It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.
One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. It’s hardly an unknown spot anymore, so expect a fair few people on sunny weekends, but despite having perfect weather the April Saturday and Sunday we were there, we had the trees mostly to ourselves, and met only a few people on the trail out to the more popular ‘B’ grove on Saturday afternoon and not a soul at the much less visited Grove ‘A’ and Poison Dragon Lake above.
Zhenxibao is one of the 101 places to visit in Taiwan that will appear in my new book, so I’m gonna save the details for the book when it comes out next year, but here’s a few notes about this amazing place.
Although with a very early start it’s possible to see Grove ‘B’ at Zhenxibao as a day trip from Hsinchu, most people stay the night in Xingguang village (seven rough kilometers before the trailhead) which has a selection of simple but pleasant home stays run by friendly Atayal aboriginals. The night we stayed, there were few people in town and we were the only visitors at our comfortable, cheap home stay – a far cry from the accommodation situation at Smangus across the valley, which generally has to be booked weeks in advance.
From Xingguang it’s a further 7 kilometers to the trailhead for the two ancient tree groves at Zhenxibao. It’s slow going and pretty rough in several places; allow 20-25 minutes for the drive. The trailhead consists of a couple of small shacks, where snacks and drinks are sold on weekends, and two parking areas, one on either side of the bridge that crosses a small stream. Officially the ancient tree grove is open only on weekends and public holidays during daylight hours. It’s best to ask locally before going in during the week.
Zhenxibao consists of two groves of ancient trees. By far the most popular is Grove ‘B’, which has the better trail, is less steep and has the most trees. Count on 4 hours for the walk out there and back. Fitter hikers should consider also doing the hike to Grove ‘A’, which although steeper and less well-defined, and with fewer trees, offers even more pristine landscapes, a far more remote atmosphere, and is the more rewarding hike, especially if you go as far as the Poison Dragon Lake, in which case you should allow 6 hours for the return hike.