After getting our first taste of a hot spring adventure over Chinese New Year, visiting Hongye, then Lisong Hot Spring, Ting and I were ready for more. So, with the 2/28 long weekend upon us, we sifted through the options available that were within a reasonable driving distance from Nantou county. Of the 40+ hot springs listed on Follow Xiaofei, Shikeng Hot Spring caught my eye while scrolling through, and it turns out it’s within a 3 hour drive from home. From the pictures, the water of the natural hot spring looked to be a light,cloudy pastel blue, with the now-recognizable vivid green rocks surrounding it. Plus, to get there and back, it’s about 18km of hiking along a riverbed: a perfect opportunity to mix training and adventure, I decided I’d bring my running shoes and trail pack along.
To get a jump on holiday traffic, we hopped into my trusty XiaoLan with the tent and all our gear packed, and made the drive down to Kaohsiung county after work on Thursday night. Around midnight we chose a cozy looking parking lot to set up camp for the night, brushed our teeth, pitched our tent and lay our heads down. With a crystal clear forecast, we went without the rainfly for the tent and were able to take in the beautiful night sky through the top of the tent. WIth stars as our ceiling, we fell asleep peacefully.
Friday morning we were up and at it. With only about an hour left in the drive, we said goodbye to our elementary school parking space and journeyed forward. Up and into the mountains on winding roads we went, enjoying Taiwan’s beautiful scenery. Slowly but surely(and after some minor difficulties regarding directions***) XiaoLan got us there, and we found a little spot on the side of the mountain road where she fit nicely. With the sun shining brightly down and happy hikers passing us by, we ( I say we- I was pumped, Ting was more toward the worried side) excitedly geared up and waited for our Garmin gps’ to be ready. I managed to convince Ting that it would be “super fun” to make the approximately 9km hike to the hot spring and back a trail run, rather than a leisurely paced hike. So with my trail pack loaded with gels and water, we pressed start on our Garmins and set off at a light jog down the steep mountain road,a big smile of excitement pasted on my face, and a somber look of consternation- which thankfully would later turn into a bright smile- on Ting’s.
The rest of the journey to the hot spring was a collage of gleeful moments of adventure intertwined with exciting trail running. We criss-crossed our way along the riverbed, following the path made by off-road vehicles, which use the riverbed as an all-terrain playground for their massive-wheeled, monster truck style 4×4 SUV’s. All the while we were surrounded on all sides by towering green mountains. Ting eased into the on-again off-again trail running/walking and found her stride. After about 2 hours, our little blue dot on Google Maps was pretty much right over top of our destination, Shikeng Hot Spring. But the best sign that we were close was the paint splatter of different colored tents scattered along one side of the riverbed, a couple hundred meters away along the side of the river. Upon further inspection, we spotted the stark green rocks, and little half naked specks of people getting in and out of steaming water. We’d made it!
Of the 5 hot springs I’ve now visited, Shikeng is within the top 2 most beautiful. It is a magical place, well worth the approximate 4-6 hour trip to get there and back. The bath itself is set up like a resort style hot tub- just way more beautiful. Hugging the side of the mountain, it is long and narrow, and could probably seat about 12 people. The water is as it appeared in the pictures: an opaque, pastel blue; and the surrounding rocks are an almost neon green. The hot spring itself, together with the surrounding scenery, make for a truly spectacular experience.
After soaking in the hot spring for 20-30 minutes, Ting and I estimated that we had about a 30 minute cushion of daylight for getting back to the car**. Like kids who don’t want to get out of the shower on a cold winter’s day, we grudgingly pulled ourselves out of the hot spring and geared up once again. Laced up and ready to go, we set off for our return. Shortly after, we realized that the whole way there, we had been going slightly uphill! Our speed increased notably and the trail run became a lot more fun. With lifted spirits and a lighter trail pack, we ran, jumped, and hopped our way along the riverbed at a nice clip, wrapping up the 18km trek in good time.
Tired and sweaty, yet invigorated from the day’s activities, Ting and I decided to continue the adventure. Only an hour’s drive south is a familiar spot, Ocean God’s Pools. So we hopped into the car and pressed on. After a restful sleep camped out in another parking lot-this time right at the access to the natural pools- we got an early start. Usually, the trace up the river to Ocean God’s Pools only takes about 30-40 minutes, and it’s easiest to walk along the side of the river. But after a dry winter, it was possible to walk straight up the middle of the riverbed, and only took about 20 minutes. While the river was dry, the pools were still full deep. The smooth canyon walls and the crystal clear turquoise water make these natural pools truly sublime. We frolicked around in them for an hour or so, and finally decided we’d had enough. Being the end of February, the sun was hot when it was out, but I found my teeth were chattering away whenever it wasn’t. So we traced our way back along the riverbed to XiaoLan, promising each other that we’d be coming back as soon as it warmed up a bit more.
All in, the expenses for this incredible weekend of adventures added up to about $50 USD. So pack a tent, choose one of the hundreds of waterfalls, hot springs, or lakes to go to, and get outside!
***A tip for getting there: About 10 minutes drive-time from the final parking location for the river bed and hot spring, look out for the handwritten chinese sign with red writing located right at the end of a switchback on the way up the mountain road, and take that road. There are multiple levels of the mountain road and they are parallel to each other. If you miss the turn off and you’re using the gps coordinates from www.followxiaofei.com, google maps will tell you have arrived, but you will be at a much higher point on the mountain road than you should be, looking around wondering where the path is or how you could possibly have arrived at the correct location. Get back in your car, go back down the mountain road about a 10 minute’s drive, and take the turn off from the switchback to the “side” mountain road.
**A note on that: if you want to make going to Shikeng Hot Spring a day trip, make sure you start your return about 3 hours before sunset. Even with a headlamp, I think it would be a difficult and disorienting return hike in the dark, not to mention turning your car around on an extremely narrow mountain road and getting out of there when you do make it back.