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Alishan (阿里山 or Mt. Ali) is one of Taiwan’s top attractions and its most famous mountain resort. A large part of visitors try to include Alishan on their Taiwan itinerary, but it usually proves to be the most complicated in terms of planning, especially getting there. That’s why I’ve written this huge post and separate guide on how to get to Alishan.
The Alishan National Scenic Area in Chiayi County, Central Taiwan is renowned for its misty forests, sunrises over a sea of clouds, views of Yushan (Taiwan’s tallest mountain), the small gauge Alishan Forest Railway, cherry blossom viewing, and Taiwan’s most sought after tea, called Alishan High Mountain tea.
Best Alishan Tours
As I mentioned above, getting to Alishan can be quite complicated, and it’s one of the most common questions I help travelers with in my Taiwan Travel Planning group. If you want to forget about all the logistics, including figuring out the bus and train times, and stress about missing them, then I recommend the following Alishan tours.
Discover Alishan Tour: A guided day trip from Kaohsiung or Chiayi
Alishan Day tour from Taichung: Visit as a long day trip from Central Taiwan
Sunrise Tour: overnight tour from Chiayi, including staying in Alishan’s best hotel
Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, and Cingjing Farm Tour: A 3-day tour that includes other famous Taiwan places
What Makes Alishan So Special?
Alishan has been Taiwan’s most popular mountain resort by visitor numbers for nearly a century. Along with Sun Moon Lake and Taroko Gorge, it is one of the country’s most famous scenic attractions. Located in Chiayi County and bordering Nantou County, almost exactly in the middle of Taiwan, Alishan is actually a collection of peaks averaging 2500m that overlook the massif of Yushan (Jade Mountain), Taiwan and Northeast Asia’s highest mountain.
The area was original settled by aboriginals. In 1912, the Japanese opened the Alishan Forest Railway to log cypress trees in the area, but eventually logging decreased and tourists flooded in. Riding the small gauge train up from Chiayi (it currently only goes half way to Alishan; see my Alishan transportation guide), and between the various scenic areas of the park, is one of the great joys of visiting Alishan.
Due to its altitude, Alishan is always about 10 degrees cooler than the main cities in Taiwan, making it a great respite from the heat. Its alpine forests feature giant Taiwanese red cypresses, many of which are 2000+ years old.
The forests on Alishan are regularly shrouded in mist, producing mystical scenes reminiscent of classical Chinese paintings, one of the reasons the park is so popular among visiting Chinese and Asian tourists.
Besides the many interesting things to do in Alishan, another big draw is the fact that Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea, the most famous tea in a country that produces some of the world’s best oolong teas, is grown around Alishan.
However, most tourists pass right through the tea growing area without even realizing it. Most Alishan tea is grown not in Alishan National Scenic Area, but around Shizhuo (Shizhao) village further down the mountain.
Alishan has its own app! Alipedia contains info about Alishan weather, sunrise time and location, flower blooming status, buses, and more. But like many Taiwanese apps and websites the English can be confusing.
Seeing Cherry Blossoms at Alishan
One of the most incredible times to visit Alishan is when the cherry blossoms are blooming. Due to the altitude, this happens very late in the season, usually March and April, and marks the end of the cherry blossom season in Taiwan.
If you are hoping to see the cherry blossoms in Alishan at this time, you’ll have to book your hotel far, far in advance, as all the hotels always sell out, or you may just need to visit Alishan as a day trip if you can’t get a room. Even when it’s not cherry blossom season, Alishan doesn’t have many hotels, so it’s always important to book well in advance. Travelers often report that they can’t find any rooms in Alishan. Book you Alishan hotel here!
The best spot to see cherry blossoms at Alishan, where the above photo was taken, is called Cherry Blossom Railway Trail (櫻花鐵道) on GoogleMaps. I’ll explain exactly how to get to it by train or on foot in the below guide.
For more information on visiting Alishan in different seasons, see the “best time to visit Alishan” section at the end of this article. You can also see my Alishan hotel recommendations toward the end of the article.
Maps of Alishan
Wrapping your head around the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, how to get there, stopovers on the way there, hiking trails, and different train lines can be quite difficult. That’s why I’ve designed the above Alishan map. This map should answer a lot of questions and includes several of the spots I’ll be discussing in the below article.
For the detailed transportation times and info, you’ll want to head over to my guide to getting to Alishan. Also, the below interactive GoogleMaps Alishan map shows all the locations I’ll mention in this article.
Suggested Alishan Itinerary
If you don’t have much time, or perhaps you couldn’t get a hotel in Alishan, you might want to visit Alishan as a day trip. It’s surely possible, but you won’t be able to see sunrise, and you’ll want to leave early so you don’t miss the last bus back down the mountain.
If you’re going on a day trip to Alishan, then I also recommend taking the bus the whole way there and back. The bus is faster than the train. Don’t worry, you can still ride the Alishan Forest Railway sections inside the park after you get there.
Alishan Day Trip Schedule
If you go there in a single day, I recommend this schedule:
- Board one of the earliest buses to Alishan. Traveling time is two hours. See bus times here.
- When you arrive at Alishan Bus Station, walk to Alishan Train Station (5 minutes, slightly uphill). You’ll need to pay the Alishan entrance fee on the way. If you’re hungry, eat lunch in the tourist village.
- Ride the train to Chaoping (Zhaoping) station. From there, the famous walking route through the misty forest begins.
- From Chaoping station, follow the walking route to Shouzhen Temple and Shenmu (Sacred Tree) Station. You can do more hikes around there if you want.
- Take the train from Shenmu station back to Alishan Station.
- Explore the Alishan tourist village if you didn’t before.
- Walk back to Alishan Bus Station and take the bus back to Chiayi (last bus departs 5:10 p.m.)
I will give more information about all the above points further below in this article.
Alishan Two Days Schedule
Two days (one night) is my recommended time for seeing Alishan. It’s actually enough! Try to get there early in the afternoon so you can do a little hiking before the sun goes down, and see the sunset. Wake up super early for the sunrise, then you still have several more hours to hike before checking out. If you’re going to Sun Moon Lake next, there’s only one bus per day, but it conveniently leaves at 1 PM.
- Arrive at Alishan in the early afternoon. If you’re coming from Sun Moon Lake, the bus leaves at 8 AM and arrives and 11 AM. If you’re coming from Chiayi, consider stopping at Fenqihu on the way (see more about that below).
- When you arrive in Alishan, have lunch/check into hotel.
- Do one of the hikes around Alishan (see below), watch the sunset (also see below), explore the tourist village, and/or eat dinner. After dinner, consider going on a Stargazing tour (also see below).
- Next morning, wake super early and hike (details below) or ride the train to see the sunrise.
- Walk from sunrise viewpoint back down to Chaoping station. Do the famous walking trail to Shouzhen Temple and Shenmu Station. Ride the train back to Alishan tourist village.
- Check out of hotel and take the bus back to Chiayi (stopping in Shizhuo or Fenqihu if you want), or bus to Sun Moon Lake (1 PM).
Alishan Three Days Schedule
If you want to spend longer in the area and see more than just the tourist bits, I recommend spending three days (two nights) in the area. Then you can spend a night in Fenqihu and/or Shizhuo on the way to Alishan, where you can hike through bamboo forests or sleep at an Alishan tea farm.
- On Day 1, ride the Alishan Forest Railway from Chiayi to Fenqihu and check into Fenqihu Hotel or others in town. Go for a hike on one of the trails around town through bamboo forests.
- Alternatively, take a bus from Chiayi to Shizhuo (Shizhao), or take the Alishan Forest Railway from Chiayi to Fenqihu. Then spend the night on one of Shizhuo’s tea farms. The hosts will pick you up from Shizhuo bus stop or Fenqihu Railway Station if you arrange it in advance. Or stay in one of the hotels closer to the highway in Shizhuo, which have good sunset views.
- On Day 2 and 3, follow the “Alishan two day schedule” above.
Again, I’ll further explain all of these places and steps below!
Spend a Night in Chiayi First?
All of these Alishan itineraries require you to start in Chiayi. Chiayi is a very typical Taiwanese city with almost nothing interesting to see or do. However, if you’re coming from somewhere else in Taiwan and arriving late in Chiayi, it may be a good idea to spend one night in Chiayi first so that you can get one of the earliest buses or trains to Alishan the next morning.
Other options include Hotel Discover (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), which has great reviews and is super close to the train station and Yongxing Inn (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), a basic but very cheap hotel also near the train station, while good hostel options nearby include Petite Hostel (see prices / Agoda / TripAdvisor) and Light Hostel (read reviews / see prices).
If you happen to be in Chiayi, also consider making a trip to the unique mud hot spring nearby in Tainan!
Places to Visit on the Way to Alishan
If you have more time, you can consider stopping for a few hours (or even overnight!) on the way to Alishan. Eryanping, Fenqihu, and Shizhuo are three excellent options. They feature a variety of hikes, tea farms, and scenic views. These spots are very much off-the-beaten track. Little English will be spoken, but if you go the extra mile, these are some of my favorite places in all of Taiwan!
These three places are NOT in Alishan Forest Recreation Area. But because they are on the way to Alishan, and because Alishan tea is grown around them, some people consider them part of the greater Alishan area. You may also find that some of their hotels have ‘Alishan’ in their name.
But don’t be confused and think that these places are in the famous Alishan tourist area.
Option 1: Eryanping Trail (Xiding)
The first notable stop on the way up to Alishan is Eryanping Trail (二延平山步道) in Xiding area. This trail is famous for its incredible views of tea farms. The small network of trails (think lots of stairs!) to several lookout platforms with dramatic views is about 1-2 kilometers in total, but it’s a steep uphill walk! It is one of the best sunrise and sunset spots in the greater Alishan area.
The trails pass through tea plantations where you can sometimes tea leaves being picked. It’s gorgeous at anytime of day, but especially at sunrise or sunset, when you can even sometimes see the famous sea of clouds that the Alishan region is famous for (see photo above).
If you have a very good car or scooter, you can drive part way up to the lookout point, but it’s a very steep and narrow road. The lookout platforms are labeled “二延平步道第一休憩亭”, “二延平步道第二休憩亭”, and perhaps the best (but furthest up): “隙頂二延平步道觀雲平台” on GoogleMaps. The spot labeled “茶霧步道” (Tea Mist Trail) on GoogleMaps goes through a section of bamboo forest.
To experience Eryanping for sunrise and/or sunset, you’ll need to spend the night nearby. SunSweet Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda), which is a five-minute walk along the highway from the start of Eryanping Trail. From the hotel, you can also hike up to a lookout called 隙頂之星 on GoogleMaps. For dinner, the hotel can recommend some small restaurants in the area. Breakfast is served in the hotel. Tea lovers will also find that the hotel offers traditional Taiwanese tea ceremony, and there are many tea farms in the area.
A short walk or drive south of the Eryanping trail entrance is yet another lookout, called Xiding Lookout Platform (隙頂觀景臺), where lots of cars stop to take in the view. If you have your own vehicle (or don’t mind a 45-minute walk), 游芭絲鄒宴餐廳-YUPASU is a Tsou tribe aboriginal restaurant with a view that one reader highly recommended.
The best stop to get off the bus at for Eryanping Trail is Anding (鞍頂). The best stop for SunSweet Hotel and is the next one, Lincuo (林厝). The traveling time by bus from Chiayi is 1 hr 10 minutes, and it’s about 10 minutes before Shizhuo, and/or 50 minutes before Alishan.
Option 2: Fenqihu and Bamboo Forest
The tiny mountain village of Fenqihu (奮起湖, sometimes spelled Fenchihu) was for years the terminal station of the Alishan Forest Railway line from Chiayi, since the final section from Fenqihu to Alishan was destroyed in a typhoon in 2009. That means everyone taking the Alishan Forest Railway from Chiayi has to get off in Fenqihu and ride a bus the rest of the way to Alishan.
Starting a few years ago, the train now goes to two more stops after Fenqihu: Duolin and Shizilu. You can continue to those two stations and get the same bus to Alishan. But Fenqihu is still the most interesting place, so I still recommend getting off there.
Besides taking the Alishan Forest Railway from Chiayi to get there, you can also reach Fenqihu by bus. However, only some of the Chiayi to Alishan buses stop in Fenqihu. In order to do so, they have to make a 10-minute from the main highway, from the village of Shizhuo (see next entry).
Even if you aren’t sleeping in Fenqihu, I suggest take a stroll through the village, eating a famous lunchbox, and maybe even going for a short hike around town. To see the bamboo forests around Fenqihu, try the hiking the start of the amazing Fenrui Historic Trail (奮瑞古道), which starts at the edge of town.
I like this relaxed little town so much that I’ve actually made a trip to the area just to stay here with friends after we hiked the equally amazing Ruitai Historic Trail (瑞太古道 ). Please note that this hike is quite remote and difficult to get to, so I don’t recommend it unless you are more familiar with traveling in Taiwan and have extra time for it (you really need a whole day to reach it and hike it, and there are only a few buses per day to the starting point). If you want to try, get in touch with me in my group and I’ll share some info. For the average traveler, I recommend the Fenrui Trail (mentioned above).
Fenqihu is really a cute little town. When you first arrive at the station, you can take a picture beside the Alishan Forest Railway cars usually parked there. There’s also a small train museum (see pic below).
Fenqihu is also one of a handful of places in Taiwan famous for their lunchboxes, inspired by Japanese bento boxes when the Japanese built all these train lines around Taiwan. You will see them being sold from train-shaped stalls as soon as you get off the train, and probably masses of Taiwanese people and tourists sitting around eating them.
We bought our Fenqihu lunchbox from the original famous spot, Fenqihu Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), which also happened to be the hotel where we stayed that night. My favorite part of the hotel was probably the super cute little wooden bathtubs in the hotel bathrooms!
If you’re like me and don’t eat meat, then you might want to go for this delicious stewed slab of tofu stuffed with delicious things, which I find at one of the food stalls on Fenqihu Old Street.
Option 3: Shizhuo Tea Farms
Everybody knows that Taiwan’s most famous tea, Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea, comes from the Alishan area. But few people know about Shizhuo (石棹, also spelled Shizhao), a picturesque tea village on highway up to Alishan, or a 10-minute drive south from Fenqihu Train Station, where much of the “Alishan” tea comes from.
This can really cause some confusion, as some travelers even book hotels in Shizhuo that have “Alishan” in their name, without realizing they are actually a whole hour’s drive away from Alishan scenic area!
Still Shizhuo is a stunning area, and staying on a tea farm there was one of my favorite experiences in Taiwan. It is very much off-the-beaten-track, so you’ll find little or no info about it in English online (except in this article!)
Virtually every bus from Chiayi to Alishan passes through Shizhuo on the way. There are a few hotels right along the highway around Shizhuo (see my recommendations below). They are convenient because the bus to Alishan passes by them, and some of them are even run by tea farms.
If you’d something more remote, there are also some gorgeous tea farms on the mountainside above town, heading in the direction of Fenqihu. A few you could walk to from the Shizhuo bus stop, but for ones that are further up (and the most beautiful!) the owners will usually be willing to pick you up from Fenqihu train station or Shizhuo bus station.
The mountainside where there farms are located also has a network of hiking trails between the farms, with names like Mist Trail, Sunset Trail, Tea Trail, Cloud Trail, and Sakura Trail. Here’s a map showing the hiking trails, which you can compare with GoogleMaps to get a pretty good idea of where the trails begin.
At least one of these trails can be found here on AllTrails, to give you an idea about walking times (budget about 30 min for Cloud trail, or 1 hour for tea Trail).
If you want to stay in a hotel that is along the highway to Alishan, and closer to Shizhuo bus stop for getting to Chiayo and Alishan, then I recommend Alishan Hinoki B&B (see on Booking / Agoda), which is run by a tea farming family and can even give you a tour of their tea farm. This is one of the closest ones to the Shizhuo bus stop, which regular buses to Chiayi and Alishan, so it’s very convenient.
If those are full, you can try SuWaNa (see on Booking / Agoda), which is 15 minutes walk east of town, or Alishan Tea Homestay (see on Booking / Agoda), which is 15 minutes walk south of town. There isn’t much around these hotels, but they each have a bus stop closer to them than the one in Shizhuo.
Depending on where exactly you are staying in Shizhuo, you can see some really beautiful sunsets (most hotels) or sunrises (fewer spots) around there. It’s best to ask your hotel for the best spots.
If your hotel doesn’t have a tea farm, you can still see many tea farms even from the highway, or by going on some of the beautiful hikes that I mentioned above. You can also buy tea from many tea shops in town, many of which are run directly by the tea farms. 阿里山珠露茶-林園製茶 Lin Yuan Tea Factory even offers tours of their tea farm – it’s best to call ahead for a tour, but you may be able to join one if yuou just show up.
Alishan National Scenic Area
What most people refer to as “Alishan” is the collection of tourist facilities, short railway lines, and hiking trails on the northern tip of the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. This is where the vast majority of visitors experience Alishan, and it is the most famous and popular of Taiwan’s many mountain resorts and forest recreation areas.
Arriving and Getting to Hotels or Hiking Trails
If coming by bus from Chiayi (or trainto Fenqihu + bus to Alishan), you will arrive at the Alishan Bus Station (阿里山轉運站). The bus station is connected to a 7-11 just before the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area Official Entrance Gate (阿里山國家森林遊樂區入口售票亭 on GoogleMaps), where you pay the park entrance fee.
From the bus station, it is a 5-minute walk uphill to Alishan Train Station, where you can buy a ticket and board one of three small train lines of the Alishan Forest Railway (more on that below).
During this walk, you will pass through the Alishan Entrance Gate. There, you will need to pay the Alishan National Scenic Area entrance fee of NT150 per adult (arriving by public transportation) or NT200 per adult (arriving by car, plus 150 for the car itself).
At the top of the hill, the train station will be on your right. On the left, if you go down the stairs, you’ll be in the main tourist village.
There you’ll find several souvenir shops, teashops, restaurants, Alishan Visitor’s Center (which has excellent English maps available), and a post office with ATM. One cool thing to point out is that the 7-11 at the top of the tourist village is the highest 7-11 in all of Taiwan!
Almost all of Alishan’s hotels are located on a road behind the tourist village. There’s a set of stairs at the back of the parking lot going down to it. Only two other hotels, Alishan House and Alishan Gou Hotel, are located elsewhere in the park, closer to the hiking trails (more on that below).
Alishan Train vs Electric Shuttle Bus
The best and coolest way to reach the hiking areas of Alishan are to take one of the three small train lines. All three depart from Alishan Station. The Chushan Line goes to the sunrise viewpoint. Most people take the Choping Line to the cherry blossoms viewing area and Sister Ponds Trail. From Sister Ponds, most popular walk to Shouzhen Temple and Shenmu (Sacred tree) station, which is the third line, and ride it back to Alishan.
See my transportation guide for all the train times. You can book these trains online, but it isn’t necessary. You can also just buy a ticket at the platform when you arrive. Only the early morning sunrise train is very busy. You can book your sunrise train online, or at Alishan station in the afternoon (1:30 to 4:30 PM) one day before, or 30 min before train departs on the morning of the sunrise.
There is also a new Alishan E-bus (Alishan Electric Shuttle Bus). The bus is a little faster than the train, but not as cool as the train. Just like the train, the shuttle bus has three lines.
You can board the shuttle bus at the bus stop near Alishan train station (exact location here), or you can board it as Alishan Visitor’s Center. The Chushan line goes to Chushan (just like the train), the sunrise viewpoint, but only in the daytime, not for sunrise, because there are some hiking trails and viewpoints up there. The Chaoping line goes just Chaoping station, also just like the train.
But the Xiangling bus line is different than the train. It can’t go to Shenmu train station, because that one has no road access. So the Xianglin bus line goes to Shouzhen Temple, which is near Shenmu station.
All of these transportation options are definitely confusing. I recommend that you just take the train instead.
The Main Alishan Walking Trail: Sister Ponds
The main walking trail in Alishan starts at Chaoping Station. It is called Sister Ponds Trail.
Before you start the hike, if you are visiting in spring (late March to early April), you will want to see the cherry blossoms near Chaoping Station. The place to see them is marked “櫻花鐵道” (cherry blossom train line) and Plum Garden on GoogleMaps. This is where people take photos of the red Alishan trains driving past cherry blossoms. Note that if you don’t want to take the train, you can actually walk from Alishan tourist village to here and Chaoping Station in about 20 minutes.
Sister Ponds trail features beautiful misty forests and huge trees. Even though it’s the most popular and busiest trail, it’s very beautiful, so I recommend it to all visitors. If you prefer to follow maps, the whole route can be walked on foot (with no trains or buses) by following this AllTrails Map.
From Chaoping Station, follow the path beside the train tracks past Alishan Gou Hotel to the start of the Sister Ponds Trail.
The easiest walk would be to only walk this trail and go back to Chaoping Station (around 30 minutes). However, most people follow the trail all the way to Shouzhen Temple and Shenmu Station, then take the train from Shenmu back to Alishan.
It’s a good idea to get a map from Alishan Visitor’s Center before setting out. The trails are quite easy to follow, but some visitors still get a little disoriented or lost. In total, it will take about 2 hours to walk from Chaoping to Shenmu. You could do it in 1 hour if you go fast, or 3 hours if you go slow and also walk the Giant Tree Trail around Shenmu station.
After passing the two pretty ponds, the trail goes through Magnolia Garden (木蘭園), where you can see more flowert blossoms in spring.
The trail then reaches Shouzhen Temple (阿里山受鎮宮), where there is a collection of food and souvenir stalls. Some great snacks on offer include tea eggs (yummier than the ones at 7-Eleven!), sausages, stewed tofu, steamed yams, and drinks with jelly balls made from saturated seeds of mountain plants.
If you want to call it quits here, you can walk back to the tourist village along the car road (20 min). You can also ride the E-bus from Shouzhen temple back to Alishan Visitor’s Center. Otherwise, continue hiking to Shenmu station, which isn’t too far from here.
From Shouzhen Temple, there are two options to connect to another circuit of trails around Shenmu train station, which has no vehicle access. From the middle of all the food vendors, there’s a staircase leading to a trail called Giant Tree Trail (巨木群棧道). The loop trail features several enormous trees, the oldest of which is marked Alishan No.28 Giant Tree on GoogleMaps and is some 2300 years old.
The other option is to cross the “Boat Shaped Bridge” on the main road near Shouzhen Temple to reach the same trails.
On the western side or the circuit, you can access Ciyun Temple (慈雲寺), which is one of the best spots for seeing the sunset in Alishan National Scenic Area. If you are lucky, it is even possible to see the sea of clouds from there at sunset time!
However, please note that the main sunset viewing platform there is overgrown with trees. So you have to walk right up to the temple. There is a small Japanese-era graveyard there from where you can watch the sun setting over mountains and valleys in the distance, and possible sea of clouds. Please beware that after the sun sets, it gets dark quickly, and you still need to find your way back. One reader reported getting lost on the trail after sunset (even with GoogleMaps), so make sure to get one of the hiking maps from the visitor’s center and/or familiarize yourself with the trail before sunset.
Also nearby is the small Alishan Museum (阿里山博物館), housed in an old wooden house.
On the northern side of the circuit is Sacred Tree (Shenmu) station, where you can catch the small train back to Alishan Station.
If you’re starting your day by watching the sunrise (see next section), then I recommend hiking from Chushan (the sunrise viewpoint) down to Chaoping Station, then follow the walking route I described above. There are two ways to do it, which I will describe below.
If you see the sunrise around (for example) 7:00 a.m., you could easily hike down to Chaoping station by 8:00 a.m., and then to Shenmu by 9 or 10 a.m., and back to the tourist village by 10:30 or 11 a.m for hotel check out.
Best Places to See the Sunrise in Alishan
The classic viewpoint for the famous Alishan sunrise over a sea of clouds is the Chushan (Zhushan) Sunrise Observation Platform at Chushan Station (Zhushan Station/祝山車站, 2451m), where you can expect a mass of noisy people shivering in the dark for the sunrise.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Due to current construction at Chushan Station, the Chushan train will stop at Duigaoyue station (another sunrise viewing spot). From there, if you want to reach Chushan and Xiaoliyushan, you’ll need to walk 15 minutes up the road. If you’re buying tickets online for the Zhushan line, you’ll need to choose “Duigaoyue”. If you see that “Chushan” or “Zhushan” is back as on option, that means the station is open again.
Please note that it is not guaranteed to see a good sunrise at Chushan, or to see anything at all. I’ve been 4 times in total, and only one was really good. Alishan is famously foggy/misty. Sometimes clouds roll in and cover the viewpoint, you can’t see more than 10 meters in front of you.
On a good day, though, you will be looking over a massive valley that fills with a sea of clouds far below you. Across the valley, you can see a wall of mountains, include Yushan, the tallest in Taiwan and Northeast Asia.
To get there, you can ride the Alishan Forest Railway from Alishan Station to the terminal Chushan station, with several departures before sunrise every morning (book your ticket online or at the station the day before (1 to 4:30) or on the day of sunrise, 30 min before departure). You can also walk there if you know the way (see more on that below).
Sometimes, when they are doing renovations on Chushan Station, the station is closed, and the train may only travel up to the second last stop, Duigaoyue Station (對高岳火車站). From there, you’ll have to walk about 15 minutes slightly uphill to reach Chushan station and the viewpoint.
However, Duigaoyue actually has its own sunrise viewing platform, called Duigaoyue Sunrise Viewing Platform (對高亭), which I actually like better than Chushan. EVERYBODY goes to Chushan, so it is very crowded and noisy. When my friends and I saw the sunrise at Duigaoyue, the view was just as good, but we were the only ones there. I think it used to be the main sunrise viewpoint, because it is quite large and could accommodate hundreds of people.
If you’re hiking up to Chushan, you would pass very close to Duigaoyue on the way. It’s at the point where the railway tracks cross over the road. From there, you would follow the train tracks for a few minutes to the left (north) and you can’t miss it. Note that you aren’t allowed to drive up to Chushan. There’s no parking, and no vehicles are allowed except the e-bus and train, in order to prevent air pollution in the area.
There is yet another sunrise viewpoint, if you want to avoid the crowds at Chushan. To find it, go to Chushan first, then walk another 10 minutes past Chushan to Xiaoliyuanshan Lookout (小笠原山觀景台).
On the walking trail between the lookout points, you can also enjoy traditional local teas at Mt. Ali Tea No. 35 (茶田35號), which is open from 4 AM to 1 PM daily. This is an experience I highly recommend after you watch the sunrise! The teahouse also has a shop in the tourist village beside Alishan train station.
How to Hike up to the Sunrise Viewpoint
Hiking from Sunrise Viewpoint to the Main Trails
After seeing the sunrise at Chushan, Xiaoliyuanshan, or Duigaoyue, I recommend walking back down, instead of packing onto the train like everyone else.
The most direct way is to take the Zhushan Sunrise Trail, which I just described above, in reverse. Follow the vehicle road down from Chushan. A few minutes after you pass the trail line over the road, and Duigaoyue, watch for the trail entrance into the forest on the right. The downhill trail will end near Chaoping station, from where you can access the main tourist trail to Shenmu station.
A second option is to physically walk on the train tracks from Duigaoyue all the way down to Chaoping station. As for whether this is technically allowed, I’m not totally sure, but we’ve done it twice and nobody said anything. Just watch for oncoming trains. You’ll hear them, and they don’t go very fast.
If you go this way, you won’t have to walk all the way back to Chaoping Station. Shortly before reaching it, there will be a side path that can put you directly onto the Sister Ponds trail, quite close to the ponds themselves.
Don’t Forget about the Sunset at Alishan!
With all the Alishan sunrise hype, a lot of people don’t realize you can also see gorgeous sunsets from Alishan. One decent spot is from Ciyun Temple near Shenmu station, with views of Datashan, the highest peak in Alishan. The sunset platform there is blocked by trees, but you walk walk higher up to the small cemetery beside the temple for a view of the sunset. You might even see a sea of clouds!
A more convenient option is from the 2nd or 3rd floors of the Alishan Train Station, or from the highway around the Entrance Gate to Alishan (marked 阿里山國家森林遊樂區入口售票亭 on GoogleMaps), just 5 minutes’ walk from the tourist village, where I shot the above photo at sunset!
Yet another place you can see the sunset is Xiaoliyushan Lookout (小笠原山觀景台), also called Mt. Ogosawara. This is just a 5-10 minute walk from Chushan (Zhushan), the famous sunrise viewing spot. But Xiaoliyushan is actually higher that Chushan, so you can see both the sunrise and sunset from there. And don’t worry about the dark – after sunset, you can just follow the car road (and/or Zhushan Sunrise Trail) to get back to Alishan tourist village. You could also stick around longer at Xiaoliyushan Lookout for stargazing (see next section).
Also see the section earlier in this article on Eryanping Lookout, an awesome sunrise and sunset spot located half way between Chiayi and Alishan National Scenic Area.
Stargazing in Alishan
There is now a stargazing tour offered evening night at Alishan. The tour starts at the Alishan e-shuttle bus stop beside Alishan Visitor Center (阿里山旅客服務中心) in the main parking lot at Alishan tourist village. The guide only speaks Mandarin, but that shouldn’t stop you from going.
You can buy your ticket (TWD 300 per person) from 5:30 to 7 PM. They will take you to Chushan (the famous sunrise viewing spot) in the Alishan e-bus. From there, you will walk (10 min) up to Xiaoliyushan Lookout (小笠原山觀景台) for seeing the stars. You can’t see as many on nights with a bright moon.
If you want to go stargazing by yourself, simply follow the directions I gave above for walking to Chushan in the dark. If you’re driving, note that the Alishan National Scenic Area entrance gate is open 24 hours. You’ll still need to pay the park entrance fee, no matter what time you arrive.
However, you can’t drive up to Chushan or Xiaoliyushan. In an effort to prevent air pollution, they only allow the train or e-bus to go up there. So you’ll still need to park in the main tourist village parking lot and walk up or take the stargazing tour.
Other Hiking Trails in Alishan
It is relatively easy to escape the tourist crowds at Alishan. Besides the main tourist walking trail between Chaoping and Shenmu station, the following Alishan hiking trails are all within the Alishan National Scenic Area and can be accessed on foot from the tourist village.
Duigaoyue Trail (對高岳步道)
Duigaoyue Platform (which I described above as an alternative sunrise viewpoint) sits at the start of a two-hour return hike to Duigao Pavilion (2444m). This relatively easy trail follows the train tracks for some time, offering views similar to what can be seen from the sunrise viewpoints.
Mianyue Line Trail (眠月線)
Mianyue Line is a thrilling and mystical trail along an abandoned high mountain railway line. The trail includes an impressive 21 bridge crossings and 14 train tunnels.
Permits are needed for this trail and great care must be taken. Demand is high for the trail, so there’s a lottery system for applicants. The trail branches off from Duigaoyue trail (see above), or you can hike there by following the train like up from Sister Ponds Trail.
Parkbus Taiwan sometimes does trips to Mian Yue Line. They arrange the permits and other logistics. If you take a trip with them, you can use the code Spiritual10 to get a 10% discount.
Tashan Trail (Mount Daito/塔山步道)
Some very motivated individuals hike up this difficult, 4-hour return trail for sunrise. The platform (2663m) at the end offers epic views of Tashan (Dashan/塔山, the highest peak in the Alishan massif) and Yushan/Jade Mountain (the highest peak in Taiwan).
The trail begins at the Sister Ponds, follows the track train tracks going up, then veers north. There’s an AllTrails entry for the hike here.
Shuishan Trail (水山步道)
This easier 1 to 1.5 hour-return walk follows a railway line that once lead to Dongpu and is no longer used. The trail crosses over a wooden train bridge, and ends at enormous 2700-year-old Shuishan Giant Tree.
You can find the trail by looking for the spot where the old train line splits off from the Alishan to Zhaoping line a little south of Zhaoping. The trail head is marked 水山線步道 on GoogleMaps, and there’s an AllTrail entry for it here.
Pro tip: If you really want to get off-the-beaten-track in the greater Alishan region, try the Alishan Northwest Corridor, a tourist-free region featuring more gorgeous tea farms, bamboo forests, hiking trails, and waterfalls. There are very few buses providing access to the area, so having your own transportation is ideal.
Where to Stay in Alishan
Note that there is literally nothing to do in Alishan at night, besides get a beer from 7-Eleven and go to bed early so you can wake up for sunrise.
Where to Eat in Alishan
Most restaurants are found around the parking lot in the tourist village. Here you can find hot pot and several places serving fairly similar meals. The pick of the bunch seems to be 999 Restaurant (九九九餐廳) on the second floor, and nearly identical Xin Xingguang (新星光餐廳) next door.
Their large soups, mountain greens, noodles, and other local-style dishes are perfect after a long chilly day. I personally loved the cold tofu slices with delicious local wasabi and soy sauce. Fresh Alishan’s wasabi is more flavorful and less sinus-burning than wasabi you might be used to from typical sushi shops.
When to Visit Alishan
As I mentioned above, Alishan is usually about 10 degrees colder than lower altitudes in Taiwan (see Alishan’s average monthly temperatures). Therefore, in summer in Taiwan Alishan can be pleasantly warm but chilly at night, so you still need to bring proper clothing, especially for sunrise viewing.
Summer is also one of the most popular times, so it can be busiest and hotel prices are usually higher. Don’t travel to Alishan during (or shortly after) a typhoon or heavy rain, when landslides are common. And cherry blossoms season is probably the busiest time of year at Alishan, so good luck getting a hotel at that time! (see the Alishan cherry blossoms section at the top of the article for more info).
Like everywhere else in Taiwan, fall and spring are probably the best time to visit, but can get quite chilly at Alishan.
If you visit Alishan in winter in Taiwan, especially December, January, and February, you have the highest chance of seeing the “sea of clouds” phenomenon at sunrise, but it can be freezing, especially when you are standing and waiting for sunrise. I quite enjoyed my winter visit but I personally love cold weather.
There was no snow when I visited, but I saw some frost on the Alishan forest railway tracks in the early morning.
See more information about the weather and what to wear in each season in my guide to the best time to visit Taiwan.
Thank you if you read this far, and I hope you found everything here that you needed to know for visiting Alishan! I love answering your questions here or in my free Taiwan Travel Planning group, so please let me know below if I’ve missed anything or you found that any information was out of date. Enjoy your trip to Alishan!