I have a confession to make: I don’t really like hikes.
Don’t get me wrong – I know hiking is great. Exercise and great views and mountains and canyons all encompassed in one activity? What more could you ask for, right?
Well if you’re me, you’d ask for air conditioning…and a friendly camel to take you up the trail so you don’t have to walk…and maybe just a view of a TV instead of the city.
OK, so maybe all of that is a bit of an exaggeration (I am a cow, but not that much), but throughout my life, I’ve gone on plenty of hikes, and most of them just haven’t been all that impressive. Let’s take the Hollywood sign hike, for example, where you walk for what seems like seven years only to be rewarded with a crap view of the fenced-off BACK of the legendary Hollywood sign. Or pretty much every hike that promises “great views of ______ city” – from how many angles do I need to see LA from before I can stop pretending to be impressed?
And before you say anything, I know I’m biased in my opinions. First of all, I live in LA, not somewhere like Oregon, so the hikes I’ve been on have been a bit underwhelming by default of location. I also have terrible endurance and strongly believe that endorphin release after exercise is a myth made up by Michelle Obama for the sake of her anti-obesity initiative (check out the “Let’s Move” campaign if you have no idea what I’m talking about). Kidding, obviously, but I hope that helps explain why I’ve never been a fan of the activity.
That is, until one sweltering hot day on the outskirts of Taipei, when this happened:
RIP, my hike-hating soul. After getting off at a decrepit, abandoned-looking train station last Saturday, I walked in between train tracks and above the Keelung River in search of the entrance to Sandiaoling Waterfall Hike, a quiet and lesser-known trail on the Pingxi Line.
The hike easily became my all-time favorite for a few reasons:
- It’s a solid length, at about 5.5 miles total, but it wasn’t difficult or tiring to the point of discomfort. After making it past the stairs at the beginning (which are admittedly pretty tough), the rest of the hike is easy. One part of the trail requires you to hold on to a rope to climb upward, which is more exhilarating than it is difficult.
- The views are unbeatable. Say goodbye to repetitive cityscapes, and say hello to waterfalls that actually have water flowing from them (take that, droughty-ass California). There are three in total: Hegu, Motian and Pipadong. Hegu has the heaviest flow, but can only be seen from a distant observation deck.
- Motian and Pipadong Waterfalls are swimmable! Well, technically only Pipadong, but ignore a few signs and Motian is all yours. Having never really been to a real waterfall before, I didn’t realize how amazing it would feel to stand under one. It felt so refreshing after hours blanketed under the Taipei humidity…I would’ve stayed under those cool waters until I shriveled into a prune if I could.
- Many locals don’t know of the trail, so it’s not too crowded and has the allure of being a bit of a “secret.” I like to think of Sandiaoling Falls as the quieter, prettier little sister of the famous Shifen Waterfall.
- Getting to Sandiaoling is simple and so is finding the trail. From Taipei Main Station, all Gen and I had to do was take the Su’ao train straight to Sandiaoling Station. Once in Sandiaoling, some easy instructions from online led us right to the trailhead.
- It possesses a wide variety of wildlife, from butterflies of all colors to fish in the pools at the base of the waterfalls. I even saw a few blue-tailed lizards, one of which was dead and being carried up the stairs by a colony of ants (strength in numbers, am I right?).
Saturday’s adventures were a textbook case of exceeded expectations. I went from barely looking forward to my day to leaving convinced I’d found Taiwan’s biggest gem. As usual, my descriptions and iPhone pictures don’t do Sandiaoling justice, but you’ll have to trust me on this one. If you’re ever in Taipei, it’s a must-go.