Shihmenshan Hiking Trail

3-Day Scenic Taiwan Adventure: From Sun Moon Lake To Hehuanshan

Taiwan is so diverse that it is definitely worth visiting for the second time. There’s food, coastal views and breath-taking mountains. In this post, we slow down the pace in order to experience the Nantou landscape of Central Taiwan (Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan). If you love great scenery and some hiking, this itinerary is just for you!

Overview

Map overview

Day 1: Sun Moon Lake

  • Cycling, food, sunrise

Day 2: Cingjing

  • Farm visit

Day 3: Hehuanshan

  • Sunrise, hiking, sea of clouds

On the first day, we get to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) , and spend the night in a hotel by the pier. After a beautiful sunrise, we make our way to Cingjing (清境) for a relaxing visit to the farm. People always look forward to the homestay here. The next morning, we immersed ourselves in the Hehuanshan (合歡山) mountains through sunrise watching and hiking. At the end, you will have an album full of beautiful photos and memories. The reason why we chose to go from Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan was because it had some of the best mountain roads in Taiwan!

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Getting Around

As you can see from the map above, we will be going into the middle of Taiwan which is Nantou county. The roads we encounter here get more and more mountainous from Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan. Here are some options about how to get around depending on your budget and preference for convenience.

Most convenient: Hiring a driver

Road trip! The most hassle-free experience is to hire a driver that can take you all the way through from Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan. This would be the most expensive option because the drivers’ charges includes an additional ~S$50 (1000 NTD) per day to cover his accommodation cost if he does not live nearby.

Based on the quotations from 5 drivers I spoke to, they generally have similar costs based on how many counties you travel to. For example if you are coming from Taichung to Nantou, it is considered 2 different counties. I chose a driver based in Taichung so that we did not have to pay for driver accommodations for the visits to Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing. For reference, this is how much I paid for the duration of this itinerary.

  • Taichung to Sun Moon Lake / 2 counties: S$204 (4500 NTD)
  • Sun Moon Lake to Cingjing / 1 county: S$180 (4000 NTD)
  • Cingjing to Hehuanshan to Hualien / 2 counties: S$250 (5500 NTD)

My recommendation would be to hire a driver if you have big luggages, want some flexibility, and prefer having privacy. I believe this is the best option for family trips. They are also seen as tour guides as many of them proactively plan out itineraries for you and can even help you with booking accommodation. (Our driver’s contact is +886 979 716 520. You can connect with him on WhatsApp.)

Budget alternative

Another way to get from Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan is to string together a few types of transportation. There are various tour companies that provide standardized transfer services such as Klook, KKday, etc.

The main drawback is that there is not much flexibility in asking the driver to stop along the journey because they only have one job – to send you from door-to-door. The main benefit is that the total cost would be about S$400 (100/pax) compared to S$630 (160/pax).

Where We Stayed

There are many accommodation options in these places because they are well known tourist destinations. For Sun Moon Lake, I think it is best to stay near Shuishe Pier because of the many facilities and accessibility. In Cingjing, you might want to splurge on a place with great views. The location might not matter as much if you hired a driver.


Day 1: Sun Moon Lake

Scenic Cycling Trail

Did you know that Sun Moon Lake’s cycling trail was named among CNN’s top 10 cycling trails in the world? If you have visited Sun Moon Lake before, I highly recommend cycling when you go there again.

Getting bicycles: To get cheaper bicycle rental rates and ferry tickets, ask your hotel for any discount vouchers. A day rate for each bicycle rental was only S$4.50 (100 NTD). These were proper bikes with gears that can help you cycle up slopes more easily. It’s good to let them know where you are going so they can give advice and recommend the appropriate bicycles.

Cycling time: Cycling clockwise around the lake and stopping for food at Itathao Pier takes about 7 hours. If you just cycle without breaks, it could be as short as 3 hours. But the fun way is to stop often for photos and take things slow, so do start the journey early! The bicycle shop we rented from closes at 5:30pm (around sunset time), and we started at around 11am. I wish we started around 10am instead so we could enjoy Itathao’s food shopping a little more. Here are some other trail options to fit your preference!

In my opinion, the most scenic part of the cycling is between Shuishe Pier and Ita Thao, passing by Wenwu temple. We took 2 hours along this route, and it was the most rewarding! There were sufficient bike trails, and you can get really close to the lake here.

Food Hunt At Itathao Pier

Ita Thao was such a gem for food lovers! After cycling and sweating it out, sitting down and eating is an amazing feeling. With the abundance of bubble tea shops, we ate and drank to our hearts’ content! You can ride your bike through this town and explore all the food stores. This is also where you can decide to take a ferry back. Make sure you ask the bicycle shop beforehand if they have a branch in this pier where you can drop your bike off.

Food in Ita Thao

Sunrise Photography

One of the main reasons why you should stay in Sun Moon Lake is so that you can catch the sunrise here. The lake is so calming in the morning, especially without the tourist crowd. One tip I got from a Taiwanese photographer was to go to 蔣介石碼頭 along Hanbi Trail. Walk until you see a docked fishing boat which is an interesting photography subject. The fog and mountains behind also add a mysterious feeling. Bring along some coffee or snacks (like onigiri) while waiting. Continue to walk around and take pictures a little more after the sun has risen, because the lighting is best during golden hour!


Day 2: Cingjing

Enjoy Old England’s Serenity

When traveling from Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan, you will pass through Cingjing. The first major attraction you come to is Old England. It is a luxury hotel with spacious rooms overlooking the mountains, but most tourists go there for photos because of the beautiful architecture and panoramic views. Our driver recommended this over Little Swiss since you do not have to pay for admission.

If you would like a posh afternoon tea or to have lunch in this English-style hotel, prices start at S$20 (450 TWD) per person. This allows you to access their private garden and fountains for more pictures and fewer crowd. The food is also quite good and served in big portions (lamb shank, whole chicken, etc.). However, I personally think being outside the hotel is good enough because you get valley views and also a selfie with the hotel.

Cingjing Farm Visit

This is a must-see on everyone’s list when they go to Cingjing for the first time! All the drivers know to take you here if you tell them you want to go to Cingjing. Each adult ticket costs S$9 (200 NTD). There is a sheep sheering showcase nearer the entrance and horsemanship display further down the along the Guangshan trail. I was surprised by the amount of sheep poop all over the pavement and grass. I guess that is a good sign that the sheep are free to roam the farm. Try to see if you can get a selfie with any sheep without touching them! Also, please do not wear shoes that would make you upset if you accidentally dirtied them.

If you are not an animal person, just enjoy the walk through several of the scenic trails. The most popular one is the Skywalk outside the first exit. This trail gives you a bird’s eye view of the valley, and it is across the road of the exit after the sheep show stage. You will have to pay a small fee of S$2 (NTD 50), and you can walk along it to reach a plaza with various shops. You will find the famous 纸箱王/Carton King, a 7-Eleven, some cafes and restaurants. This is a good congregation point if your group decided to split up, and is easy for your driver to pick you up here.


Day 3: Hehuanshan

Unforgettable Sunrise Tour

The best way to book a sunrise tour is through your hotel, according to my driver. I do agree because it is so easy to reserve a booking on the spot with Ailliga Travel Villa and I trust them to recommend me a reliable tour operator. It costs S$18 (400 NTD) per person for the tour with Yo Yo Taiwan (email contact: a0978776670@gmail.com). They take you stargazing first and then sunrise watching over a sea of clouds. Of course actual weather conditions are unpredictable, but on a good day, it is truly breathtaking and unforgettable. I cannot really state the exact locations we went to because it was so dark and the bus was racing down the mountain to gain visibility below the morning fog.

One of the downsides is the huge tour group size that made it hard to get a good spot for photos. If you do not want to join a tour, you can simply head out to the 3158 Cafe/Songsyue Lodge area because that is where most of the other tours bring people to for sunrise. If you have a driver, request for him to make the sunrise journey. To avoid the crowds, head on to nearby hiking trails. Shihmenshan Trail is a short hike that takes about 30 min or less if you stop halfway, which is highly likely since the view is good throughout the trail. Alternatively, take on the challenge of Hehuanshan East Peak (>1 hour up based on other travelers’ stories). Do note that you would be hiking in the dark, so bring shoes with a good grip and a headlight/torch.

Photo Spots Along Hehuanshan

After finishing the sunrise tour, you can expect to get back to your hotel at around 8am which is just in time for breakfast. After checking out, we will be passing by the same sunrise route again as we travel from Cingjing to Hehuanshan and then eastwards towards Taroko and Hualien. This time, you have full sunlight to take all the pictures you want. This part of the highway (Wuling) is known to be very scenic, and it was the highlight of my trip. Even for those who are not fit to climb mountains, a car ride up makes it so easy for everyone to have this experience.

Hiking Shihmenshan

I mentioned this place as a great sunrise viewing spot because we got to hike the Shihmenshan Trail. We realized that the view was the same as the one we saw, and I went to Google pictures of this place during sunrise. This place is amazing!

Anyway the Shihmenshan Trail (1 hour round trip) is a much gentler hike than the 合歡尖山 (Hehuanjianshan) Trail right outside Hehuanshan 3158 Cafe. My driver could not understand why I initially wanted to climb that when there was an easier alternative just 1 minute drive away. Having climbed part of Hehuanjianshan before, I think Shihmenshan has better views just because it is gentler and the scenery is not blocked by the mountain itself. You also spend less time worrying about whether you will fall, and spend more time taking fun pictures. It was manageable for our middle-aged companions (~50-years-old), so I believe it is quite family friendly.

Craving other exciting nature trips? Read more here:
4-Day Jeju Itinerary: Scenic Roadtrip Guide
7 Scenic Road Trip Ideas For Nature Lovers
3 Days In Hokkaido Lake Camping & Onsen Hopping


3-Day Taiwan Adventure: From Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan
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There’s something for everyone in Taiwan, and I have just shown you my favorite slice of it – from Sun Moon Lake to Hehuanshan. If you are wondering about how to take great photos of yourself hiking, check out some tips here.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Please share it if you know someone who would find this itinerary useful, and subscribe to my mailing list to stay updated about my future travel content!

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