Mount Tai is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of China and happens to be the grandest of them all. Since Mount Tai is the easternmost mountain it is associated with sunrise and renewal. Over time the mountain has become a cornerstone in Chinese religion and for over 3000 years emperors and others have visited to offer sacrifice and pay homage.
Because of Mount Tai’s significant cultural importance it is a very popular destination for Chinese and somewhat of a pilgrimage. I was there midweek before National Day thus missing the huge holiday crowds. Also there was a bit of drizzle then heavy evening rain which added another dimension to the trip.
Getting to Mount Tai
Mount Tai ( Tài Shān, 泰山 ) is located north of Tai’an City, in Shandong province.
Easy way is take a bullet train to the Tai’an Railway station. There are several arrivals per day and the trip is about 4.5 hours from Shanghai or 1.5 hours from Beijing.
Buy your mountain entry tickets and a shuttle bus pass at the train station. The most popular options are:
- Take a shuttle half-way up the mountain then either walk or ride a cable car the remainder.
- Start at “Red Gate” and walk the whole way up! <– This. Do this.
- Dress appropriately for a long and strenuous hike. Layers and technical fabrics are a good choice.
- Hiking shoes with superior grip are essential.
- Bring a rain jacket or poncho. I prefer a breathable jacket due to all the sweating. Also, it gets pretty cold on top even during summer.
- If you really want the full experience then stay overnight at one of the mountain top hotels. Wake in the morning for sunrise then explore some more and take a cable car down.
- There is more than one cable car and you probably should take the one back to Mid Heaven Gate (Zhongtianmen).
The trail starts at Red Gate entrance and there are numerous vendors flanking the path at many points along the way. I kept a water bottle with me and resupplied as needed sparing myself the hassle of carrying too much.
Just beyond the entrance is a temple and the trail starts out pretty flat and easy.
Then BAM! A wall of stairs. For the next two and half hours you are pretty much climbing up stairs. It’s easy to think this is too physically challenging but take your time and it’ll get done. However, I did see three people throwing up from exhaustion or whatever.
At the halfway point is a large area for a shuttle bus station and cable car terminal. There are many shops and vendors so you can take a break and refuel. I enjoyed a Shandong style jianbing which is like a crepe filled with scrambled egg, onion and other deliciousness.
Yea, the final flight of stairs! Well, not really but this is the last major push up to the South Heaven Gate. This section is way longer, steeper, and slippery than pictures can show.
Ok, that was a fun hike. A bit challenging but nothing too bad really. The starting point is just out of view. Sprint hikers can finish in about two hours. I think most people will spend 3-5 hours depending on breaks and how much sight seeing they do.
All around the mountain are many inscriptions carved into stone tablets and rocks. Several stating things like “Number One Mountain Under Heaven” or “Most Revered of the Five Sacred Mountains” (五嶽獨尊 Wǔyuè Dúzūn). It’s this last one which is depicted on the 5 yuan bill.
After almost three full hours of hiking up stairs I finally arrive at the scene I been looking for. I was so filled with joy that I could barley hold still to take a picture. It was even better than I had imagined it could be.