Looking for a day trip from Taipei? Pingxi in New Taipei City is a popular option – most people head to Shifen waterfall and Shifen Old Street for the lanterns, but if you rather avoid the crowds and enjoy a hike in the mountains where you can see not one, but three separate waterfalls, I highly recommend checking out Sandiaoling waterfalls just a short distance away. Here’s what my experience hiking Sandiaoling waterfalls on my own was like and what you can expect.
Solo trekking in Taiwan
“Why are you hiking on your own? Is that safe?”
I honestly had not thought very much about the perils of hiking on my own until I ran into a group of friendly middle-aged aunties all decked out in pink with walking poles in hand, aghast that I was on my own in the middle of the forests of the Sandiaoling Waterfall trail. My little solo adventure turned out to be a pretty cool trek where I got right behind a waterfall, climbed some really adventurous looking ladders and nearly got chased down by some territorial stray dogs.
(It was fine Mum, really)
The Sandiaoling trek is quite well maintained, and it was quite quiet on the weekday when I was there though I did run into fellow trekkers occasionally. As with all outdoor activities, take the necessary precautions for your own safety and comfort level. If hiking is not your thing, here are some outdoor activities in and around Taipei that might be more up your alley.
How to get to Sandiaoling 三貂嶺
I boarded the Pingxi line train from Ruifang to Shifen, ready to check out the town that is famous for paper lanterns and a lovely waterfall, when I realised that 90% of the people on that train were all headed to that same small town. I had done a little googling about Shifen the day before and during my research, found mentions of the Sandiaoling waterfall trail where you could see not 1, not 2, but 3 whole waterfalls with nary a crowd.
It was not a hard decision to hop off that train early while everyone else trundled off to Shifen 十分. Standing alone on that little platform, I had to wonder if I was even in the right place just because it was so quiet, but I followed the signs that pointed to the Sandiaoling trail and started walking.
- From Ruifang Train Station 瑞芳, take the Pingxi Line 平溪線 towards Jingtong 菁桐 – buy the 80NTD 1-day Train Pass for the Pingxi Line if you plan to explore other stops along the line
- Alight at Sandiaoling 三貂嶺 Station
- Walk in the direction of Dahua 大华 Station (that’s the next station, so in the direction of the train you arrived on) – you’ll need to cross under the platform and follow the path until you get to Shuoren Elementary School
- Your next checkpoint is Shihzhihzuei – or just Shizizui 狮子嘴 aka the Lion’s Mouth. Keep following the signs towards Hegu Waterfall 合谷瀑布 which is your first waterfall
Planning your Sandiaoling Trek
I’m not much of a trekker or an outdoors sort. Anyone who’s ever had the fortune (or misfortune) of travelling with me can tell you that I am more of a whiner than a walker. But I can also say that I walk a lot more when I’m solo as compared to other travels, mostly because it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around. But the point is that I found this trek quite doable for the most part, though there are certain portions you might want to skip if you are not up for it.
The Sandiaoling waterfall trek is roughly 3-4 hours long – for the route you have these options:
- Start at Sandiaoling, end at Dahua train station – this was my route, I suggest this because I think the build up of anticipation here to the waterfalls is better, and Sandiaoling’s signage is better than Dahua’s signage so you’re less likely to get lost
- Start at Sandiaoling, end at Sandiaoling – Also an option because after the last waterfall, honestly not that much to see
- Start from Dahua, end at Sandiaoling station – Some people prefer this route – I feel that it takes a longer time before you actually see the first waterfall, and climbing down some of these ladders is harder than climbing up
The path is a fairly easy walk when flat – mostly forest paths or with some paving. I was wearing running shoes but it was a bit wet in places, I think hiking shoes or boots would have been better. There are points where you have to do some serious stair climbing but the stairs are well built.
Everything is fine until you get to Waterfall #2 aka Motian Waterfall. If you are not so physically able, turn around and head back to Sandiaoling Station here because getting from Waterfall #2 to #3 involves some climbing – more in the Pipadong section below.
The Sandiaoling Waterfalls 三貂嶺瀑布
There are 3 waterfalls to seek out on the Sandiaoling trail. They might not be as wide or grand as Shifen Waterfall, but I think the relative serenity and lack of crowds is a pretty big draw. My goal was to make sure I saw all 3 of them and get my proof (read: selfie) with each waterfall and enjoy the complete lack of people in the background.
#1 – Hegu Waterfall 合谷瀑布
The first waterfall you reach is Hegu Waterfall, but sadly you can only admire it from a distance on a little wooden viewing platform. It’s the highest waterfall of the 3 and split into 2 sections, totalling about 40m in height.
Apparently you can walk to the head of the waterfall through some unmarked path – but do that at your own risk. You can also swim along the Wufenliao river which branches off Keelung River to the base of the Hegu Waterfall, but that involves some skill doing river tracing and swimming.
It took about 25 minutes for me to get from Sandiaoling train station to Hegu waterfalls. Mostly flat paths, but some long but paved staircases as the route was winding uphill.
#2 – Motian Waterfall 摩天瀑布
The second waterfall you reach is Motian Waterfall and it’s nice that you can get much closer to this waterfall. There’s a little wooden balcony of sorts where you can take your photos from and admire the way the water falls onto the boulders below and the spray hits your face.
Motian is about 30mins of walking from Hegu Waterfall.
The very special thing about Motian is that you can actually climb up behind the waterfall. I missed this the first time around – I thought Pipadong was the one where you could go behind, so I actually backtracked to find the path, which is located to the right of the metal staircase before you head up to Pipadong.
#3 – Pipadong Waterfall 琵琶洞瀑布
If the first two waterfalls were enough adventure for you, turn and head back towards Sandiaoling Station. The next bit involves a little bit of climbing and might not be so suitable if you are scared of climbing or if the weather is particularly wet.
First, the long vertical road up from Motian to Pipadong Waterfall which is stacked on top of it.
Pipadong Waterfall is perhaps about 15 minutes from Motian Waterfall – you can actually walk to the head of Motian waterfall from above. Pipadong looks quite similar to Motian but falls from a more pronounced overhang, and you can also get quite close to its base and even wade in the pool if you wanted to.
From Pipadong Waterfall to Dahua Station
I didn’t want to backtrack and see the same things again, that’s mostly why I chose to hike towards Dahua Station rather than return to Sandiaoling. That also meant that I got to climb this exciting wooden ladder that made me feel real outdoorsy:
After that it was mostly paths and staircases, including a rather too exciting encounter with a pack of territorial stray dogs that had me very nearly consider backtracking to Sandiaoling. Thankfully, I ran into a nice old cleaner uncle who told me in Min Nan – I understand enough Hokkien to get the gist – that these dogs were fine, and pointed me towards the pathway I was looking. I said thank you, in extremely broken Hokkien and continued on my way.
This place is apparently called the Yeren Valley 野人谷 and was once a park with trails and multiple waterfalls, that was sadly wiped out by a typhoon and never restored. Learn more about that in this post by bikehiketaipei – it also says that I could probably have pushed myself to hike a bit further to get to Shifen instead of back down to Dahua, but I think I was pretty done by then.
I started at 11am and finished around 3pm – I probably should have planned a bit better and brought more food because I was starving when I was done. I recuperated a little while waiting for the train to come along. I ended up really maximising my 80 NTD Pingxi Line day pass by heading to Shifen, Jingtong and finally returning from Pingxi.
Want to explore more of Taipei’s outdoors? Check out this post on some cool outdoor activities in Taipei, or if you are planning a trip to Taiwan, you can also check out the rest of my Taiwan posts for more ideas on cool things to do, or if you have never been to Taipei before, here’s what you can see in Taipei in just 48 hours.