The island's only national park sited along a system of dormant volcanoes is the Yangmingshan National Park, in northern Taiwan. History has witnessed the eruption of this range at least three times. It was the last of these that created the mountainous profile which today watches over Taiwan's capital of -- Taipei. Volcanism, still present deep beneath Yangmingshan, makes itself known through the craters, sulfur vents, and hot springs which today dot the park. Yangmingshan's volcanic soil, wet and temperate climate, and well-fed mountain streams endow the park with a rich and diverse ecosystem.

The National Park encompasses 11,455 hectares of mountainous terrain situated just north of Taipei City. As the only national park in Taiwan readily accessible from an urban center, it serves as a nature preserve as well as a recreation area for the throngs of visitors who thread their way up into the park on weekends.
Geology & Geography
Several million years ago, the Philippine and Eurasian plates closed in on each other beneath the Pacific Ocean. As the Eurasian plate buckled and lifted above the Philippine plate, tremendous energies were released in the form of volcanoes, which formed along the line of collision. Between 2.8 million and 300 thousand years ago, magma heated to over 1,000oC poured out over the surface to form volcanoes and, eventually, a range of undulating peaks where once stood only a flat, sandy sea bottom. The Datun Volcano range, comprising the park's highest peaks, is the dormant vestige of those ancient volcanoes responsible for creating the mountainous topography of this northernmost corner of Taiwan.

The Datun range flanks the Taipei Basin (a prehistoric lake) to the north. The 20 or so lava cones in the Datun network rise from between 800 and 1,100 meters in height, with each cone belonging to one of 8 vent systems. These eight are now the peaks of Datun, Jhuzih, Cising, Shaogengliao, Neiliao, Huangzuei, Nanshih, and Dinghuosiou. The over two million years of volcanic activity in the area has given Yangmingshan National Park a very unique terrain. Both types of volcanoes, cinder cones and Holoids, are found in the Yangmingshan National Park. The geometric cone shape of the former, created by a gooey mixture of rock and molten lava expelled from an active volcano, characterizes peaks such as Cising, Huangzuei, Siangtian, and Datun. holoids, formed by highly viscous lava, create volcanoes that have rounded tops and tapered edges and suggest, from a distance, a bowler hat. Several of the tributary cones of the Cising volcano are good examples of tholoid volcanoes. Volcano craters can be seen at the top of the Siangtian and Huangzuei cones. A volcanic fissure, formed by the release of searing subterranean gases, can be seen at Lengshueikeng.

Post-Volcanic Activities

While volcanic activity ceased in Yangmingshan after the creation of shield volcanoes 300,000 years ago, the heat of cooling magma still keeps things blistering not far beneath the surface. The heavy annual rainfall over Yangmingshan feeds underground streams, which turn to steam under the earth and emerge at the surface as fumaroles and hot springs. A hot spring "belt" 18km in length and 3km in breadth, sprinkled throughout with steam vents and springs, follows a tectonic fault which runs from Beitou in northwestern Taipei to Jinshan on Taiwan's northern coast. Today hot springs are enjoyed both for their peculiar natural beauty and for their reputed restorative and healing powers.

Water Systems

Heavy rain during the annual subtropical monsoon dumps a lot of water onto the Datun mountain range. In light of the steep grade of this range, water typically makes a short, fast journey from the mountain heights to the valleys below. Dramatic waterfalls further hasten this journey at many points along the way. Fast-running brooks and picture-perfect waterfalls are located throughout the Yangmingshan National Park. Principal streams in the park include the Nanhuang (originating on the south side of Cising Mtn.), Beihuang (originating on the north side of Cising Mtn.), the easternly flowing Masu River, and southerly flowing Shuangsi. Main waterfalls include those at Datun, Juansih, Shengren, and Fonglin.

Ponds in the park are of several types. Siangtian is an excellent example of a body of water formed when rainwater filled a volcanic crater. Menghuan Lake was created when tectonic activity caused it to sink below the level of surrounding land. Juze, a lava clammed lake, was created when molten lava plugged a river's natural outlet down the mountainside. Today its waters have long since dried up.


Warm, acidic soil lacking in calcium and kept well watered by cool northeastern monsoon rains makes vegetation in the Yangmingshan National Park distinctly different from that found in other areas of the world which, otherwise, are at similar latitudes. The result is that plants normally found at altitudes of 2,000 meters are found growing in Yangmingshan.

Vegetation in the Yangmingshan National Park can be categorized into three groups: water plants, grassland plants, and forest vegetation. Water plants are distributed in the ponds and lakes sprinkled throughout the park. An endangered wetland plant found in the park is the Isoetes taiwanensis Devol, a type of aquatic fern. Other water plants include special varieties of reeds, flowering plants, and grasses. The Arrow Bamboo and Japanese Silvergrass are special species of grassland plants found in the park. The former is protected by law and found growing mostly toward the top of the Datun range along the windward side where it tends to grow in clusters. Silvergrass is a robust grass species capable of surviving where most others could not.

One of the most popular sights in Yangmingshan during autumn is that of fields of silvergrass waving in the breeze. Subtropical rainforest evergreens and broadleaved evergreens dominate forests, with an amazing variety of plants growing beneath the forest canopy.
Springtime spreads carpets of flowers over Yangmingshan. Multicolored azaleas, pink mountain cherry blossoms, camellias, and more cover the hills with mosaic beauty.
Flora & Fauna
The complex terrain and diverse vegetation found in the Yangmingshan National Park provide an attractive habitat for wildlife. Eighteen species of mammals, 110 different types of birds, 21 varieties of amphibians, over 40 different reptiles, and more than 160 types of butterflies have been identified in the park. The bird watching experience is an activity enjoyed year-round in Yangmingshan. Between the months of May and August, the park enjoys an annual outbreak in the butterfly population. A bird and butterfly watching trail and spots are presently located at the Datun Mountain area.
Caoshan (Grass Mountain) was the name originally affixed to the area, which at the time included the area encompassed by the Datun, Cising, and Shamao mountains. During Japan's colonial occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945), government plans to create a national park in these mountains were proposed but never implemented due to the disruption of World War ¢ºII. Soon after their assumption to rule in Taiwan, the ROC government renamed Caoshan to Yangmingshan, paying tribute to a respected Chinese philosopher, Yang-ming Wang. Plans were made as early as 1963 to create a national park, which was envisioned to encompass the Datun and Cising mountains as well as Jinshan, Yeliou, and Fugueijiao along Taiwan's northern coast. However, lack of a the legal framework under which to establish such a "national park" had not yet been promullgated and the plan for a park had to be, once again, shelved. The Yangmingshan National Park finally became a eality in the summer of 1985.

The Yangmingshan area holds rich deposits of sulfur -- a key gunpowder ingredient. As such, sulfur extraction and processing was the engine of early commercial development here. In the earliest days, Chinese fishermen bartered agate and bracelets for sulfur with local aborigines. During much of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) sulfur mining was forbidden by imperial edict. The court opened mining to imperial officials only during the mid-1800s and, by the time the island became a Japanese colony in 1895, the Cising Mountain mine had already risen to become a major sulfur producer. Business brought Chinese settlements to the area, which soon led to a broader economic development of the Datun mountain range and its foothills.

The Datun mountain range was also a major growing area for indigo, the all-important natural dye which lent a brilliant blue color to fabrics worn both at home and abroad. The damp climate of Yangmingshan was well suited to the indigo plant, which was cultivated extensively. Around the turn of the last century, indigo, along with tea and camphor, was one of Taiwan's top exported products.