Subscribe!Get all the best of On Walkabout by subscribing.

Hikes on Saipan: The Mt. Tapochau Trail

Basic Information

  • What: Mt. Tapochau
  • Elevation: 1,554 feet
  • Where: Saipan, USA
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,653 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 3-5 hours
  • More Information: SummitPost.org

Picture of Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Route Up Mt. Tapochau

Mt. Tapochau Trail

Narrative

Besides wanting to explore Saipan’s World War II past, one of the other major goals during my trip to the island was to hike from sea level to the summit of Saipan’s highest peak, Mt. Tapochau.  Mt. Tapochau rises 1,554 feet above seal level which is actually quite impressive to see when viewed from the beaches of Saipan.  The mountain’s height is what made it a strategic location during the Battle of Saipan.  From its summit Imperial Japanese military commanders were able to see the battle unfold across the island.  Many US Marines and Army Soldiers would die during the battle to seize this mountain.  I figured a great way to remember these fallen US servicemembers would be by beginning my hike at the American Memorial Park.  The park that commemorates the Battle of Saipan, sits at sea level and would provide the maximum elevation gain for this hike.  From the memorial I followed the main road through the main tourist village of Garapan towards the east with Mt. Tapochau looming in the distance:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

After walking up the road through Garapan I had to cross the island’s major highway to next hike up Navy Hill Road:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

As I began to hike up the road I passed by the island’s main hospital:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

The road made a steady ascent up the side of Mt. Tapochau and soon I could see Garapan below me in the distance:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Fortunately I had a sidewalk to follow since the few cars that were driving on this road tended to drive very fast:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Eventually the sidewalk disappeared and I was left walking on the shoulder of the road:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Fortunately there was little traffic on the road at this point, but every time I heard a car coming I made sure to make eye contact and get as far on to the shoulder of the road as possible:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

About one mile into the hike the road was surrounded by thick jungle:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

There was a few homes spread out along the road that still had debris from Typhoon Soudelor that struck Saipan in August 2015 that still needed to be picked up:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

At the two mile mark I reached the dirt road that provides access to the upper slopes of Mt. Tapochau:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

The road was muddy and had many ruts in it which is why four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for this road:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

It was nice to see all the flowers as I hiked up the road:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Something else I noticed as I hiked up the road was how little traffic there was.  I saw one truck the entire morning.  However, something I did see was a lot of dogs:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

I had a number of dogs bark and growl at me as I hiked up the road, but the above dog actually got in front of me and would not let me pass.  He kept barking and snarling at me.  I actually took my pack off to swing at him if he charged me.  I then decided to outsmart him by taking out a granola bar and beginning to eat it.  I then threw it in the opposite direction away from me and see what he did.  The dog ran for the granola bar and began to eat it as I jogged up the road away from him.  He got what he wanted food and got what I wanted to pass him to get up the road.  Shortly after outsmarting the dog the road intersected with the official Tapochau Road at this condominium:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here are the street signs designating the intersection:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

The Tapochau Road is also known as Road 310:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

At the intersection I had a clear view looking back towards the Philippine Sea and Garapan where I had began my hike over at the American Memorial:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

After spending a minute taking in the view I then proceeded to follow Tapochau Road past the condominiums towards the summit:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

This dirt road was much wider than the Navy Hill dirt road which meant a lot more traffic:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

I had to repeatedly get out of the way of the mostly rental Hummers that were zooming up this road.  It is apparently a very popular thing for Japanese tourists to do on Saipan, rent Hummers and drive like lunatics on the island’s dirt roads.  There was also a number of tour companies ferrying clients to the summit of Mt. Tapochau in their four-wheel drive vehicles as well.  They were much better drivers than the Japanese tourists in the Hummers.  Anyway as I headed up the road I began to see some of the large houses that were built near the summit of the mountain:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Some of the houses were not too lavish, but had incredible views of the island:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Other homes look like they would be right at home hosting a Columbian drug lord:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

I could not understand why if someone had enough money to build such a huge estate, they would build it at the end of a rough dirt road on top of a mountain?  Even more perplexing is that the rough dirt road does not even keep traffic away since the road is filled with speeding Hummers.  Maybe that explains why the drug lord mansion had a for sale sign in front of it as I hiked by.  As I hiked up the road around the drug lord compound I could see the summit of Mt. Tapochau in front of me:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

As I made my way up to the summit I was able to get a greater appreciation of what the Soldiers and Marines during World War II experienced trying to scale this mountain.  Most noticeable to me is how the mountain has tiered plateaus that causes Mt. Tapochau to be a natural fortress.  Each level of the mountain would have to be secured while being shot at from defenders on the next level.  This picture from the highway running on the east side of the mountain provides a good view of the tiered plateaus leading to the summit:

Picture of Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

As I carefully made my way up to the summit parking lot keeping an eye out for speeding Hummers flying up the road I could see the final tiered plateau above me:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

I did find it interesting that the biggest traffic jam I saw during my entire time on Saipan was on the top of Mt. Tapochau due to all the four-wheel drive vehicles trying to find a place to park:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here are some of the Hummers that I had to get out of the way of as I hiked up Tapochau Road:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

From the parking lot I walked up a set of stairs that led to the Jesus statue that caps Mt. Tapochau’s summit:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Jesus was quite a popular guy on top of the mountain as the various Japanese and Korean tourists jockeyed for position to take a picture with him:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

I wasn’t all that concerned with a getting a picture with Jesus and instead walked over to the far side of the summit to take in the views with the dozens of other people on the summit that day:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

All around the summit there were various Battle of Saipan signboards which few people seemed to be reading; they were too busy taking pictures of themselves with their selfie sticks.  I did take the time to read all the signboards and thought that the National Park Service did a really good job; the signboards were short, but informative:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Having previously visited the American Memorial as well as watching a Youtube video on the Battle of Saipan I was already well educated on important battle.  However, from the summit of Mt. Tapochau I was really able to get a bird’s eye view of how the battle unfolded.

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

For example looking to the south I could see the infamous “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge” where so many soldiers from the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division were killed and wounded:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is the view looking towards the southheast where in the distance I could see Chalan Kanoa where my hotel was located and is where most of the US forces landed on June 15, 1944:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is a closer look at Chalan Kanoa where on the far left Lake Susupe can be seen which was the location of a camp for Japanese prisoners after the battle:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

In the distance out past Chalan Kanoa I could also see the neighboring island of Tinian where the Enola Gay took off to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August of 1945:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Also far to the north I could see the Saipan International Airport:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Before construction of this modern airport the Japanese As Lito Airfield was located here and was the main objective for US forces to capture during the battle:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is the view looking towards the southeast which was the line of approach for the 27th Infantry Division as they tried to move through “Death Valley” to reach the summit of Mt. Tapochau:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is a panorama picture of the entire view of southern Saipan:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

To the east I could see the small peninsula where the village of Kagman is located:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is a panorama picture of the view to the east:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Looking to the north below me I could see the drug lord compound that I walked passed earlier:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Passed the drug lord compound I also had a view of the northern part of the island which is dominated by scenic high cliffs and jagged peaks:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is a panorama picture of the view to the north:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Next is a picture that shows a view towards the west where the major tourism village of Garapan is located:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Also to the west I could see vast stretches of the Philippine Sea and thick jungle down below:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Here is a panorama picture of the view to the west:

Picture from Mt. Tapochau, Saipan

Conclusion

Overall I had a great time completing this hike despite the issues of speeding Hummers along the road.  I was a  bit surprised though that I was the only person I saw hiking up Mt. Tapochau that morning.  It just seemed that with all the tourists on Saipan there would be a few other people interested in hiking up the mountain.  For those interested in doing this hike it was 8.3 miles roundtrip from the American Memorial with 1,653 feet of elevation gain.  That may not sound to daunting of a mountain, but when combined with the high heat and humidity of Saipan I definitely got a good work out from this hike. For those wanting to do a shorter hike it is possible just to drive up to the dirt road section of Navy Hill Road and start there which would cut the distance of the hike in half.  For the full 8.3 mile hike it took 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete.  Since I started first thing in the morning that meant I was back at my hotel and showered in time for lunch with the rest of the day ahead of me.

Besides the good work out I received from this hike, I also appreciated being able to experience the elevation gain and terrain that the Soldiers and Marines from World War II had to experience to seize this mountain during combat conditions.  I definitely have a greater appreciation for what they did after hiking up Mt. Tapochau for myself.  So for those that don’t want to be part of the four-wheel drive crowd and experience Mt. Tapochau at a slower pace I definitely recommend hiking up this mountain.

2 Comments
  1. Dobbs

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *