If you like high mountains and want to enjoy the scenery from a mountain peak in Taiwan that is 3,000 meter above sea level without the strenuous hiking that is usually involved in high-mountain expeditions, Mt. Shimen is your best bet. From the car park where you leave your vehicle to the peak is a whopping 800 meters (length, not elevation). Where is that mountain? It’s part of the well-known group of mountain peaks belonging to Hehuanshan (Mt. Hehuan) in central Taiwan. The mountain belongs to the Central Mountain Range, the “spine” of Taiwan.
What make the area so accessible to the average tourist is Highway 14 (and 14a), the Wushe Branch of the Central Cross Island Highway. Since the Central Cross-Island Highway (Route 8) further to the north, has been cut off between Guguan and Lishan for many years now (re-opening for general traffic not likely any time soon), the combination of routes 14, 14a, and 8 is practically the only way to get from the western side of the island to the eastern side via the high mountains.
The drive from Puli in the west to Hehuanshan, passing popular Qingjing Farm, is very scenic, definitely one of the best routes in all of Taiwan. At Hehuanshan you come to a spot named Wuling, which is the highest point of any highway in Taiwan and therefore the destination of numerous bicyclists who want to test their mettle on a grueling uphill climb. From there you can drive on, now downhill, to reach the eastern coast of Taiwan, on the way passing Taroko Gorge, a world-class natural wonder and for many the best the island has to offer in terms of breathtaking scenery.
After arriving at Hehuanshan, you can choose between seven different peaks to tackle based on your physical abilities and the time you have. Many opt for Hehuan Main Peak (3,417m) which can be easily accessed from the highway. Look out for a small road on the left before reaching Wuling when approaching from the west. There are more challenging options, such as the North Peak (3,145m) and West Peak (3,422m) requiring a night in a tent if you want to do them both.
The easiest peak is definitely Mt. Shimen (3,237m), so easy in fact that you might see unlikely hikers such as senior citizens with their poodle or kindergarten kids with toys in hand walking up the gentle slope. Note however, that at 3,000 meters of altitude the air is noticeably thinner than on the coastal plains and shortness of breath is definitely a sensation you might experience upon arrival in the high mountains after a quick drive from lower altitudes.
So depending on your fitness you might need an hour or so to complete the 800 meters up to the top. But there is no need to rush anyway. Plenty of pretty scenery around you. The snaking highway just below the path. Beautiful mountain slopes all around, some covered in pine forest. Weather in the mountains can change quickly and in no time the mountains might be covered in mist. So, better pick a clear day to be able to take it all in.
Also look at the high-mountain vegetation along the trail. There are info plates introducing you to the flora and fauna. You can see slope-hugging juniper, prickly high-mountain bamboo and abundant Yushan azalea and red hairy azalea, and you might even spot colorful birds such as Formosan laughing thrush and vinacceus rose finch.
Getting there: Public transport is not an option for visiting Hehuanshan. You either need to drive (or ride a motor scooter, bicycle) yourself or hire a taxi driver for a day. If you stay in the Qingjing Farm area you can make use of the shuttle bus service offered. Ask the staff at your hotel or homestay to find out more.