After returning from Sanjiaolunshan, I drive to Yilan’s Datong township for about an hour. The idea is to get a good night’s rest close enough to the Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area to reduce the driving time the following day.
After a filling breakfast, I hit the road. 15 minutes later, I cross the river and pass a blue rail compartment exhibited next to the road. From here, the road begins winding up the mountain. Less than an hour later, I reach Taipingshan National Forest.
The indigenous Atayal people call the area Miannao (“dense forest”). When the Japanese arrived in 1914, they renamed it Taipingshan, “Mountains of Peace”. It became Taiwan’s largest logging area after Alishan and Baxianshan.
After logging is banned, Taipingshan is turned into a recreational area. Remnants of its rich history can still be seen today, for example, the iconic yellow “Bong! Bong!” trains, named after the sound they make when passing along the mountainside.
I’m aiming for 三星山 Sanxingshan (“Three Star Mountain”), a lesser-known peak halfway between Taipingshan Village and the scenic Cueifong Lake at the park’s far end. I soon learn the hard way that during the beech-watching season, the police implements traffic control measures, closing the road to Cueifong Lake after the first 200 cars each day. I have no idea how early this number has been, but I’m not surprised that arriving after 9 a.m. is too late for me to enter.
I don’t need to drive to Cueifong Lake, the busy attraction and reason for the traffic control. I only want to go as far as the trailhead for Sanxing Mountain, and I’m sure I’d be one of a few going there. There’s no point in arguing my case with the police officer. I briefly contemplate walking the 7 kilometres to the trailhead. Finally, I head to the main visitor area for an alternative itinerary.
The weather is perfect. Leaves present their autumn colours in the warm morning sun. I read the signboards in front of the souvenir shop, learning about the history of Taipingshan. I also check to see if I can still buy tickets for the tourist train, but unsurprisingly, those have sold out.
I walk back to the car, looking forward to an earlier rest. It’s a 3-hour drive to my next destination, a small lodge near Lidongshan in Hsinchu County. Going there early and relaxing seems to be a fine idea.
As I reach the fork where police stop traffic towards Cueifong, I see that some cars can pass. I drive into a nearby parking lot where a queue has already begun to form. Five minutes later, the next group of cars is let in, and I’m on my way deeper into the forest.
I park my car next to the road, doing my best not to obstruct any traffic on the narrow mountain road. In my prettiest Chinese handwriting, I scribble 三星山 and my phone number on the back of a map I got at the park entrance and place it under my windshield. If someone comes to check on the only car parked halfway between Taipingshan Village and Cueifong Lake, at least they know what I’m up to and can reach me.
A small, red plastic band hangs from a tree branch, inconspicuously marking the trail’s starting point. You’d most likely miss it if you didn’t know where to look. This is not by accident; none of the signboards and maps in Taipingshan Village display this trail.
The path starts steeply up the hill, between the trees of a deep, quiet forest, before flattening out after a while. At the same time, the path becomes less noticeable, and I’m glad for the various markers affixed on trees, big and small. During foggy weather (apparently common in Taipingshan, especially in the afternoon), you’d have to be careful not to get off the trail.
I can’t help but notice how silent the environment is. Taipingshan is far from any urban developments, and Sanxingshan is a few kilometres from the only small tourist spots inside. Few animals are in this area, and most are quiet (I’ve seen a few signs warning of snakes). Nearby Cueifong Lake has a “certified” Quiet Trail, Taiwan’s First. I can’t help but think I found an even more peaceful spot for myself here.
I don’t meet another soul during the 40 minutes it takes me to reach the peak. I meet a couple at the top and run into a few more groups on my way down. Apparently, many bag this Xiaobaiyue peak on their way back from Cueifong Lake.
There’s no view from the “summit”, which probably explains the smaller number of people coming here compared to Taipingshan Village or Cueifong. However, like so many other forest trails in Taiwan, the forest itself is the attraction. I’m happy that I still got my chance to come here today.
Back at the car, I think about heading straight towards Lidongshan. Curiosity gets the better of me, and I cruise over more twists and bends in the road towards Cueifong Lake. There’s no time to hike around it or climb Wangyang Mountain, but I can still explore the area.
Far more than the announced 200 cars have made their way here by now, making manoeuvring on the narrow one-lane road a hassle. Multiple cars must reverse down a slope at one point to let the oncoming traffic pass. It requires some patience.
This might be a perfect location for authorities to ban cars and run regular shuttle buses instead. A quiet trail is a beautiful concept, but it loses some charm when you walk back to a parking lot with dozens of cars and vans idling their engines.
After finally securing a parking spot, I catch a glimpse of the lake at the first viewing platform. The afternoon fog is already hanging over it. Still, it clears out after a while, presenting Taiwan’s largest alpine lake in all its glory. I decide I’ll have to come back someday and try to book one of the (very) few beds in the only accommodation at Cueifong Lake. Maybe once there’s public transport and fewer cars.