It was a beautiful Saturday just before a race and we wanted to venture out for a short trail run (just over 8km) so we grabbed a running backpack and headed to San Diao Ling, which is around an hour from Taipei by train.
This trail, which spans from the quiet San Diao Ling train station to the bustling Shi Fen station is one of my favorites because of the variety it offers on this short jaunt.
Remember to bring everything you will need on your trail run, food drinks etc. as the San Diao Ling, the first stop, is a very small station. Here you will turn right, and follow the tracks to a small tunnel that leads under the railway. Once on the other side of the railway follow it for approximately 100m before turning off. You will see an elementary school on the right, turn up towards it and then left, follow the stairs to find the head of the trail.
The first bit of trail is a series of stairs but the trail soon turns narrow and runs alongside a mountain with a steep drop on the other side. It isn’t long before you come to the first waterfall, known as HeGu waterfall (1.8km into the trail).
The trail following this consists of rolling hills surrounded by dense forest, the footing here is not particularly challenging as most of it is covered in small stones. Eventually the trail narrows and becomes less runnable, with sharp hills and dips, running between the trees to the second and third waterfall.
The second waterfall, Motian Falls and third waterfall, Pipa Dong Falls are in fairly close succession around km 3. First you come upon Motian Falls, which is a relatively small waterfall dropping from the stream high above. There is an observation deck which doesn’t allow people to get too close to the river below but just close enough to be sprayed by some of the mist surrounding it. Here, there is also a section that has been eroded out from underneath the waterfall, meaning you can walk a little way behind it to take a look.
The final waterfall, Pipa Ding Falls, is the waterfall you can get closest to. It has a small pool of water that doesn’t have much current and you can wade in if you would like. If you go down the stream from this waterfall you can also see the unique circle patterns which have been eroded into the rock, apparently caused from stones getting trapped in the current of the water and spinning around, making small pools. These 2 falls are so close to each other that if you continue down the stream from Pipa Ding, you can, very carefully, look down from the top of Motian fall, to see the waterfall below.
This part of the trail has recently been developed with a number of steal staircases, so the steep climbs between these 2 waterfalls are relatively accessible to nearly anyone in reasonable health. Previously, the rock faces were climbed using ropes or steep ladders. Hikers now have the choice between the new metal stairwells and the, mostly still existing, more rustic options. After passing the 3 waterfalls, a few short climbs and you are heading back to civilization. The trail will widen again and eventually split. We went left to go towards the Shi Fen train station, as we knew we would be able to find some unique food there. From km 4 the trail joins or follows a quiet road in the direction of Shi Fen. Having already ascended on the trail, the remainder of the run is downhill, be careful of the winding road and the sometimes busy traffic passing through on the way to PingXi.
Finally, you are on to the main road, and in the distance, you might be able to spot one of the famous sky lanterns from ShiFen being let off into the clouds.
Once in ShiFen we grabbed a small snack along the railway and decided that our adventure wasn’t over. In ShiFen you can rent small electric scooters, and we decided to sneak over to the PingXi crags, which are about 20 minutes away. Renting a scooter, although slow on the mountain hills, seemed the most efficient way as the train only comes every hour. The San Diao Ling trail (just over 8km) took under 2 hours, including stops at each waterfall, so if coming all the way from Taipei (just over an hour) this might not seem sufficient.
The PingXi crags are very interesting, but certainly, in no way runnable, as they are steep stone steps carved out of towering cliffs, offering beautiful views of the area surrounding PingXi. Still if you have the time, aren’t afraid of heights and are in the area, I highly recommend seeing them.
Here is the map of how to get to the entrance of the PingXi crags from the ShiFen train station.