Taiwan is paradise for a waterfall lover like myself. It’s a bit of a joke among friends and family, but I’ve loved these things since I was a kid and used to scan guidebooks back home in England, reading about stunning cascades with rich and evocative-sounding names such as Cauldron Snout, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Falls of Glomach and Sgwd y Eira. When I finally passed my driving test (em…on the fourth try…) and got my first car, a Datsun Violet, there was no stopping me – in a series of weekend trips and longer holidays I started methodically touring first Wales and then England, exploring all those waterfalls I’d read and dreamt about in books. Within a year or two the interest had become almost an obsession, resulting in me writing a book (sadly never published) covering the complete waterfalls of England (totalling some 370… named examples).
It would probably be near-impossible to see all the waterfalls in Taiwan even if I made it my full-time job, since they are just too numerous and many are simply very remote or otherwise difficult to reach, so it’s just as well I’ve at least partly grown out of my youthful obsession. Waterfalls are still an irresistible magnet however, and I’m never happier on a hike then when it includes at least one (but preferably more than one) waterfall.
I’ve been exploring Taiwan’s waterfalls ever since the summer I arrived in Taiwan (1993), and while I probably won’t be turning my adventures into a book anytime soon, I’ve finally set up a new Taiwan Waterfalls blog, here:
The blog is in its infancy, with quite a few more waterfalls to add (a good number of waterfalls I’ve visited here date back to the days of print film and I’ve either lost the photos or they came out crap), there’s still lots of info to write, and hundreds and hundreds more waterfalls out there to add over time, but it’s a start, and might other waterfall lovers out there an idea of the riches laying in store for them in Taiwan. For some much better photos (and many waterfalls I haven’t seen yet) see Kirk Beiser’s great blog Taiwan’s Waterfalls. For starters though here (in no particular order) are twenty Taiwanese waterfalls that I have a particularly soft spot for. They’re not the biggest, widest, tallest or most famous on Taiwan, but for various reasons, they’re among my favourite places on this wonderful island.
1. YUEMEIKANG WATERFALL (月眉坑瀑布), Jiaosi, Yilan County
The days when this, undoubtedly one of Taiwan’s most magical waterfalls, was a secret destination known by few are now looong gone and the waterfall is accosted by groups of hikers and (especially) river-tracing youngsters at weekends, but its new popularity makes not a jot of difference. I’ve been here six or seven times now, and each time the first sight of that shimmering curtain of water still holds me spellbound. Add one of the best plunge pools for swimming anywhere in Taiwan at the base of the waterfall, and an excellent river trace upstream to the waterfall, and this is quite simply one of the finest day trips you can do in northern Taiwan.
2. WUFENGCHI WATERFALL (五峰旗瀑布; upper fall), Jiaosi, Yilan County
Wufengchi Waterfall has never, in the history of Taiwanese guide books been ‘off the beaten track,’ but unlike the overrated Wulai and Shifen Waterfalls, Wufengchi deserves the hype. Of the three waterfalls in the series the one to see is the highest (although the other two are very nice). It’s one of the tallest and most impressive waterfalls in the Taipei area.
Unfortunately Luckily the powers that be regard the stepped footpath up to the base of the waterfall as being a bit too risky for tourists, and often the path is off-limits to the public, presumably for fear of rock falls. But heck, this is Taiwan, and the gate (and the conspicuously positioned security camera trained on it) only deter the more timid souls; luckily for the rest of us, the locked gate (which is easy to climb over) ensures the waterfall remains delightfully quiet, even while the two waterfalls below are crawling with tourists. Perfect conditions for a hot summer day, when, like the ever-so-nearby but even more marvellous Yuemeikang Waterfall (above) the plunge pool below the falls is a superb place for a cool, relatively private swim.
3. CLOUD HEART WATERFALL (雲心瀑布), Sanxia, New Taipei City
Glorious, magical Cloud Heart Waterfall is well-known to most keen Taipei-area hikers, as it’s on the route of one of the best ridge walks in the western region of New Taipei City, and a great hike goal in itself. The last decade has seen steadily rising numbers here at weekends as its beauty becomes more widely known, but a handy typhoon in 2012 knocked out the road to the old trailhead, adding nearly 2 kilometers to the hike and effectively trimming the numbers of tourists making their way to this beautiful spot, which (and this is true for so many places) looks far more wonderful in the flesh than in photos.
As if this wasn’t enough another two beautiful waterfalls lie on the same stream, one above and one a kilometer or two downstream, and the three can be connected by a cool and extremely fun river trace.
4. LONGGONG (Dragon Palace) WATERFALL (隆工瀑布), Ruifeng, Chiayi County
Before a new trail to this lofty and striking waterfall in central Chiayi County was built a few years back, the only way to the base of the falls was a steep and long drop down the side of the gorge opposite the waterfalls, passing the five Thunder Sound Waterfalls (雷音瀑布), and a longer and even harder climb back out again afterwards. Now it’s an easy 30 minute stroll along a path contouring the side of the gorge below the waterfall, passing a couple of shapely suspension bridges on the way. What the area has lost in wildness, it’s gained in accessibility. In any event hard-core waterfall hunters can still seek out the spectacular 40-meter-high Zhongzheng Waterfall a few hundred meters downstream, which is accessible only by river tracing. A trail leads up onto the cliff face beside the waterfall, and into the Water Curtain Cave, a natural overhang behind the top of the waterfall.
The waterfall is in the beautiful Ruifeng Scenic Area (瑞峰風景區), signposted off county route 162甲 (the Meishan to Taihe Road), about ten kilometres due east of Meishan (梅山) in northern Chiayi County.
5. ZHANGHU SCENIC AREA (樟湖風景區), Yunlin County
Despite being one of Taiwan’s smallest and least visited counties, and being better-known for industrial scandals and environmental disasters (the sad plight of an endangered little bird species called the Fairy Pitta comes to mind) little Yunlin County (just north of Chiayi) is a compulsory stop on any waterfall-lover’s Taiwan itinerary, thanks to the fabulous scenery of Caoling and Zhanghu Scenic Areas (more on the scenic delights of the Caoling area in a mo).
Zhanghu Scenic Area comprises a swathe of steep, densely wooded countryside off county route 149, which links Meishan (梅山) in Chiayi County with Caoling (草嶺). Turn off the road at Stone Bridge Inn (石橋山莊), which offers cheap accommodation and is a popular overnight spot on our weekend trips in this area, achieving near-legendary status among members of Taipei Hikers for its unique ‘monkey’ coffee and the creative uses they’ve found for hair dryers on previous visits.
The largest fall at Zhanghu, Longfeng (Dragon Phoenix) Waterfall (龍鳳瀑布) lies on the main river at the base of the gorge, and is only accessible by tracing upriver from the fossil beds above the concrete bridge over the river, which is well worth doing, since this is the most powerful and largest of all the falls, plunging 40 meters.
Changqing Waterfall (長青瀑布), the lowest of the chain of falls on a tributary stream nearby, is the tallest and most impressive, while above lie another three waterfalls, including the extraordinary Lingquan Tengjiao (cloaked in a natural tube of tufa rock), and, at the top, the beautiful Fairy’s Pool. On our last visit, back in 2008, the trail leading to the top of Changqing Waterfall had been knocked out by a typhoon, although there were plans to rebuild it. Also locals told us that the Fairy’s Pool was destroyed in the floods. Zhanghu is a fab place to explore, and I’ll certainly be back some time, to drink the monkey-assisted coffee, sing more Karaoke, and discover the fate of this beautiful chain of waterfalls.
6. PENGLAI WATERFALL (蓬萊瀑布), Caoling, Yunlin County
The trick to enjoying this magnificent waterfall (and most of Taiwan’s waterfalls south of Hsinchu County for that matter) is to visit during the wet season (May to September). At this time, this thundering column of water may well be one of Taiwan’s most dramatic easily accessible waterfalls. Best of all, after typhoons the column becomes a powerful sheet as the river stretches out over the width of the cliff-face, making a magnificent spectacle.
After Penglai, be sure to visit the even higher (although far wispier) Water Curtain Cave (水濂洞). It’s quite a long and steep walk down, so make a loop hike out of it by returning via the fun Great Steep Wall (峭壁雄風) rock formation.
7. WATER CURTAIN CAVE (水濂洞), Xinyi, Nantou County
Taiwan has plenty of ‘water curtain cave’ waterfalls (named after the home of the Monkey King in the Chinese classic, Journey to the West), and a few are pretty fine, but this one is the best off all, mostly for the awesome canyon below and the memorable approach. It’s such a wonderful place that I’ve written a blog entry about it already (here), so there’s little more to add, except if you’re ever in southern Nantou County (and aren’t afraid of heights) see it! Several friends have been in recent years so it appears to be easily accessible still. My last visit was before Typhoon Morakot struck.
8. WHITE VEIL WATERFALL (百紗瀑布), Xiaowulai, Taoyuan County
The Xiaowulai area, on the North Cross-island Highway in southern Taoyuan County, has more than its fair share of fine waterfalls, including the very impressive Xiaowulai Waterfall (小烏來瀑布) itself, but none of them are any match for the magnificent White Veil Waterfall, one of the five waterfalls on the Hewei Stream, which descends from the heights of Mount Beichatian, one of the Taipei area’s most popular challenge routes for hikers.
For some reason photos never do justice to this place, and undoubtedly the effort taken to get there (it’s a rough, tough hike to get there, whichever of the two routes you choose) makes the place seem even more paradisiacal than it would if it were near a road, but the only way to find out how beautiful it is for yourself is to go! For more details see here.
9. XIAONIAN STREAM WATERFALLS (少年溪瀑布群), South Cross-island Highway, Kaohsiung County
Falling into the Laonong River directly opposite the South Cross-island Highway near the village of Taoyuan (桃源), Yuanyang Waterfall (鴛鴦瀑布) on the Xiaonian Stream, cutting through tall, jagged cliffs of crumbling shale and fanning out as it falls onto the wide riverbed, was one of Taiwan’s most arresting waterfalls until it was destroyed in Typhoon Morakot in 2009. Above it a road and then a trail leads to the much higher (and more conventional-looking) Changlong (‘long dragon’) Waterfall (長龍瀑布), while between the two, beside the stream, a small hot spring, unfortunately channeled, as usual, into ugly concrete pools. The upper waterfall is still accessible, and very impressive, although post-<orakot it looks a little less lush than in the photo below.
10. YUANYANG WATERFALL (鴛鴦瀑布), Laiyi, Pingdong County
The village of Laiyi (來義) in Pingdong County has some of the best waterfalls in southern Taiwan, including the series of Danlin Waterfalls (丹林瀑布群) and a formerly famous swimming place known as the Grand Canyon (大峽谷). Best of all though is the Yuanyang (Mandarin Ducks) Waterfall, a impressive pair of cascades which fall into a short but narrow and very atmospheric gorge. My only visit was way back in the late 1990s, but it was a fabulous place, and, since it’s still accessible (although a bit harder to reach than pre-Morakot), I’m aching to go back!
11. SILVER THREAD WATERFALL (銀絲瀑布), Wufeng, Hsinchu County
Silver Thread Waterfall is relatively little-known, and it’s neither large or powerful, but the way the stream drops over a rockface covered in a thick cushion of moss and small ferns, and divides into a mass of fine white threads, is unique and beautiful. It is (or at least was – it’s eight or nine years since I’ve visited) pretty easy to reach from county route 122 (the Zhudong to Chingquan road) just north of Wufeng (五峰). Cross Nankou suspension footbridge (南口吊橋), turn right onto a trail across the river, and the waterfall is a short distance upstream, on a small tributary of the main river.
UPDATE April 2017: Unfortunately the waterfall is now a lot more difficult to reach, since a typhoon destroyed the suspension footbridge that gave access to the trail.
12. ALIBANG WATERFALL (阿里磅瀑布), Yangmingshan, New Taipei City
Yangmingshan is great walking country, but unlike elsewhere around Taipei city, it’s not a great place for waterfalls. There are some nice ones, such as Silk, Saint’s and Datun Waterfalls, and even the occasional high one (the tall but wispy Liren Waterfall) but nothing very impressive. Except the awesome Alibang Waterfall.
Of the three routes to the waterfall, two (from Tudigong Ling in the north, and the original route, river tracing for 3 hours from the nearest bridge below) are absolute bitches, which possibly makes the effect, when finally seeing the powerful, 40 meter-high waterfall even more memorable. The third route is the usual route there these days – a spur trail off the Mount Zhuzi Old Trail. The trail routes are both described in Yangmingshan: the Guide (on pages 366 and 377 onwards). Whichever way you go, Alibang Waterfall is probably one of the finest sights in Yangmingshan after heavy rain.
13. RUILONG WATERFALL (瑞龍瀑布), Zhushan, Nantou County
A few kilometers downstream from the magnificent Taiji Gorge (more on that below), and far easier to reach, Ruilong Waterfall is a gorgeously shapely cascade plummeting into a secret grotto a shortish walk from the road. The approach road was rough and unsurfaced when I used to come here (it was a favourite stopover while exploring the area when I lived in nearby Puli in the mid 1990s), but I’ve heard the road and the approach path to the waterfall are now much improved. The waterfall is signposted off county route 149, south of Zhushan (竹山).
14. TAIJI WATERFALL (太及瀑布), Taiji Canyon, Zhushan, Nantou County
Until it was closed following an earthquake-caused landslide in the canyon killed nearly 30 people (and for a decade or so after it too), Taiji Canyon was undisputedly one of the most appreciated scenic areas in Taiwan – the combination of rugged, wild beauty, extraordinary scenery and just the right level of strenuous difficulty made it one of the finest day trip hikes on the whole island.
Today it’s once again a big crowd-puller, but nowadays it’s the Upper Canyon (the highest of the four-section canyon) that is visited, and the famous Heaven Steps (天梯). The best bits, the Middle and Inner Canyons (where the Taiji Waterfall is found) are still occasionally visited by parties with a guide, but the ladders etc have rusted away, landslides have apparently wiped out the old trail (according to a blog I read) and this fantastic hidden wonder is more-or-less inaccessible to the general public. There’s still hope that it might reopen one day though, although considering the risky nature of the hike in and up it, it seems a tad unlikely. For more photos and a little more info see here (Taiji Canyon is number 8 on the list).
15. MALIGUANG WATERFALL (馬里光瀑布), Route 60, Hsinchu County
Magnificent Maliguang Waterfall is the highlight of the equally magnificent county route 60, which joins Jianshi (尖石) in the west with the North Cross-island Highway near Baling, in the east. Kinda signposted off this road, it’s pretty easy to find, and the path (a National Trail) from the road to the base of the waterfall is easy and quick.
Another waterfall of similar height lies on the stream further up, but the approach route is quite different, and more of an adventure, including a section following a narrow irrigation channel perched on the edge of the sheer cliffs of the gorge. This path leads only to the head of the upper fall, although it seems there may be another path leading into the gorge below it – good reason to return!
16. SHUANGLONG (Twin Dragons) WATERFALL (雙龍瀑布), Route 16, Shuili, Nantou County
East of Shuili (水里), county route 16 heads deep into the central mountains, and the wilderness of the Danda (丹大) region, which features the extremely remote Jiuhua Waterfall (九華瀑布), which drops several hundred meters and is one of Taiwan’s highest. The later part of this road is now apparently out-of-bounds to the general public, but it’s still possible to travel out to Dili (地利) and the nearby aboriginal village of Shuanglong, named after the mighty waterfall near the village. In full spate this is undoubtedly one of Taiwan’s most spectacular waterfalls. Unfortunately since I took these two photos way back in 1994, the easy path that once led to the base of the lower fall (there’s another, similarly sized fall above the one in this photo!), has been washed away, and nowadays it’s only possible to see the twin waterfalls from a distance. Still a fabulous sight though.
17. FEIYUN (Flying Cloud) WATERFALL (飛雲瀑布), Tsunwen Reservoir, Chiayi County
A forgotten fall in an out-of-the-way position on the ‘wrong’ (western) bank of Tsunwen Reservoir in southern Chiayi, Feiyun Waterfall is among Taiwan’s tallest easily accessible falls, and fairly easy to find for those with their own wheels, down the dead-end county route 145-1, so it’s puzzling that few people seem to go there. As usual in the south, go between May and September to see much water.
18. LONGFENG WATERFALL (龍鳳瀑布), Nantou County
Most of Nantou County’s most spectacular waterfalls are in the center and east of the county, but Longfeng (Dragon Phoenix) Waterfalls lie on the western foothills of the big mountains, not so far from the county town of Nantou. The twin falls lie on a pair of tributary stream a couple of minutes above the point where they join, to flow down to the western plains. The Dragon waterfall is a tall, dramatic and impressively forthright plunge – visit during the rainy season and the spray kicked up by the pounding fall is drenching. The Phoenix waterfall nearby is naturally smaller and more graceful. The waterfalls have long been developed, with a large car park below, plus stone paths, wooden boardwalks etc, but for once none of this seems to detract from beauty of these two very impressive waterfalls.
19. GOLDEN GROTTO (黃金峽谷), Hualien County
The Golden Grotto is the hardest of all the waterfalls described here to reach except Taiji Waterfall (no. 14), for the simple reason that the only way to get there is a fairly tough river trace, with three lower waterfalls to climb on the way up. It’s a full day to get here and back, gut once in the Grotto, all the effort is worth it, and the sight of the big waterfall at the top – amazing! There’s a full write-up on the Golden Grotto here.
20. PIPA CAVE (NIYA) WATERFALL, Sandiaoling, New Taipei City
Finally, Pipa Cave Waterfall is one of the three big waterfalls on the marvellous Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, and although it’s not quite as tall as Sandiaoling Waterfall itself (which is just a few meters downstream) it’s definitely my favourite, lacking the obtrusive wooden viewing platform that was un-necessarily erected in front of the bigger waterfall some years ago, and without the groups that hang around it on weekends. On the minus side, the ledge in the ‘cave’ behind Pipa Cave Waterfall has completely eroded away, but that’s more than made-up for by the beauty of the rocky gorge here.
Apart from the three big falls of the waterfall walk, there are no less than fourteen other waterfalls just off the trail. The little Earth God Pool and Two Phoenix Gorge Waterfall are close to the start of the walk at Sandioling station, while the five waterfalls of Barbarian Valley lie just off the path near the end, just before it drops down notoriously slippery steps to cross the Keelung River and re-join the railway tracks near Dahua Station. Unfortunately the valley is extremely overgrown these days, and only the uppermost of the waterfalls is easy to reach. There’s some great exploring to do though – just bring a machete.
For more exploring try following the tributary that splits off the main stream just above the head of Hegu Waterfall. There are apparently seven waterfalls on this stream, although with no trail of any kind, it’s a hard place to get to.
For more on the Sandiaoling Waterfall walk see here.