Review in 3 sentences: Take a short hike through bamboo forest deep in the heart of northern Taiwan’s mountains. Listen to the river far below before dropping down to an unabridged crossing. Culminate the hike by dipping your toes in natural Taigang Hot Springs.
SAFETY-A note and disclaimer about safety: Always take responsibility for your own safety. Make sure you have a good idea what you are doing in the wilderness before venturing out. Do NOT rely solely on this review for your safety. Situations such as route conditions and weather constantly change and may differ from this article. Use any information herein at your own risk. Thank you and enjoy finding new frontiers!
Best time of year to visit: Mr J visited in mid-July. Coming from Hsinchu City, this road comes over a 4700’ pass. From December-February, weather conditions could lead to occasional road closure at this elevation. The mountains provide some heat relief in summer. Pay attention to weather conditions to reduce risk of flash flood danger.
Hiker level suitability: The trail presents little limitation. Crossing the river could prove challenging for young children.
Something unique to this hike: Natural hot springs with no more improvement than stone rings used to pool the water a bit.
Expect a two-hour car ride each direction between the Taigang Hot Springs trailhead and Hsinchu City. Probably add another half hour or so for non-stop scooter. Unfortunately, scooter drivers cannot avail themselves of controlled access and stop-light free options to reach the mountains. Our crew started early. In fact, the drive takes more out of visitors than the hike itself as it takes twice as long! Get on Hsinchu County Road 120 (竹 120) headed to and beyond Neiwan. In Jianshi Township, take a right onto 竹 60, cross the bridge, and head towards Naluo and Yulao Lookout. Naluo sits at the bottom of the mountain while Yulao marks the high point of the road. The narrow winding road that connects the two demands high alertness and quick reflexes. Side-seat “drivers” can provide helpful assistance by watching the mirrors carefully for oncoming vehicles.
Just before cresting the high ridgeline, the road splits in two directions. Only uphill traffic can go right. The lefthand route accommodates two-way traffic and loops back around to the same destination. However, it also accesses the road to Lidongshan Trail. At 4700’, Yulao always provides this Alaskan a nice reprieve from the intense heat of the plains. Stop here for cooler air, views off of the viewing platform, and a quick bathroom break. Go right to continue on 竹 60, which Google calls Xiuluan Road, past this point. The road heads towards the river in the deep valley. Stay straight on the main route at an intersection part way down. When you pass by a parking lot with a couple of suspension bridges across the river, look for parking. Pay for the lot or go left and pull off to the right side of the road.
TRAILHEAD AND TRAIL
Two main branches of the river come together near the point where the trailhead begins and together form a main tributary of the Dahan River. Further downstream, the Dahan flows into Shimen Reservoir in Taoyuan County. The branch of the river hosting the hot springs flows out of the valley sitting below the village of Smangus. Indeed, these waters literally come off of the east-west Taiwan divide.
Access the trail to Taigang Hot Springs by using the suspension bridge further upstream. Some folks on the island engage in river tracing. They access Taigang Hot Springs by using the river itself as their trail. However, I personally do not have the necessary expertise to do this yet. The downstream bridge crosses over to the Battleship Rock area. For now, I’ve only taken a look from the bridge.
The trail follows a small rough road for a short section on the other side of the river. It soon terminates at a residence. On the day of our visit, a chunky dachshund stood guard and announced our presence. Follow a footpath that loops around the edge of the property back towards the river. A nice trail cuts through bamboo forest gaining moderate elevation. Meanwhile, the river crashes a few hundred feet below. While trees generally obscure the view, occasional glimpses can be snatched. The path itself is a bit narrow at times so pay attention along the way.
After around 30 minutes, the trail drops back down to the river. The flowing water makes its way through interesting rock patterns. The shoving match between large plates here buckles the rocky surface into long bumpy designs. Continue upstream primarily using this rock as the route. While a rope here and there helps provide stability, the surface actually grips rubber soles quite nicely. I recommend against navigating the area in mere flip flops for the sake of sure footing. Furthermore, the current just might snatch them away when crossing the river! Bring an extra set of securely attaching footwear though for the river crossing.
A rope secured at each side of the river floats on its surface and marks the crossing point. I measure nearly 6’ in height and had to pull my shorts up to keep them from getting soaked. At times of recent heavy rains, the water might run too high and swift to safely cross. On the day we visited though, the mild current and clear water provided safe passage. It took us about an hour to hike in to Taigang Hot Springs. However, I have no doubt I could march the route in a half hour or so. An hour allows for a very leisurely pace.
AT THE SPRINGS
Taigang Hot Springs sit at an elevation just below 3,000’ (about 1000m). This lowers the temperature enough in summer to provide fairly nice air temperatures. River waters provide enough cold to help cool core body temps as well. After crossing the river, the route navigates through some interesting rocks for a few hundred feet then arrives at the hot springs. Prior visitors have used stones to create little circular “walls” that pool up the springs. The hot water itself seeps out of cracks in the rock or bubbles up through the gravel bed. It immediately starts to merge into the river. Hence, efforts to consolidate it into pools. The water gets pretty hot. My fellow hikers rearranged a few rocks to let some river water in to moderate temperature levels. I don’t really get into hot springs much so I just dipped my toe in to check out the phenomenon.
While they lingered at the springs and swam in the river, I explored up and down it for a few hundred feet in either direction. Steep mountainsides pull up on both sides forming a steep canyon. In times of high water, the river carries and deposits interesting rocks on its flood plain.
But perhaps the river itself proved the most interesting attraction. It alternated often between rapids and pools. In places the clear water pooled into depths over my head. The water gave way to different shades of green as light scattered throughout increasing density and depth. Meanwhile, little bubbles from the rapids swirled through the canvas of smooth green waters. I also dropped a few large rocks into the pools and watched them float to the rocky shelf below. Although I don’t really enjoy immersing in hot springs, Taigang Hot Springs provided plenty of reasons for me to linger and relax.
Clusters of resorts and structures cover most hot springs in Taiwan. Proprietors pipe the hot stuff into tubs inside of rooms or pools. Let’s just say that it isn’t really an outdoor experience. Taigang, however, provides opportunity to interact with hot springs in a natural setting. Furthermore, the surrounding tree-covered natural canyon walls definitely beat looking at the side of a building!
A friend served as our guide on this visit. She informed us that many tadpoles and frogs flood the waters in December. I got the distinct impression she felt them a nuisance. I advise against visiting Taigang Hot Springs in times of heavy rain. Rainfall often leads to dangerous rockfall in Taiwan’s mountains. On top of that, the springs lie in a canyon and almost certainly carry risk of flash floods. Also, make sure and exercise caution regarding river levels and crossings. Never cross a river that runs too fast or too deep for comfort. Otherwise, Taigang Hot Springs makes a nice destination for a day in the mountains of Hsinchu County.