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Jianianduan Hot Spring: A Remote Adventure at the Dead Center of Taiwan! (Danda River Post 2 of 2)

Updated: Apr 27


Gazing at the striped and colorful hot spring formations of Taiwan's Danda River just above Jianianduan Hot Spring
The many bones stacked and arranged near Taiwan's Jianianduan Hot Spring gave it an air of mystery and danger
 
 
 

Index

 

Sanfensuo and Jianianduan Hot Spring (Danda River) Area Map


"To venture beyond Sanfensuo Hot Spring is to truly challenge the wilderness. That is when you really begin to test yourself against Mother Nature's wild side."

Posts in this series:

  1. Sanfensuo Hot Spring: Gateway to Adventure! (三分所溫泉) - Intermediate - Advanced

  2. Jianianduan Hot Spring: A Remote Adventure at the Dead Center of Taiwan (加年端溫泉) - Intermediate - Advanced

  3. Or, check out The Map Room's growing collection of Hot Springs in Taiwan!

Hot Springs in Taiwan Master Map



IMPORTANT UPDATE:

There was a typhoon in late 2023. In early 2024, a group went to see if the hot spring had been affected. They were unable to enter because of this massive boulder which as of the time of this update was blocking the way just before the danger zone. Without specialized gear it is impassable.



Introducing this week's adventure:

Taiwan's Jianianduan Hot Spring: A Remote Adventure at the Dead Center of Taiwan!


Jianianduan Hot Spring (加年端野溪溫泉) is an exciting, remote, challenging, and breathtaking river tracing adventure travel destination in the heart of Taiwan. A rewarding culmination of a three-day, advanced river tracing expedition in the Danda River in Xinyi, Nantou, Taiwan (台灣南投縣信義鄉丹大溪), the journey to Jianianduan is a rite of passage and worthy addition to any canyoning bucket list.


 

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Beyond Sanfensuo

 
View of the narrowing, rockfall-prone Danda River Canyon (台灣丹大溪峽谷) just upstream from Sanfensuo Hot Spring (台灣三分所野溪溫泉)

In the last post, we journeyed to Sanfensuo Hot Spring. While a worthy destination in its own right, for advanced adventure junkies, Sanfensuo is really only the first stop on the way to the real prize: the remote and elusive Jianianduan Hot Spring (加年端野溪溫泉).


A Formosan sambar deer (rusa unicolor swinhoei) watches warily from a cliffside cave as we pass by

To venture beyond Sanfensuo Hot Spring is to truly challenge the wilderness. That is when you really begin to test yourself against Mother Nature's wild side. Out here, days from help, you are more likely to encounter wild animals than human beings, and your skill, wits, and preparedness are your best and only safeguards.


Yellow hot spring outcrops contrast with the blue-green of the Danda River as it carves its path through the blue-grey stone of the canyon

The narrowing canyon of the Danda River grows much steeper, wilder, and more dangerous further upstream from Sanfensuo - but it also grows immensely more beautiful. Striations, seeping cliffside hot spring outcrops, and color surround and engulf you in colors like a mad artist's most beautiful and surreal dream.


Zebra stripes from geothermal hot spring activity on the cliffsides in the Danda River Canyon

Don't be lulled into complacency, though... the rocks above would also love to engulf and entomb any unprepared or unwary passers-by.


Lamin (above) and Dave (below) pass under the cliffsides. We had to be wary of rockfall at all times!
Dave watches for rockfall as he passes through the treacherous Danda River Valley
River tracing past one of the many obstacles in Taiwan's Danda River. Canyoning in Taiwan is no joke!

While the distance from Sanfensuo to Jianianduan is much shorter than that from the trailhead to Sanfensuo, there are many, and much more difficult, obstacles along the way. Don't be fooled by lines on a map, you will definitely need to leave early and allocate a full day to safely complete the round trip from Sanfensuo (or any lower campsite) to Jianianduan and back. Canyoning in the remote valleys and canyons of Taiwan is not to be taken lightly!


Geothermal stripes on a beautiful Taiwanese waterfall

The scenery just kept getting more and more dramatic. Waterfalls, canyons, deep azure pools, and much more dazzled and challenged us all along the whole way.


Passing through dangerously deep pools and steep canyons on the way to the remote Jianianduan Hot Spring

GALLERY: DANDA RIVER VALLEY BEYOND SANFENSUO HOT SPRING


The Monolith

 
A natural monolith protrudes from the bed of the Danda River in Xinyi, Nantou, Taiwan

Despite all the colors, one of the most eye-catching and unique features of the journey was this plain grey rock. A mysterious, near-perfect monolith in the middle of the river, it felt almost like a portent, or perhaps a harbinger, of things to come. Little did we know when we first saw it just how serious of a challenge it marked just beyond!


Just past the monolith, a cliffside hot spring sprays a stream of water directly into the river
Lamin passes the monolith just downstream from the most serious obstacle of the entire three day trace

Before and after: Can you spot the difference between the February (left) and April (right) photos above?


The Rapids

 

It wasn't far beyond the monolith that Lamin and I came to the untimely and unplanned end of our first, unsuccessful attempt to reach Jianianduan Hot Spring. It was February and the two of us had dared to challenge it on an overly ambitious two day weekend approach. By the time we got to this point it was already evening, and with fully kitted out backpacks it proved too dangerous to continue.

David (front) and Dave (back) use a rope to pass the rapids on our second, successful Jianianduan expedition

With twilight setting in and several failed attempts to pass these raging rapids, it was clearly time to make the call. Passing this obstacle into unknown and potentially even more difficult sections on the cusp of nightfall with fully loaded packs was not an option, and I definitely did not want us passing through such a narrow and rockfall-prone canyon at night. The time had come to return to Sanfensuo, get out safely the next day, and plan another expedition.


Dangerous rapids blocking the final approach to Jianianduan Hot Spring

As if to send us off, once we were back the entire valley shook and echoed with the force of an immense rockfall somewhere further upstream: The Danda River clearly did not want us there that night!


Deep in the Danda River Valley

 

It wasn't until April that we were able to come back, this time three men strong. Gone were any illusions of a quick, two day trip; we set up base camp on night one at Sanfensuo, took only the essentials for a day two trip to Jianianduan and back, and made sure to face this section of river well rested and ready in the morning. Even still, we only barely made it past the rapids, and it took all three of us working as a team to do it both going up and coming back down again.

Wading waist deep through the azure blue waters of the Danda River Canyon

Once we passed the rapids, the entire valley became much more intensely colorful and beautiful. If we had thought it stunning before, now it was absolutely breathtaking! Still, we proceeded with caution, and hoped the Danda would see fit to allow us to leave without taking out breath away permanently!


Golden stripes and patterns from geothermal activity near Jianianduan Hot Spring
Colored stripes and turquoise water surrounded us as we river traced further into the canyon

GALLERY: DANDA RIVER VALLEY BEYOND THE OBSTRUCTING RAPIDS


Jianianduan Hot Spring

 

Having passed the most serious obstacle so far, we wondered what still lay ahead. We had yet to encounter the waterfall and landslide lake that we had heard so much about, and they were said to be the most difficult of all the obstacles.


The many bones stacked and arranged near Taiwan's Jianianduan Hot Spring gave it an air of mystery and danger

We had already passed by their reported GPS coordinates, though, and it wasn't long before we reached Jianianduan itself. We were so focused on finding them that we actually almost went right past the hot spring without even noticing it! The landslide dam and waterfall had been washed away so completely that we had seen no sign of them even though we had been watching out the entire time.


David sits in Jianianduan Hot Spring after our long, difficult, and adventurous journey

Jianianduan Hot Spring itself is not immediately visible from the riverside. You have to climb up a short bluff before you see it perched there, spilling out onto the first and only wide open space since Sanfensuo Hot Spring.


Jianianduan Hot Spring as seen from above by drone
Relaxing in Jianianduan Hot Spring
Stacks of bones, hot spring pools, and remote mountain valleys at the deepest point of our expedition
Dave adds the bones of a Taiwan serow (capricornis swinhoei) to the bone pile at Jianianduan Hot Spring

Bones had been piled all over the place by previous visitors, and we quickly found more to add to the collection. Somehow it seemed appropriate for this kind of place...


Closeup of Taiwan serow (capricornis swinhoei) bones

"Bones had been piled all over the place by previous visitors, and we quickly found more to add to the collection. Somehow it seemed appropriate for this kind of place..."

GALLERY: JIANIANDUAN HOT SPRING


Jianianduan Campsite

 
Lamin stands at the Jianianduan Hot Spring campsite

Jianianduan, and the areas nearby (see map and GPX below) are the only safe places to camp after Sanfensuo Hot Spring. There are absolutely no other safe options in the canyon in between! The campsite itself, though, couldn't be more perfect. it's wide, flat, and covered in a nice mix of sand and gravel. Much like the Sanfensuo Hot Spring campsite, it's almost too perfect to believe.


The Jianianduan Hot Spring campsite (closeup)

Beyond Jianianduan

 

Once we got there, we couldn't just stop and turn around. We decided to push just a bit further upstream to explore - and what an amazing place it was!

A waterfall in the Danda River just beyond Jianianduan Hot Spring
A side stream waterfall empties into the Danda River just upstream from Jianianduan Hot Spring

Waterfalls, gorgeous canyons, and beautiful weather made the culmination of our journey something too spectacular ever to forget.


Hiking alongside the beautiful, and remote, Danda River Valley in Xinyi, Nanou, Taiwan
The sun reflects on a pool of water in the beautiful Danda River Valley

GALLERY: DANDA RIVER VALLEY BEYOND JIANIANDUAN HOT SPRING


Gazing at the striped and colorful hot spring formations of Taiwan's Danda River just above Jianianduan Hot Spring

We had come to the end of another amazing journey. It had been many months and two attempts in the making, and it had tested our limits, but there we were at last, at the end of our journey to Jianianduan. It wasn't long before it was time to head back to Sanfensuo for the night, and we knew the next day would, unfortunately, bring us back to civilization. But it had been an epic adventure and a worthy challenge, and we knew we would remember the story and all that had happened for many years to come.


 

THE NITTY-GRITTY

 

Sanfensuo and Jianianduan Hot Spring (Danda River) Area Map



IMPORTANT UPDATES ABOUT THE AREA (2023):


  1. The landslide lake and waterfall beyond Sanfensuo / before Jianianduan no longer exist.

  2. The new Sanfensuo Hot Spring, along the riverside, is hot, big and wonderful!

  3. The old Sanfensuo Hot Spring (on the hillside) still exists, but it's a nasty mess and not really worth bothering with as long as the new one is there.


IMPORTANT NOTES FOR GETTING SAFELY PAST THE DANGER ZONE TO SANFENSUO

  • The Map Room is personally aware of at least two people who have almost died here during the 2023 season alone, and that's before April. Take this seriously!

  • There is a STRONG whirlpool in front of this short waterfall. So...

  • ...getting up the left side and avoid the waterfall all together is the ideal solution.

  • One group told us they had dragged in a log to use like a ladder to climb up the depression visible on the left (river right) side. We didn't do that, and it was impossible to get up, so instead...

  • ...I swam up the left (river right side) with a floatation device and a teammate standing by with a rescue rope. I then climbed up the left (river right) side of the waterfall and put a rope down (see photos and details below).

  • IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: I am a STRONG swimmer with a lot of experience, and I still took major safety precautions! Do this at your own risk!

  • If you DO get sucked into the whirlpool, the standard advice (we are NOT offering advice, only passing on what has been given to us) is to dive deep under water and let it push you out from beneath.

  • We later met another tracer who got stuck at this spot and only escaped by using the above technique, so it is confirmed to work at this spot at least under certain circumstances, some of the time.

  • Again, The Map Room is NOT advising any of this - if you do this, it's at your own risk! We are passing on what we know in case you find yourself in this, or a similar, dangerous situation. Be prepared!


GPX file 1 of 2: Sanfensuo Hot Spring from Parking - The Map Room 停車場到三分所溫泉-地圖寶庫.gpx

Sanfensuo Hot Spring from Parking - The Map Room 停車場到三分所溫泉-地圖寶庫
.gpx
Download GPX • 241KB

GPX file 2 of 2: Sanfensuo Hot Spring to Jianianduan Hot Spring - The Map Room 三分所溫泉-加年端溫泉-地圖寶庫.gpx

Sanfensuo Hot Spring to Jianianduan Hot Spring - The Map Room 三分所溫泉-加年端溫泉-地圖寶庫
.gpx
Download GPX • 113KB




GPS for the TRAILHEAD (PARKING): 23.78693, 121.01068






Check out the Map Room Members' Area for more maps, GPX links, and other members only perks!

Skill level:

Sanfensuo:

Intermediate to advanced

Jianianduan:

Advanced


Length of hike / trace (PARKING LOT TO SANFENSUO):

Roughly 12.5 km

OUR TIME: We took about 5 hours from the parking area to the Sanfensuo Hot Spring Campsite and about 4 hours coming back out.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1 - Though I had a ludicrously heavy pack this time, I'm an extremely fast and experienced hiker.

RECOMMENDED TIME: We recommend most groups plan a full day to get there and start in the morning. You may have extra time, but then you can enjoy the hot spring.

MPORTANT NOTE 2 - Remember to take care when entering the canyon, and make sure your bags and gear are highly waterproofed!


Length of hike / trace (SANFENSUO TO JIANIANDUAN):

Roughly 4.5 km

We took about 4.5 hours from Sanfensuo Hot Spring Campsite to Jianianduan Hot Spring, and about 2:40 coming back out.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This includes lots of time getting past the rapids (see above) and other difficult obstacles. Be sure not to underestimate the time needed for any but the most experienced and advanced teams when passing these difficult obstacles!


Water sources:

There are plenty of water sources along the way (see map, GPX, and above). You could also filter the main river water if you're not too concerned about what comes out of the hot springs.


Gear and provisions:

River tracing gear (see below), plus HEAVILY WATERPROOFED provisions and equipment for an overnight stay. Helmets essential, rope highly recommended (Sanfensuo) or essential (Jianianduan). Life jackets essential for weak swimmers. More advanced canyoning gear would be an asset.


Sun protection:

Yes - you will be exposed to the sun most or all of the way.


Sanfensuo:

Possibly for children 12 or 13 years old at least, but with STRONG caveats: First, children must be in shape and DEFINITELY experienced in the outdoors, capable of swimming, and ready for more advanced destinations. You will have to get them past a number of deep crossings with heavy water flow even during the 'dry' season. Use extremely careful judgement on this!


Jianianduan:

Probably not... I personally would recommend strongly against it.


Dog friendly:

Before the canyon: Maybe... as long as you can get your dog over multiple river crossings that are hard even for many humans. Short of that, well, you'd probably better just leave Fido at home.

Into the canyon: You think your dog is coming here? You've got to be kidding me!

Sanfensuo: Yeah, that's funny. Oh wait... you're serious?

Jianianduan: What are you smoking? I mean, unless you're coming in via personal helicopter, in which case, why are you reading this at all?


Camping /overnighting options:

There are so many! Check the map, GPX, and above. Just before the canyon, and at Sanfensuo Hot Spring, are the best. After that, if you have what it takes to get your gear over the many, significant obstacles in your path, then you can camp in the Jianianduan area. There are no safe campsites in between Sanfensuo and Jianianduan to the best of The Map Room's current knowledge.


Remarks:


Parking:

2 wheel drives can get to the parking area. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should 2 wheel drives try to go into the river!!


Water:

See above and below


Notes about tracing clothes and gear:

Helmets are essential once you move into the canyon. If it's winter, be prepared with wetsuits and other warm gear. This place can be unbelievably cold, even for people like me who grew up in serious snow! The hot springs are a false comfort, as they won't keep you warm on the actual trace itself. Summer is much better, but likely to have much higher water levels as well, so it will probably be difficult or impossible to pass.


Notes for hiking:

Clothes:

Regardless of the hike, it ALWAYS pays off to have appropriate hiking clothes! These should be clothes you don't mind getting dirty and/or messed up. Pants, shirts, socks, and underwear should all be quick wicking to get sweat off of your skin and quick drying to get it off of your clothes. For these reasons, you should NEVER wear cotton hiking! Sports pants and a sports shirt are a good place to start, but hiking pants have many advantages. A bandanna, headband, or other light cloth for wiping sweat is also advisable.


` (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 for high-quality, durable headlamps for hiking and river tracing (Amazon affiliate link*).

  • Lighter (always!)

  • Optional gear: A bandanna, headband, or other light cloth for wiping sweat is also often useful when you are not fully immersed in water.

Drinking water:

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.





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, get wet, and have an amazing time!


 

Loved this article? Make sure to check out TMR's growing collection of hot spring articles!

 

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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