NIGHT HIKING IN TAIWAN
Taiwan is a small island with a broad range of environments. The most densely mountainous country in the world is also flush with six forest types, including broadleaf forests, subtropical regions and a diverse flora of over 4,000 species of vascular plants. Over half of the main island of Taiwan sits at or above 1,000 meters elevation, a hot zone for wildlife. This range of environments supports bountiful fauna. Sixty one species of mammals, over fifty thousand species of insects, including roughly 400 known butterfly species, and four hundred species of birds. Most importantly, for our purposes here, there are ninety two species of reptiles and thirty species of amphibians recorded in Taiwan.
When the sun goes down, there is a vast array of wildlife that comes out. The best part about night hiking, is that one does not need to travel far, or have their own vehicle, to reach areas teeming with reptiles, amphibians, and certain mammalian life. The diversity and accessibility make Taiwan a must visit destination for herpetology hobbyists, and even night hiking beginners!
NIGHT HIKING GEAR
This is the easiest part of night hiking. Most people will argue having adequate gear on a hike is necessary, but night hiking is different! The only crucial gear for night hiking is a headlamp, extra batteries, a first aid kit, and comfortable hiking shoes. The necessary gear is few, but choosing the right gear is still important to amplifying your experience and chance of spotting Taiwan’s wildlife at night.
Choosing the right headlamp
Lumens is the term used to quantify the amount of light being put out of a light source. Lumens can range from 15 to over 500. Lower end lumens will suit casual camping well or reading at night. Not too bright to disturb others or yourself, but can illuminate enough. However, we are here for night hiking! The ideal lumens for night hiking is the higher end, 200 – 500+. You will need to see far in the forest, and be able to decipher branches from snakes. This takes time and practice, but having the right headlamp will do wonders.
Headlamp and flashlight beams can vary from a flood light to extremely focused. Many flashlights are adjustable, moving from a flood to a focused square or circle. Ideally, your headlamp or flashlight is adjustable. Some great options are Fenix, and Black Diamond.
If a choice has to be made between flood and focused beams, go with the focused beam as it will force you to focus on each area of the forest.
WHERE TO NIGHT HIKE IN TAIWAN
The amazing landscapes of Taiwan, from the North to the South and everywhere in between, offer an abundance of night hiking opportunities in any city, county, or location. In general wildlife is most abundant in dense, humid forests from Spring to Autumn. Look for local hiking trails that are adjacent to a freshwater source, small streams or rivers.
Night hiking is extremely accessible! Here are a handful of options around Taipei, but don’t limit yourself, exploring new places. If you feel like going with others be sure to check out operators like Down to Explore and TPHA Ecotourism!
Baling Highway 7
Baling Highway 7 requires a car or scooter to get to, as it’s in the mountains of Taoyuan. This is a popular place for road cruising, not necessarily any hiking involved. Snakes are often found on the road, or mountainside, trying to get across. The possibility of coming across rare and uncommon species is high.
Fuyang Eco Park
Perfect for short, leisurely walks in the heart of Taipei City. The trails are mostly flat, paved, and lined with lush subtropical forest. Common species found in Fuyang Eco Park are Bamboo Pit Vipers, Many Banded Kraits, Taiwan Habus, Mock Vipers, Red Banded Snakes and the odd Taiwan Kukri Snake. This is also a fantastic location to spot Palm Faced Civets and Giant Red Flying Squirrels.
Daguoxi Waterfront Park
Also along the MRT Brown Line, although the northern end, is Daguoxi Waterfront Park. This area is more remote, and a very fruitful hike for herping. The paved trail begins in a waterfront park, but quickly moves to a large stream, where you can hike for a few hours up to a beautiful cliffside temple overlooking Taipei City. Common finds along the streamside trail are Greater Green Snakes, Eastern Water Snakes, Many Banded Kraits, Square Headed Cat Snakes, and Red Banded Snakes. The possibility to come across Taiwan Habus and Bamboo Pit Vipers are also quite high, although less frequent.
One of Taipei City’s most famous locations by day, is also one of its most fruitful herping destinations by night. Most people hike 20 minutes up the steep, uneven stairs to the “seven rocks” viewpoint. This is an excellent city view, with the towering Taipei 101 lit up with different colors of the rainbow, depending on the day of the week. Moving beyond this viewpoint are a network of trails, both paved and dirt, with an abundance of reptiles and amphibians just waiting to be found. Taiwan Habus, Red Banded Snakes, Greater Green Snakes, Bamboo Pit Vipers, Square Headed Cat Snakes, and more are often found on these trails.
For Southern Taiwan night hiking opportunities, please contact us! We will put you in touch.
COMMON SPECIES FOUND ON NIGHT HIKES IN TAIWAN
Night hiking brings about the opportunity to come across a variety of species not otherwise seen in the daylight. Snakes, and other reptiles, amphibians, and some nocturnal mammals are commonly found each night while cruising the forest paths. Here are a few common species found on night hikes in Taiwan.
Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus stejnegeri stejnegeri)
The Bamboo Pit Viper is most likely the most common snake species found around the forests and jungles of Taiwan. This pit viper is a small snake, with a maximum length of 90cm. To distinguish this pit viper from the also common Greater Green Snake, look for the broad triangular shaped head, a white stripe from nostrils to tail, and a rusty red colored tail tip. The body is green, ventral scales can be lighter green or cream in color. This species is nocturnal and arboreal, often found near streams year round, as it is highly cold tolerant.
It is important to note that Viridovipera stejnegeri stejnegeri is highly venomous. Their venom contains hemorrhagic toxins, and as all members of the Viperidae family, is a solenoglyph. This means their venom is the most evolved, characterized by big tubular erectile fangs.
Greater Green Snake (Ptyas major)
The Greater Green Snake is a very common sighting when hiking in Taipei, Taiwan at night. They are commonly found at elevations up to 1000 meters in humid forests and agricultural areas. Semi arboreal and diurnal, you will most likely find the Greater Green Snake sleeping in a tree or shrub at night. Ptyas major is a medium sized snake that reaches a maximum length of 130cm. Keep your eye out for it’s glossy, vibrant green scales, slender body and oval shaped head. Their ventral scales are light green to a yellow green in color.
Swinhoe’s Japalura (Diploderma swinhonis)
The Swinhoe’s japalura is the most common lizard on the island of Taiwan. Day and night, they are out and about. However, at night you won’t find them active. Instead, you will see them all over the ends of thin branches and ferns, sleeping. They sleep like this to avoid predators. Any movement on the branch will cause it to dip, alerting the Swinhoe’s japalura of danger.
Central Formosan Toad (Bufo bankorensis)
The Central Formosan Toad is an endemic species that can be commonly found up to 3,000 meters elevation across Taiwan. It is large, reaching up to 15cm in length. The parotid glands are well developed and kidney shaped on both sides of the head. They have rough skin, covered in bumps, light brown with orange, yellow or black markings. This species is found in broadleaf forests, mixed forests,and agricultural areas.
Taipei Tree Frog (Zhangixalus taipeianus)
The Taipei Tree Frog is endemic to Taiwan, and is a bit more difficult to find due to its camouflage and it’s breeding season being in winter months from December to February. It is a medium sized frog, growing to a max of 5.5cm. The back is green, and the sides of the stomach are yellow. They can be found in open water areas, orchards, and near mountains below 1500 meters elevation ONLY in the Taipei Basin. The population is stable.
Masked Palm Civet (Paguma larvata)
To be sure, this is a SMALL list of some examples. There are MANY more species to be found. In total there are 51 species of snakes alone, roughly 37 species of amphibians, and a whole lot more insects and nocturnal mammals to find.
PRECAUTIONS TO TAKE WHILE NIGHT HIKING
As with hiking in any other situation, there are precautions to take beforehand. Bringing the proper gear along, as stated above, is crucial. When it comes to wildlife, there are “Do’s and Don’ts”, such as never disturb the animal, keep your distance, and respect your surroundings.
Some important reminders for Taiwan are needed.
- It is important to watch your step often. Not only for the dangers of loose trail on a cliffside or river side, but also for venomous snakes such as the Taiwan Habu. These are incredibly well camouflaged with the leaf litter on the trail at night.
- Bring plenty of batteries, and spare headlamps or flashlights. Being in the forest after dark when your flashlight runs our of juice is not ideal, to say the least.
- Don’t disrupt wildlife. Snakes are only dangerous when disturbed or threatened. Give it space and you will be okay.
Hiking at night can be intense. It’s dark, there are animals and sounds all around, and requires utmost focus from the hiker. Here is a fantastic resource on what to do and not do while night hiking.
APPS AND OTHER RESOURCES
Alright! We’ve made it this far. By now you should have a good understanding of what you’re getting into when deciding to go on a hiking adventure in Taiwan at night time. There are a ton of incredible resources for those who wish to go night hiking in Taiwan.
- James Osborne spends his nights exploring Taiwan’s forests, identifying and teaching about the different species he comes across.
- Snakes of Taiwan is a comprehensive list of all the various species in Taiwan.
- Down To Explore offers wildlife photography workshops at night, teaching people photography tips and information about the various species found on night hikes.
- iNaturalist is an app/website for people to upload photos of different flora and fauna they find. It’s a great reference for beginners and experts alike.
- Night Hikes in Northern Taiwan is a guide book for those who would like a brief introduction to common species found in Northern Taiwan.