are made by materials in that area and are very beautiful.
The oldest one in Smangus, Yaya Qparung, meaning Mama Big Tree in Atayal language, is said to be the second oldest tree in Taiwan, around 2,000 years old. It takes 20 people holding hand in hand to circle the tree. As you can imagine, Yaya Qparung is the most popular photo taking spot.
Smangus- sign of Yaya Oparung, meaning Mama Big Tree
Hand-made sign of Yaya Qparung. Sorry for the blurred image.
Smangus- Yaya Oparung
The second oldest tree, Yaya Qparung, in Taiwan
The distance from the trailhead to Yaya Qparung is 5.2 km (3.2 miles), and you take the same trail back if you don't plan to go to Qilan.
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Day 1: The Challenging Hike with Rugged Terrains

After Yaya Qparung, the easy hike 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.
By the way, if you have a better suggestion to translate 中級山, please kindly let me know.
Smangus- an easy trail turns into a tough one
The trail terrains no longer flat and easy to hike after Yaya Qparung
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 the great weather still gave me some comfort.
Smangus- tree roots intertwined on the trail
The trail was covered with intertwined tree roots
After one hour, we reached a creek and it was time for lunch. I sat on a big rock to boil water to make hot chocolate. While waiting for my drink, I scrutinized the surrounding, the calming creek flowing through the forests with mixed tall trees and bushes. We were very lucky to hike here with such a great weather.
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 climb several big slopes with fallen rocks scattered around the trail. 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 tall trees on this section of trail. Although those were not as famous as others in Alishan, I was still in awe, imaging all those years they have been there and all those sunshine and storms they have been trough.
smangus-12-big-trees-2
Big trees on the trail

Scary Sidehill That Brought Back My Nightmare

Then we made a turn to a very narrow sidehill. 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. I was lucky to get away from serious injuries only with nasty bruises and little scrape, but this experience has haunted me for a while.
smangus-12-steep-ridge
Going uphill on the teep and narrow ridge
While hiking on this sidehill, I leaned to the slope closer and closer and I could feel my heartbeat racing 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.

Reached Xuebai Campsite

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 sidehill and nothing much to see on the peak also put me off. 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

Day 2: From Wonderful Sunrise to Tree Cemetery and Ended with Misty World

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 sunrise, only carrying the essentials, because we would return to the campsite later.
I guess we accidentally woke up bees and they weren’t very happy about that. As a result, several of us got stung. I got stung on my left cheek and it hurt so much that I could feel one teardrop rolling down on my cheek immediately. 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

Holy Ridgeline: Mt. Dabajian Bathing in the Orange Hue

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 clouds floating 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 Ridgeline Trail 聖稜線, including Mt. Xue Main Peak 雪山主峰, 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.
Smangus- Mt. Dabajian in the early morning
The peak in the center is Mt. Dabajian
Mt. Dabajian was on my hiking list, and I finally did this hike in September, 2020.
100 Peaks: Mt. Dabajian, Mt. Xiaobabajian, Mt. Jiali, and Mt. Yizhe
I hiked on Mt. Dabajian (the left one) and Mt. Xiaobabajian (the right one) in September 2020.
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

The Trail from Hell: 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 side helping me, to take photos of me hugging the tree, but I changed my mind because it might be dangerous for her.
Smangus-climbing over fallen trees
It felt like crossing those fallen trees would never end.

Up to See Holy Ridgeline Again and Valley Covered by Clouds

After the sidehill section, we turned up to an even much higher sidehill without much shade, but the scenery totally opened up with mountains circling the valley. Those mountains were the peaks on Holly Ridgeine Trail. Instead of the orange hue in the early morning, the Holly Ridgeline Trail stood there with the ocean blue sky in the background, hugging the valley and the sea of cotton-like white clouds above it. Our guide Acer knew that 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 junction, and the other trial would lead us to Yuanyang Lake 鴛鴦湖. However, I didn't take photos of the junction.
While being on the trail, I looked back at the spot where we were there to enjoy the views of the sea of clouds and Holy Ridgeline. It looked so far away.
Smangus-looking back at where we were
We were on the sidehill earlier.

From Scorching Sun to Misty World with Muddy Trail

After passing the junction to Yuanyang Lake, we turned into a totally different terrain which was covered by thick ferns, mosses and mud, and the weather became cloudy.
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 like lead. I was getting out of breath and hiking on the wet and slippery terrain wasn't making it better.
Smangus-mushy and slippery trail
Acer said this area was the most humid part of Taiwan.
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 mosses 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

The Risks on the Trail: 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
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 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. 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.

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 junctions 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?
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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.

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

07:20 Arrived at trailhead from our B&B
08:11 Arrived at Big Tree Trail trailhead
10:02 Arrived at Big Tree 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 the sunrise
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 Ridgeline Trail
11:39 Arrived at another fallen tree area and had lunch
13:56 Reached the virgin forest after passing the junction to Yuanyang Lake
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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100 Peaks on Holy Ridgeline: Mt. Dabajian and Mt. Xiaobajian
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