Last Updated on August 14, 2020 by queenie mak
Located between Chiayi County and Nantou County in Central Taiwan, Alishan Forest Recreation Area, or Alishan National Scenic Area, is easily one of the best attractions in all of Taiwan.
While Alishan was one of the three main logging areas where the Alishan Forest Railway was built for transporting lumber, Alishan Forest Recreation Area has become a major tourist attraction since the 1970s.
Today, Alishan Taiwan has a conservation area with over 1,400 hectares of forest with many historical remains throughout the park.
Alishan is known for its five wonders: sunrise, forest, cloud sea, forest railway, and sunset glow. So if you want to do some serious hiking, see thousand-year-old trees, and watch the Alishan sunrise, then you will have to visit Alishan in Taiwan.
You can do all of that by following my comprehensive 2-day Alishan itinerary. Interested? Keep reading!
Why Alishan is great for a solo female traveller
Initially, I wasn’t sure if it was possible to visit Alishan Forest Recreation Area on my own. But after reading many online blogs, and my stubbornness for always wanting to discover new things on my own, I found out that it is possible to travel solo to Alishan and it is one of the best ways of seeing the cypress forest.
When I first arrived at the Alishan, I had a tough time navigating. I probably walked around in circles many times until I found my hotel. I’m not sure if it’s because of the change in weather as Alishan is much colder than Chiayi, or I was just too eager to start, it took me a full 15 minutes before I found my bearings.
Alishan trails are amazing! But I repeated several trails because I didn’t know what the best routes are and how the weather can affect the conditions of the trail. I saw most things in Alishan but wish I could’ve saved a bit of time and not double-up on certain trails.
This is precisely the reason why I want to create a complete Alishan travel guide for solo travellers. My Alishan itinerary allows you to all the Alishan trails efficiently and economically while moving at your own pace. And you will see the Alishan sunrise at the best spot in the mountains.
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Before you travel to Alishan in Taiwan
Before you visit Alishan, Taiwan, take a look at my post on learning all my best tips for travelling to Taiwan. I included a lot of information, including getting a Taiwan prepaid SIM card, transportation around the country and more.
Travelling through Taiwan? Visit all the major cities in Taiwan in 3 weeks
Quick tips about going to Alishan Taiwan
Before I dive into my Alishan travel guide and itinerary, I want to share with a few quick tips about going to Alishan:
- There are many trails in Alishan; some are hilly, and some have stairs. But you don’t need to be an advanced hiker to trek any of these trails.
- The bus ride from Chiayi to Alishan in windy for the last hour. If you have motion sickness, it might not be a pleasant ride. Take an over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine like gravol.
- When you disembark the bus from Chiayi to Alishan, the bus driver will give you a piece of paper. Don’t throw it away because it gives you a discount for the entrance fee.
- There are several food options in Alishan in Taiwan; several restaurants serving hot pot and sharing plates.
- If you don’t like any of the restaurant options, there is a 7-Eleven. The convenience store is great for snacks and meals.
- Bring enough cash for two days. I don’t remember seeing any ATMs, but maybe there is one in 7-Eleven. You will need cash for the entrance fee, food, a train ticket to see the sunrise, bus fare, and any souvenirs you want to bring home.
- When you leave Alishan, you can either go back to Chiayi or Sun Moon Lake.
What to bring for hiking Alishan trails
Alishan Forest Recreation Area is in the Yushan Mountain range, where it has an elevation of 2,200+ above sea level. The average day time temperature is between 15-25°C during summer and 5-15°C during winter.
And it is quite common to get a bit of rain in Alishan. The weather changes quickly in the mountains as you may get sunshine in the morning, light drizzling in the afternoon to heavy fog in the late afternoon. At least that is how I experienced Alishan in October.
The best way to dress is to wear layers while hiking through Alishan. And also, be prepared for cooler temperature if you are travelling during winter.
Here is a list of items that you should consider bringing when going to Alishan in Taiwan:
- Long sleeve shirt
- Thermal long sleeve shirt
- Hiking pants
- Waterproof jacket
- Comfortable and waterproof hiking shoes
- Thick hiking socks
- Hat for sun protection
- Water bottle
- Small backpack for day hikes
- Camera (or smartphone)
How to get to Alishan
But first, you need to travel to Chiayi, the gateway city to Alishan. Chiayi has many buses and trains going to Alishan.
At a minimum, stay overnight in Chiayi and start your journey to Alishan the first thing next morning. But if you have a few days to spare, definitely add Chiayi to your travel itinerary as there are many things to do in Chiayi.
From Taichung to Chiayi
In Taichung, take the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) train since it is the more straightforward route because both Taichung HSR Station and Chiayi HSR Station are outside of the respective cities.
- Taichung Railway Station to Chiayi Station
- TRA Tze-Chiang Limited Express
- Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Cost: NT$224
- TRA Local Train
- Time: from 1 hour 50 minutes
- Cost: NT$144
- Check Taichung Station to Chiayi Station train schedule and cost
- TRA Tze-Chiang Limited Express
From Taipei to Chiayi
The easiest way to travel from Taipei to Chiayi is to take a direct local express TRA train to Chiayi.
- TRA: Taipei Main Train Station to Chiayi Station
- Chu-Kuang Express, Tze-Chiang Limited Express or Puyuma
- Time: from 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cost: from NT$461
- Check Taipei Station to Chiayi Station train schedule and cost
Once you are in Chiayi, take the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus #7322 from Chiayi Station to Alishan Bus Terminal.
From Chiayi to Alishan
- Chiayi Station to Alishan Bus Terminal
For more information including bus schedule, information about train travel from Chiayi to Alishan, see my post dedicated to transportation options from Chiayi to Alishan.
How to get around Alishan
There are a few ways to get around Alishan National Forest Recreation Area.
The Alishan Forest Railway has a dedicated train line with three stops: Sacred Tree Station, Chaoping Station and Zhushan Station. There are many things you can see at each train station so you can plan your day around the activities near each stop. It costs NT$150 for a one-way ticket.
Besides the train option, there are four tourist minibus stops around the park. You can purchase the tickets at the bus stand.
But for me, I loved exploring Alishan on foot. It is a lot of walking, and many Alishan trails are uphill or have stairs. But it is worth your energy and effort. And it is possible to explore the entire park on foot in two days.
However, I would suggest taking the train from Alishan Station to Zhushan Station on the second morning (of the two-day Alishan itinerary) to watch the sunrise.
Where to stay in Alishan
There are not a lot of choices for accommodations in Alishan. It is one of the most challenging places to find reasonable accommodation at an affordable price in Taiwan. Budget accommodation does not seem to exist in Alishan, and mid-range hotels have very basic rooms and amenities.
If you are only doing a day trip to Alishan, then finding accommodation is not an issue.
However, if you want to watch the famous Alishan sunrise, then you have to stay at one of the hotels in the Alishan Forest Recreation Area.
- Gau Shan Ching Hotel ($$) – The 3-start hotel is high in demand because it is the cheapest hotel in Alishan. A double room is basic, and it comes with an ensuite bathroom. I thought the bed was comfortable, but the bathroom is old and dingy. The best part about the hotel is the convenient back exit at level two, where you can easily walk over to explore the park. I didn’t love my stay, but I also didn’t want to spend that much money on a hotel either. I would only recommend it if you want to watch the sunrise and absolutely don’t want to spend more money than you need to for accommodation.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Alishan House ($$$) – A luxury hotel in Alishan Forest Recreation Area. It is further away from Alishan Forest Station so you will have to trek to the Alishan Station to catch the sunrise train. But you will enjoy the modern guestroom and other amenities. I read many blogs and reviews and most bloggers say it is the best hotel in Alishan.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
There is no Airbnb accommodation within Alishan Forest Recreation Area. And if you follow my 2 day Alishan itinerary, you should stay within the park.
However, if you must stay at an Airbnb, the closest Airbnb accommodations are around Shizhao, where the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus #7322 stops en route to Alishan. Check the bus schedules to and from Alishan Forest Recreation Area if you want to stay there.
Alishan travel guide: What to do in Alishan?
There is a lot to see in Alishan in Taiwan and it might seem confusing on what you should see first, where to start, etc.
You can see everything in Alishan in 2 days with my efficient solo itinerary. My how-to Alishan travel guide will show you exactly what you will see and how you can see everything in the most efficient and economical way.
All the Alishan attractions are pinned in the interactive map below. You can find more information about each attraction by clicking on the individual pin.
Day 1 of self-guided Alishan Itinerary (blue pins)
1. Start bright and early from Chiayi
The best way to start your Alishan journey in Taiwan is to stay overnight in Chiayi and leave Chiayi first thing in the morning. Chiayi is the closest city to Alishan and has plenty of transportation options to Alishan. There are many things to do in Chiayi so if possible, stay an extra if you can.
The easiest way to get to Alishan from Chiayi is by taking the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus #7322. Take a look at my detailed post on how to take the bus from Chiayi to Alishan. You can catch the bus in front of Chiayi Station (pictured above).
The bus ride takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Take the 8:05 am bus at Chiayi Station where you will arrive at Alishan Bus Terminal at 10:30 am. If you are an early bird, take either the 6:05 am or 7:10 am bus so you can have more time in Alishan.
When you arrive at Alishan Bus Terminal, the bus driver will give you a piece of paper as you disembark. It is a discount for the entrance fee for Alishan Forest Recreation Area. The regular entrance fee is NT$300 and with the discount, you only pay NT$150.
2. Drop off your bags at your accommodation in Alishan
Since you will be staying overnight in Alishan and you don’t need to hike around with all your belongings, drop them off at the hotel you booked ahead of time.
It is best to book accommodation before you arrive at Alishan as it is a popular tourist destination.
Once you arrive at the Alishan Bus Terminal, walk towards the entrance gate and pay your entrance fee.
Follow the road until you see several buildings on the left. This is the retail and restaurant area. Most of the restaurants, souvenir shops, 7-Eleven, and Alishan Visitor Centre are located in here.
And the majority of the hotels are just to the east of the Alishan Visitor Centre, including Gau Shan Ching Hotel (check Agoda for current rate), where I stayed. Alishan House (check Agoda for current rate) is about a 10-minute walk into Alishan Forest Recreation Area.
3. Pick up a handy Alishan National Forest Recreation Area Brochure at the Alishan Visitor Centre
After you drop off your bags, go back to the Alishan Visitor Centre and pick up the brochure (pictured above). The pamphlet is very informative and has a very accurate map of the area.
Besides using my solo Alishan travel guide, the map is also a great resource for visiting Alishan National Forest Recreational Area. I am thoroughly surprised by how accurate the information is in the brochure. All the attractions and sites, approximate distances and time are all pretty accurate.
Don’t worry about not speaking Mandarin. The staff at the Alishan Visitor Centre is very helpful and they speak perfect English.
4 & 5. Walk to the entrance of Tashan Trail, and hike up to Tashan Peak Observatory
The weather in Alishan is quite weird. It is clear and bright in the morning and slowly gets foggy in the early afternoon. As the afternoon approaches, the sky is quite foggy and grey. So it is best to do the most difficult hikes first thing so you are able to see the views.
From the park entrance, walk towards Chaoping Station along the Forest Trail towards the entrance of Tashan Trail.
The trail is 3.5km long and it will take about 2 hours to ascend the mountain.
Tashan Mountain is composed of several odd-shaped rocks and there are several platforms along the way. At the Tashan Peak Observatory, you can overlook Jade Mountain, the Central Mountain Range, and Alishan National Forest Recreation Area.
Remember to bring water and snacks with you.
6. See the Jiemei (Sister) Ponds along the Pond-shore Boardwalk
Follow the trail to see the Jiemei (Sister) Ponds which is composed of a larger Elder Sister Pond and a smaller Younger Sister Pond, where both ponds are filled by nearby mountain streams.
There are two pavilions in the centre of the Elder Sister Pond where you can rest and enjoy the quiet surrounding. And the Younger Sister Pond is full in the summer and pretty low during winter. The pond nourishes the soil and provides water for animals, plants and microorganisms.
The Pond-shore Boardwalk goes around both ponds where you can see the ponds from different angles. The entire path is about 186 meters long.
7. Visit the Alishan Shouzhen Temple
Follow the trail until you reach the Alishan Shouzhen Temple.
As the largest temple in Alishan and also the highest in altitude, Alishan Shouzhen Temple was built to bless and protect the people who are part of the logging industry. Logging was a big part of Alishan back in the day but it is now a conservation area where the old cypress trees are honoured and protected.
There are also a few vendors selling souvenirs and snacks. This is a good time to fuel up if you are hungry.
8. Sip Alishan Oolong Tea at the 50s Coffee Shop at Alishan House
After the long hike up Tashan Trail and meandering through the park, you might welcome a short coffee or tea break.
Visit the 50’s Coffee Shop which is part of Alishan House and order the famous Alishan Oolong tea and pastry if you are feeling famished.
The Alishan tea comes in a kettle and you can have more hot water if you wish.
The tea and cake are not cheap, though. I believe the raindrop cake is NT$60 and Oolong tea is NT$120. But the 1950’s ambiance, heated interiors, and the use of the clean bathroom are well worth the money.
9, 10 & 11. See King Cherry, Elephant Tree Trunk and Three Generation Tree
After a well-deserved break, follow the trail and find King Cherry trees. Alishan Forest Recreational Area has some of the best spots for cherry blossom viewing. There are over 19,000 cherry trees where the majority of them are Yoshino cherry trees, similar to the ones in Japan. During the Alishan Cherry Blossom Festival, thousands of visitors come from all over the world to see the gorgeous pink flowers. It is truly the best time to visit Alishan!
Continue on the path and find many sacred tree relics in Alishan. Including the Elephant Tree Trunk. It is an old cypress tree stump that looks like an elephant trunk, hence the name.
Then you will see the Three Generation Tree where three generations of cypress trees grow on top of one another. The tree keeps on growing despite weather conditions and other disruptions.
12, 13, 14 & 15. See the Pagoda of the Tree Spirit, Xianglin Giant Tree, Alishan Museum and Ciyun Temple Scenery
Next, you will see a monument in the middle of the cypress forest. The Pagoda of the Tree Spirit is a monument devoted to the sacred trees. The base is made of a series of concentric circles where each of the six layers represents 500 years of growth.
Follow the Giant Trees Boardwalks and see all the thousand-year-old cypress in the Alishan Forest including Xianglin Sacred Tree, a 2,300-year-old cypress.
If it is open, pop into Alishan Museum to see historical artifacts, models and old photographs of Alishan Forest Railway.
And if you are visiting Alishan on a clear day, you can see the sea clouds at the Ciyun Temple Scenery. And in the late afternoon, you can see the sunset with Tashan in the background.
16 & 17. Follow the Giant Tree Plank Trail to see Shunyi Waterfall and No. 28 Giant Tree
Keep following the path, pass the Sacred Tree Station, and you will see Shunyi Waterfall. The waterfall is nice but not particularly impressive, especially when compared to everything else in Alishan.
Continue on the Giant Tree Plank Trail and see some of the oldest Taiwanese red cypresses in the park. There are at least 36 giant trees in the area, including No. 28 Giant Tree, which is 43.5 meters tall, 13.1 meters in circumference and is over 2000 years old. It is one of the biggest trees in the giant tree forest.
18. Stop by Alishan Station to check the departure time for the sunrise train
Before dinner, stop by the Alishan Station and check the departure time for the sunrise train.
Since sunrise is different each day, the information is updated daily at the train station. And the departure time for the sunrise train is based on the estimated sunrise time. Typically, the departure time for the sunrise train is around 5:00 am.
There is an option of buying the Alishan Forest Railway tickets between 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm the day before. But if you are following my two-day itinerary, you will have to buy the train ticket the next morning. It is not a big deal to buy it the following morning as there are usually plenty of tickets. Go to the train station an hour before departure time to secure a ticket.
19 & 20. Have dinner at the food centre or 7-Eleven
The majority of the restaurants in Alishan are hotpot style or sharing plates, which are meant for bigger groups of travellers. I didn’t find any exciting options for solo travellers.
But there is a food center just west of the Alishan Visitor Centre. Several food vendors line the hallway of the food center selling local Taiwanese food.
Base on the clientele, I would assume that the majority of the people eating there works at the park (they wore uniforms).
But nonetheless, some food stalls have English menus. Plus it is really affordable to eat there. A bowl of beef noodles costs about NT$90.
If you don’t see anything you like, you can always eat at 7-Eleven. I know it sounds weird to eat at a convenience store but Taiwanese 7-Eleven’s have a lot of excellent food! I had microwaved xiao long bao (soup dumplings) at 7-11, and it was so delicious!
Day 2 of self-guided Alishan Itinerary (purple pins)
1. Wake up early to catch the sunrise train at Alishan Station
The best Aliahsn itinerary includes seeing the famous Alishan sunrise! This means the second day of your Alishan trip will start super early.
Your hotel will give you a morning call and give you an ample amount of time to get ready. So grab your warm clothes, camera (smartphone) and make your way to Alishan Station.
Purchase a ticket from the ticket booth on the main floor of Alishan Station. The sunrise train ticket costs NT$150 (one way). Make sure to bring cash.
Then wait for the sunrise train on the platform where the train will take you directly to Zhushan Station.
2 & 3. Walk up Mount Ogasawara Viewing Lot and wait to see the famous Alishan sunrise
Once you arrive at Zhusan Station, there is a platform where you can watch the sunrise called Zhushan Sunrise Observation Deck. There are also food vendors selling tea eggs and warm drinks just in case you want an early breakfast while waiting for the sun to rise.
But you should walk up to Mount Ogasawara Viewing Lot to watch the sunrise instead. The hike is easy, and it only takes 10 minutes.
Standing at 2,488 meters above sea level, Mount Ogasawara Viewing Lot is the best spot to watch the sunrise at Alishan. The 360-degree platform allows visitors to see the cloud sea and sunrise over the Jade Mountain in Yushan National Park. And it is also an excellent spot for watching sunset and stargazing.
4, 5 & 6. Walk downhill to Duegaoyue Trail Head and continue on Duegaoyue Trail to Duegaoyue Pavillion
After you captured many gorgeous photos of the famous Alishan sunrise, follow the paved road and walk down the mountain.
Walk pass Zhushan Station, and follow the main road until a sign for Duegaoyue Trail Head.
The Duegaoyue Sunrise Platform in on the right, which is also another great platform for viewing the sunrise. But continue on the Duegaoyue Trail, walk partly on the railway. It doesn’t seem like it is the right way, but it is.
Part of the trail will lead you up a flight of stairs. You will walk up the hill, back down and up again. Until you reach Duegaoyue Pavillion. The entire journey is 1.7km and takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to complete.
Then backtrack the entire way until you see Duegaoyue Trail Head.
7 & 8. Follow the Shuishan Trail and see the Giant Tree of Shuishan
From Duegaoyue Trail Head, follow the road until you see Zhushan Sunrise Trail on the right. Then descend the paved path.
At the end of the Zhushan Sunrise Trail, there are signs pointing to see the giant trees of Shuishan.
Follow the sign and walk along the old railroad tracks of the Zhongzhi Line of Alishan Forest Railway. The railway is closed and is part of the Shuishan Trail to the giant trees.
You will pass the Truss Bridge, where it will take you directly to the platforms built around the Giant Tree of Shuishan. The 2700-year-old tree is a Formosan red cypress tree, and there are many giant trees in Alishan due to abundant rainfall.
9. Walk on the elevated pathways of Cherry Blossom Trail
Walk all the way back from the Shuishan Giant Tree on Shuishan Trail and make your way to Cherry Blossom Trail.
It is a series of elevated pathways where you are high above the ground. It is another hot spot to see cherry blossom during the springtime (March to April). Because the pathways are elevated, you can appreciate the unobstructed views of the park filled with pink cherry blossom flowers.
But even if you are not visiting during the cherry blossom season, the pathways are an excellent way to see the park from another perspective.
10. Return to Chiayi or go to Sun Moon Lake or Taipei
My solo two-day Alishan itinerary includes many attractions and all the best hikes in Alishan. I hope you enjoyed my suggested route and enjoyed your journey.
And it is time to think of your next destination for your journey in Taiwan. So pick up your bags at your hotel and make your way to the Alishan Bus Terminal.
The only way to leave Alishan is by public bus at the Alishan Bus Terminal (unless you are part of a tour or have any other transportation arranged ahead of time).
Or if you want to continue to another destination, there are two buses each day going from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake (1:00 pm or 2:00 pm), and it costs NT$336. You can purchase your ticket on the day of your travel at the 7-Eleven at the Alishan Bus Terminal.
And there is a bus going to Taipei on Saturdays and Sundays only. The bus leaves Alishan at 11:30 am and costs NT$690.
For more information on the bus schedules and destinations after Alishan, check out my post by clicking here.
Don’t want to travel solo in Alishan? Join a tour! Check out some of these options:
Are you ready to visit Alishan Taiwan?
I had a tough time planning my solo trip to Alishan, which is why I created this how-to travel guide for anyone who wants to visit Alishan without a tour. So hopefully you don’t have to go through the same thing I went through.
I hope you find my Alishan itinerary useful. And I hope it inspires you to add Alishan to your Taiwan trip itinerary.