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