Baguio and Sagada are just the beginning. Mt. Ulap and Mt. Pulag are just some of the ends. The entire Cordillera region is filled with hiking trails that make for endless journeys, each revealing the distinctive, pine-forested Cordillera charm, while at the same time having its unique features. Amid reports of overcrowding and calls for sustainable tourism, visiting these alternatives is one way of spreading the impact. At the same time, you can immerse in places that offer an authenticity that is sometimes lost in popular treks and packaged tours.
Hiking in the Cordilleras can be done year round but the first four months of the year offer cooler air and a higher chance of good weather. Here are some hiking destinations worth spending a few days in:
1. Mt. Tabayoc
The second highest mountain in Luzon may be overshadowed by its taller and far more popular neighbor—Mt. Pulag—but it’s the only Cordillera peak that can boast of being surrounded by four lakes. One of them, Lake Tabeyo, is directly beneath the mountain and serves as the basecamp, which, in itself, is a charming place at a lofty height of 2,400 meters. It takes only a few hours to reach Tabayoc’s summit from Lake Tabeyo, but staying overnight is highly recommended given the travel time from Baguio to the lake. There is also the possibility of doing treks to the other lakes, or you can even hike up to Pulag itself via the nearby Tawangan Trail. At the summit, you can enjoy a view of Mt. Pulag, but the forest is the real attraction, which is mossy and mesmerizing as it gets.
2. Mt. Kalawitan
One of the highest peaks in Luzon at around 2,700 meters above sea level (the exact elevation is disputed), Mt. Kalawitan in Sabangan, Mountain Provinces takes the hikers to the heart of the Cordillera range. Once a popular hunting ground for deer and wild boar, the mountain is accessible from the Halsema Highway between Baguio and Sagada; the hike starts from the highway itself. Aside from its pine and mossy forests, the trek involves walking along the Chico River and passing through some villages, offering the opportunity to catch a slice of highland life.
3. Mt. Napulauan
Also rising at an impressive altitude of 2642 meters, Mt. Napalauan in Hungduan, Ifugao is the mountain on whose slopes the escaping Tomoyuki Yamashita once sought refuge shortly before being captured. More than its historic significance, however, it is its mossy forests, nourished by a seemingly-eternal cloud cover, that enthral hikers, alongside the stunted trees at the top that make them look like giants. As an added bonus, hikers can traverse from the summit to Brgy. Hapao to reach the Hapao Rice Terraces, one of the lesser-visited terraces comprising the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Mt. Amuyao
A prominent peak northeast of the range, its communications towers might give the impression that it’s an easy mountain. But hikers who visit the mountain will say otherwise. The traditional trail, originating from Barlig, Mountain Province (accessible by jeepney from Banaue and Bontoc), involves a near-continuous ascent through pine forests to reach the lofty height of 2,702 meters. After spending the night in one of the bunkhouses, hikers can enjoy views of Pulag and Napulauan. While you can return to Barlig afterward, the recommended route is to traverse all the way to Batad; hikers trek through the rice terraces, also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. You also pass by the timeless villages of Cambulo and Pat-yay.
Reachable from Baguio by a three-hour jeepney ride, the town of Kibungan offers various hiking trails, including variations of a circuit that takes two to three days and involves several peaks. The highest, Mt. Tagpew, reaches 2105 meters. Kibungan’s cool climate and rolling slopes have earned comparisons with Switzerland, but it is actually quite unique with rice terraces, small villages, and even a hot spring all within reach. There is also the option of traversing westward to La Union: a three-day hike that involves more village-to-village walks and several hanging bridge crossings. In Kibungan, the hiking possibilities are endless.
Just north of Kibungan—a trek between the two towns is possible—and also accessible from Baguio by jeepney is Bakun. It offers various peaks, each of which can be done as dayhikes from the town center. Even from the municipal hall, traditionally used by hikers as a base camp, the beauty of the place is manifest by the surrounding mountains. The three most popular: Lobo (2,087m), Kabunian (1,840m), Tenglawan (1,943m), comprise what is popularly known as “Bakun Trio.” Each has its distinct identity; Tenglawan, for instance, offers scenic views while Kabunian offers pine-forested slopes. Beyond the peaks there are also a number of waterfalls, including the famed Tekip Falls, which is just 30 minutes away from the poblacion.
7. Mt. Purgatory
Actually a series of mountains along what is also called the “Mangisi Forest Eco-Tourism Trail” in Bokod, Benguet, the Mt. Purgatory hike is relatively accessible from Baguio. It features the same pine ridgelines found in Ulap or nearby Mt. Ugo, and an uncommonly-long stretch of mossy forest. Mt. Purgatory can be done as an overnight climb—camping in the villages along the way is possible—but it can also be a long but very rewarding dayhike from Baguio. It’s an appealing choice for those who want to avoid the crowds of Mt. Ulap, and pursue a tougher challenge.