Taishi Shan

Mountain in Song Shan & Dengfeng

Arguably the best hike in the area, Taishi Shan serves as a much quieter counterpoint to Shaolin Temple. It's not for slackers, however; like all Chinese mountains, the steps go straight up, and these ascend a leg-busting 1000m in altitude before reaching Junji Peak (1492m). Along the way you'll pass some fantastical landscapes and a host of ravaged temples, the most interesting being Laomu Cave (老母洞, lǎomǔ dòng), where according to one legend Laotzu lived for six years while writing the Tao Te Ching.

If you want to make a day of it, it's possible to do a loop, descending past Fawang Temple (法王寺, Fǎwáng Sì) on the return trip. Ask for directions at Tianye Temple.

Be sure to bring plenty of water: even though there are snack vendors with loudspeakers at every peak on the way up, there aren't so many on the loop back.

At Fawang Temple, you can either bargain for a minivan ride back to the entrance or walk the 10-minute track to the oldest brick pagoda in China, Songyue Pagoda (嵩岳塔, Sōngyuè Tǎ), which was built in the year 509.

The entrance to Taishi Shan is behind Songyang Academy; take bus 6 or 2 to get here. Don't forget to pick up a map (地图, dìtú) with your ticket and figure on spending six hours hiking (return).