The countryside around Pinglin (坪林), best-known as one of Taiwan’s best tea growing areas, is also among Taipei County’s best-kept secrets. Thanks though to a lack of public transport around the area, and the general remoteness of this corner of northern Taiwan, this enchanting region of wooded hills and rushing streams of deep emerald-green (long ago one of the most popular areas for camping around Taipei) is nowadays surprisingly little visited by the weekend day-tripping masses. Freeway 5 (the Taipei to Yilan freeway) now makes getting to the area from Taipei quick and easy, yet there are still tons of opportunities for spending a day here hiking in remarkably scenic and pristine countryside where you’ll see barely a single soul.
With a good hiking map of the area in hand, there are no shortage of routes to explore hereabouts, but my personal favorite to date is the fairly short but outstandingly scenic Beishi Stream Old Trail (北勢溪古道). It only takes about four hours to walk the main part of the trail and return by the same route to the car, but to get to the trailhead from Taipei takes a couple of hours in each direction, so the trip takes a full day.
As I already said, it’s a quick and easy cruise from Taipei to Pinglin these days along Freeway 5, but from there onwards progress is much slower, along local route 42, a narrow road which is constantly winding, although the scenery of steep, wooded hills, countless neat rows of tea bushes, and the blue-green strip of the Beishi Stream winding snake-like through the bottom of the valley far below makes it a beautiful drive.
Forty minutes or so after leaving Pinglin, the trailhead is reached, marked by a small temple and a stone Earth God shrine, standing beside the confluence of the Beishi and Wantan Streams as they combine to form a wide, deep and rather lovely pool known as Sanshui Tan (三水潭). Leaving the vehicle here turn left, following the road that crosses the Wantan Stream, climbs over a small rise, and continues down the other side. Soon the road crosses a second bridge over the Beishi Stream. Turn right immediately after crossing the stream onto a dirt trail: this is the Beishi Stream Old Trail.
The route is now easy to follow and very scenic, as the trail sticks close to the bank of the stream all the way, sometimes climbing high up the wooded slopes above, but nearly always remaining within eyesight of the pure, pristine water. On the way, the stream tumbles over several low, natural outcrops of rock which dam the water above into a series of deep, still and very lovely ‘pools’ (a bewitching feature of several streams in the Pinglin area). Especially after heavy rain, these pools are easily deep enough for swimming in, and make a tempting destination on a hot summer day, although be discreet, as the Beishi Stream is one of the main suppliers of Feitsui Reservoir, which supplies much of Taipei County with its drinking water.
About ninety minutes after leaving the road, the trail veers away from the river, climbing high above it, and joins a narrow road. Walking along a road might seem rather an anticlimax after the gentle beauty of the trail beside the river, but it’s worth tramping the tarmac for twenty minutes to take a look at Hoping Bridge (和平喬), an attractive and historic structure which spans a fast-moving stretch of the Beishi Stream close to the large Shoushan Temple. Even better, another twenty minutes’ walk along the road, a footpath leaving the road follows the stream a little further to the beautiful Tiger Panther Pool (虎豹潭), a large and idyllic expanse of pure, emerald water cradled by the wooded hills.
From here it’s a three-hour hike back to the trailhead at Sanshui Tan and the waiting car, while trails continue upstream from Tiger Panther Pool and run all the way to Dasi, on the coast in neighboring Yilan County, for those who like really long walks.
Sorry, you’ll need your own transport to get here! Leave Pinglin village by local route 42, signposted to Shuangsi (雙溪). Half an hour or so out of Pinglin, turn right at a fork just before the settlement of Kuolai (闊瀨), and follow the signs along the road (now a narrow lane) to Heilongtan (‘black dragon pond’) Camping Ground (黑龍潭露營地), beside a wide, deep pool in the river. Keep right at the campsite, along a rough, partly paved track, following the river bank for another kilometer, cross the river, and leave the car at the trailhead of the Beishi Stream Old Trail, beside a colorful shrine (there’s room for four or five cars to park here).