Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布 [Shífēn Dà Pùbù])

Pingxi District / Sandiaoling Valley / near Taipei / near Keelung, Xinbei County (New Taipei), Taiwan

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 2.5
The Shifen Waterfall with a bold rainbow

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

The Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布 [Shífēn Dà Pùbù]) was mostly likely Taiwan's most famous waterfall as it was seemingly very reachable from the east of Taipei as well as not being far from Keelung. It was a major waterfall permanently falling some 20m high and 40m wide on the Keelung River (基隆河 [Jīlóng Hé]). In fact, it was said to be the widest waterfall in Taiwan, and thus have a bit of a horseshoe shape at its crest (common in most broad waterfalls), which even earned it the nickname the "Little Niagara of Taiwan" though I tend to think of its shape as being closer Cumberland Falls (i.e. the "Niagara of the South") without the Autumn colors. As you can see from photo at the top of this page, the timing of our visit couldn't have been better as we were treated to a bright bold rainbow refracting the sun's rays in the waterfall's mist. With this being the last waterfall in Taiwan that we visited in our trip in 2016, it whetted my appetite for more waterfalling experiences in Taiwan the next time I come here even as Mom and I were pretty waterfall-saturated on our nearly two-week self-tour around the entire island.

Like Niagara Falls, there was a bit of a history with this waterfall. In the past, the area was privately owned and the owners would fleece visitors to see it while building kitschy infrastructures completely irrelevant to the natural experience. This was not unlike how Niagara Falls in its early days was developed and even exploited. And while its more famous North American brethren still had a Las Vegas meets Mother Nature kind of feel to it (despite its undeniable grandeur), at least the smaller Shifen Waterfall retained much of its naturesque scenery as the Taipei government managed to assume control of the area (apparently this happened not too long ago). So now, we were able to experience the falls with a very well-built trail featuring plenty of lookouts to view it from all sorts of angles. Perhaps the only down side was the area had limited hours from 9am to 4:30pm meaning that there would be no way to beat the rush as we had to share this place with hundreds of other people despite our early arrival at 8am.

That said, our early arrival to the Shifen Waterfall meant that we had some time to survey the area around the actual main waterfall itself. We noticed on the map signs that in addition to the loop trail that seemed to suggest we should do the self-tour in a counterclockwise manner, there was another waterfall closer to the loop trail's "exit" called the Yanjingdong Waterfall (眼鏡洞瀑布 [Yǎnjìngdòng Pùbù]; Eyeglasses Waterfall). So we walked briefly back across the road bridge over the river then turned right to walk along the Highway 106 before reaching the small car park and complex closer to the Yanjingdong Waterfall. This small cascade had nowhere near the size of the Shifen Waterfall, but the trail was fun and the unusual situation of the falls (being under a couple of bridges) made it memorable (if not an excuse to kill that extra hour before the Shifen Falls viewing area would open).

Indeed, the trail required us to we walk across a long suspension bridge alongside a railway bridge (most likely the Pingxi Railway) across the Keelung River. Once we were on the other side, we then descended some steps and reached a lookout across the river looking right at the Eyeglasses Waterfall from beneath these long bridges. As we continued to walk the trail in the direction of the Shifen Waterfall (whose mist we could see rising further downstream), we eventually went past some cafes before arriving at the "exit" gate for the main Shifen Waterfall complex. Little did we realize that when the gate would open at precisely 9am, we would be closer to the Shifen Waterfall than just about everyone else trying to reach the falls from the main entrance gate (as the counterclockwise direction of the loop trail required them to make a bit of a longer hike just to even get to the main waterfall itself). Therefore, we had a few minutes of enjoying the falls before it would get really crowded.

So in doing the loop trail backwards, we first experienced the brink of the Shifen Waterfall, which was where we could appreciate the horseshoe shape at its crest. When we saw that there was a rainbow appearing in its wafting mist, we quickly made our way towards the more frontal lookouts further downstream, and that was when we had the nearly perfectly-situated rainbow alongside the Shifen Waterfall that you see pictured at the top of this page. That main trail descended into a lookout area that was sheltered and wide enough to accommodate dozens of people. There were also steps ascending out of the main lookout area affording us even more angles of looking at the falls while also appreciating the power of Mother Nature as some rockfalls and landslides appeared to have damaged some prior infrastructure further downstream of the main viewing area.

While the Shifen Waterfall was basking in the morning sun, it didn't last for long. Eventually, some pop up thunderclouds started showing up and that blocked the sun's rays, which enabled me to switch to taking some long exposure photographs as a result of the reduced brightness and even lighting. It was a good thing that we had gotten our early start (despite the restricted opening hours) because we definitely felt the crush by the time it was around 10am and we had our fill of the falls.

So on our return to the car, we continued to walk in the opposite direction towards the entrance gate, and that was when I realized that the way they routed the trail, it seemed like a much longer hike going from the entrance to the falls than the way we did it in the opposite direction. Thus, although it was contrary to what the convention seemed to be, I would actually recommend doing this loop walk in a clockwise manner instead of counterclockwise so you pretty much cut right to the chase. Then, when you've had enough of the falls, you can complete the walk by going as fast (or as slow) as you'd like to finish off the less interesting parts of the trail.

Anyways, after returning to the main car park across the visitor center, we found ourselves having spent nearly 2 hours at the falls plus the additional hour of checking out the Eyeglasses Waterfall before the Shifen Waterfall opened for the day. While the park literature suggested that it would only take less than an hour to complete the roughly 2.4km loop hike (which was really more like a stroll), we really took our time. And I definitely advocate not being in a rush to really experience this place.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Part of the reason why Shifen Waterfall was so popular was that it was reasonably reachable from Taipei by self-driving or by public transporationPart of the reason why Shifen Waterfall was so popular was that it was reasonably reachable from Taipei by self-driving or by public transporation
Shifen Waterfall was also near Jiufen Laojie (九份老街 [Jiǔfèn Lǎojiē]; Jiufen Old Street), where we got these views towards Keelung while approaching the atmospheric spotShifen Waterfall was also near Jiufen Laojie (九份老街 [Jiǔfèn Lǎojiē]; Jiufen Old Street), where we got these views towards Keelung while approaching the atmospheric spot
Near Jiufen was the Gold Museum, where we got to see Japanese-themed share houses from the time when the Japanese occupied Taiwan and extracted gold from hereNear Jiufen was the Gold Museum, where we got to see Japanese-themed share houses from the time when the Japanese occupied Taiwan and extracted gold from here
The Shifen Waterfall was not far from the port of Keelung, which featured the Miaokou Night Market that my relatives swore had the best night market food in TaiwanThe Shifen Waterfall was not far from the port of Keelung, which featured the Miaokou Night Market that my relatives swore had the best night market food in Taiwan
Walking through some just-opening shops en route to the Yanjingdong WaterfallWalking through some just-opening shops en route to the Yanjingdong Waterfall

Walking towards the suspension bridge traversing the Keelung RiverWalking towards the suspension bridge traversing the Keelung River

While crossing the suspension bridge, we noticed wafting mist rising further downstream on the Keelung River, which we knew had to have come from the Shifen WaterfallWhile crossing the suspension bridge, we noticed wafting mist rising further downstream on the Keelung River, which we knew had to have come from the Shifen Falls

Looking upstream along the Keelung River across the Pingxi Railway while crossing the suspension bridgeLooking upstream along the Keelung River across the Pingxi Railway while crossing the suspension bridge

Looking back towards the Yanjingdong Waterfall or Eyeglasses Waterfall after having crossed the Keelung RiverLooking back towards the Yanjingdong Waterfall or Eyeglasses Waterfall after having crossed the Keelung River

Walking past some statues on the way to the cafes near the exit of the Shifen Waterfall Loop WalkWalking past some statues on the way to the cafes near the exit of the loop walk

The closure gate for the Shifen Waterfall as we were too earlyThe closure gate for the Shifen Falls as we were too early

This was as much of the Shifen Waterfall that we could see until the gates were openThis was as much of the falls as we could see until the gates were open

Looking back at some pond and developed area right near the brink of the Shifen WaterfallLooking back at some pond and developed area right near the brink of the falls

Once they finally let us in, we first got to look down over the brink of the Shifen WaterfallOnce they finally let us in, we first got to look down over the brink of the Shifen Falls

We then walked towards the main frontal viewing spots for the Shifen WaterfallWe then walked towards the main frontal viewing spots for the Shifen Falls

On our first frontal look at the Shifen Waterfall, we were greeted with a well-positioned rainbowOn our first frontal look at the Shifen Falls, we were greeted with a well-positioned rainbow

The walkway then went to our left revealing more of the rainbow juxtaposed with the Shifen WaterfallThe walkway then went to our left revealing more of the rainbow juxtaposed with the Shifen Falls

We were fortunate in our timing as we managed to see the bold rainbow, but then the thunderclouds started popping up and blocking the sun's rays, which meant it was now time to take long exposure photosWe were fortunate in our timing as we managed to see the bold rainbow, but then the thunderclouds started popping up and blocking the sun's rays, which meant it was now time to take long exposure photos

Looking back at the very busy viewing area for the Shifen WaterfallLooking back at the very busy viewing area for the falls

A closer long-exposed look at the Shifen WaterfallA closer long-exposed look at the Shifen Waterfall

After getting our fill of the main lookouts for the Shifen Waterfall, we then had to walk back up to the paved walkwayAfter getting our fill of the main lookouts for the falls, we then had to walk back up to the paved walkway

Looking back at a part of the walkway where it appeared they put some retaining walls and some diversion to prevent the walkway from eroding moreLooking back at a part of the walkway where it appeared they put some retaining walls and some diversion to prevent the walkway from eroding more

When we returned to the brink of the Shifen Waterfall, this was the scene that greeted usWhen we returned to the brink of the falls, this was the scene that greeted us

The context of the area near the brink of the Shifen WaterfallThe context of the area near the brink of the falls

Looking downstream at what appeared to be a major landslide and rock fall that might have destroyed the old lookouts providing an even more direct and frontal view of the Shifen WaterfallLooking downstream at what appeared to be a major landslide and rock fall that might have destroyed the old lookouts providing an even more direct and frontal view of the Shifen Falls

Looking back at the main walkway as I was headed back up towards the main entranceLooking back at the main walkway as I was headed back up towards the main entrance

Looking back towards the main walkway with the Shifen Waterfall in the backgroundLooking back towards the main walkway with the Shifen Falls in the background

This was the gate at the main entrance of the Shifen WaterfallThis was the gate at the main entrance of the Shifen Waterfall

It took quite a while to even walk to this spot, which was well before the main entrance. So this made me think that perhaps walking backwards on the loop was better than going the way they intended for you to goIt took a while to even walk to this spot, which was well before the main entrance. So this made me think that perhaps walking backwards on the loop was better than going the way they intended for you to go

Looking over some colored tin roofs that I believe belonged to the cafes and shops closer to the brink of the Shifen WaterfallLooking over some colored tin roofs that I believe belonged to the cafes and shops closer to the brink of the falls

Looking towards the lush mountain scenery around the Shifen Waterfall complexLooking towards the lush mountain scenery around the Shifen Waterfall complex

Looking back at more of the trail leading towards the entrance of the Shifen WaterfallLooking back at more of the trail leading towards the entrance of the Shifen Falls

Looking towards some suspension bridge near the visitor center. This was definitely not the ones we had crossed earlier by the Yanjingdong WaterfallLooking towards some suspension bridge near the visitor center. This was definitely not the ones we had crossed earlier by the Yanjingdong Waterfall

Looking over some other attractively wide waterfall on a branch of the Keelung River that must have been further upstream from the Shifen WaterfallLooking over some other attractively wide waterfall on a branch of the Keelung River that must have been further upstream from the Shifen Falls

One thing that seemed to be a popular activity in the Pingxi area (which the Shifen Waterfall was a part of) was the release of these sky lanterns, which had some environmentally questionable ethics, but it wasn't going to stop most of the visitors here from engaging in itOne thing that seemed to be a popular activity in the Pingxi area (which the Shifen Waterfall was a part of) was the release of these sky lanterns, which had some environmentally questionable ethics, but it wasn't going to stop most of the visitors here from engaging in it


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Sweep showing the Shifen Waterfall with rainbow from a few different spots around the steps and the viewing shelter


Sweep starting from an elevated top down look over the falls' brink and profile before making my way down to the very brink of the falls. In the background was a recording on loudspeaker that played just when the park opened


Checking out the Yanjingdong (Eyeglasses) Waterfall from beneath the bridges while we were waiting for Shifen Waterfall to open


Short sweep showing some other small but wide waterfall well upstream of the main Shifen Waterfall


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

Although we took a more scenic route from Taipei City along the Hwy 106 towards the Shifen Waterfall, we'll describe a more straightforward and faster driving route in this section. Later, we'll describe the approach from Keelung, which was the biggest neighboring city to the Shifen Waterfall.

So from the junction of the National Expressway 3 and the National Expressway 1 (east of Taipei City), we would keep going east towards Keelung along National Expressway 1. However, we would then exit the National Expressway 1 to go onto the exit 2-八堵 (characters pronounced "bādǔ") towards the Tai-2丁線 (characters pronounced "dīngxiàn") towards Ruifang or 瑞芳 [Ruìfāng]. This exit near the interchange for the Tai-62 Expressway.

Next, we'd turn right onto Shuiyan Road (also labeled as Tai-2丙 where the character was pronounced "bǐng"). We would then take the Tai-2丙 Highway south for about 10km before turning right onto an access road to the Highway 106 (called 平雙產業道路 [Píngshuāng Chǎnyè Dào Lù]). After another 400m, we'd then turn right onto Hwy 106 and follow it for 600m before reaching a fork.

Keeping right at the fork would lead another 300m to one of the main car parks (toll required) right across the street from the visitor center. However, keeping left at the fork to remain on the Hwy 106 would lead another 600m to the signed turnoff and car park for the Yanjingdong Waterfall and "exit" for the Shifen Waterfall Loop Trail on the right. Overall, this 32km drive would take about 30-45 minutes depending on traffic.

If we were coming from Keelung, we could take the Tai-5 before exiting at the Tai-2丁 (the character is pronounced "dīng"). We'd then follow the Tai-2丁 as it became the Tai-2丙. We'd then continue on the Tai-2丙 and as in the directions given above and follow those directions the rest of the way to the Shifen Waterfall. Overall, this 15km drive would take about 30 minutes depending on traffic.

Finally, given that we saw a railway passed by the Shifen Waterfall area, we're aware that there's the Pingxi Railway line (平溪線 [Píngxī Xiàn]) that can be boarded from Taipei and taken to the Old Street in Shifen Town (十分老街 [Shífēn Lǎojiē]). From there, it would be about a kilometer walk to get to the Shifen Waterfall complex, and then we could walk the 2.4km loop to fully experience the falls without needing a car (something not necessarily desirable when staying in Taipei). This might be something we'll do the next time we're in the area though we can't divulge any more details on it until we've actually done this.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES


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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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