Backpacking in Taiwan guarantees loads of magical places. This small off-the-radar country is mostly a hidden gem for the masses and it’s full of natural wonders. Solo Hiking to Jiaming Lake was definitely the highlight of my Taiwan Adventures!
I first learnt of Jiaming Lake in Taiwan through a Taiwanese friend and at the moment I saw a photo of the place I knew that I had to go Hiking to Jiaming Lake!
Also known as Angel’s Tear, Jiaming Lake is at 3310m of elevation the second highest lake in Taiwan.
Until not long ago, the lake was thought to have been created by a meteor strike about 3000 years ago. Now it turns out, is actually a lot older and was formed by glacial movement during the last ice age some 6000-7000 years ago.
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Pretty much everyone I met, everywhere I went, on my 2 months backpacking in Taiwan mentioned Jiaming Lake as one of their most beloved sceneries of Taiwan.
For some reason they also think it’s a difficult hike. Believe me, It’s not!
The length of the trail from the start at the Sianyang Visitor Centre until you reach Jiaming Lake is only 13Km long, which is definitely not long at all.
However, it’s recommended to hike to Jiaming Lake in 3 days and 2 nights to acclimatise to the elevation as most of the trail is at over 3000 meters of altitude.
If you’re used to hike at high altitude you could definitely do this in 2 days and 1 night. I opted for the recommended 2 nights hike as I had time and wanted to enjoy more the scenery.
Remember that there’s no room for heroes when it comes to altitude sickness. No matter how fit you are it could affect you so it’s something to be very careful of, as it can simply be fatal. I’ll explain some tips on to how to prevent and act if you feel you’re victim of altitude sickness. Keep reading for more on that! 😉
Don’t think that Hiking to Jiaming Lake and take a photo in front of it is everything that‘s up on the cards of this backpacking adventure. This mountainous region is full of incredible landscapes and for me, the most beautiful part of all the hike is all the journey itself!
Camping in Jiaming Lake was also part of this adventure so also included a night of camping on this wonderful hike in Taiwan!
Getting a permit to Hike to Jiaming Lake
Hiking in Taiwan has just one downside to me, and it’s that for their most famous hikes they normally require to apply for a permit beforehand.
I guess on one hand this is good to control the number of people but on the other hand requires some planning in advance that I normally skip for a more improvised schedule.
The process was relatively easy and I actually didn’t apply correctly as you need to do 2 things: get a mountain permit and book your accommodation.
I only booked the accommodation on this website and sorted the mountain permit at the police station by the Siangyang Visitor Centre. Make sure to select the “general application” instead of the “priority reservation for foreigners” as the latter one only works when you do it a month in advance!
After requesting to book for accommodation I received a confirmation about 24h later, bear this in mind so you don’t leave it for the very last day!
On the confirmation email of the accommodation there’s a link for an electronic payment. This is all written in Chinese and just clicking on the link was not working for me, so I asked a local friend to do a bank transfer on my behalf from her account.
On the same website of the Jiaming Lake National Trail there’s a section to book the police permit or “mountain application”.
That link takes you to another page only in Chinese on which I also couldn’t make up where to apply for the permit. I think the police doesn’t care about applying in advance as long as you have booked your accommodation. As said before, I got the permit at the entrance of the Sianyang Visitor Centre.
I booked one night at the Sianyang Cabin and one night at the Jiaming Lake Campsite.
Once you sort out your permits you “just” need to get to the Jiaming Lake trailhead!
How to get to the start of the Jiaming Lake Hike
The most common starting point to hike to Jiaming Lake is from the Siangyang Visitor Centre, which is not very easy to reach as it’s some 60Km up the mountains from the nearest town.
There are no buses to get there and if you’re a backpacker on a budget like me, renting a car or pay for a taxi is not an option.
The way to start hiking to Jiaming Lake is hitchhiking!
Hitchhiking in Taiwan is super safe, not very common though so make sure to prepare a little cardboard sign as many Taiwanese people do not know yet what a thumbs-up sign means. I was told this by two different drivers that took me around Taiwan when I was hitchhiking there.
As you can expect, there’s not a lot of traffic going up the mountain as there are only a couple of small villages and the number of people hiking is limited to the amount of permits they issue per day.
Because of the reasons above, you need to hitchhike really early in the morning so I spent the night at the town of Chishang. I arrived there by train after my days camping in Taroko Gorge.
Fear not, it was SUPER EASY for me to hitchhike to the start of the Jiaming Lake hike.
I spent the night at GiftBox Hostel which was the cheapest place I could find, although not particularly cheap for Taiwanese standards. The place was nice and clean and the host was very attentive and friendly.
This hostel is in the town of Chishang which I reached by train from Hualien and it’s also easily reachable from Taitung.
Chishang is famous for its rice so make sure to try some while you’re there! I met some friendly people in the hostel and we went to a night market and festival which was a great way to discover this little town.
After waking up early, I went for breakfast at the nearby 7Eleven and bought a couple of oniguiris as a snack for the hike.
Opposite the 7Eleven there’s a road that takes to a bridge that links to the nearby town of Chulai. I started hitchhiking there and only waited about 5 minutes until a friendly old man stopped and took me over.
This ride was quite short, just about 6Km long.
He dropped me off after crossing the bridge and then I started walking to the mountain side as there’s a police station nearby.
Not even 3 minutes have passed when the very first car that came up the road stopped to take me straight to the Siangyang Visitor Centre!!! lucky me!!!! 🙂
The road up the mountain is super twisty and there are regular landslides so it could be possible that your plans may get ruined if the road is closed.
After exactly 2 hours since I started hitchhiking to Siangyang I arrived there. It was only 9:50 in the morning which was way earlier that I had predicted as I thought it would take me several hours to find someone to take me there!
Don’t worry too much if it takes you longer to get there as the first day of hiking is pretty short, but aim to start hiking before 15:00 at the very latest.
It’s time to go Hiking to Jiaming Lake!
It took me just a few minutes to sort out the permit with the police and check-in at a different office for the accommodation. This is very important to do as they will give you a paper that will be requested at both cabin/camping sites.
They will also ask you if you voluntarily would like to help with the regeneration of the trails by carrying some gravel up the mountain. If you carry 1Kg they will give you a postcard and if 5Kg are taken is a postcard plus a bag. I took afew Kgs 😉
The start of the hike is at 2400m of elevation on a very gentle climb for the first 2.5Km via the Songjin Trail and from the very start you get reminded to watch out for snakes and even bears!
I didn’t see any of those and talking with the guy in the check-in office he told me he has never seen a bear so don’t worry about that little creature disturbing your hike.
Going through a lush green pine forest the hike feels like a walk in the park at first. From the 1.2Km mark to the 2.5Km is a bit boring as it goes through a wide dirt road where cars can still make it there, although I didn’t see any cars it just doesn’t feel “wild”.
Once that dirt road ends it’s where the fun begins! as soon as you cross a narrow bridge by a small waterfall is the official Jiaming Lake National Trail entrance.
From this point it will only be narrow trails and a steady climb for 2Km until you reach the Sianyang Lodge.
In total it takes just 2 hours from the start of the trail to the cabin. Which is pretty short indeed and I certainly wanted to keep moving on. But remember that by the time you reach the Sianyang Lodge you’re already at 2850m of elevation so it’s good to acclimatise to avoid altitude sickness.
Once I reached the cabin I still went for a bit of an extra walk to the Blackwater Pond which is some 800 meters away and some 300 meters more of vertical climb. I also used this walk to drop my “volunteering gravel”!
The Blackwater Pond is pretty small, but when I was there it was really misty and I liked it a lot. It was an incredibly peaceful place.
The full out and back walk to the Blackwater Pond just added an extra hour of hiking to my day so I still had many hours to read and chill back at the cabin.
When I booked the accomodation, on the website it said that food is not offered at the cabins so I took my stove and cooked both days, however, when I arrived to both of them I was asked if I wanted to eat there as they cook a lot and serve buffet style dinner. I didn’t ask how much it was because I had my food but I guess it’s not cheap.
As I was hiking alone the guys working at both cabins offered me food and tea for free though which was really nice of them.
At dinnertime there was a large group celebrating a birthday so I joined them on the celebrations, a bit of rice wine and delicious cake was happily accepted! 🙂
At the Sianyang Cabin you find a lot of information regarding altitude sickness in case you’re not familiar with it.
What to do to prevent altitude sickness
Altitude sickness can affect anyone no matter how fit you are, so you can only take some measures to prevent it.
As soon as you’re over 2500 meters above sea level you should always take precautions. The most basic one is do not push too hard even if you feel strong, keep a steady pace at a slower speed you’d normally hike. Avoid alcohol, drink water regularly but not abundantly at once, eat carbs…
If you feel any symptoms stop for a while and go down a couple hundred meters if necessary.
Some of these symptoms may be: headache, nausea, dizziness, short of breath even on rest, not feeling well in general.
2nd day Hiking to Jiaming Lake and camping!
The second day was expected to be the longest one so I woke up for an early breakfast just before 6am. To my surprise, I was the only one there as everyone left around 3am!!! I can tell you, you do not need to leave so early unless you walk extremely slow!
The hike will be mostly climbing all all the way up to the Jiaming Lake Lodge as in just 3.5Km you will climb 500 meters up. Some parts are steep but not technical at all.
Between the 5 and 6Km marks there are lots of man-made steps which are a bit boring, but once you reach the top you get rewarded for the very first time with incredible views of the region.
Once you pass the steps, it will be a mix of some flattish areas with some rocky climbs. That is a cool section of the hike with wonderful sights.
After 2 hours and 20 minutes from the start I arrived to the Jiaming Lake Lodge. I checked in and left my rucksack without pitching my tent as I still had 5Km to go to Jiaming Lake!
This stretch of the hike was my favourite of the entire Jiaming Lake adventure as you can see the trails far in the distance going up to Mount Sancha.
The first 2.5Km after the lodge are mainly downhill, sometimes steep and then there’s about 1.5Km to go up to the top of Mount Sancha.
You can decide to go straight to the Jiaming Lake instead of climbing up the mountain, but I recommend to climb up and then go down the lake!
From the Jiaming Lake Lodge it took me 1 hour 45 minutes to the summit of Mount Sancha which at 3496m of elevation is one of the highest mountains in Taiwan!
Once you enjoy the scenery it’s time to go downhill for just about 10 minutes or so for the main dish: The Jiaming Lake!
I stayed for quite a while by the lake as I made it there at around 11:30 in the morning (I told you it’s not necessary to wake up at 3am!!!) and in the couple of hours I stayed chilling there I had clouds, sun, wind…constantly changing conditions so don’t worry if you arrive on a cloudy day as it happened to me as it may change quickly!
MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS
The water in the lake was not as cold as I expected and I was almost tempted to take a swim! but didn’t do it on this occasion.
You can walk all over around the lake and to different viewpoints. I warn you, the lake is smaller than you may imagine at first. but it’s definitely a beautiful place!
I’m not a big fan of retracing my steps on the same trails but the way back to the Jiaming Lake campsite was equally beautiful as the first time. This section was my favourite for sure!
It took me 1 hour 45 minutes to go back to the campsite. Early enough to have time to pitch my tent and cook dinner. I was the only one camping that night and the views of the mountains from the camping platform are really beautiful!
Final day Hiking in Jiaming Lake
My last day in this beautiful mountains was also with an early start as I had to hitchhike back to town so I needed to be at the bottom of the mountain before everyone else!
I started hiking down at 6:30 am. It was a crisp autumn-like morning which made me want to stay longer contemplating the scenery.
In just 1 hour 40 minutes I made it to the Sianyang Lodge where I had breakfast and chatted again with the friendly guy that works there.
From the cabin to the end of the trail it took me an extra hour and 20 minutes. So I was down by the visitor centre at 10:00am.
If you’re hitchhiking you should aim to finish your hike by this time as everyone started to arrive some 20-40 minutes later.
I just sat by the check-in office with my hitchhiking sign and in less than 10 minutes one of the groups let me go with them.
Are you planning to go Solo Hiking to Jiaming Lake?
Go for it! it’s a wonderful trail that at times feels wild but it’s still really well signalled so it’s impossible to get lost. Having the cabins also makes it easy if you don’t have a tent and you could even sort out food with them.
This is one of those places where the journey is as important as the destination!
Everyone that I met on the trail where a bit surprised that I was hiking alone as for some reason they think it’s a difficult hike but you can definitely go solo hiking to Jiaming Lake. Just remember to take extra careful measures when at altitude and you will be fine. There are many other hikers as well although it doesn’t feel super crowded.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about how to go Hiking to Jiaming Lake.
Check out the rest of my posts about backpacking in Taiwan for more inspiration on your next adventure!