If you're looking for wild scenery but want a change of pace from coastal waters and rugged shorelines, try a journey down National Hwy 7, also known as the Běihéng or North Cross-Island Hwy (Běibù Héngguàn Gōnglù).
The highway starts in the old Taoyuan County town of Daxi, famous for its excellent dòugān (firm tofu) and the Qing-dynasty facades on Heping St. At first the road winds through the countryside, passing flower farms and settlements, including the mausoleum of former leader Chiang Kai-shek. After passing above Shimen Reservoir, the largest body of water in northern Taiwan, the road narrows and starts to rise and wind its way along steep gorges, across precipitously high bridges and, in general, through some pretty fantastic mountain scenery. You can drive across in four or five hours, but there are many great stops leading to waterfalls, caves, forest reserves, hot springs and stands of ancient trees.
At Chilan, the highway descends suddenly and an hour later enters the flood plains of the Lanyang River, which divide the Snow and Yushan Ranges and are home to the largest cabbage patch in Taiwan. The road then continues northeast to Yilan, with spur routes to Luodong and Wuling FRA.
Cycling Shimen Reservoir
Biking out to the Shimen Reservoir (石門水庫; Shímén Shuǐkù) from Taipei is a popular day trip for stronger cyclists. You can take County Rd 110 from Bitan to Sansia and then Highway 7乙 , or ride the bike-only riverside bicycle paths that head along the west bank of the Tamsui (you'll pass Yingge on the way). The latter route is very scenic past Yingge.
In general, accommodation options are few and far between; if you're spending the night, stay in the Baling area, like many cyclists tackling the North Cross-Island Hwy. There are a couple of hotels roadside. Weekday prices are about 40% to 50% of weekend rates, and outside of summer and holidays you should be able to negotiate lower rates at any time of the week.
Getting There & Away
It's best to have your own transport, as buses are few and far between.
Cycling is popular, if challenging. The highway usually takes two days by bike from Taipei, with an overnight stop in Baling or Mingchih.
Taiwan Tourism Shuttle Bus (www.taiwantrip.com.tw) runs two routes in the area:
Cihu Route to Daxi Old St, Shimen Reservoir and Cihu. From Zhongli train station exit the front, turn left and look for the Taoyuan Bus Company station a short distance down Zhonghe Rd. Buses run hourly on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends from 9am to 5pm. All-day passes cost NT$100.
Xiao Wulai Route to Daxi Old St, Cihu and Xiao Wulai. From the back of Taoyuan train station, head up Yanping Rd two blocks to the Taoyuan Bus Station on the right. Bus 502 runs on weekends only. Day passes cost NT$150. See the website for schedules.
Car & Motorcycle
You can rent a car in Taipei or at Taoyuan International Airport, or a scooter in Jiaoxi.
The best time to ride or drive the highway is autumn to spring on weekdays (avoid Chinese New Year). Be very aware of both other drivers and natural hazards. This road is curvy and treacherous, and some part of the surface is always under repair due to typhoons and landslides.