Until the early years of the present century, Barbarian Valley (野人谷) was a great (if slightly overdeveloped) postlude to the scenic splendors of the famed Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, a continuation of the beautiful waterfalls that, as expected from the name, form the highlight of that lovely half-day hike.
The last fifteen years have seen a curious reversal of fortunes between the two places. Sandiaoling Water Walk, popular for decades, has been gradually and not very appropriately ‘tamed’ (not that it was ever a difficult hike), with an obtrusive ‘waterfall viewing platform’ in front of the eponymous waterfall that forms the centerpiece of the hike. Even more infuriating, the fun wooden rope ladder that once formed the only way to get up past the waterfall and on to its equally fine twin just upstream, has been replaced by a hideous metal stairway.
By contrast, Barbarian Valley, a private ‘scenic area’ which once charged admission and featured (below its impressive waterfalls), a dammed boating lake, woodland gardens, and even a small restaurant, suffered through a deluge caused by a typhoon around 2004 (unfortunately right about the time the second edition of Taipei Day Trips I, which includes the place, was published), which destroyed the infrastructure of the scenic area. Barbarian Valley was closed after the typhoon, and remains very much closed to this day. However… there are still several informal ways to get into this wonderful place, and a decade and a half later (during which remarkably few people, it seems, have been sneaking in to enjoy its scenic wonders) has done the valley a world of good. It’s worth bringing a machete to hack through a few short but impenetrable areas of undergrowth, but generally it’s not a major challenge getting down to and around the valley’s five waterfalls.
Much of the man-made additions that compromised the beauty of this rugged little glen was either washed away in the great flood, or have been half hidden by the thick jungle that’s grown up, obliterating most of the paths, concealing both the concrete ‘boat’ cafe in the middle of the once-dammed main stream, and various other ornamental shelters and viewing pavilions built into the sides of the gorge.
Until quite recently, a guard was stationed at the main gate of Barbarian Valley during daylight hours, making it impossible to get in the easy way. However these days the gate is often left unattended. I’ve had free access through the deserted main gate on several occasions, and at least one other hiker friend has reported the same. Walking downhill along the wide concrete track from the main entrance, it’s just a minute or two to the disheveled viewing tower on the left that stands at the top of Emerald Valley Waterfall (翠谷瀑布). Walk downhill along the road a few meters further, and the overgrown remains of paths lead down to the stream at the foot of the fine waterfall. The old hump-backed bridge that once spanned the stream below the fall is long gone, so clamber across, and hack a way through the jungle on the far side to reach the old ‘boat’ restaurant, with a fine view from the ‘deck’ (still clear of vegetation – for the time being at least) of the beautiful, graceful thin spout of Guanyin Waterfall (觀音瀑布).
A path (very overgrown but still usable) passes right behind the waterfall, and an arched bridge, half covered by undergrowth, spans the point where this smaller tributary stream joins the main stream below Emerald Valley Waterfall. A trail shoots off this path, climbing the hillside, passing through a natural cleft in the rock…
…and climbing up onto the wooded hillside, passing the remains of an old adventure playground in the woods, and one end of a long-since fallen zip line that once spanned the gorge.
If the main gate is locked or guarded, the best alternative way in is to cross the car park, walk along the road away from the entrance beside the stream, and turn right at the end (5 minutes) to the tiny settlement of Xinliao (新寮). Turn right again just before the buildings into a surfaced path beside fields, and it soon turns to steps. This is the end of the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk. Right at the top step of the long series, just as the concrete path starts to descend down the far side, turn right and cross-country along the boundary of the wooded area, clambering downwards for a couple of minutes to reach a stream. If you keep far enough to the right as you descend, you’ll reach the water near the top of the uppermost of the three waterfalls of this stream. Otherwise, when you reach the stream cross it and follow the trail on the far side downstream until you join a concrete track. At this point scramble down the steep wooded bank on the right to reach the foot of the small but attractive uppermost fall of Barbarian Valley, a ten meter-high curtain fall with a small ledge behind, and a great place for a natural shower during the hot summer months.
It’s a shortish but rough clamber from here beside the artificially dammed stream to the head of the second, higher waterfall.
Here the old path is still clear, although extremely overgrown, and wiped out in one place by a small landslide. It veers left down the steep slopes then back round to rejoin the stream about 50 meters below the second waterfall (which is about 15 meters high), just above the top of Guanyin Waterfall. It’s quite a struggle from the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk trail to this point, forcing a way through the thick undergrowth, but after crossing the stream below the second waterfall by a bridge, the way is wide and easy as a surprisingly clear track follows edge of the cliffs beside Emerald Valley Waterfall, then crosses the stream by an arched bridge (undamaged by the big floods of 2004). A trail once continued upstream from the bridge for a couple of minutes to the foot of the fifth and last waterfall in Barbarian Valley, the small but attractive Xinliao Waterfall (新寮瀑布). These days, however, the way is extremely overgrown, and it’s far easier to get a (partial) view of the waterfall from a small shrine just below it, down a short concrete path starting right beside the big gate at the entrance to Barbarian Valley car park.
Cross the bridge and the path joins the concrete track which climbs back to the main entrance gate to Barbarian Valley in a couple of minutes.
There’s a second back door into Barbarian Valley, from near Dahua (大華) station at its foot, although I haven’t attempted it in recent years. Walk along the tracks from Dahua railway station for about ten minutes towards Sandiaoling, and immediately before the first tunnel, turn left down steps to the bank of the Keelung River at the curious Dahua Potholes. Cross the weirdly eroded rocks of the riverbed by a footbridge, cross the tributary stream (the main stream through Barbarian Valley), and hack a way up beside it into the valley.
Several 795 buses from Muzha to Pingxi and Shifen continue further and terminate near the main entrance to Barbarian Valley. Alternatively, it’s a good 45 minute walk up the road from Shifen, or follow the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk from either Sandiaoling or Dahua stations.