Beautiful, 25 meter-high Fenglin Waterfall (楓林瀑布) isn’t Yangmingshan’s highest waterfall (that honor goes to Alipang Waterfall (阿里磅瀑布), which is nearly twice as high), but it’s certainly one of the nicest, and getting there makes for an interesting and in places mildly adventurous 90-minute walk.
With all that rain and all those mountains, it’s hardly surprising that Yangmingshan has quite a few waterfalls, although all the higher/most impressive or beautiful falls require some serious hiking or river tracing to reach. By contrast all the ‘touristy’ waterfalls in the park are small and generally rather disappointing: Juansi (‘silk’) Waterfall was great in its small way 15 years ago, when we used to stand under its delicate falling waters, using it as a natural shower, but shortly after that the authorities cordoned the area off and now it can only be seen from behind a tall, ugly fence. Emerald Valley Falls and Tianmu Falls, with their hot-spring water-stained rocks are lovely still, although there are so many finer waterfalls around Taipei. Datun Waterfall and Seven Star Waterfall are both tiny – hardly worth the trip. Only Saints Fall is really impressive, despite its small size. Unfortunately the bridge over to the foot of the fall was washed away donkey’s years ago and never re-built, so now it can only be spied from a distance.
Fenglin Waterfall isn’t especially hard to reach, provided you’ve had some experience on walking in rough country and in fording streams, but a trip there requires a little advance planning, as it lies in a deep gorge in the north of Yangminshan National Park, in the wilds of the Lujiaokeng Ecological Protected Area. A week or two before going, it’s necessary to apply for a permit from the National Park (see the ‘Mount Huangzui’ entry, above, for details on getting the permit). Luckily this has become much easier in the last few years. On my first visit (while researching my book Yangmingshan: the Guide), the only way to get the necessary permit was to hire an official hiking guide (the trip was eventually arranged for me courtesy of the one-and-only Jean-Marc Compain at Fresh Treks, who turned the hike up to the waterfall into a thoroughly memorable morning, complete with lunch and wine at the end!). Permit in hand (don’t forget to jot-down the combination number to open the lock on the gate at the entrance!), take a Royal Bus Company (http://www.royalbus.com.tw/) bus to Xia Chigu stop (下七股), on the far side of Yangmingshan, on the way down to the coast at Jinshan. Leave the main Jinshan road by the small lane opposite the bus stop and follow it for a kilometer or so almost to the famous Huayitsun Hot Spring (花藝村). Before it, though, turn right at a junction down a narrow road downhill, cross the Rainbow Bridge (彩虹橋) and the road ends a little further at Lujiaokeng Checkpoint: a small office (usually empty), space to park a couple of cars, and a tall, locked gate. Through the gate, a track contours the side of the valley above the tumbling stream, later giving fine views (on rare clear days) of the impressive Mt Xiaoguanyin/Song/Zhuzi ridge, then ends at the buildings of a small water treatment works – not something you’d expect to see in an important and carefully protected nature reserve! Walk to the left, past the buildings (ignoring the steps climbing the hillside on the left) and the track immediately ends in a patch of grass beside the stream. Now the fun begins! The National Park authorities have deliberately left the route up to the waterfall as a narrow, unmarked and often rough and indistinct trail, although it’s not too hard to follow after the first few hundred meters, which are a bit tricky. Beyond the water treatment works, walk down to the bank of the stream, and walk along the bank, clambering over stones in the stream bed. Cross a wide tributary which joins on the left – difficult after heavy rain. On this tributary stream is one of Lujiaokeng’s other gems, the very small but completely natural Lujiaokeng Hot Springs, reached by a secret trail which I dare not describe on this blog, considering the mess the beautiful Ba Yan Hot Spring, a bit further down the mountain, has become since it was ‘discovered’ by the masses.
Once across the tributary the trail is a mite clearer, climbing the bank a little, away from the water’s edge for a bit, then further up repeatedly crossing the main stream (watch out for the slippery rocks). It’s not always clear where the trail goes next – look out for cairns (small piles of rocks) which mark the route at important points – there are almost no trail-marking plastic ribbons here! Finally, perhaps 45 minutes after leaving the water treatment works, the stream (and the trail) become rougher and there’s more scrambling and clambering up slippery rocks involved. Then, the stream veers off to the left, starts climbing quite steeply, and the waterfall can be seen at the head of the narrow little gorge, high above. The best view is from about 50 meters below the main fall, although it’s possible to climb right up to its foot, where there’s a tiny pool (unfortunately too small for cooling off in – not that I would try anyway – this is a nature conservation zone!) .
Apparently there’s another fall, Xiao Guanyin Waterfall, just a short distance above Fenglin Waterfall, and it’s supposed to be nearly twice its height, which would put it on par with Yangmingshan’s greatest waterfall, Alipang. Unfortunately, there’s no obvious trail here, and it’s a bit risky to try: park rangers patrol the trail at certain times, and anyone wandering off the path to Fenglin Waterfall (the only route visitors are permitted to take in the Conservation Zone) or without permits, face a stiff penalty. And they mean it!
Shame … but restrictions such as these do impart a certain mystery to the place. Yangmingshan National Park covers a huge area and it’s a far more mysterious and fascinating place than most people imagine. Many of its most fascinating places are either tricky to reach or kept secret by the National Park authorities.
And I hope that’s exactly how it stays.
Fenglin and the wonderful Alipang Waterfalls, plus many of Yangmingshan’s many other waterfalls, are all described in Yangmingshan: the Guide.