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May 26, 2017

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The Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk offers a terrific trio of waterfalls

Edging our way around the deep overhang behind the waterfall, we reach the far end, directly behind the slim column of falling water, only to be greeted with an astonishing sight: the other people sitting gazing out into the gorge are packing up their sleeping bags – they've just spent the night camping behind the waterfall!

Several things about Taipei County's Sandiaoling Waterfall (三貂嶺瀑布) make it stand out in an area so rich in fine waterfalls. The approach to the fall – either up the beautiful lushly foliated glen or down a log ladder hung over a thrilling, sheer rock face – is especially memorable, the area is refreshingly free of handrails and surfaced paths, and the waterfall is impressively high (about forty meters). But what makes the waterfall really stand out is the huge overhang behind it (known locally as Moon Cave), allowing hikers to walk behind the curtain of water, and yes – even spend the night there!

Sandiaoling Waterfall and its two impressive companion falls, one above it and one below, are the centerpiece of one of the finest easier walks in Taipei County. The entire trail can be comfortably walked in three hours or so, and apart from ascending the rock faces beside Sandiaoling and Niyao Waterfalls (which have been much simplified recently with the addition of ladders) the hike is a simple one, mostly level or gently climbing, with no steep ascents.

Logically enough, the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk starts at the tiny hamlet of Sandiaoling, one of Taipei County's most secluded settlements. Although there is now finally a road of sorts to the village, the main access for visitors remains the railway. Most slow trains along the mainline Taipei to Ilan railway line stop here, as do all trains running along the scenic Pingsi Branch Railway, stopping at Sandiaoling station immediately before veering right off onto the branch railway line up to Pingsi.

Exit the tiny station, which sits alone amongst beautiful scenery in a shallow gorge carved by the Keelung River, and follow the railway tracks southwards, away from Taipei. Keep right just before the bridge over Keelung River as the Pingsi Branch Line veers off from the main line, and follow the branch line tracks into tiny Sandiaoling village.

Turn right just after passing the village's long-abandoned and now half derelict elementary school, and pick up the path, climbing until it levels out, high above the river, passing through mixed woodland and a few large stands of bamboo.

In about twenty minutes, after the woods give way to patches of more open country covered in tall grass, a flat area to the left of the path gives the best view of the first fall, forty-meter-high Hegu Waterfall (合谷瀑布); thick undergrowth below the path means only the top half of the impressive fall is visible these days, but it's still a very impressive sight, especially after heavy rain.

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