The Winding Trails of Taiwan’s Elephant Mountain
There are few experiences that make you feel as out of shape as having an elderly person—with their arms raised and holding a closed umbrella over their head—overtake you while hiking up a mountain. But in an early morning hike up Taipei’s Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan; 象山), this was a common occurrence for us.
Nestled in Taipei’s east, Elephant Mountain soars out of the ground seemingly vertically. With extremely well maintained trails, the hike is less dangerous than physically and emotionally taxing—especially as your ego takes blow after blow of athletic Taiwanese retirees running up the mountain, walking down it backwards, or just casually climbing the seemingly thousands of steps without breaking a sweat.
The first major draw of visiting Elephant Mountain, and which you can find plastered over Instagram, is the view of the Taipei skyline from Elephant Mountain’s Six Rocks. Named for the six giant boulders that the hiking path weaves around, this portion of the mountain offers unparalleled views of Taipei 101. For even better views, you can scramble on top of the boulders and see further past the tree line. Just note that this area is extremely popular among locals and tourists, so the best time to visit this particular area is likely sunrise or at night.
While Six Rocks is the main photographic draw for Elephant Mountain, dozens of main and side trails continue on. The trails are so multitudinous and varied—to include panoramic views of other portions of Taipei, a passage through a narrow cavern, or trails right alongside the edge of the mountain—that Jen’s mother warned us of straying too far into the mountain and getting lost.
While I think it would be hard to become fully lost, Elephant Mountain provides an amazing way of feeling like you are removed from the modern world and are stumbling upon treasures from another time waiting to be found. This was particularly the case as Jen and I took a side path along the ridge line leading to the neighboring mountain of Muzishan.
Perfectly still, the temple appeared as if it sprouted from the mountain just as much as the trees and flowers around it. While looking at the map now shows that there is a small road that leads to the temple from the other direction as the footpath, at the time it felt as if we stumbled upon a world truly removed from the modernity across the rest of Taiwan.
In short, I think it was the most perfect temple we came across.