NOTE: In summer 2015, floods caused by a powerful typhoon devastated the Wulai area, knocking out many trails. According to friends, the Neidong Forest Road is still passable, but with further landslides. Take care when passing around them.
I’m slowly finding out that there’s a lot more to Wulai than the waterfalls, hot springs, and a couple of good but shortish hikes, such as the Big Knife Mountain walk, which is a popular favorite these days. Starting at the main village, the trail (the first bit was ‘improved by the authorities – curse them! – a few years back and has lost the mildly wild quality it once had) climbs to a domed little peak (the ‘big knife’) perched on the edge of the great river gorge, and then descends through the jungle to the head of Wulai Waterfall, to finish with a cable car ride back down. Sadly this is no longer free, since the park owners have long got wind that the cable car is no longer the only way up here, but if you can take the steep NT$150 fare for a ride lasting a couple of minutes, it still makes a very enjoyable (and unique) end to a half-day hike!
Alternatively, as we found out on a beautiful day in January, it’s not so well-known, but very possible to make this shortish hike into an all-dayer by following the easy but very scenic Neidong Forest Road for six or seven kilometers along the mountainside, then descending into Neidong Forest Park and the waterfalls of Doll Valley, before taking the ‘tourist’ route (the road) back to Wulai.
It’s really easy to find. Follow the classic Mount Dadao hike to the summit, and a couple of minutes after it there’s a clear fork. Simply turn left here (you’d normally turn right and drop down to the stream above Wulai Waterfall). The trail now zigzags down into a lovely wooded glen and meets the unsurfaced forest road in 10-15 minutes. Turn right here, ignore the sign warning of no entry, walk around the large gate, and simply follow the road for a couple of hours. It’s mostly level walking, wide and easy to follow most of the way, but very scenic and extremely peaceful. At several points the trees part to reveal wonderful views all the way up the valley to Taipei city, and at one point the shapely dome of Mount Dadao itself can be seen.
There’s a nasty landslide before the 11.5 kilometer marker (6 or 7 kilometers from the end of the trail below Mount Dadao), but a diversion with fixed ropes leads round it safely enough.
Less than a kilometer after the landslide, a narrow trail on the right is signposted for Xinxian Elementary School (信賢國小). DON’T do what we did and take this trail – it’s quite steep in places, very slippery when wet, and after a not especially interesting 45-50 minutes emerges on the road right opposite the elementary school. Instead follow the road ahead, and shortly another trail (I’ve walked up it to the forest road from below before, so it definitely exists!) descends in 10-15 minutes to join a trail winding through Neidong Forest Park. Walk down, enjoy the two beautiful waterfalls of Doll Valley, savor the fact that you got into Neidong Forest Park without having to pay the cheeky admission fee charged if you come in the usual way, and stroll back along the river to Wulai, about ninety minutes’ walk at a leisurely pace, where the free public hot springs just below the main bridge in town are the perfect reward after a lengthy (although easy) walk.
Easy! Grab a copy of the Taiwan Transport Press hiking map 9 (which covers the Wulai area). If you have Taipei Escapes 2, the trail as far as Big Knife Mountain is also described in there on page 149.