The hot springs along the eastern (Taitung) half of the South Cross-island Highway (highway 20) are far less developed than their counterparts on the western, Kaohsiung side. In fact, a couple of Taiwan’s finest wild hot springs can be found within easy (ish) reach of the highway, and we probably have the relative remoteness of the area and the fact it’s lightly populated to thank for they’re being still remarkably remaining and quiet. The hot springs on the eastern side of the highway also escaped relatively unscathed when Typhoon Morakot bulldozed through in 2009, wreaking havoc on many a beautiful place on the opposite side of the mountains.
Lulu Hot Spring, the finest along the South Cross-island Highway, and one of the most remarkable in all Taiwan, has it’s own blog post HERE.
Lisong Hot Springs (栗松溫泉)
Often (slightly unfairly) saddled with the moniker ‘Taiwan’s most beautiful hot spring,’ Beautiful Lisong doesn’t quite live up to that elated status in the face of such overwhelming competition posed by nearby Lulu Hot Springs and Hayouxi Hot Spring across the mountains in Pingtung. Although quite small, however, it’s a stunningly beautiful place, where a series of small, mineral-rich springs of hot water emerges from the rocky cliff above the river, staining it an enchanting combination of white, cream and green, set in a deep and secret gorge beside a pristine, white-water river. In its favor, it’s a much shorter trip than either Hayouxi or Lulu to reach.
Follow route 20 as it climbs through the spectacular Wulu Canyon (see below), passes above the village of Lidao (the only settlement of any size on this side of the highway), and winds up to the tiny settlement of Motian (摩天). It’s just a couple of farmhouses, but marks the trailhead for the hot spring. turn right into a narrow lane here (surfaced but cracked and quite rough in places, and only really suitable for scooters and walkers)and it winds down into the deep valley for nearly 2 kilometers, to end at a rustic small farmhouse, where a steep but not especially challenging 45-minute clamber (with ropes all the way) leads down to the stream just below the narrow gorge hiding the hot spring. Turn left, upstream and walk (or wade) up for a couple of minutes to the hot spring, in the cliffs on the left. When the water in the river is low, it’s possible to walk up to the base of the cliff at the hot springs, and with rocks dam a small pool for a soak. After rain though the river becomes a raging torrent, and it’s difficult to get close to the beautiful formations.
The return hike is a long, steep haul, and a killer if taken quickly (especially if you’ve just had a relaxing hot spring soak!). Allow an hour or so for the return journey to the trailhead at the farmhouse.
Other Wild Hot Springs along the Taiting Side of Route Twenty
Although Morakot affected this area less than the Kaohsiung side, it (and subsequent typhoons) have buried several of the former hot springs that bubble out of the Xinwulu River, which Route 20 follows for its first twenty-five kilometers. Ｔhe first is Caixia Hot Spring (彩霞溫泉), a short and fairly easy scramble down from the road. Pass through the short Caixia Tunnel (the first one on the highway, heading west), ignore the paved parking area immediately outside its western mouth, and park in an undeveloped parking spot about 50 meters further. From here a rough dirt trail drops down to the bed of the river, and the hot spring is back downstream a few minutes, on the near bank, just below the entrance to the tunnel. It survived Morakot, and was still there (and looks very beautiful from photos) in 2012, according to a blog online. On our visit in April 2017, it was buried, with just a few stained rocks and nothing else, but the Xinwulu Canyon is very scenic, and it’s only a kilometer or so walk upstream to Xiamo Hot Spring (瑕末溫泉), although that too may well be buried.
A few kilometers further is Xiama Hot Spring (下馬溫泉); not the hot spring homestay, but the natural hot spring in the riverbed. It’s a trickier one to reach, because it’s far below the road, but looks very lovely on the solitary online source I found.
Much easier to reach, and indeed unmissable by anyone travelling along this stretch of route 20, is Bishan Hot Spring (碧山溫泉), which lies right opposite the road as it’s squeezed through the narrow and very impressive Wulu Canyon. The most obvious sign of hot spring activity is the impressive golden waterfall trickling down the cliff directly opposite the tiny Liukou Hot Spring, piped into concrete footbaths beside the road. The hot spring activity along this length of the road continues for some distance in each direction, and would make for a great short exploration. Get down to the river at the bright red Wulu Bridge a bit downstream, and clamber upstream to the hot spring area.
A few kilometers before reaching Bishan Hot Spring, the Chief Spa Hotel is an upmarket establishment with its own hot spring, standing on the brink of a very impressive wooded gorge, in which is secreted Wulu Hot Spring (霧鹿溫泉). The canyon is spanned by a historic, Japanese-era foot suspension bridge (built in 1933) suspended eighty dizzying meters above the river below (It’s reopened after being closed for some time, presumably for repair or a safety assessment). Although the hot spring is directly below the bridge and apparently drops out of the cliff above the river, I’ve never seen anything on several visits over the years, and getting down to river level for a closer look would mean a fairly long trek from the nearest easy way down from the road.
Winter and spring are the best seasons to visit Lisong and the other wild hot springs in the gorge. During the summer rainy season, the river is usually too deep and fast to reach them safely, and even if it’s low enough to trace, afternoon thunderstorms can cause dangerous flash floods to race through the very narrow gorge below Lisong.
Taitung County’s other Wild Hot Springs
Taitung boasts more wild, undeveloped hot springs than any other area of Taiwan, besides the sucession of springs along route 20, there are several important ones in the south of the county, around Taimali. Sadly the two finest, Bilu (比魯溫泉) and Dufeilu (都飛魯溫泉) are no longer accessible. Bilu Hot Spring, with its famous hot spring waterfall, was largely destroyed by Typhoon Morakot. It, like Dufeilu Hot Spring and the nearby Jinhuang Hot Spring (近黃溫泉, both of which still exist) lies within the Dawushan Nature Reserve, and is out-of-bounds to general visitors. A group who entered illegally in 2015 was fined NT$360,000!
On the way to the former Bilu Hot Spring is Jinfeng Hot Spring (金峰溫泉), although it’s not very exciting after visiting Taitung’s best (accessible) examples.