Story by Sophie Kohn with Simon Vaughan
Photos by Sergio David Spadavecchia
With Rugged Hills and Wide-Open Walks, Trails and Wilderness Track Abound
Blessed with some of Asia’s most varied scenery from chiselled mountains to dramatic gorges, spectacular coastline to misty forests, Taiwan has an abundance of fantastic hiking trails, both short and multiday.
For our first booted foray we headed an hour east of Taipei, where the landscape morphs into a sweeter, simpler time. The skyscrapers fall away and vast expanses of farmland and forest seem to stretch on forever through a magnificent valley. Unexpected villages pop up, with rivers gently snaking through the clusters of clapboard buildings.
This 13-kilometre stretch from Taipei into Yilan County is called the Pingxi Branch Rail Line, and you can ride the whole route in about an hour. Originally constructed during the region’s coal boom, the train has been preserved as a beautifully quaint scenic route, and it took us to one of the best day hikes on the island.
We hopped off at the idyllic village of Sandiaoling Station, and from there simple wooden signs pointed us to the beginning of the hike. It’s a gentle uphill trek to start, as the trail climbs higher and higher into the woods. For the most part, the path is fairly easy, though the mood of the forest changes dramatically with the weather. During typhoon season, heavy rains can make the trail slippery, causing the deceptively simple uphills and downhills to become slick and muddy—but the upside is more voluminous waterfalls than after a dry spell.
Our trek began just before a storm rolled in, and as we hiked we could sense the winds gathering momentum, a growing urgency in the hoots and chatters of forest residents, the suspension bridges swaying and creaking as we crossed. The most challenging part of the hike is a series of nearly vertical log and rope ladders embedded in a sheer rock face—especially if it’s wet, and even more especially when burdened with heavy camera gear!
"The mood of the forest changes dramatically with the weather"
There are four waterfalls to see on this hike, each with its own temperament, and curious nooks and crannies to explore. The first half hour of the trek will take you to Hegu Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall with an easily accessible viewing platform. Hike for another half hour and you’ll come to Motian Falls, where you can wade right out into the rocky stream below, perch on a boulder and enjoy the cooling spray on your face (or blinding, thundering shower, depending on how much it’s rained).
At Motian, we ventured to a cave directly behind the falls, a haven formed by an outcropping in the cliffs, and watched the rushing water tumble down 30 feet below us. Shortly after that is Pipa Dong Falls, and then my favourite—Shifen Falls, where we stood awestruck in a river on the edge of a massive cliff, revelling in the exhilarating views of the valley.
From Shifen, we turned around and hiked back out the way we came, racing ahead of the impending storm. Our trek had totalled three incredible hours.
6 Top Treks & Trails
Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, Sandiaoling Station, Pingxi Branch Rail Line
Batongguan Historic Trail, Dongpu to Nanan
The Walami Trail, Yushan National Park: No. 515, Sec. 1, Jongshan Road, Shueili Township, Nantou County
Caoling Historic Trail, Yuanwangkeng in Gongliao, New Taipei City
Shakadang (Mystery Valley) Trail, Xiulin Township, Hualien
Changchun Temple Trail, Xiulin Township, Hualien
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