Taiwan Travel Guide – Alishan National Park

Alishan National Scenic Area (阿里山國家風景區 Ālǐshān guójiā fēngjǐng qū) is a national park in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan. It’s one of the primary tourist attractions in the country. It is Taiwan’s most-visited national park. Located high up in Taiwan’s mountainous spine, it’s particularly popular in spring during the cherry blossom season (March-April), as well as in summer as a cool escape from the steamy coastal cities.

The area has been settled by Taiwanese Aboriginal people since time immemorial, but ethnic Chinese began settling only in the 19th century. Development really took off only when the Japanese completed the Alishan Forest Railway (1912), a remarkable narrow-gauge train that was built for logging the area’s giant cedars. By the 1970s, logging had pretty much ended and tourism had become the area’s primary earner, and the entire area was declared a “national scenic area” in 2001.

Alishan is not a single mountain, but a range on Taiwan’s spine, averaging 2,500 m in high and with the highest peak Datashan (大塔山) reaching 2,663 m. Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan (3,952 m) is easily visible from Alishan.

Getting There: Transportation Options


A great way to get to Alishan is to take the famous Alishan Forest Railway (阿里山森林鐵路) narrow-gauge train from Chiayi station (the old one, not the new HSR station at Taibao). A one-way costs NT$399 and takes around 3½ hr. The train passes through the scenic village of Fencihu (奮起湖) halfway up and the village of Ruili (瑞里) is also accessible (several km away) from Jiaoliping (交力坪) station. It’s a great trip if you’re a train buff, as the line is largely the same as it was before World War II — but you might want to consider a bus for the way back (it takes about 4½ hours for the return trip).

As of 2015, there are trains from Chiayi at 09:00 (daily) and 10:00 (Sa Su holidays), returning from Fencihu at 14:00 and 15:00. The railway will sell standing room tickets and during peak periods like summer and the cherry blossom season trains can get very crowded, so book ahead by calling operator TRA at (05)225-6918, preferably in Chinese, and show up at least 30 min before departure to collect your tickets. Alternatively, there are usually “scalpers” standing outside the ticket window selling tickets at-cost, in the hope that you will also book a room in the hotel they work for. In Chiayi station, the Alishan ticket counter is on the outside of the building, separate from the ordinary TRA counters.


Tickets from Alishan out are bought inside 7-Eleven or Family Mart convenience stores — they cannot be purchased far in advance. You can also purchase tickets directly on the bus if there are free seats. Buses (some large and luxurious, some more cramped minibus styles) from Chiayi to Alishan leave regularly and take between two and three hours. Buses stop at Ruili on the way. They also stop at the park entrance to allow you to buy your entrance ticket. There are two primary options, Route A and Route B. I think Route A goes from/to the THSR station whereas Route B goes from/to the TRA station. I read the prices is NT$300 but I believe I paid NT$500 round-trip (Route B). Whatever the price, keep your ticket tab because it will get you a NT$150 discount on the park entry fee.

The exact schedule was also a bit confusing. I found different times during my online research. Below are photos I took of the posted schedule, though I am not sure that even those are completely accurate (both the to and from bus I took did not leave when I thought they were scheduled so ask to be sure and/or arrive early to be safe.

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there is a direct bus service from Alishan to Sun Moon Lake and vice-versa. Two buses a day leave Alishan at around 14:00 and 15:00. Cost is less than NT$300 one way. Check with Alishan Visitors Center for more info.


Outside the bus hours, the only way to get to Alishan is by taxi which will cost NT$1,600.

Getting Around Alishan

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You can pretty easily just walk throughout the park, which is what I did. Trails are well signposted: every intersection of two paths not only has signs in Chinese and English, but a map pinpointing your exact location and all possible routes. You can also pick up an English map from the tourist office. All the main routes are very well maintained, with stairs for steeper sections, guard rails, etc. It’s easy to walk the entire Alishan village and trails area within one to one and a half day.

Alternatively, you can also see parts of the park via the old railway, which has a few spur lines inside the park. There ares three lines available.

  • Jhushan Line (祝山線), from Alishan to Jhushan (祝山), 6.2 km. There is a single daily departure very early in the morning (the exact time varies by season) so you can catch the sunrise over Jade Mountain (玉山).
  • Sacred Tree Line, from Alishan to Shermuh (神木). Around 1.2 km long, running along the same mainline as the trains from Chiayi. Departures half-hourly, one-way/return NT$50/80. The last train leaves at 16:00 back to the main station.
  • Zhaoping Line (沼平), from Alishan to Zhaoping (沼平). A short hop of only about 700 m. Departures half-hourly, one-way/return NT$50/80.

There are also some shuttle buses that you can take. Stations are at major sites. Both the train and bus options will require a paid ticket but they are not interchangeable so you would need to buy both or limit yourself to only one option.

A trail, about 4 hours one way, connects Fengcihu and Ruili through a scenic bamboo forest straight out of a kung-fu movie. I didn’t walk this so I have no opinion about it.

Fees and permits

As mentioned above, tntry to Alishan costs NT$300 per person but is NT$150 if you arriving on public transport (train or bus) so keep your ticket to get that discount.

Things to See and Do in Alishan

Sights are signposted in Chinese, English and Japanese, and as you walk around the trails you’ll find that nearly every tree of size, age or unusual shape has been dubbed with a fanciful moniker like “Elephant Trunk” or “Three Generation Tree”.

  • Jhushan (祝山) (train from Alishan station). The top attraction in Alishan, everybody crowds aboard the predawn trains for the half-hour trip to this peak on the east side of Alishan, where you can see the sun rise over Yushan. If you’re an early riser, you can also walk (the whole way is lit, albeit weakly), it’s a not overly strenuous one hour from the 7-Eleven – this also allows you to go early before the crowds and enjoy the amazing pre-dawn twilight colours and tranquility, which you will miss if you take the train. There’s a viewing platform right next to the station, but it’s worth it to hike an extra 15-20 minutes past the helicopter pad to the very top, where the crowds are a little thinner. As the sun is already up behind the mountain, the sky is already quite light by the time you get to the top, and the sun is very bright when rising up. On the way back, skip the train and walk back instead, it’s a pleasant 3-4 km downhill hike.
  • Giant Trees Trail (near Shermuh station). There are in fact two of these, both near Shermuh station, and they can be walked in a pleasant half-hour loop. True to the name, the cypresses here are giant indeed, and many have been growing for well over a millennium. The small Cihyun Temple, which was built by the Japanese, and the Tree Spirit Pagoda are along the way. The trail is particularly magical when the mist rolls in (in October, this tends to happen in the early to mid afternoon). 
  • Two Sisters Pond (姊妹潭). Two scenic little ponds in the forest. The Elder Sister Pond, the larger of the two, has a much-photographed octagonal little pavilion in the middle.
  • Greater Tashan Trail (大塔山). The Greater Tashan is the highest of the Tashan peaks, at 2663 m. Depending on the weather, you will either have a wide vista from the observation platform at the top, or will admire a sea of clouds. A good trail leads up to the peak and takes about 1½-2 hours going up from its entry point nearby the Two Sisters Pond, a bit less going down again. The trail is free of tour groups due to its medium difficulty, with some quite steep stairs on the way, but it should be doable for anyone in decent walking shape. Bring something to drink and appropriate sun protection, as even if Alishan village is cloudy, the peak can still bask in full sun due to its higher altitude. 

How Long to Stay

I originally planned to stay a night or two close to the park for convenience but two things changed my mind. First, I had hoped to take the scenic train to the park and since it only leaves once a day and arrives around lunchtime, I thought I would need two days. But, the train was fully booked so taking it wasn’t an option. Taking a very early bus was so that meant I could arrive close to when the park opened, giving me a full day to explore and still catch a bus back. Second, when I checked for hotels, most were booked and insanely expensive (even with bad reviews, which almost all had). A few less expensive options existed, but without a car, they weren’t practical. So, instead I decided to stay in Chiayi two nights and visit Alishan as a day trip. In the end, this worked out great.

Having explored the entire park in a day, I can now also say that even if you are able to take the scenic train, you probably will have enough time to see most of the park in a half day, especially if you use the shuttle buses or in-park train. So, unless you absolutely love being in the woods, I don’t think more than a day in the park is necessary.


If you’re making a day trip and want to bring your bag with you, there are lockers next to the Family Mart convenience store. Rate is NT$40 per 3 hours for smaller lockers and NT$60 per 3 hours for a large locker, which can fit a bag of 84x42x58 cm.

If you have heavy luggage but you’re staying overnight in Alishan, you might want to consider leaving your bags at the Baggage Room at the leftmost end of the terminal (if you’re facing the rails). Fee is NT$70 per bag per 24 hours. But make sure that it’ll be open when it’s time to claim your bags. Operating hours are from 8:30am-12pm, 1pm-5pm. Otherwise, you may use the more expensive lockers, tucked near Family Mart.


Due to its elevation, Alishan is considerably cooler than the coast, with daytime highs averaging 14-24°C in summer and 5-16°C in winter. Even for a mountain, Alishan’s weather is extraordinarily rapidly changing: an average day starts with a cloudless morning, theatrically dense clouds of rolling mist by noon and ends with a lightning storm and torrents of rain before repeating all over the next day. Humidity is always very high, and indeed most surfaces in the park seem to be covered with a layer of luxuriant green moss.

Final Thoughts

I went in the winter and was prepared for the cold. I did need a jacket in the morning and the evening but it didn’t get as cold as I feared (and was quite pleasant during the day). Having said that, I also rescheduled the Alishan piece of my Taiwan itinerary based on the weather forecasts after I arrived in Taipei. There were multiple cold, rainy days forecast, so I modified my plan and went to Alishan later, after the forecast improved.

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