As the days grew colder in Hong Kong, I knew it was time to hike one of those tall peaks in New Territories that I've been eyeing. So a couple days before the new year, we set out to tackle Tai Mo Shan - the tallest peak in Hong Kong! A steep climb, incredible views, and LOTS of wind - climbing Tai Mo Shan is certainly an adventure. In this guide, I'll share our route and other tips for hiking this epic Hong Kong trail.
Preparing for the Tai Mo Shan Hike
As the highest peak in Hong Kong at 957 m (3,140 ft), Tai Mo Shan (or Big Hat Mountain) is a steep climb with panoramic views of Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and even Shenzhen. On certain days, the clouds encompass the peak completely giving it a mystical feeling.
In this hiking guide, I'll take you on a beautiful 14.3 km (~9 mi) route through Tai Mo Shan Country Park which gains roughly 885 m (2,887 ft) of elevation. This hike took us around 5 hours, including a couple snack breaks.
Pro Tip: Plan to get an early start for this hike since it takes a while to get to the trailhead. We left our apartment in Kennedy Town shortly before 10:00 am (yes, that's early for us!) and arrived at the trailhead at 11:25 am.
Who Should Hike Tai Mo Shan?
Tai Mo Shan is a peak to which I believe almost anyone could hike. In fact, because you can drive up the western side, this peak is fairly accessible. From the Tai Mo Shan parking lot, it's only a short 2.6-km /~1.6 mi walk (200 m / 650 ft climb) on gently sloped, paved road.
The western route is also a good option for cyclists and we saw many on the day we hiked up.
However, the particular route that I've laid out in this hiking guide would be best for intermediate-level hikers and up. It includes a steep and prolonged climb, in addition to a rocky scramble back down the other side of the peak. Plus, this hike is a longer one than most of the Hong Kong hikes I've done.
When to Hike It?
As the tallest peak in Hong Kong, I think Tai Mo Shan is best saved for a cooler day since it's a tough climb. However, we picked the coldest day of the 2020 to hike it, which wasn't necessary since it was much colder at the peak!
Because the peak is often covered in clouds, you may want to save this hike for a clear day to take full advantage of the views. I've heard that it's also charming in the clouds though.
As far as weekend vs. weekday, I don't think it matters on this hike as much. Since it's a more difficult hike, the trails weren't as crowded as other Hong Kong trails. The road sections were busier, but they're also wider and more open so you have plenty of space. If you plan to drive to the parking lot though, keep in mind that it might fill up on the weekends.
Items for Your Hike
In addition to items you have your own hiking list, remember to bring these things:
Getting to Tai Mo Shan Country Park
Although you can get to Tai Mo Shan Country Park a variety of ways, we began on the northern side of the park at Ng Tung Chai. This was so we could see the waterfalls on the way up. At the time, we didn't realize that part of that trail was closed though! (more on that later)
To get to Ng Tung Chai, we took the MTR to the Kam Sheung Road Station in Kam Tin (West Rail Line). At this station, use exit C for the Public Transport Interchange. Cross the street and look for the line for the 64K bus towards Tai Po Market Station.
Toilet Tip: Recommend using the toilets before leaving the Kam Sheung Road station. The rest of the ones you'll find on the trail are portable ones of questionable cleanliness.
After waiting around 20 minutes for the bus, we got on and rode for another ~20 minutes until we reached the Ngau Len Wo stop. This stop is where the hike begins.
New to Hong Kong? Check out this Guide to Using Public Transportation.
Overview of the Tai Mo Shan Hike
The route we took to hike Tai Mo Shan was approx. 14 km (~9 mi) long and took us around 5 hours to complete it.
In this guide, I've broken the trail down into sections and included tips on how you could shorten it if you prefer not to hike the entire 14-km route.
Starting Trail towards Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls
To begin the hike at the Ngau Len Wo bus stop, cross the street and follow signs for the Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls.
Pro Tip: The path connecting the waterfalls to the main trail up to Tai Mo Shan is CLOSED from 7 December 2020 until 15 April 2021! As a result, we didn't see the waterfalls on this trip since it would have meant adding additional time and distance to an already long hike.
First, you'll wind your way up on a road past some villages. Then you'll start on a smaller path not accessible to cars. The trail starts at a small waterfall.
Trail to Tai Mo Shan (not via Waterfalls)
Shortly after the trail begins, they'll be a split in the path. Helpful signs clearly indicate which way to hike to see the waterfalls and which way to go "not via the waterfalls".
Since the trail connecting the waterfalls to the main trail was closed for repair when we visited, we took the trail to the right up the hill.
Immediately, we began to climb steep concrete/rocky stairs. This went on for a while. Usually I think of trails as having either stairs or switchback paths. Well, the Tai Mo Shan trail had switchbacks of steep stairs!
Despite the chill in the air, we started removing layers pretty quickly as we continued up the stairs. In summer, I imagine the climb would be brutal, though the shade under the trees is nice.
Eventually we met up with the waterfall trail and it was definitely closed off. Sometimes trails are "closed" but you can easily hike on them anyway. Not the case with this closure.
Up the hill we continued to climb, passing through creaking bamboo, and eventually climbing out of the forest.
A surprise encounter with a cow popping out from behind the tall grasses entertained us for a while as we considered his temperament. Turns out he was rather placid and ignored us as we took photos and walked by him.
Looking for a waterfall trail? Check out this hike from Kennedy Town to Mt. High West!
Final Climb to Tai Mo Shan Peak
After a long climb on the stairs, we emerged above the trees into landscape which felt like the plains. From here, we could clearly see the top, though it still seemed pretty far away.
Once we reached this open viewpoint, we were slightly disappointed by how hazy it was. When we started the hike, we'd thought it was clear. Despite the haze, we could make out the outline of the skyscrapers and buildings to the north in Shenzhen (mainland China), plus of some of Hong Kong's northern neighborhoods.
The final ascent to the peak on a paved road is deceptively steep. Felt a bit like walking up a vertical road to me. Plus, there's no shade. Although not a problem on a blustery day like we had, I imagine in the summer, you'd be sweltering by this point!
Tai Mo Shan Peak Weather
The weather at the top of Tai Mo Shan was very different than at the start of our hike. While it was chilly when we started, I was FREEZING once we reached the top.
Upon reaching the plains at the top of the ridge (~720 m /2,362 ft in elevation), the cold had me piling the layers back on. The altitude definitely plays a factor on this hike - especially on a cold, winter day! It was around 50°F (10°C) with a wind chill in the 40s at the top.
And the WIND was rough! I'm not sure if it's normally like this at the top because we chose the day a cold front was blowing into Hong Kong to hike it, but man! I had a hard time hanging onto my phone at times because the wind wanted to rip it away.
Pro Tip: Nighttime temperatures at the top of Tai Mo Shan can reach freezing in the winter so keep that in mind if you're planning to camp or to hike up for sunset!
Tai Mo Shan Peak
Reaching the top of the peak, you'll see the entrance for the Tai Mo Shan Weather Radar Tower. Unfortunately, this isn't open to the public so you cannot go inside. This means you don't reach the highest point of Tai Mo Shan, but you get pretty close!
From here, you'll have views of the rolling green hills of eastern Hong Kong and Tai Mo Shan Country Park. If you look ahead, you can see the outline of Lion Rock on the ridge which divides New Territories and Kowloon.
Rounding Tai Mo Shan peak, you begin to get views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island in the distance.
Road to Tai Mo Shan Parking Lot
As we continued on our hike, it became apparent to me that there's a much easier way to get to Tai Mo Shan than the one we took. (Not that I wanted the easy way, but just sayin'!)
The road down from the weather radar tower to a parking lot on the western side of Tai Mo Shan is a fairly gradual slope with lots of switchbacks. It seems like it would be a much easier climb than the road on the other side of the peak.
For us, it provided a nice break for our legs after the steep climb up and before our rocky scramble back down the hill.
Because we weren't sure which direction we wanted to take going down towards Tsuen Wan, we ended up going a bit out of the way going the whole way to the parking lot.
Originally, we'd planned to walk down past the parking lot on the road - MacLehose Trail, Sec 8 - towards Route Twisk (~2 km / 1.2 mi). From there, we could have taken a bus (51) down into Tsuen Wan. However, this bus runs very infrequently (every ~60 minutes) so we didn't want to have to wait.
Another hike with amazing views? How about the Lo Fu Tau Country Trail from Discovery Bay to Mui Wo!
Road/Trail to Chuen Lung
Instead, we decided to hike the entire way down to Tsuen Wan (6 km / 3.7 mi). Since we managed to get an early start for once (for us), we still had plenty of time left in the day. Plus, I hate waiting when I could be walking. In my case, impatience often leads to more exercise.
At the start of the Tai Mo Shan parking lot, we took the left fork in the road, following signs to Chuen Lung. This road is nicely forested and you'll pass Tai Mo Shan Waterfall along the way. I wouldn't say it's overly impressive, but it was nice since we missed the other waterfalls.
The road eventually turns into a trail. After a short forested section, you'll end up on an open, rocky trail which has great views of Kowloon and Victoria Harbour. Parts of the trail are loose and rocky, so it's a bit of a scramble making your way down this section.
Meandering our way down, we noticed several areas where people had set up camp for the night. Not sure if it's officially allowed here, but if so, it looked like a nice location. (Minus the wind on that particular day!)
Along this route, you'll also pass through a hillside cemetery which is a little weird. No one was there the day we hiked through it.
Shing Mun Catchwater and Lo Wai Trail
Once you're on the road after the cemetery, continue following it down until you see a split in the path and signs for the Shing Mun Catchwater and Lo Wai. This is a nice trail turning into gradual stairs leading down to Tsuen Wan.
These 700 stairs are nicely numbered so you can count down as you go.
Final Trail down to Tsuen Wan
At the Shing Mun Catchwater, we took a rather unmaintained path down the hill. However, I think there may have been a better way down that came out further east and isn't on Google Maps.
Although our trail did eventually come out where we wanted to, you could try to follow a different way into Tsuen Wan if crawling down a dirt path or walking across a rickety bridge isn't for you.
Once you reach the main road - Route Twisk - follow signs for the MTR. An underground tunnel takes you under the highway and pedestrian skywalks lead you to the Tsuen Wan Station at the end of the Tsuen Wan MTR Line. Keep following signs until you reach it.
From the MTR, you should be able to find your way home or back to your hotel!
Hiking the tallest peak in Hong Kong was certainly an adventure. From steep climbs, to windy plains, and stunning views, the hike to Tai Mo Shan will keep you entertained and give you a good workout!