The Songlong Rock Waterfall (松龍岩瀑布 [Sōnglóngyán Pùbù]; meaning "Pine Dragon Rock Waterfall") was a waterfalling experience that had a lot going for it, especially since it was part of the Shanlinhsi (杉林溪 [Shānlínxī]) Nature Park. For starters, visiting this waterfall also meant that we got to hike in a more comfortable temperate alpine forest as we were at 1600m in elevation, which was above the inversion layer. This contrasted with the steamy jungle climate that we had to endure for almost all the other waterfall hikes in Taiwan. The hike also allowed us the opportunity to see monkeys in a more natural habitat as well as walking through a greenhouse in a traditional folk village (something I don't think we had ever done before on any waterfall hike). We even got to see an ancient red cypress as well as a "Heaven's Eye Rock" in addition to the impressive 30m (or so) waterfall itself that was reflected in a calm pond. Adjacent to the falls was also a deep Hamilton Pool-like alcove further adding to the scenic allure of this place. Indeed, the diversity of the experiences on this trail was the big takeaway here.
As for the hike itself, it turned out that we probably made things a bit longer and more difficult than they needed to be. You see, when we did this hike, we didn't know that there was a shuttle bus service until it was too late. So to make a long story short, we wound up hiking about 10km round trip. The difficulty rating that we've given this waterfall reflected us having to exert ourselves in this manner. That said, we've done longer hikes that were more rugged than this so I guess it could be argued that the difficulty rating could be bumped down a bit. In any case, with hindsight being 20/20, you definitely have options in terms of seeing as much or as little as you want here with a similar amount of flexibility in terms of how much exercise you want. If I had to do this all over again, I would've still hiked from the trailhead all the way to the falls (and even further to the Eye Rock) but then taking the shuttle bus all the way back to cut the hiking distance more or less in half.
Our hike began from the Chunlin Trailhead near the Sun-Link-Sea Hotel (see directions below). The well-developed forest trail pretty much followed the eastern banks of the Jiazouliao Stream (加走寮溪 [Jiāzǒuliáo Xī]) as the relatively flat trail meandered amongst tall trees passing by some viewing decks as well as some rest shelters with some colorful trash bins along the way. This part of the hike yielded some views of the stream, and it was peaceful enough to really appreciate the scenery. After about 1.8km along the Chunlin Trail (穿林棧道 [Chuānlín Zhàndào]), we reached what appeared to be a village where after crossing a red-railed bridge, we found ourselves walking through a greenhouse before resuming the hike on the Yuehsan Trail (樂山步道 [Yuèshān Bùdào]; "Music Mountain Trail"). It turned out that this "village" was the Flower Center, where lots of things were being grown.
When we started to hike the Yuehsan Trail, we saw some monkeys foraging high up on a nearby hillside. I guess this illustrated the kind of wildlife that could be found here as there didn't seem to be a crush of people during of visit. Anyways, we'd continue for the next 1.2km passing by a junction with the Tiyen Trail (which was closed during our visit), and then reaching a suspension bridge spanning the Jiazouliao Stream. On the other side of the bridge was the Songlong Tribe village, which was where the last shuttle bus stop was while also featuring some facilities and some statues.
We continued upstream from the Songlong Tribe facility, where the trail looped around a large and calm pond (eventually returning to the suspension bridge we had just crossed). While doing this loop, we were able to finally see the Songlong Rock Waterfall reflected in the calm waters of the pond. The trail continued going into a very deep alcove that was recessed enough to block out a fair bit of daylight and create a nearly cave-opening-type experience. The trail continued to allow us to get almost up to Songlong Rock Waterfall itself while also swerving around its base so we could experience it from all sorts of different angles. From within the alcove, I could have sworn that the acoustics were playing mind tricks as it seemed to make me think that there would be rushing water where there was none to be found behind me while I was facing the Songlong Rock Waterfall.
Anyways, after finishing the loop around the Songlong Rock Waterfall, we then did some additional hiking up the 900m Tianyen Trail (天眼步道 [Tiānyǎn Bùdào]; "Heaven's Eye Trail"), which branched off from the Yueshan Trail near the bridge. The Tianyen Trail climbed steeply up some switchbacks while yielding one last elevated view of the Songlong Rock Waterfall. Then, the trail kept going up through a tunnel (with a tunnel bypass option) before continuing its climb further upstream of the Songlong Rock Waterfall. Eventually, we'd reach the Ancient Red Cypress, which was basically a large tree stump being held up by wires as the rest of the tree had already been felled.
After intersecting with the Tiyen Trail at the Ancient Red Cypress, we had to go up one more final climb, which involved a few more switchbacks. But once we finally made it to the top of this climb, that was when we finally made it to the Tian-ti Yen (天地眼 [Tiāndìyǎn]; Heaven's Eye or something like that). This particular formation was really nothing more than a pair of small recesses in the rock that I guess could resemble an eye. In hindsight, we probably didn't need to do this extra hike beyond the Songlong Rock Waterfall, but at least we could say we did almost the full experience here. Anyways, with this being the end of the trail, we backtracked down to the Songlong Rock Waterfall and the Songlong Tribe facility, but it turned out that we wound up missing the 5pm bus, which was the very last one for the day. Thus, we would have to walk all the way back to the Sun Link Sea Hotel area.
As Mom and I were making the long walk back along the road, we did notice that there were additional trails near the Flower Center area and further down the road closer to the Sun Link Sea Hotel complex. In fact, one of the trails down there happened to be the 220m Yenan Trail (燕庵步道 [Yān ān Bùdào]), which featured a modestly-sized waterfall that we didn't get a chance to visit due to darkness. When all was said and done, we wound up spending on the order of a little over 3 hours to take in the whole experience (almost). The 10km distance that my GPS log indicated also encompassed some extracurricular walking between the Theme Hall and the Sun Link Sea Hotel spanning roughly another kilometer.
The nearest main cities to the Shanlinhsi Nature Park is most likely Chiayi (嘉義 [Jiāyì]) to the south and Taichung (台中 [Táizhōng]) to the north. Even though we started or ended our route from neither of these cities, we'll describe the driving directions from there anyways.
From the Chiayi vicinity, we'd drive north on the National Expressway 3 for about 48km to the Tai-3 Highway exit. We then turned right to go south on the Tai-3 Route for a little over 2km before turning left onto the Hwy 151甲 (the character is pronounced "jiǎ") before turning left after another kilometer to continue going east on the Hwy 151. We would continue on the Hwy 151 for the next 17km before turning right onto the Shanlinhsi Highway (投95; the character is pronounced "tóu"). This turnoff was near the very busy Xitou (溪頭 [Xītóu]).
We then drove the remaining 18km or so on the mostly uphill winding road passing by numerous signs from the Chinese zodiac telling us how far we had gone so far. Near the end of the highway, we entered the Shanlinhsi Nature Park, where the first main car park past the entrance gate was for the Theme Hall, where there was a visitor center. Another kilometer further up the road was the Sun Link Sea Hotel. The Chunlin Trailhead was about 100m or so before the parking for the Sun Link Sea Hotel. Private vehicles were not allowed on the road beyond the hotel as that was reserved only for the shuttle bus. Overall, this drive would take around 2 hours.
Coming from Taichung, you'd head south on the National Expressway 3 before getting off at the same exit for the Tai-3 Route as above. Once on Tai-3, follow the directions as above to reach the Shanlinhsi Nature Park.
As for some geographical context, Chiayi City was about 70km northeast of Tainan (or over an hour drive), 114km north of Kaohsiung (a little over 90 minutes drive), 99km south of Taichung (about 90 minutes drive), and 262km southwest of Taipei (under 3 hours drive).
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