You wouldn’t know it from your first glimpse at its famous glass and steel skyline, but nearly three-quarters of Hong Kong is undeveloped countryside – a patchwork of windswept ridgelines and overgrown valleys that covers the length and breadth of the territory.
Many urbanites head to the hills to hike on the weekend to escape the oppressive downtown crowds, and four long-distance hiking trails with dozens of shorter offshoots leave Hong Kongers spoiled for choice.
So grab a decent pair of shoes and plenty of water and get out there – you’ve got 300 km of trail ahead of you if you want to see it all! Here are five of Hong Kong’s best hikes:
5. Tai Long Wan – Stage 2 Maclehose Trail
Hong Kong’s best beaches are also the territory’s most remote, and one of the only ways to get to them is on foot.
From Sai Kung Town, make your way to the end of the Sai Kung Man Yee Road along the High Island Reservoir, the starting point for stage 2 of the Maclehose Trail.
Just over the first hill is Long Ke beach, a taste of what lies ahead and a good spot for a quick swim before tackling the tough climb up Sai Wan Shan.
The descent rewards you with some stunning views of Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) and its main beaches – Sai Wan, Ham Tin, Tai Wan, and Tung Wan – which wouldn’t look out of place in Thailand.
Restaurants at the small village of Sai Wan and at the far end of Ham Tin beach sell hot food, cold drinks, and some can even arrange a boat back to Sai Kung – a considerably more scenic option to the uninspiring stretch of concrete path leading out of Tai Long Wan to Pak Tam Road. Alternatively, a short but steep hike behind Sai Wan village will drop you off at the end of Sai Kung Sai Wan Road, where you can catch a taxi or minibus back into Sai Kung Town.
4. Sunset Peak & Lantau Peak – Stages 2 & 3 Lantau Trail
Give Hong Kong Disneyland and its throng of tourists a miss and check out two of Lantau Island’s other star attractions: Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak.
Hop a ferry from Central to Mui Wo, where it’s a short bus ride or walk up to Nam Shan and the start of stage 2 of the Lantau Trail.
A steady climb eventually delivers you to a plateau along the North face of Sunset Peak, from where you should be able to spot planes taking off and landing at one of the world’s busiest airports.
Further ahead is a windswept ridge dotted with stone huts. These were built between the first and second world wars as a holiday retreat for missionaries, and although the huts can still be rented out for short stays, they’ve seen better days and most campers opt for a tent.
The summit of Sunset Peak is a slight detour off the main trail, but from here you’ll be able to look across to the towering Lantau Peak, Lantau’s highest mountain and the second highest point in Hong Kong.
If you’ve still got the energy after the descent from Sunset Peak, continue onward towards Lantau Peak along stage 3 of the Lantau Trail, which skirts the summit and ends at the Po Lin Monastary and its giant Bronze Buddha.
Buses and taxis heading for Mui Wo and Tung Chung can also be caught before the start of the trail to Lantau Peak on Tung Chung Road.
3. Tai Mo Shan – Stages 7 & 8 Maclehose Trail
Hong Kong’s skyscrapers may be dizzyingly tall, but you won’t find the territory’s highest point downtown.
That crown goes to Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain) in the Central New Territories, which at 957 meters is twice as high as any of the city’s man-made offerings.
The often mist-covered mountain was previously renowned for the “cloud and mist” green tea which grew on its slopes, but these days you’re more likely to see the odd feral cow.
Make your way to the start of Stage 7 of the Maclehose Trail at the Shing Mun Resevoir, which quickly begins a steep climb up Needle Hill.
The trail carries on up to Grassy Hill, before plunging back down into Lead Mine Pass – the start of Stage 8 and where the climb up to Tai Mo Shan begins in earnest.
A steady plod up the rocky eastern spur of Tai Mo Shan ends before the actual summit, which unfortunately is occupied by a radar station that is closed to the public.
The way down from here follows a winding road with bird’s eye views down into the flatland of Yuen Long and ending at Route Twisk, where you can catch buses or taxis to Tsuen Wan.
2. Pat Sin Leng – Stage 9 Wilson Trail
Some of the finest hiking in Hong Kong can be found just south of the territory’s border with mainland China.
Beginning at Cloudy Hill just North of Tai Po, Pat Sin Leng (Ridge of the Eight Immortals) is a series of 500-meter peaks named after famous characters in Chinese mythology.
Stage 9 can either be joined after a grueling climb up Stage 8’s Cloudy Hill, or farther along at the Hok Tau Resevoir – best reached by taxi or minibus from the Fanling MTR station.
From here the ascent begins up towards Emperor’s Ridge, with the mountainside tumbling down dramatically to the south into the Tolo Harbour and Plover Clove below.
A short detour to the summit of Emperor’s Ridge offers views of both the eastern and western coasts of the New Territories, and beyond this lies the first and highest of the 8 immortals: Shun Yeung Fung.
Catch your breath before crossing the next 7 peaks to reach Sin Ku Fung, beyond which you can link up with the Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail and make your way down to Tai Mei Tuk for buses or taxis back to Tai Po.
1. The Dragon’s Back – Stage 8 Hong Kong Trail
Ask a Hong Konger to name their favorite hike, and there is a very good chance it will be The Dragon’s Back.
Although the well-deserved popularity of this ridgeline hike on Hong Kong Island can make it frustratingly crowded at times, the spectacular views of the south side of the island more than make up for the bother.
Stage 8 of the Hong Kong Trail begins at To Tei Wan on Shek O Road, and quickly brings you up to the Dragon’s Back proper and Shek O Peak.
The undulating trail then cuts North along the sun-baked ridgeline towards Mount Collinson, offering panoramic views of Big Wave Bay to the East, and Tai Tam Bay to the West.
After rounding Mount Collinson, the trail turns down past the impressively terraced Cape Collinson cemetery and into Big Wave Bay – Hong Kong’s best surfing spot, of course.
The trail ends here, but keep heading south along Big Wave Bay Road and past the Shek O Golf Course to the beachside village of Shek O, for good food and cold Chang’s at the Shek O Chinese & Thai Seafood restaurant.