瑞芳 Ruifang → 牡丹 Mudan
I'm lucky enough to get a permit for Xueshan (Snow) Mountain for my next hiking weekend. By the time it's been approved, I've almost forgotten I've applied for this weekend. I'm very excited and push my plans to go to Alishan back by a week. However, I soon realise how complicated it'd be to do Snow Mountain on a single weekend while relying only on public transport. Renting a car proves expensive and difficult (I don't have a Taiwanese driver's license yet), so after endless research and contemplation, I cancel my permit with a somewhat heavy heart. I hope someone else will be able to enjoy the mountain on my behalf. Of course, the rainy weather helps a little with my decision.
However, cancelling my trip turns out to be a blessing in disguise because I come across a gem called the Tamsui-Kavalan (TK) trails. I take a local train from Banqiao to Ruifang and make my way to for a late breakfast. From here, I start the Canguangliao Historical Trail along the river. The first 2.5 kilometres of the trail, I follow the river and later a main road as I walk through the rain on this cloudy day. Around 45 minutes in, the trek starts in earnest. After a few steps down to the right of the main (Ruijin) road, you are greeted by the first of many (many, many) sets of stairs leading up to Juifen.
I'm soon greeted by my first dog of the day too. Stray dogs are a common sight on the hiking trails around Taipei. They're mostly shy and won't disturb you much, but on this trip, I'm fiercely barked at and “chased” away on two separate occasions, and I also get a good scare on a third.
About half-way through the hike, I reach Juifen. Funny enough, a colleague from Hong Kong has recommended this place to me a few days before, it's a fun coincidence I pass through almost by accident. Juifen is a quaint, photography-worthy village with a set of stairs (yes, more stairs) forming what I guess we can call its main “road” with most tourist shops and restaurants. I don't spend much time exploring, somehow I prefer the solitude of the trail and am eager to find more of it on the other side.
After Juifen, the trail follows an old road before a final steep up-hill section (stairs, of course). The rain has stopped by now, but fog covers the air in a thick blanket as I reach the highest point huffing and puffing, and start a longer than expected descent through the forest back into civilisation. The trail is well marked, but there are several turn-offs and variations, so the GPX tracks from the official homepage are a useful re-assurance (you can also download my full track below).
Once you exit the forest, it's another 3 km long walk to the Mudan train station. I guess buses sometimes run here (at least during the week), but it is probably neither easy nor worth it trying to time the hike accordingly. You may want to keep an eye on the train departures from Mudan, though.
Overall, I enjoy this hike so much that I almost regret not planning for a two-day trip, finding accommodation nearby and continuing further on the next day (I think Juifen-Yilan would be an interesting and fun trek). I'll add this to my list of future adventures. Another benefit of this hike (and many variations of it) is that it's super-easy and cheap to do by local train. Banqiao-Ruifan is 59 TWD and takes 1 hour, and Mudan back to Banqiao (3 stops more) is 75 TWD and takes about 1:15 hours. If you bring your own water and snacks, it's hard to get more fun for your buck.