The Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk is one of the classic walks of the Taipei area, but it’s a short one – really only a half-day hike. However since the upper Keelung River Valley (where the walk lies) is one of the most fascinating and interest-packed corners of Northern Taiwan, there are plenty of ways to fill up the remainder of the day, from cooling off in the stream (my favorite spot is at the top of lofty Hogu Waterfall) or snacking on the old streets of Shifen village, to scaling the rocky pinnacles at nearby Pingxi.
There’s also the option of extending the walk into more strenuous territory with the help of the interesting – and scenic – trail that goes over the small but startlingly sharp little summit known as the Lion’s Mouth Peak.
Start the hike one stop before Sandiaoling at Houtong Station, and follow the tracks south past the buildings, bridges and one of the old mine entrances that make up the Coal Mine Ecological Museum. At the southern fringe of the village a signposted track on the right passes under the railway tracks. Take this and after the railway veer right off the track onto a trail climbing into the hills above. Look out on the left after the trail has climbed some distance, and the Lion’s Mouth Peak is unmistakable on the wooded ridge above to the left, a jagged rocky bluff sticking conspicuously out of the ridgeline, almost covered in thick forest.
A trail somewhere on the left here climbs directly to the ridge just below the summit of the Lion’s Mouth (it’s marked on the map, although we never found it) while the main trail continues straight ahead, climbing steadily into the woods, almost parallel with the main ridge. At a wooded saddle, turn left onto a narrower trail and the walking becomes more interesting – steep, rough and overgrown in parts, as it follows the ridgeline slowly towards the peak.
There’s a clear junction just below the summit bump of Lion’s Mouth Peak; it’s a steep but very short climb (although sadly there’s no exposed rock to scale) to reach the top, which is wooded, and gives only partial views. Back at the junction, ignore the very steep path dropping down on the right (the ‘direct’ route mentioned earlier) and follow a rough trail heading south. This is probably the most interesting part of the whole walk: the trail, through densely wooded hills, is a lot longer and more strenuous than a glance at the map would suggest, and being on it feels unusually remote and secret for such an often-walked area. Also hikers here must be pretty uncommon, considering how overgrown the conditions are. Eventually the trail joins a rather more oft-walked one, which is soon cut into the side of a deep gorge, which drops away as the trail passes the little known Flying Dragon Waterfall (飛龍瀑布; tall but usually just a trickle), which can be glimpsed through the undergrowth on the left.
From here the trail conditions are a lot easier it’s a simple descent along a wide and easy path which before long joins the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk about ten minutes’ walk below Hogu Waterfall, the lowest of the three big leaps.
After this the three hours along the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk to Shifen or Dahua railway stations is pretty straightforward stuff, and would make a great end to a lengthy day’s hike; fit hikers could even close the loop back to Houtong by taking a trail that starts by crossing the stream immediately above the Pipa Cave Waterfall (the topmost of the three falls). I’ve yet to explore this trail though.
You’d best take a hiking map to follow the trails to Lion’s Mouth Peak, as although kinda signposted, the route isn’t clear, and it’s easy to get lost. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the route is a lot more strenuous and tiring than the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, so don’t try to bag the Lion’s Mouth Peak trail unless you’re relatively fit. You’ll also need to allow enough time – it took us about 4 hours to walk the seemingly short trail that connects Houtong with the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, via the summit.