Yangmingshan, the national park (and chain of active volcanoes) just north of Taipei city, has the largest concentration of hot spring sources in Taiwan – springs can be found at at least twenty sites in the area. Sadly the larger ones have all been tapped for bath houses and hot spring spa resorts, but at least three interesting ones have been more-or-less untouched, and a couple of others, although not unmarked by the careless hand of man, remain stunning examples of Taiwan’s geothermal activity. Only two or three (Bayan, Xiaqigu and possibly Houshan) are really suitable for bathing, but all of these are worth a look for the beauty of their surroundings, which mostly remain more-or-less natural, as nature intended them.
Bayan Hot Spring (巴煙溫泉)
This beautiful spot lies in the northeast corner of Yangmingshan National Park, and its accessibility means it becomes extremely popular at weekends, so try to aim for a weekday (or at least go early in the morning) unless you’re feeling particularly social. The hot spring is officially out-of-bounds to the public, apparently because of the risk of a landslide, and recently the local police have been much more active in visiting (and fining) people they find using the springs illegally, so if you decide to go, late in the day on a weekday has apparently the best chance of avoiding them.
To get to Bayan take bus 1717 (run by Royal Bus Company). Get on at the first stop on Gongyuan Road near Taipei Main Station to be sure of a seat if you go at a weekend. The bus follows route 2甲 all the way, climbing over Yangmingshan, then down the other side. Get off at Bayan stop (巴煙站), a good hour from central Taipei.
The waterfall just above Bayan Hot SpringTake the narrow road on the left opposite the bus stop, turn right at the junction in a few meters and in a minute or two there’s a cluster of small houses. Take the lane straight ahead past the houses and soon it becomes a trail, winding through the fields beside an irrigation channel. Take the second junction on the left in a couple of minutes, and the trail heads downhill, past an interesting area of bare, ashen-colored rocks and steaming fumaroles on the left, and soon descends beside a small stream of boiling hot water to reach Bayan Hot Spring (八煙溫泉), where the hot spring stream meets a larger stream of cold water below an attractive small waterfall; the stream has been dammed with sand bags into a series of pools of varying temperatures.
There have been reports that this route is now closed, in which case the determined can try to reach the spring from the lower entrance. Continue down roue 20甲 towards Jinshan and turn left off it down the approach road to Bayan Hot Spring Resort. Keep left, ahead as the road bends sharp right to reach the resort, and follow this unsurfaced road (round a big gate) down to the hot spring, which is up the tributary stream on the left.
Dayoukeng Hot Spring (大油坑溫泉) bubbles attractively out of a rock face stained white by minerals dissolved in the hot water. It’s a ten-minute walk from highway 2, close to the trailhead for Dayoukeng Fumaroles, and although a big red sign warns people not to enter, just enough people seem to ignore the warning to maintain a narrow trail up to the hot springs. Above the first pool is a whole string of tiny pools in a small gorge.
To get there take bus 1717 (above) and get off at Dayoukeng (大油坑) bus stop.
Houshan Hot Springs is tiny but almost pristineHoushan Hot Spring (後山溫泉) is within Lujiaokeng Ecological Conservation Area and officially there’s no public access. A trail does lead from highway 2 down the hot spring, but it’s tricky to find. The hot spring itself is very nice, but again very small, with room for one of two people in each of the three makeshift pools made by locals at the hot spring sources, which bubble out of the rocks in the bank of a tumbling stream.
To get there take bus no. 1717 (see above) and get off at Taibao (台寶) bus stop, two stops after Xiaoyoukeng fumaroles. Right next to the bus stop shelter a small road passes a calla lily field. Find an indistinct dirt trail that leaves the main road at the junction with this side lane, and in a minute or two it descends to an overgrown trail that contours the hillside. Turn left and follow this trail for about ten minutes. Now look out for another trail on the right. This narrow trail wanders through the thick undergrowth and after another ten minutes descends (with fixed ropes) to the edge of the stream right beside the small hot spring pools.
Getting to Houshan Hot Springs entails a fairly short but rough hike along an overgrown trail Xiaqigu Hot Spring (下七股溫泉)
A relatively newly ‘discovered’ hot spring by bathers, Xiaoqigu has a lovely setting beside a small, tumbling stream, but has already been uglifed by tarpaulins.
To get there walk downhill along the road a little from Dayoukeng bus stop (see above), take the first surfaced track on the left, and turn right onto a trail just before it reaches a house. At the fork in the trail in a few meters, keep right, and the trail descends to the hot spring in less than five minutes.
Gengziping Hot Spring (焿子坪; 磺山溫泉)
Sulfur mining in Yangmingshan was first extracted from Gengziping way back during the brief Spanish occupation in the early seventeenth century. This amazing place is a martian landscape of blasted, ashen rock, steaming sulfur fumaroles, pools of steaming hot or very-hot water (not suitable for bathing in), and an unusual hot spring waterfall which has stained the rocks various colors. The area is potentially very dangerous, and the whole area has now been cordoned off by fences, so the activity can only be seen from the road through (which has now been laid with tarmac and is suitable for cars). The easiest way to get there if you don’t have your own wheels is to take bus 1717 (yet again) to Tianlai (天賴) bus stop and follow the road (local route 27) southeast past the hot spring resort for a couple of kilometers.
On the way from Tianlai the road pass Sigengziping (死焿子坪) fumarole area (look out for the plumes of steam to the left) just off the road. The area is spoilt by many pipes (the area supplies the popular nearby hot spring resort with its water), but there’s still plenty of interest. There are no fences to stop visitors wandering into Sigengziping, but as always, if venturing in take care as it’s a potentially very dangerous place with all that boiling water around.
Phoenix Valley (龍鳳谷地熱) and Sulfur Valley (硫磺谷)
Right above Beitou these two adjacent areas of hot spring activity lie beside the Beitou-Yangmingshan road. The lower of the two, Sulfur Valley has a scenic lake of (cold) spring water, a large area of natural steaming fumaroles, and several man-made boreholes in which water is boiled for use in nearby hot spring resorts.
A little further up the mountainside, Phoenix Valley has more fumaroles, and several former hot spring bath houses in the wooded valley upstream that were dismantled several years ago and make for an interesting short walk.
Yangmingshan Hot Spring (陽明山溫泉) and Xiaoyingtan Hot Spring (小隱潭溫泉)
Hell Valley (Thermal Valley; 地熱谷)
Although the land around this natural wonder resembles a park, Hell Valley (the old name – the authorities now prefer the more prosaic name Thermal Valley) is one of Taipei city’s most fascinating sights. It’s a lake of highly acidic green sulfur water (around 1.5 pH) that bubbles out of the ground underneath at around 90 degrees C. The Japanese, during their occupation, had a far higher appreciation of the place than today’s authorities appear to, and numbered it among the ‘Eight Sights’ (八景) of Taiwan.
To get there take the MRT to Xinbeitou station and follow the signs, up beside Beitou Park, to the entrance at the far end. By the way the water from Hell Valley spring forms the stream that flows through the park, and the water is still bath-hot as it passes through. Visitors were once free to paddle in the hot-water stream, but fences have recently been put up to prevent access. The stream is one of only two places in the world where a mineral called Hokutolite is found. This radioactive mineral (on the stream bed (deposited by the hot water as it evaporates) was completely removed by mineralogists and souvenir hunters during the last century, so the fence is possibly an attempt to allow it to slowly grow back undisturbed by human feet.