Alishan (Ali Mountain) generally refers to the mountains ranging from the west peak of Jade Mountain to the offset mountains of the area in southern Taiwan. The centerpiece of Alishan is Alisan National Forest Recreation Area, which is one of the most prominent scenic areas in the world.
Covering an area of about 1,400 hectares and situated at about 7,217 ft (2,200 meters) above sea level, Alisan National Forest Recreation Area is known for its breathtaking natural landscape, an array of millennia-old trees, majestic sunrise views, a beautiful sea of clouds, a high-mountain railway, and more.
The National Forest Recreation Area is also home to a diverse ecology, and it’s the cradle of the Taiwan’s indigenous cultures. In addition to its magnificent forests and 111 species of precious birds, there are a wide variety of beautiful flowers, including various cherry blossoms, Pleione formosana (一葉蘭), azaleas (杜鵑), calla lilies (海芋), etc.
There are more than 19,000 cherry trees with about 10 different varieties in the area, including some 18,000 Yoshino cherry trees (吉野櫻), as well as other varieties, such as the Formosan cherry (台灣山櫻花), Fuji cherry (日本富士櫻), Yaezakura cherry (八重櫻), etc.
The Alishan Cherry Blossom Festival is held in the spring every year, and it is one of the most popular flower festivals in Taiwan. The festival this year was held from March 10 to April 10. During this time of year, numerous local and foreign tourists flocked to this forest recreation area to appreciate the stunning cherry blossoms and other beautiful flowers.
The best spot to appreciate the spectacular view of Alishan and its fascinating cherry blossoms is Zhaoping Park (沼平公園). Situated in front of the Zhaoping Station, the park has the highest cherry blossom density.
Though Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園) in northern Taiwan is widely regarded as the best place to see calla lilies on the island, the white calla lilies planted in the high-latitude Alisan National Forest Recreation Area are seemingly more resilient and outstanding than those in Yangminshan.
Another highlight of Alisan is its Pleione formosana, which is a rare species of flowering plant that only grows in the misty regions at an elevation of 4,921-8,202 ft (1,500-2,500 meters). It’s hard to find the plant in nature, but visitors can easy to spot this rare and beautiful flower in the Alisan National Forest Recreation Area.
In the Alisan National Forest Recreation Area there are a number of wonderful hiking trails where visitors can enjoy many beautiful works of nature; among them is the Giant Tree Trail (巨木群棧道).
Along the trail there are many enormous trees, including 36 giant red cypresses aged over 800 years old. The most imposing one is a 147-ft-high Taiwan red cypress near the Shianlin Elementary School. It was voted as the second Sacred Tree of Alishan (the first Sacred Tree of Alishan naturally fell down in 1998) in online polling conducted in 2006, and was renamed the Alisan Shianglin Sacred Tree (阿里山香林神木). It is about 2,300 years old, and has a trunk circumference of 40.4 ft (12.3 meters).
The Alishan Forest Railway constructed by the Japanese colonial government in 1920 is one of the three remaining mountain railways in the world. Taking the Nostalgia train along the winding and zigzag route in mist from an elevation of 98 ft (30 meters) above sea level to a height of 7,460 ft (2,274 meters) is another fascinating experience when visiting Alisan.
The sunrise view from Alishan is famous worldwide. The sunrise viewing platform in Zhushan (祝山) is the best place to appreciate the beauty of sunrise in Alishan. It is also a great place to gaze at the peaks of the Central Range and the cloud formations.
Another feature of Alisan is the unique square bamboo introduced by the Japanese in 1924 and planted in the Fencihu (奮起湖) area. Fencihu is the midway point of the Alishan Mountain Railway. In addition to square bamboo, Fencihu is also known for its old street and lunch boxes.
As the lyrics of a popular Taiwan folk song (Kao Shan Ching) goes: “The high mountain is always green and the valley water always blue.” Alisan is definitely a place that is well worth exploring in all seasons.