Taiwan is a sweet-potato-shaped island surrounded by rugged coastline and long stretches of beaches, with towering mountain ranges running north to south in the center. It’s always been a popular destination for other East Asian tourists for its natural sceneries, most notably YangMingShan and Sun Moon Lake, but its outdoor opportunities have long been overlooked by travelers from the rest of the world in favor of bustling Taipei. Taiwan is secretly one of the best backpacking destinations: easy to get around, with great railway and bus connections, and friendly to budget and solo travelers. Whether you are a water-sports lover, a hiker, or you want to have a go at soaring above the mountains, there’s something for every type of outdoor lover in Taiwan.
Hike the many national parks of Taiwan.
Taiwan has several stunning national parks with trails suitable for hikers of all levels. YangMingShan National Park half an hour north of Taipei is a popular choice with a range of easy day hikes to choose from. The eight-mile trek to Lengshuikeng is one of the most scenic and well-rounded trails, ending at a milky pond with a sulfur hot spring nearby for a leg soak.
For something more challenging, Yuan Zui Mountain in Dasyueshan National Forest Recreational Area is a great choice near Taichung. The hike is not for the faint of heart, with sections of rope-assistant rock climbing that takes you to the summit, itself a triangular-shaped rock outcrop. You can also try to conquer awe-inspiring mountains such as Xueshan, the second highest mountain in Taiwan. Its name translates to Snow Mountain, and it is located in the Shei-pa National Park, standing at 12,750 above sea level. The three-day, two-night trek is more popular than the highest mountain for its unique sceneries, such as the dark forest and glacial features.
Go on a cycling adventure.
While it might be surprising, Taiwan is actually a very cyclist friendly-island with many beautiful paths around the entire island. In the northeast, the Dongshan River Bicycle Trail in Yilan is a great combination of nature and city path. The 15-mile path conveniently starts at the Dongshan Railway Station, passing the nearby forest park and water park in addition to landmarks such as Qingshui Bridge and National Center for Traditional Art, ending at the Wujie Tide Gate.
But the most scenic is the circular route around the Sun Moon Lake in the heart of Taiwan. The lake has long been famed for its serene blue water, and the three-hour trail gives you an opportunity to admire it from every angle. The path is flat and well paved, making this suitable for families.
SUP across stunning lakes.
Another way to enjoy the beauty of Sun Moon Lake is to explore it on the water with a stand-up paddleboard, or SUP. The smooth expanse of the lake covers an area of three square miles and is beginner friendly. It’s hard not to enjoy the view of the mountains as you glide effortlessly across the lake.
For an option close to Taipei, SUPing is an ideal way to explore the Shen’ao Elephant Trunk Rock in Ruifang. Paddle under the sandstone archway of the trunk and be awed by the rugged landscape of the northeast. Further down south, Kenting’s crystal blue water is perfect for all watersports including stand-up paddling. Many tours offer snorkeling along with kayaking or paddleboard options.
Surf from east to west to south.
Since Taiwan is an island between the East China, South China, and Philippine Seas, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are some gorgeous surf spots. Surfing is still a relatively new sport in Taiwan. Some of the best surf locales are located on the east and south coasts. The eastern coastline is more complex and rocky, which means more care is needed when selecting a surf spot — particularly for beginners.
In the east, Yilan County’s famous surf spot is on Honeymoon Bay. It’s considered one of the best on the island and is right by the train station. An alternative would be to learn to surf on the west coast in a place like Taichung where the beaches are sandy. Kenting in the south is the ideal choice for those who want year-round ideal conditions with its tropical climate and sandy beaches. Kenting even has a designated surf zone in the South Bay.
Cross paragliding off your bucket list.
The mountains of Taiwan are perfect for more than hiking. Paragliding is popular here, where you can view the stunning landscape from on high. Most of the options are tethered, but if you have the courage, you can learn to do it yourself. One of the best spots to paraglide is in Nantou near Taichung. If the wind direction and visibility are good, you can see Sun Moon Lake and the Puli township.
An option closer to Taipei is the Green Bay in Wanli, where steady sea wind means that you are guaranteed a liftoff there. You’ll also see the sparkling blue water of Green Bay itself. Other great paragliding spots across Taiwan includes Wai’ao in Yilan, Saijia in Pingtung, and the Taitung Luye Highland.