The U.S. has the Appalachian Trail, which goes from Georgia to Maine and takes siz months (more or less). Taiwan should have something like this. The island is actually quite beautiful.
To what extent do the trails already exist now? I only know the Taipei area, and will list some trails. Please add ones that you know.
Go to the Nanshijiao MRT terminus and walk in the direction of the hills. Along the way you will pass under the North Second Highway (Bei Er Gao). Aim for the temples and the BIG statue of a Taoist god. From the top of the hill you can either turn left (toward Hsintian) or go across the hills to the next valley, which is AnKen (near JinWen Institute of Technology.
From the Hsintian MRT terminus, don’t cross the river on the footbridge (that way is pretty but you have to walk on roads), but aim for the hills on the right (north) bank. There are three hills in a row: Lantern Hill (Deng Shan), Snake Head Hill (She Tou Shan), and one other whose name escapes me. Several trails lead up/down there, the entrances are hard to explain so just look around. One of them is on the other side, off of the lower stretch of Eternal Spring Road. The other is over where there are about half a dozen Buddhist temples stuck up in the hills, one of them with a big Buddha carved in the rocks.
From Chichang MRT station (four stations from the end on the Hsintian line) walk south past the MacDonalds one more block, then turn left (toward the hills). You’ll have to detour either to the left or the right (where the International House is). I recommend the left, since there’s a nice abandoned Tibetan temple and stupa (chorten) up there, with the tomb of the person who brought Tibetan Buddhism to Taiwan. Beautiful area, lots of butterflies.
Either way will lead you to some small roads on the top of those hills (and behind International House). Find your way to the Big Incense Temple (Da hsiang si). This is an I-kuan Tao temple with a museum devoted to this religion, which is the third largest in Taiwan. It also has a restroom!
If you follow the dead-end road north of (above) the temple, which veers to the east, it will turn into a flight of steps. This leads to a series of trails which go all the way to Mao-kong, Chi-nan-gong, and points beyond. (See below, number 4.)
On the other hand, south of (below) Big Incense Temple on the other side of the valley are a flight of steps leading all the way down back to Hsintian. (I’ll edit this later and add the street names).
- From National Cheng-Chi University in Mucha, you can walk up a flight of steps to the Chang (a kind of tree) Mountain Temple (Changshansi). The walk takes about thirty minutes to an hour (depending on your condition, and whether you are going uphill or downhill). One set of steps is behind the “100 Year Building” (Bai nian lo) on the university campus, the other is behind the foreign language building (slightly uphill–this route is slightly easier to walk and harder to find). Ask for the “Hsing Chian Tao” (Xingjian Dao, “hiking trail”).
Go past Changshansi (I’m assuming you’ve come uphill, from the university) and follow the road to the right. Within five minutes you will come to a fork in the road. The right fork leads to Almond Flower Place (Hsing hua ling). Every spring Chinese come up here to see the trees blossom. The left fork leads to Maokong, which is famous for its tea houses.
There are two or three hiking trail entrances behind (uphill from) MaoKong. These can be difficult to find, since you have to go through people’s driveways to get there. (I’ll edit and add the shop names later). At the top of the hill you can see metal signs with trail maps.
Assuming you’ve come uphill, the trail to the right leads southwest to Big Incense Mountain after about an hour (up and down several hills). The trail to the left leads along the tops of the hills above MaoKong, or behind them in the beautiful valley on the other side. Or, standing above the tea gardens on the other side, find a small road and follow it down. It goes down to Hsintian (add street names later), but be sure to veer off to the left (going downhill) when you see a trailhead along a small creek. This leads up a flight of steps to a waterfall. From there the steps continue all the way up to the area behind MaoKong. You could also go there from MaoKong, but that’s harder to explain the route.
Other trails behind MaoKong go a long, long way. You’ll just have to experiment. Eventually one of them leads to the [will post road name later] which leads right, to Hsintian.
- From National Chengchi University, walk along the main road past the digital clock, past the library, past the sociology building, to the pedestrian gate near the riverbank. Leave the university, turn right and then veer left. This way leads to the steps to Chinangong (Pointing South Temple). There are also signs. The number of steps is nearly 1400, if this matters to you.
This is a great temple to take people to see (though not with your unmarried Significant Other, since it’s dedicated to the lecherous immortal Lu Dong-Bin who will seduce the girl!). If you know Chinese and want to study Chuanzhen Taoism, there’s an institute here that gives classes on Saturday and Sunday (all day) for 10,000 NT per semester. The temple also serves free vegetarian food at mealtimes–12 and 6, I think.
Behind Chinangong’s left (looking at them) temple–the one with the Jade Emperor–there is a road leading past their parking lot, guardpost, and past a wooden ornamental gate (painted red). IMMEDIATELY after this to the left (going out the gate) there is a flight of steps leading to Monkey Mountain (Hou Shan). Look at the trail map on the sign. You can follow these steps about thirty minutes to another small road that leads down to the Mucha Zoo.
Or, when the road veers downhill (past some houses), cut across the road into the opposite driveway. There you will find the beginning of a trail that leads UP the hill to a beautiful view over Taipei. (Warning: At this point you have to do a lot of steep climbing with ropes, which they’ve tied along the trees there.) You can follow it for an hour to Heaven South Temple (Tiennangong) or beyond, maybe forever. The road which passes by Tiennangong leads either to Shenken (famous for tofu) to the northeast, or back to Chinangong/Mucha to the southwest. If you walk downhill until you come to the river, from there you can get busses.
Or, starting from Chinangong’s parking lot and gate, walk for five minutes until you find the trailhead going downhill (the other one to Monkey Mountain being, of course, uphill). That way leads down to the river, then back up to MaoKong.
From Wanfang Community MRT station, walk southeast five minutes, where they’re doing a lot of construction work. Look up at the hill. You’ll see a big golden Amitabha. Walk up there, but before the sidewalk turns into steps, look for a path into the woods to the right. Walk up that way. (There’s actually another entrance, but it’s right behind where they’re doing construction.) You can follow the line of hills all the way to the Wanfang Hospital area.
Near the Communications College and Giant department store (Mucha/Xintian), big hill with trails. [I’ll edit more later.]
I think you all know about Yangmingshan. I’ll edit later and add information about the other side of the river, across from Kuandu.
Notice that in theory, one could walk almost all the way from Nanshijuao to the Taipei Zoo. From the zoo to Yangmingshan, I’m not sure about. From Yangmingshan to Beitou and Kuandu is do-able. From Kuandu to Nanshijiao is just city, though–I think. Or maybe one could use the tracks along one of the rivers to make a full circle…?