Sunday, October 24, 2010

Renshan Nature Trail 仁山自然步道

This is the highest and most isolated portion of a network of hiking trails which go along one side of a little valley southwest of Luodong. The first part of the climb isn't all that impressive - there were dump trucks mining the nearby river for gravel, which can be heard from the trail. And there are also some huge pylons supporting electrical transmission lines. But after half an hour, you're beyond the pylons and gravel mining, and inside a tranquil forest. The forest is quite pretty, and I heard some animals stirring around in the bushes in several places, and saw some feces on the trail. If you're lucky you can probably see large mammals here. There are a lot of tung trees 油桐樹 on the mountain, and these bloom in April and May, which is the best time to visit.

The climb up and back takes about 2 hours. The distance is 3.6 kilometers. You're going up pretty much the whole time, to a height of 440 meters, so it's not the easiest trek in Yilan. The path is so so. It varies from just plain dirt to crushed rock held in place with logs. Parts are fine, but other places are a bit rough and some patches need maintenance. The mediocre parts of the trail make the descent a bit slow. If you like, after you reach the peak you can keep going down the mountain on the other side, where the trail eventually connects to the Renshan Botanical Gardens on the other side. (The Botanical Gardens aren't that great.)

This isn't the easiest place to find. To get there, you start from downtown Luodong. Take highway 9 south. After you leave town you will see a brown sign pointing the way to Zhongshan Leisure Farm 中山休閒農場. Turn right at the sign. This road is called Yi 30 (宜 30). You have to turn several times - just follow the brown signs to the Zhongshan Leisure Farm. When you get to the farm, start following the brown signs to the Renshan Botanical Gardens 仁山植物園 or the Renshan Nature Trail. Eventually you will turn onto road Yi 34 (宜 34). This will take you to a large parking lot for buses. This is parking for the Renshan Botanical Gardens 仁山植物園, a tourist trap which sometimes attracts a lot of visitors even though it's not that great. On the road leading to the botanical gardens, there are places to eat if you're hungry.

To get to the hiking trailhead, stay on the road next to the river and drive upstream. The sign marking the turnoff to the trailhead is no longer there - it looks like it blew away in a typhoon. So you have to
keep looking to your left whenever you see a little road leading toward the mountain. A large wooden cone, which can be seen from the riverside road, marks the start of the trail.

There are three ways to get on to the Renshan trail. I took the shortest route, which goes straight up the mountain. There are two other entrances to the trail - you can get there by walking all the way through the botanical gardens, which connects to the trail leading up Renshan, or you can find another trailhead downstream from the botanical gardens. If you start at one of the other entrances, you will be able to walk for a couple of kilometers in the lowlands before starting up the mountain.

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