If you think stair repeats are boring, you haven’t done them on Elephant Mountain. You can find it to the east of Taipei, part of a system of trails on 4 mountains. And I’d be surprised if you want to or need to repeat anything.
There are several access points to the trail. We approached from a couple of big city blocks east of Taipei 101. As long as you head towards the dense green, then follow the perimeter, you find a trail somewhere. We went in at a staircase by a temple.
When I turned around and looked down, I more fully understood why our guides chose a route direction that went UP these stairs. Even though there were some stairs going down the other way, they were not nearly as steep, and much of the walking was on a slight slope.
Every 100 meters (we think it was referring to altitude), there was a stair step with a sign in it declaring the new level achieved and reviewing the name of the path. It was a handy way to review a specific phrase in Chinese: 自然步道 or zi4 ran2 bu4 dao4 (for those not familiar with pinyin, but want to try, that is zi!, ran?, boo!, and dow! [like ouch]) which means “nature path.” See Iris at Is Chinese Hard? on Facebook for more lessons!
The stairway seemed like an ancient Chinese puzzle taking you round and round up the same stairs in a never ending circuit, but we did finally reach a landing very near the top. We’ve forgotten the highest meter count, but it was over 600.
And the stairs keep going past this landing with the view. I have one friend whose 80 year old father climbs these almost every day, so no excuses. Most people were walking up the oddly slanted, never-ending stone stairs. One 30-some fellow was running them fiercely, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a first time. The footing was precarious in some places, the step sizes and heights irregular, and it was busy. The man who ran by was slinging sweat as he passed…
At the top, we were in the cover of trees. There was a large compass inlaid in the cement walkway. A sign showed the whole expanse of the trail system over the four mountains (names underlined in purple). The red line starts at the edge of green, where we entered, then winds along our route which finally took us back down to the city. (click on any photo to enlarge)
The corner post was useful to orient ourselves to the map, and we decided to exit to the north so that we could make it to our dinner reservation on time! We tried to avoid having to go down too many stairs. This brought us through temple grounds, community gardens, and school zones.
The community garden was on a long slope. (Iris read the Chinese sign) One of it’s most colorful features was the row of upside down boots. I didn’t see any mosquitoes, but they seem to have found me. I ended up with about 5 bites.
The next temple the trail led to was huge. We came out on the wide third story balcony, the size of two basketball courts. There was a koi pond with fish-dragons, a statue horse with a dragon head AND a normal statue horse, both about 1/2 size of a racing horse.
After this, we were back on city streets, decorated with sculpted bonsai ficus trees.
We did make it to our authentic Chinese dinner, where we asked Iris if she would order for us. One of her favorite dishes is some pork ribs, for which we received these fashionable plastic gloves. The restaurant was on the 6th floor of a the Eslite bookstore building near Taipei 101, which helps you understand why it can be challenging to find eating establishments by just walking the streets.
If you were to begin earlier in the day, you could cover a lot more than we did in two hours; maybe even taking a trip to the Taipei Zoo at a southern exit! Whatever you do, remember to take water. A GPS might be helpful, too. If you like the comfort of people around, go on a weekend. It was not overly crowded at all. Taipei may be a tightly packed city, but these trails offer a chance for a combination of fresh air, exercise, and nice scenery.