While I wouldn’t consider myself to be an diehard hiker, I would consider myself a cautious enthusiast.
Together, Julie and I have enjoyed the tropical hikes in St. Kitts and Nevis, braved the wind and rain in the Lake District, and been surprised by the organization of the trails in Italy. Though, if I am being honest, we are not normally the most prepared hikers around. We usually forget to bring enough water, are improperly dressed, or make ill advised footwear decisions.
We still love it despite our own shortcomings.
I have read about some amazing hikes in Hong Kong, a destination that is not normally associated with open space and nature trails. Yet outside of its urban core, most of Hong Kong is uninhabited, thanks to its mountainous terrain. Julie’s work brought us to Hong Kong for a long weekend (just a short 60 minute ferry from our home in Shekou) and while she was stuck at a work conference, I decided to hike.
The most obvious place to start was the Dragon’s Back Hike, a relatively short hike (approx. 2.5 hours) that is easily accessible by public transit and is conveniently located on Hong Kong Island. While the idea of a longer, more remote walk in the northern New Territories area is also intriguing, the extreme heat and humidity made the thought of an all day event rather unpleasant.
Dragon’s Back Hike
The Basics: About a 2.5-3 hour round trip hike (including to/from the MTR) starting from Chai Wan MTR station and returning to Shau Kei Wan MTR.
Difficulty: The hike does begin with a seemingly endless flight of stairs, almost 300 in total. However, the peak elevation is only about 275m, so it is mostly flat after the initial stair climbing.
Best Time to Go: Mornings are best before the most intense heat sets in (at least this time of year). Also, the trail can be busy on the weekends, so weekdays are best.
Facilities: There are no water fountains or restroom facilities on the trail, so come prepared.
Dragon’s Back Hike Trail Directions
The trail begins near the Chai Wan MTR station, the very last stop on the Island Line on the far east side of Hong Kong Island. It is 12 stops (and about 25 minutes) from Central Station.
Side Note: There is a station called Wan Chai on the Island Line, so don’t get it confused with Chai Wan. If you want to go out to dinner, get off at Wan Chai. If you want to go hiking, go to Chai Wan.
Exit the Chai Wan station at Exit A, which will deposit you in a mall. Walk straight ahead and you will quickly see the exit from the mall onto an elevated pedestrian walkway. Continue straight on the walkway, crossing the massive intersection below. Once across, take the stairs down to street level and walk towards Youth Square, the large, modern glass structure that dominates the traffic roundabout (there are signs for the building as well). Walk along Wan Tsui Road, passing to the left side of the Youth Square building. After one block, make a left onto Lin Shing Road.
This will begin your gradual ascent. Head straight until the road dead ends at the entrance to the Cape Collinson Cemetery. Continue through the entrance gate. You will notice a long set of stairs on the left side. Take these stairs and begin climbing up into the cemetery.
Side Note: I was struck by this cemetery. It’s basically vertical, tiered, and I completely forgot to pull out my camera to capture it.
At the top of the stairs, you will meet up once again with the cemetery road. Continue to your left up the steep road as it snakes up the hill. At the top is a large circular drive and a set of stairs to your far right. That’s right, more stairs.
At the top of those stairs (last ones, I swear!) you emerge at a small clearing with a parking lot to the right. Head towards the parking lot where you will see the first trail signs pointing towards Tai Tam Gap. Follow in that direction along the paved road. After about 10 minutes, you will encounter the Dragon’s Back Hike entrance on the left, marked with clear signage.
Side Note: For reference, here is a Google Map of the walk from Chai Wan MTR to the Dragon’s Back Hike entrance. It took me about 30 minutes to get from the MTR station to the trail entrance. The stairs are brutal, but that is pretty much the end of any significant climbing.
The Dragon’s Back trail begins through dense vegetation (plenty of shade!) with periodic views over the lush, rolling landscape of Hong Kong Island. The trail path is clear and well marked, so there is no concern about accidentally getting off the path or ending up on another trail.
Eventually, you’ll emerge at the top of the peak with its panoramic views of the area. The last third of the hike is along the ridge, plenty of opportunity to stop for pictures and to take in the landscape. You can see small pockets of skyscrapers in the distance, but it feels remote.
The descent brings you through a lush bamboo jungle. Eventually, the path dumps you out at the bottom of a hill, near Shek-O road. Head to your left and you will see the road. Directly across the street is the #9 bus stop, which will take you back to the MTR. It is the only bus that operates at this stop.
Buses take the same Octopus Card you use on the MTR, so just swipe your card when you get on the bus. The bus stop sign clearly marks which direction the bus is going, so there is no fear of heading in the wrong direction. The sign says “to Shau Kei Wan,” the nearest MTR station. To make it even easier, Shau Kei Wan is the final destination for the #9 bus, so no need to be concerned about getting off at the right stop. The ride is about 20 minutes and the entrance to the Shau Kei Wan MTR station is directly in front of you after exiting the bus.
Side Note: If you have some spare time, you can take the #9 bus in the other direction, towards Shek-O beach. It is the final destination for the bus in that direction and you can enjoy beach time or an al fresco lunch at one of the beachside cafes. Just make sure to pack a towel and bathing suit!
Overall, this is a pretty amazing hike that is so conveniently located for visitors. This probably explains its popularity on the weekends, when the trail is known to be full of hikers. I completed the hike on a Monday, and I saw no more than a few dozen people over the span of 3 hours.