Updated: Aug 17
Entering Qingshui Creek (清水溪) / Starting the Trace / Two Choices: The Hiking Trail / Two Choices: Waterfalls and Azure Pools / Rocky Road / Fan Waterfall: Perilous Beauty / So... What are Rockfall Conditions? / The nitty-gritty (GPS, GPX, and more)
"Sunlight shimmered on the turquoise water, making the thousands stones beneath seem like gems beyond counting."
Introducing this week's adventure:
Fan Waterfall (扇子瀑布): Beautiful, Iconic, and Unforgettable.
Breathtaking, iconic, & accessible for all experience levels, the stunning Fan Waterfall (扇子瀑布) in Yilan's Nanao (台灣，宜蘭，南澳) is a perfect half-day river trace!
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A Quick Note about Names...
The short version is, well, with this river, AND this waterfall, names are... complicated. Really, REALLY complicated. For this post, I'll be using the popular names Qingshui River (清水溪) and Fan Waterfall (扇子瀑布), but if you want a mind-bending trip through Taiwanese place naming craziness, click here! So, with that out of the way, and you now definitely not confused at all (ha ha), let's get this show on the road!
Entering Qingshui Creek (清水溪)
It was a beautiful summer day in Nanao (台灣宜蘭南澳) and I had been doing challenging traces in Yilan for almost a week. It was time for something more relaxing, so I decided to head on over to the famous, and beautiful, Fan Waterfall (扇子瀑布).
Fan Waterfall is located in a tributary of Nanao North River (南澳北溪) called Qingshui Creek (清水溪). It was my first time visiting the famous Taiwanese waterfall, so of course I had to figure out parking and the trailhead, though I didn't expect this to be very difficult, given Fan's reputation as an easy and beautiful trace.
Unfortunately, though, it turns out that parking is now a problem. There are several commercial properties directly across the Nanao North River from the start of the trace up Qingshui Creek, and none of them are welcoming of non-paying customers parking on their land. Not only that, but the empty lot people used to park in is now fully under development, and the owner is NOT friendly at all! You will have to be creative, or walk a ways to get to where you cross the river.
Fortunately, once I had found a place for my rented scooter, the rest of the trace was great! I crossed Nanao North River (南澳北溪) - important notes on that below - and met a local family playing in the water and doing some cliff jumping into a deep pool just next to the beginning of the trace.
Conditions were good that day, so Nanao North River was not too difficult to cross. There had been good weather for a long time, and water levels were manageable. Just keep in mind that, after typhoons, the river often floods and doesn't return to lower levels for weeks afterwards. In fact, it tends to look like God spilled his late!
Of course you should take care when crossing and use your best judgement, but the good news is that this is the only truly challenging part of the trace. If a family with young children can swim and play on the far side of the river, then you can too!
I played and jumped off the cliff for a while with a local aboriginal family I had encountered on the far side of the river, and their dad told me all about local life. Soon, though, it was time to leave them there and get on with the tracing!
Starting the Trace
Pretty much the first thing you see when you start heading up Qingshui Creek is a beautiful waterfall with an amazing swimming pool in front of it.
It doesn't matter how many times I trace how many rivers in Taiwan, I never cease to be inspired by the beauty of these pools. Sunlight shimmered on turquoise water, making the thousands stones beneath seem like gems beyond counting - and the thing is, I ALWAYS feel that way when I come to the East coast of Taiwan!
I jumped into the pool, swam across, and soon found myself looking back down at the waterfall from above. This was going to be a great day!
Two Choices: The Hiking Trail
I traced for most of the way going up the river, but on the way back I found that the trail I had taken for a short section just before Fan Waterfall actually runs all the way back to the other side of the pool and waterfall I had passed right at the beginning.
The trace itself is beautiful, and I highly recommend it. However, if you're tired or in a hurry, or in the case of emergency or rockfalls (the trace is prone to them under certain circumstances - see below), then it's good to know about the trail.
When I had just crossed the pool and waterfall I noticed this cut log. I found out coming back that this is actually a very useful trail marker: Just scramble up the rock where you see me pointing in the picture above, and it will take you all the rest of the way to Fan without any more tracing until you reach it.
Now, like I said above, I REALLY recommend the stunningly beautiful, and fun, tracing route over this - unless of rockslide conditions (still below). If you want to follow the hiking route, though, it's not all that difficult.
There are a few places where it goes up and down a bit, or hugs the cliffside a bit closely, but for the most part it's pretty easy, and even the less obvious parts are nothing too bad, all things considered.
Two Choices: Waterfalls and Azure Pools
But enough about hiking trails. This was a river trace, and I was there to TRACE!
Beautiful pools, waterfalls, and so much more were everywhere as I continued up Qingshui Creek.
Some were blue, others were turquoise, but all of them were gorgeous!
You never know what you'll see on a trace. Part way along, I met his little guy - one of the many kinds of stag beetles in Taiwan - and we had a bit of fun together.
He didn't seem to mind climbing around on my hand and arm at all, and it was only when I tried to get him back off and into the plants that he seemed to get a bit worried.
After tracing a while, the river began to change. Gone were the beautiful pools and waterfalls, and in their place I saw water tumbling between and around the reddish-brown rocks that now dominated the river.
It was somewhere around this point where one of the many, obvious trail markers took me to the left (river right) side to the point where I first noticed the trail. I could have continued along the rocky road ahead of me, but since I had been doing difficult tracing for days and was there to relax, I opted for the easier route this time.
Fan Waterfall: Perilous Beauty
"I stood there, gazing at the waterfall as it tumbled over the rocky cliffside with equal parts of grace and power into a broad, deep pool from the river above."
It wasn't much longer until I heard the unmistakable roar of a waterfall. Sure there had been several already, but this was clearly something much, much bigger. Looking ahead, I saw the side of the waterfall pouring down into what was by far the biggest, and deepest, pool I had seen that day, and then tumbling down over a jumble of submerged rocks into the river I had just come up.
This was it - I had reached Fan Waterfall, and it was time to see the gem of yet another of Taiwan's many, amazing river traces! I scrambled over the last obstacle, a short but rocky clifftop passage, and into the area where the pool was.
The sight that awaited me was breathtaking - and best of all, since I was there on a weekday, I had the whole area to myself! This was a waterfall different from any other I had ever seen (and I've seen a LOT of waterfalls!). As soon as you see it, you understand why it's called Fan Waterfall: It looks, well, like a fan.
Sunlight flooded in and seemed to give a magical sort of life to the deep, broad pool that now spread out to fill the wide, open area before me. I stood there, gazing at the waterfall as it tumbled over the rocky cliffside with equal parts of grace and power into a broad, deep pool from the river above.
Sometimes it can be easy to let the beauty of a place like this lull you into a false sense of security. Despite its beauty and the ease of access, Fan waterfall is still at its heart a very wild place, and it's important to remember that, even here, you are still in nature's domain.
Remember those rockfalls I was talking about earlier? Well, I visited Fan again during a day when conditions made them much more likely. Going in that morning, I knew they might be somewhat more likely, but despite careful and detailed weather checks, I hadn't realized just how ideal the rockfall conditions really were until I was already almost to the waterfall.
I had made sure to take the trail all the way from the beginning since it was far safer than the valley and canyon that the river below was flowing through. Even still, I saw not one but two rockfalls right in the area of the waterfall, and I made sure to follow the trail back out after only a very short visit - and to be honest, had I known exactly what the conditions would turn out to be like before starting, I definitely would have just stayed home that day. More on that below, but first...
...take a close look at the picture above. Do you see the rocky area to the right, directly across from the waterfall? Though this picture doesn't show it, there is a very obvious rockfall area right there. It's a popular place to stand and take pictures, and that is EXACTLY where I saw the first one happen. Even though I had carefully hidden myself behind a large boulder next to the path out and out of the way of rocks, they were far too close for comfort, and that was enough for me - theory had become reality, and it was definitely time to leave!
No sooner had I left the waterfall than I heard another, MUCH bigger rockfall happening just downstream. Take a look at the picture above: This is where water from Fan flows out of the pool and into the river below. I had just gotten up above this when, just out of the frame of this photo, a bunch of big rocks started tumbling down. And it wasn't just one or two, they kept coming and coming for quite a while.
So yes, Fan Waterfall is beautiful, but under rockfall conditions it can also be quite dangerous. As I said above, I had only come there that day because I knew the forest trail was far less prone to rockfall, along with letting me get in and out in a pretty short time. But even knowing all of this, I was really surprised at how dangerously perfect the rockfall conditions turned out to be, and if I had it to do again, I would definitely just stay out of the area until another day.
So... What are Rockfall Conditions?
So... what exactly was it about the conditions that day that made the area so prone to rockfalls, anyway? Well, there are lots of things that can contribute to this, and maybe I will do a detailed post about it eventually, but on that specific day it was a particular kind of combination of rain and sunshine.
When I set off, the forecast was a bit funny, but this was the area with the best chance of avoiding rain. As it turned out, the weather kept moving back and forth between sunny and overcast, and this worked to cause a series of short, light rains - no more than a few minutes long - which made the whole area pretty wet.
The moisture, of course, can act as a lubricant for dirt and rocks, but there's more to it still. When sun shines on wet areas in canyons, it causes evaporation, loosening the rocks and dirt. These two forces work together to increase the chance of rockfalls and landslides - especially if the valley you are in gets steeper or, as in this case, turns into a canyon.
On the day I was there, not only were these two forces in full effect, but they were happening over and over in a cycle like a dog chasing its tail. I had gotten there early enough that the first part of the trace was mostly simple overcast conditions, so I had chosen to continue forward. As it turned out, I had not anticipated that, as the day heated up, the clouds would not only thin - predictable enough - but start this kind of dangerous cycle as well.
By the time it started happening, I was already all the way at the waterfall, and it quickly became apparent that, rather than stay to enjoy the scenery, it was time to exit by the quickest, safest, and most direct route possible. That, of course, is why you should always have an emergency exit available from a trace if at all possible. In this case I did, and I have included it in the maps and GPX files in the Nitty-Gritty Section below.
So that's my story about Fan Waterfall, my wonderful first journey there, and my dangerous second visit. It's an amazing, beautiful, and fantastic place, easy to reach, and well worth the short amount of time needed to get there. Like with any trace, you need to make sure to keep an eye out for rockfalls, as well as other dangers such as siphons (a topic for another day), but if conditions are good, it's an amazing river tracing destination! Be sure to go when the weather is good and the water levels are not too high, and always know your emergency exit options. If you do that, it should always reduce your risk of danger and, of course, give you way better chances of having an amazing time!
So, until next time...
see you out there!
...A Not-So-Quick Note about Names
As mentioned above, naming with this waterfall, and even this river, is really complicated. Want to know just how complicated? Well then just read on! Or, just skip down to the Nitty Gritty Section if you're not interested.
The most common name for this waterfall is, of course, Fan Waterfall (扇子瀑布). The most common name I've heard for the river is the Qingshui River (清水溪). Simple, right? Well... not so fast.
As it turns out, the river is also shown on maps as the Jingang River (金剛溪) AND Maple Tree River (楓樹溪), OR Maple River (楓溪), with the waterfall also called Jingang Waterfall (金剛瀑布), Maple Tree River Waterfall (楓樹溪瀑布) and Maple River Waterfall (楓溪瀑布) on different maps. As of the time of writing, it even shows multiple names at once on Google Maps.
Think you've got all that? Great - but wait, there's MORE! As it turns out, there are Maple and Maple Tree Rivers in other parts of Taiwan as well, and as for Qingshui River, well, since the name literally means Clearwater River, there are Qingshui Rivers
I mean, they are simply EVERYWHERE!
So call it whatever you like; it's an amazing place to visit no matter what.
All recommendations, times, and other information are for average conditions with average water levels, and are for reference purposes ONLY. Please also see important safety notes for river tracing (below).
Length of trace:
Roughly 1.2 km one way (2.4 km round trip) for both the hiking and tracing routes.
This depends on whether you use the hiking or tracing route on the way in and / or out. Here are some rough numbers to help you plan:
Hiking route in:
33 moving pretty fast. Expect to need longer than me, I am pretty fast.
Hiking route out:
My time: 27 minutes moving somewhat fast.
Tracing route in:
Less than 1.5 hours, including time for lots of photos, videos, and relaxation, but again, I am fast.
1.5 hours "at a steady pace."
Tracing route time out:
Anticipate a bit less than the tracing time in.
Also, remember to add 20-30 minutes for breaks, and for enjoying the waterfall - but don't stay near the rockfall area for long!
You can filter the water from the river, or just bring your own.
Bring snacks (if you are fast) or a lunch (if you are not) to enjoy on this trace. DO NOT eat in the waterfall area itself - it is prone to rockfall!
Gear and provisions:
River tracing-appropriate shoes and clothes (see remarks), helmets, waterproof backpack, life jackets for anyone who is not a strong swimmer, water or water filter, a waterproof headlamp or flashlight, a lighter (always!).
Useful if you're tracing, though the hiking trail is through a shaded forest. Also useful when you are in the waterfall area itself.
Probably for children 8 and older, with outdoor experience, in reasonably good shape, with proper safety equipment and experienced adult supervision. Good swimming skills, and possibly life jackets, are recommended. Use careful judgement.
Possibly, for larger dogs with outdoor experience, IF...
1) ...you can get the dog across Nanao North River.
2) ...you follow the forest trail instead of the water route.
3) ...you tie the dog up just before the waterfall itself. Fido will NOT make it into the waterfall area, as you have to scramble across some rocks that are simply impassible for dogs.
Again, use careful judgement.
GPX file 1 of 2: Fan Waterfall Tracing Route - The Map Room 扇子瀑布溯溪路線 - 地圖寶庫
GPX file 2 of 2: Fan Waterfall Hiking Route / (Mostly) Dry Emergency Exit - The Map Room 扇子瀑布登山路線 / 很少入水經濟出口 - 地圖寶庫
GOOGLE MAPS LINK:
Trailhead: 24.50604, 121.76333
Check out the Map Room Members' Area for more maps, GPX links, and other members only perks!
To get to Qingshui Creek, where Fan Waterfall is, you will first need to cross Nanao North River. Be careful when doing this, as it is known to have fast and strong currents at times, especially in the weeks (yes, several weeks) after a typhoon. You will also want to watch out for syphons, as the rivers in this area are known for them - although I didn't personally spot any during either of my visits.
This trace is partially in a canyon and is prone to rockfalls under certain conditions - for example, in sunshine after rain. The waterfall area also has an active rockfall zone, so helmets are highly recommended, and you should definitely not go during high rockfall conditions. I personally saw two rockfalls when I went on a day with intermittent sun and sporadic light rain, so take this seriously!
There are also a few places where you need to cross pools, so swimming skills, and possibly life jackets, will be needed.
As stated above, as of the time of writing, parking has become a problem. There are several commercial properties directly across the Nanao North River from the start of the trace up Qingshui Creek, and none of them are welcoming of non-paying customers parking on their land. You will have to be creative, or walk a ways to get to where you cross the river.
Bring a filter or bring it with you.
River tracing gear and provisions (for basic not requiring rappelling and rock climbing skills and gear):
Clothes: Should be ok for swimming and getting dirty/torn, protect from scrapes. Quick drying, non-cotton, close fitting. UV reflective for hot traces, wetsuit for colder traces.
Boots: Neoprene or other river tracing specific boots (not shoes, NOT rubber or fishing boots!) to prevent blisters. High tops to keep stones out, soles to provide good grip and prevent slipping. I prefer felt soles for extra padding, especially after prior injuries. Some prefer alternatives which prevent organisms from being transferred between various streams and rivers.
Helmet: Designed for rock climbing.
Backpack: Waterproof. IPX 8 rating (protected when immersed in water over 1 meter / 3 feet) recommended.
Rope: Non-climbing rated, floating rope (that does not absorb water and get heavy) with knots is helpful, but NOT for doing serious climbs. Use ONLY for pulling weaker swimmers through more challenging stretches of water, and perhaps helping with scrambles up short sections of difficult terrain. For advanced climbing or rappelling, get advanced climbing rope, gear, and training!
Life jacket: If you are not a strong and confident swimmer.
Phone case: IPX 8 rating (protected when immersed in water over 1 meter / 3 feet) recommended.
Water filter or other water treatment options.
Waterproof headlamp or flashlight. IPX 8 rating (protected when immersed in water over 1 meter / 3 feet) recommended.
The Map Room recommends Fenix headlamps, and personally uses the 1600 lumen Fenix HM70R Headlamp - (Amazon affiliate link*)
Optional gear: A bandanna, headband, or other light cloth for wiping sweat is also often useful when you are not fully immersed in water.
When sourcing water in the wild, choose water from a fast moving, clean source. This kills certain parasites, like giardia. Check upstream for polluting factors (dead animals, droppings, etc). Look for signs of pollution (vehicle tracks, lots of footprints). It's best to filter, and possibly either boil or otherwise treat it as well.
The Map Room personally uses and highly recommends the Sawyer Squeeze water filter (NOT the Sawyer Squeeze Mini - Amazon affiliate link*)
Important river tracing safety notes:
Strength and water levels of rivers change with rain, seasons, and other factors.
ALWAYS check the weather in advance of a river trace. If there is rain upstream, it is not advisable to go, due to the risk of flash floods.
If it has rained recently, rockslides are more likely. If the sun then comes out and evaporates recent rain, they are more likely still. Wear a helmet, and be sensible!
Stopping to rest in rockfall areas, under rock overhangs, or near sheer cliffs is not advisable due to the risk of rockfalls. Look for a wider, open area with less steep rock walls.
So now you're ready to go! Get out there, enjoy nature, be active, and have an amazing time!
Loved this article? Make sure to check out TMR's growing collection of river tracing articles!
Got questions or comments? Can you think of something we missed? Join in the discussion and leave a comment below. At the end of the day, we're just outdoors enthusiasts like you, and we'd love to hear from you!
All information on this page is intended for reference only. Preparing adequate food, water, and gear for your adventure, as well as following local rules and laws are, of course, your own responsibility! Always make sure that you check the weather for outdoor destinations, be careful and sensible for enclosed spaces like tunnels and bunkers, and bring a lighter - you never know when it could save your life! Now... get out there and have an amazing time!
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