Introduction to Tonghou Traversing Trail
Located in the far southeastern area of Wulai District, about 1.5 hours from Taipei City, the Tonghou Traversing Trail is one of Taiwan’s most picturesque historic trails. Following the meandering shore of the Tonghou River, the area’s surrounding forests are a lush jungle with a dense underbrush of giant ferns and diverse song birds. This trail is relatively flat, offers many spots to access the river, and should be on the top of the list of day hikes from Taipei. If you’re looking to experience a relatively untouched river in the Taipei area, this is it.
History of Tonghou Traversing Trail:
The Tonghou Traversing Trial is located at the end ridge of the Snow Mountain (Xueshan) Range. The trail crosses over from Wulai District in New Taipei City to Jiaoxi Township in Yilan County with surrounding forests made up mostly of low-altitude broad-leaved forests.
In Chinese, the words “Tonghou / 桶後” means behind the barrel. In this case, the barrel refers to Datongshan (大桶山). The literal translation for Tonghou Traversing Trail is “behind the barrel trail”, in this case meaning it is located behind Datongshan.
An Aboriginal Past
The Tonghou Traversing Trail was originally built as a migratory and trade route by the Atayal Tribe. This was also the traditional hunting grounds of this aboriginal group. There are in fact two other historic routes that played a significant role in the settling of the Atayal peoples. These are the Hapen Historic Trail 哈盆越嶺古道 and the Fuba Cross-Mountain Trail 福巴越嶺古道 between Wulai and Lalashan in Taoyuan.
According to legend, the Atayal Tribe originated in the Dabajian Mountain area, and then migrated northward to Jiaobanshan and Baling, both in Fuxing Township of Taoyuan. Later, another branch followed the Fuba Cross-Mountain Trail to Fushan in the north, and then followed Nanshi River. Others migrated deep along the current Hapen Historic Trail, while others followed along the Tonghou River to Xiaoyi. The Atayal people are the second largest aboriginal ethnic group, with a total population estimated between 80,000 to 90,000. They mainly live in the mountainous areas of northern Taiwan.
A Japanese Past
This forest road was converted from the traditional indigenous trail into a roadbed during the Japanese occupation. Prior to 1945, this roadway featured trolleys and other contraptions for transporting timber from the deep valleys out towards Wulai. After 1945, the trolleys were dismantled and the original roadbed was converted to allow vehicles to travel.
It was later converted into a leisure trail and became a popular summer destination for Taiwanese to relax and swim. In 2015, a Typhoon Soudelor hit Taiwan and severely damaged the Tonghou Traversing Trail. It remained closed for many years and only reopened in 2021. Since then it has become a popular, but lesser known destination for international visitors and foreign immigrants.
The area falls in the subtropical monsoon climate zone of Taiwan. This means it’s hot and humid in the summer months (June-September). This area frequently sees thunderstorms roll in during the afternoons of the summer months. During the winter months, this area is affected by northeast monsoons and is humid with an abundance of rain.
Due to the Tonghou River and the densely forested mountains which block the wind, this area has an incredibly humid climate. This area has a mean annual temperature of 20ºC. Don’t be fooled though, it gets very hot here in the summertime. Keep this in mind when you are planning outdoor or hiking trips in Alishan National Forest.
Book a tour and/or transportation to the Tonghou Traversing Trail (桶後越嶺步道)
What you need to know about the trail:
Map & GPX File for Hiking the Tonghou Traversing Trail
Hiking the Tonghou Traversing Trail (桶後越嶺步道)
The Tonghou Traversing Trail 桶后越嶺古道 is a long hike, but the trail is not technically challenging. There are three distinct sections of the trail. The first section includes a 12km section along a mostly flat, hard surfaced forest road (桶後林道) managed by the Hsinchu Forest Bureau. The second section is the actual Tonghou Traversing Trail and this totals 6.8km. Hikers can hike these sections and return to the Wulai-side as an out-and-back hike. However, if you are wishing to hike this trail end-to-end with transportation pick up on the Jiaoxi side, you will need to hike an additional 3km.
Behind the Barrel Forest Road (桶後林道): 12km (one-way) – Linear two-way – No permit required – Level 1 difficulty
This hiking experience begins at the 1km marker of a forest road in the remote Xiaoyi village in Wulai District of New Taipei City. Visitors will start this hike from the 1km marker, right next to the traffic gate managed by the Hsinchu Forestry Bureau. No admission fee or permits are required. The staff often ask what you will be doing. Simply point to your boots and backpack and be on your way.
The Tonghou Forest Road curves along the mountainside, gradually entering the deep mountains. The first major landmark is a large waterfall off to the right. If it has been raining a lot recently, this waterfall can be large and gives off a well-needed cool mist.
The forest road features a slow, but steady decline and hikers will notice the Tonghou River gradually getting closer. The first half of the road is concrete. The second half seems to mix between compact soil and asphalt. It doesn’t take long before the towering mountains close in on both sides of the valley.
No unregistered vehicles are allowed on this single lane road. Be careful though, as some taxis and local van operators tend to drive pretty fast. The trail continues to hug the mountain side and offers beautiful views of the valley and river below. The road gradually becomes level with the river as hikers arrive at a small concrete building. This is close to the trailhead of the Tonghou Traversing Trail. This section of the trail should take hikers 2.5-3 hours to complete.
Tonghou Traversing Trail (桶後越嶺步道行): 6.8km (one-way) – Linear two-way – No permit required – Level 2 difficulty
At the 13km marker of the Forestry Road, hikers will see an abandoned building belonging to Taipower and a small campsite on the left. Just beyond this, a small clearing and trail kiosk indicates the official trailhead. There are the remnants of an old suspension bridge not far from here. This section begins the hike along a more traditional hiking trail in Taiwan.
This trail is signed and pretty well-maintained. Within the first kilometer of the trail, hikers will see trail junctions for Mt. Dajiaoxi and Mt. Xiaojiaoxi. Just beyond these trail junctions, there is a small creek crossing (.75km). An artificial dam on the right hand side has reduced the water volume of this creek. This dam, while man-made, creates some really nice cascading waterfalls.
Continuing along the trail, hikers will mostly experience a single track, compact soil trail. There are some sections that feature stone steps and there are a few man-made bridges and trail infrastructure (which we will touch on shortly). With less than 300m in elevation, this trail is perfect for beginner and intermediate hikers. There are some semi-steep sections with ropes for support, but this route is not technically challenging.
Adventure Travel in Taiwan: Along the Tonghou Traversing Trail
Around the 4km mark, hikers will arrive at a wooden trail marker and a junction in the trail that seems to present two parallel trails, one closer to the river and another heading into the forest. Take the trail on the right, as the left trail leads down to the river and during periods of high-water it is impassable. From here there is a short incline of stone and wooden steps. They can get slippery when wet, but aren’t too difficult to manage. Coming down a short section of stairs, hikers will see the river below and a metal platform leading out off a cliff. This is a 2-3 storey metal (and narrow!) staircase that takes visitors back down to meet up with the river. It should take you just over an hour to reach this metal staircase.
From here, hikers will pass into some of the most picturesque parts of the trail with the mountains closing in around the river. Just beyond some wooden bridges that skirt the edges of the river are some of the best stops to have a river-side picnic. From here the terrain and elevation pretty much flattens out, but the forest and trail during this section still offers hikers a great diversity of landscapes and ecosystems.
Final 3km of the official Tonghou Traversing Trail
There are a few stream crossings over the final 3km of the trail. When the area hasn’t received much rain, hikers can easily cross these without taking their boots off. Other times they do require taking your hiking boots off. Continuing upstream the river gradually gets smaller and the forest denser. One of the nicest parts of this hike is following the river to its headwaters.
Seemingly unknowingly, the trail begins to climb and travel away from the river. After a few switchbacks, hikers will pop out into a meadow of long silver grass. The trail wraps around a small rolling hill with the sounds of the river below.
After a small creek cross (again, this can be dry or wet depending on the past weather), following the trail hikers will quickly arrive at the eastern terminus of the Tonghou Traversing Trail.
The official Tonghou Traversing Trail section should take between around 3 hours to complete with time to rest for lunch and cool off near the river. If you plan on relaxing for longer periods, you’re advised to monitor the time.
Final Forest Road on Jiaoxi-Side: 3km (one-way) – Linear two-way – No permits required – Level 1 Difficulty
After reaching the eastern terminus of the Tonghou Traversing Trail, hikers will descend a final 3km towards the designated bus pick up location. This section of the trail has a compact soil surface and is a double track road. It’s not suitable for most vehicles, so most transportation operators will only pick-up guests further down the road. This section is mostly shaded, but on a clear day offers beautiful views across Yilan County, the Lanyang Plains and beyond to Turtle Island. This should take about 20-25 minutes to hike.
Hire a guide and/or private transportation to Tonghou Traversing Trail (桶後越嶺步道)
The Best Time to be Hiking the Tonghou Traversing Trail (桶後越嶺步道)
The best times to hike the Tonghou Traversing Trail are in the early spring (March to early May) and in the Autumn, between late September to late November. These times are when it rains less and is cooler for hiking.
The summertime is also a popular time to be hiking along the Tonghou Traversing Trail because of the accessibility of the river for swimming. Many local Taiwanese visit Tonghou during this time, but don’t actually hike the entire route end-to-end.
What to Bring/Know when Hiking Tonghou Traversing Trail
When hiking in Taiwan, consider your capabilities before heading out. When it comes to the kinds of equipment or resources one should bring when hiking this trail in Taiwan, we’ve provided a list below:
- Water – About 1.5-2L of fresh drinking water, depending on the time of the year. Despite hiking along side a prestine river, we would not recommend drinking the river water. There are no drinkable water sources on the trail.
- Food – There are no food services located along any sections of this trail.
- Washrooms – There are no toilets available on this trail.
- Sunscreen – It is recommended hikers wear sunscreen and proper sunwear (hat or long sleeves). Approximately 30% of the trail is unshaded. If you plan to spend time swimming along the river, you’ll want to bring some sunscreen as there are sections that offer no shade.
- Camera/Phone – Reception is not very good along most portions of this trail until you arrive near the coast. We suggest downloading our GPX file in advance and a preferred mobile app that can run offline to help navigate without the Internet.
- Clothing / Gloves / Equipment – It really depends on the time of the year you are hiking, but always consider the weather when preparing for your hike. We advise bringing rain gear and warmer clothes in the cooler, winter months. Bring a towel and swimsuit in the summer. Bringing a pair of gloves is not necessary on this trail, but some prefer to use gloves on the roped sections. Hiking poles are not necessary unless preferred by the hiker.
Getting To/From Tonghou Traversing Trail
This is where things get a little tricky. Hiking in Taiwan is a very accessible activity with many hiking routes located within a short transit ride from major urban and suburban areas. Then there are hiking experiences in Taiwan that are remote and difficult to get to.
Getting to the Tonghou Traversing Trail is difficult without your own vehicle and hiking the Tonghou Traversing Trail end-to-end as a thru-hike is difficult without two vehicles.
There is no public transportation to reach either side of the Tonghou Traversing Trail. It doesn’t mean visitors can’t access the trail, it just means that some planning will need to be done if you wish to hike the trail as a thru-hike.
Getting to the Wulai-side of the Tonghou Traversing Trail
Bus & Taxi: This journey will begin from the Xindian MRT Station on the Green Line of the Taipei Metro. From here, hop on Bus #849 which takes passengers from a bus stop just below Xindian MRT Station to Wulai. The buses come every 15 minutes and take about 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. The final stop is located on the northside of the river at a location known as “Tourism Bridge”. From here, visitors will have to flag down a local taxi and request their services. You can show the taxi drive these Chinese characters – “桶後管制哨“. This should cost between $300-$500, one-way.
Uber: If visitors wish, they can take an Uber from Xindian MRT Station all the way to the 1km marker and traffic gate within the village of Xiaoyi. This will cost about $600.
Note: The issue with the two options above is that you will be dropped off at the traffic gate at the 1km marker of the Forestry Road and be left with no travel option to return. Walking back to Wulai from the traffic gate is an estimated 5 hours. Keep that in mind.
Driving a car: If you are renting a car or have access to a private vehicle, you can set this location for your navigation. Those driving down to the Xiaoyi traffic gate, there is limited parking available (around 5-10 cars). There are no services at this gate. Notify the Forestry Bureau staff that you will be returning later in the day and set off on the forestry road.
Booking Transportation or a Tour to Tonghou Traversing Trail
Booking a Local Taxi / Van to drop-off/pick-up from Tonghou Trailhead: As we stated above, there are several local taxis and van operators who have registered with the Hsinchu Forestry Bureau and have permission to drive the entire Forestry Road. Taiwan Outdoors has coordinated a number of local operators that are able to support your travel plans. We can arrange drop-off / pick-up times for groups.
Booking private transportation to drop-off in Wulai and pick-up in Jiaoxi: Hiking end-to-end is certainly the best way to experience the Tonghou Traversing Trail. Visitors will need to book a van or sedan to drop off and pick up on either side of the trail. Taiwan Outdoors has coordinated a number of local operators that are able to support your travel plans. Some of the operators will drop off groups off at the traffic gate (less expensive), while others drive groups right to the Tonghou Trailhead. On the Jiaoxi-side of the Tonghou Traversing Trail, all pick up locations are designated here.
Hire a guide &/or private transportation to Tonghou Traversing Trail (桶後越嶺步道):