Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail is one of the best waterfall hikes in Taiwan. The Pingxi Valley is one of the rainiest places in Taiwan resulting in a beautiful lush forest. Each of the three waterfalls are stunning and unique although Hegu Waterfall is a little disappointing since there isn’t easy access to it. The second waterfall has commonly become known as Sandiaoling Waterfall but it is actually named Motian Waterfall. This is one of the few waterfalls in Taiwan that you can walk behind in a crevice of the cliff and it is where Nick Kembel took his famous book cover photo. Pipadong Waterfall is located almost directly on top of Motian Waterfall and hikers are able to stand at the brink and look down.
Rating and length – Easy – 8km – 3+ hours
Accessibility – on the Pingxi Rail Line – Slippery trail and hikers will need to climb a rope/log ladder to do the full trail – Others can just hike to Motian Waterfall and turn back
How to get there – Most foreigners hike from Sandiaoling Train Station to Shifen Waterfall but this route requires you to walk through a railway tunnel. This is both illegal and dangerous. Many Taiwanese hikers hike from Sandiaoling to Dahua Station but I prefer the opposite route.
There are two options for going to Dahua Train Station. The most common option is to take the train to Ruifang and then transfer to the Pingxi Rail Line (both trains leave about once/hr). Be warned that by 11am the Pingxi train is extremely crowded standing room only. I stayed in Ruifang (at the Golden House Backpacker) and took the 9am and 10am trains. These trains are not very crowded and I recommend getting the early start.
The other option is to take bus 795 from Muzha MRT to the Pingxi Rail Line. The bus stops at many different stations for the Pingxi Rail Line. I would recommend getting off at either Lingjiao or Wanggu and spending an extra 30 minutes checking the nearby waterfall at each of those stations. Both stations are a short (5 minute) walk from the bus stop.
For those starting at Sandiaoling Village you can take a train from Taipei Main Station directly to Sandiaoling Station and avoid using the Pingxi Rail Line.
Starting at Dahua Train Station walk west (toward Shifen) along the train tracks for 5 minutes until you see a trail leading down to a red bridge. Cross the red bridge and turn left. I have nicknamed the next part the Stairs of Death and this is the primary reason that I prefer starting from Dahua Station. The Stairs of Death are about 300-400 meters long and end at Yerengu (called both Barbarian Valley or Wildman Valley). Yerengu is a lush valley with 4-5 waterfalls but it has been closed for nearly 20 years following a major typhoon.
Walk across the parking lot and exit through gate (take a side trail at the gate 2 minutes to a small shrine with a view of Xinliao Waterfall). Walk up the road for a five minutes and turn right at an intersection. There is a small village with a roundabout and a bus stop but stay right on an older road. Eventually the road becomes a trail and then stairs going up. The next part is a little tricky (tricky to explain also) and you can get very lost here. After intersecting with a road you need to cross and take the trail on the other side. 5 minutes later you intersect with a DIFFERENT road. This is marked with the two X’s on the map below. Follow this road until you get to a concrete path (don’t go through the gate). A few minutes later you reach the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail with a trail map.
The Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail is very easy to navigate. You will need to go down a rope/log ladder to Pipadong Waterfall. It isn’t that bad but could be a challenge for someone afraid of heights. At Pipadong Waterfall you can see how the potholes are formed. There were several smaller rock in the potholes when we were there and in heavy rain these rocks grind out the potholes. You can also stand directly on top of Motian Waterfall (commonly referred to as Sandiaoling Waterfall). There is a small rope and tricky section down to the new metal staircase between Pipadong and Motian Waterfalls. Right at the bottom of the staircase is a trail to the cave behind the waterfall. The hike back to the train station is quite easy. You will cross two rope bridges that are close to the top of Hegu Waterfall and later you will go past a viewpoint for Hegu Waterfall. In Sandiaoling there are a few snack/drink vendors on weekends but not much else. Bathrooms are located next to the school/museum and it is additional 1 km walk to the train station (turn left and walk next to the tracks).
Hiking up to Menghuan Waterfall is a cool end to your day trip. It will take over an hour round trip but there is a nice relaxing to relax at and an impressive Buddhist temple along the trail.
Seasonality – all year but could go dry if there hasn’t been rain in 2 months (like my first hike)
Other info – Pingxi train fare (80 TWD for a day pass) – Taipei Main Station to Sandiaoling (59TWD/ride) – bus fare (15 TWD/ride I think)
GPS info – Sandiaoling N25.059604, E121.819227 – Hegu Waterfall N25.06146, E121.81213 – Motian Waterfall N25.06334, E121.80515 – Pipidong Waterfall N25.06363, E121.80520 – Red Bridge N25.05112, E121.79439
Date visited – 10/13/2012 and 5/14/2016