I see lots of tourists on the railroad and in the towns - leading one to wonder why the towns don't have better food, although Jingtong has one decent coffeeshop with a singularly awful name - but few ever think to go hiking there. I have students who didn't even know you could go hiking there, and don't know the names of any of the mountains there, either.
Good coffee, but I guess they don't realize what they are implying about the flavor of their coffee.
As for foreigners, a lot of great hiking in Pingxi was covered in Taipei Day Trips I and II - I do wonder why fewer people check it out. Even Lonely Planet (the old, crappy edition) covers some options there. We've been on several trails in that area and never once seen another foreign hiker. What's more, the locals seem to be in-town locals, not domestic tourists.
Below is a short run-down of my three favorite hikes in the Pingxi area - two in Jingtong and one in Pingxi itself, which is next to yet another beautiful hike that I haven't tried yet.
Shulongjian (also known as "Little Fuji" for its conical shape, reminiscent of Mount Fuji in Japan) is visible from various points in Jingtong. After our hike, as storms began rolling in from Muzha, we watched the clouds grazing the peaks from our guesthouse on the edge of town. There are two routes to the top - one via a back-end trail and the other up lots of stairs as is usual in Taiwan. Only the stair route is well-marked and well-known. The other route, though much more challenging, has a troupe of monkeys that hang out in the early morning and late afternoon not far from the top.
Another bonus of this mountain are the abundant and beautiful butterflies, mostly yellow and black or light purple and black, though I saw two bright blue ones and at least one that I believe was a monarch.
Another bonus is that you can see Taipei 101 from the top - that's effin' cool considering how far away it is. You can also watch storms rolling in from Muzha, which is what we did until it got too close for comfort.
To get to the stair route, follow the Pingxi-Muzha road away from Jingtong town in the direction of Muzha. The entrance is near a small shed-like building, leading through a small parking area and to a flight of stone steps. The steps pass through a village before beginning their ascent.
To get to the other route, find a local to help you.
2.) Stone Bamboo Mountain
Stone Bamboo Mountain - we think
OK, full disclosure: we never actually made it all the way up this one. We started too late in the day, hadn't packed enough water and were feeling vaguely ill...and were not sure why. The view over it is beautiful, though. While Lonely Planet claims it's visible from Jingtong, we couldn't see it when we arrived.
The trail to Stone Bamboo (we do know how to get to it, we got pretty far) starts off the same as the trail to Shulongjian, but after awhile you come to a T-junction and have to head in the opposite direction. This trail is not stairs all the way; there are entire sections of actual trail. Made of dirt. That you have to hike up, instead of step up! Wow. After the first bout of "real hiking" there is another T-junction - on the right is the trail to Stone Bamboo mountain, which heads downhill for awhile. To the left is a short trail that ends at a cell phone tower, near which you'll find a good place to break for lunch.
If you want to climb both peaks but don't want to do it on the same day, there is one guesthouse we know of in Jingtong run by the Wang family. It's outside town, follow the road past the old Japanese teahouse restaurant and turn right, the guesthouse is on the left. It's next to the site of the first mine (coal or gold, I forget) opened by the Japanese. Their two black Formosan dogs, Da Wang and Xiao Wang, are very friendly. They have two rooms and are not cheap at $1600 kuai a night (the rooms are quite nice though), which includes free Taiwanese breakfast on the patio.
3.) Dutiful Son Mountain (Xiaozishan, which I'm too lazy to key into my bopomofo keyboard)
Joseph at the rocky precipice near the final climb to Xiaozishan's peak
Xiaozishan is a beauty - and the craziest part of that beauty is that nobody seems to know it's there except for the Taipei Day Trips guy, and one old guy in Pingxi who likes to take pictures of it.
It's not a hard climb, easily done in half a day or less. The top is a jagged pinnacle of rock - literally a pinnacle - like something out of a Road Runner cartoon - accessible only because of a system of carved steps, metal handles and ropes. Most of it was put in by one of Chiang Kai-shek's old bodyguards as a hobby. There are two ways up - one will probably kill you and the other probably won't. Just in case it does, however, there are lots of statues of Guanyin and other deities to make sure your mangled corpse is watched over by the right folks and your soul goes to the right place:
The other plus is the gorgeous view of other jagged, stunted, pinnacled and cut-up peaks in the area, framing the skyline. It's especially compelling on a misty day, though I wouldn't attempt this in the rain (we did, but we're dumb).
To get there, take the bus or train to Pingxi. From Pingxi town, go to the Pingxi-Muzha road and turn left (across the street from the creek). There is a sign for Ruifang and just after that, a small bit of stone steps next to a tiny waterfall. Walk up this to a giant temple with a friendly, fat white cat and a monk who loves to feed people sweet potatoes, and after that hang a left. You'll find yourself in a clearing with several trail options. To the left is Xiaozishan. To the left is Cimushan (Loving Mother Mountain).
Earlier on (towards Muzha) there is another entryway if you are driving, turn right just before Pingxi town and you'll find yourself at a convenient trailhead where five trails converge.
4.) Loving Mother Mountain (Cimushan)
That one's next. Trailhead is right next to the one for Dutiful Son.