Lisong Hot Spring: How to Visit Taiwan’s Prettiest Wild Spring

Selfie of Nick Kembel wearing now shirt and looking to the side with the colorful cliffs and thermal hot water pools of wild Lisong Hot Spring, the most beautiful hot spring in Taiwan

Lisong Hot Spring (栗松溫泉) in Taitung county is widely regarded as the most beautiful wild hot spring in Taiwan. The drive there, on the Southern Cross-Island Highway, also includes stunning, Taroko Gorge-like scenery.

But there’s a catch: it’s not easy to get to. You’ll need to visit in the right season, drive there on a day when the road is open, hike a vertical half-kilometer steeply down into a valley, then cross a river, twice. But the reward: absolutely worth it.

In this article, I’ll tell you exactly how to get there, with photos of all the steps. Lisong Hot Spring is somewhere I’ve wanted to go for many years, and finally made it in 2024.

Besides a few pesky dogs, the hot springs totally lived up to my expectations!

Quick Essentials

Looking down on a turquoise river (right side), two pools of thermal hot water formed by rocks on the left bank, and cliffs with vibrant orange and green mineral deposits on the left side
  • When to visit: Late October to early May
  • Time needed: 6-8 hours from Chishang in Taitung
  • Driving time: 1.5 hours each way
  • Hiking time: 1 hour down, 1 to 1.5 hours up, level difficult
  • Items needed: Gloves for ropes (free but discarded ones available there), bathing suit, waterproof dry bag for carrying items across river, waterproof sandals for crossing river.

Lisong Hot Spring Introduction

Looking up a river at a colorful hot spring on the opposite side
Beautiful Lisong Hot Spring on the Xinwulü River

Lisong Hot Spring is in a remote location in Haiduan township (海端鄉) in Taitung county. The winding, landslide-prone, infrequently used Southern Cross-Island Highway (南橫公路) traverses the township to Kaohsiung and provides access to the hot spring.

The hot spring lies hidden at a bend in a deep valley formed by the Xinwulü River (新武呂溪), an upper tributary of the Beinan River, which reaches the sea next to Taitung city center.

At 1075 meters above sea level, the hot springs are approximately 500 vertical meters below the highway.

Looking down at a shallow pool of hot spring water with rocks around it and green and orange cliff right behind it
Two of the soaking pools at Lisong Hot Spring

The mineral-rich (alkaline sodium bicarbonate) hot spring water seeps out from holes in riverside cliff, at a temperature of 45 to 65°C (113 to 149°F). The hot water trickles down as a hot spring waterfall.

Years of trickling have formed mineral deposits on the cliffs which appear in vibrant hues, giving the hot springs its spectacular appearance.

When the river level is low enough, visitors dig holes and place stones to form 3-4 natural soaking pools at the riverside. Lying in one of these pools, one can reach out and touch cool river water on one side and gaze up at the steaming, colorful cliff to the other.

Because the pools are submerged in the river in summer, they may look different when they are recreated every year.

When to Go

Close up of an arm with flower tattoo on it holding a rope that's going across a shallow river
It’s only possible to cross the river in the dry season.

It is only safe and possible to visit Lisong Hot Spring in the dry season (November to April).

From May to October, the Plum Rain Season (May to June) leads into summer heavy rains and typhoons (July to October).

During this time, the level of the Xinwulü River goes up. Not only does this make it more difficult and dangerous to cross the river but also, at some point in early summer, the river will totally cover the hot spring pools. Even if you could reach the site, there would be no pools to soak in because they would be underwater.

Depending on the year and how much rain there is, you may be able to visit in October or May.

A shallow riverside thermal hot spring pool with green mineral deposits in the cliff backing it
The hot spring pools will be underwater in summer.

Some late-season typhoons can still strike in October. If there have been no typhoons and not too much rain in a given October, it may be possible to visit Lisong Hot Spring, especially towards the end of the month.

Likewise, you can visit Lisong Hot Spring in early May, as long as the Plum Rains haven’t started yet. I actually visited Lisong hot spring in early May.

If you’re driving from Taitung City or Chishang, the Southern Cross-Island Highway is always open, but there may be some small delays at road repair sites.

Coming from the Kaohsiung side of the Southern Cross-Island Highway, which is a much longer drive, the highway is closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays for road repair work.

It is best to visit Lisong early in the day, as vehicles must leave the Southern Cross-Island Highway before dark.

Getting to Lisong Hot Spring

The biggest challenge to visiting Lisong Hot Spring is actually getting there.

I will describe how I got there from Chishang in Taitung on the east coast, which is a much shorter drive than if you come from Kaohsiung.

I recommend spending a night in Chishang if you’ve never been, to go cycling around the rice paddies. See my guide to Chishang for more info.

Taking the Train to Chishang

Looking down a hallway inside Chishang train station, with arched wooden beams above and glass windows at the end
Chishang train station

I booked my train tickets to and from Chishang (see my guide to booking train tickets in Taiwan) in advance.

I took the first train from Taipei (depart Taipei 6:13 AM, arrive Chishang 9:28 AM). And I booked a return train departing Chishang at 5:30 PM.

That gave me a solid 8 hours to do Lisong Hot Spring. I actually made it back to Chishang in 6 hours and 45 minutes, but I should point out that I am a fast hiker and made few stops on the way.

I appreciated that time at the end to get some food in Chishang before getting back on the train.

If you’d like to spend a night in Chishang, you could do it before or after your Lisong Hot Spring venture.

Renting a Car or Scooter

A white toyota car parked on the white stripes on the side of a highway with metal railing behind it and misty mountaintops in background
A car I once rented in Taiwan

You will need to rent a scooter or car to drive to Lisong Hot Spring. You can rent a car in any major city in Taiwan, including Hualien city or Taitung city.

You will need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) and credit card under the same name to rent a car. See my guide to renting a car in Taiwan.

If you can’t rent a car, then consider to hire a private driver to take you to Lisong. The driver will need to wait for you for 3-4 hours while you hike to the hot springs. Make sure to mention this when arranging your ride.

A blue scooter parked at the side of a highway with metal railing and wide river bed in background
My rental scooter on the Southern Cross-Island Highway

If you’re going by scooter, I don’t recommend trying to rent a scooter in Taitung city unless you have a Taiwanese motorcycle license. Foreign travelers have recently reported not being able to rent a scooter anywhere in Taitung city, despite having an IDP with motorcycle endorsement.

Instead, the best place to rent a scooter is in Chishang (池上), which is also the closest train station to Lisong Hot Spring.

To rent the scooter, you will need an International Driver’s Permit with an A stamp (motorcycle endorsement). You may also need to show the original home country license with the motorcycle endorsement and/or a credit card.

This is becoming the norm for renting scooters across Taiwan. If you have an IDP with no A stamp, some shops in Chishang *might* be willing to rent a scooter to you, but I can’t guarantee it.

You can book your scooter rental here on Klook or just show up at one of the scooter rental shops near the train station, like this one (where I got mine, with my Taiwanese license), this one, or this one.

Driving from Chishang to Lisong

Five prayer flags (blue, white, red, green, and yellow) hung beside a wide bend in a river
Prayer flags along the Xinwulu River

It took me 1.5 hours to drive a scoter from Chishang Station to Lisong Hot Spring. This included a few stops for taking pictures and a few small waits at road construction sites.

Like the Northern and Central Cross-Island Highways, the Southern Cross-Island Highway is subject to frequent landslides. Small landslides happen just about every day on these highways, and sometimes they are closed for weeks, months, or even years after major landslide.

Updates are posted here about current closures on the Southern Cross-Island Highway. The Mandarin version of the page has more details than the English one, so I suggest you copy-paste it to GoogleTranslate (refer to 南橫公路, the first item in the table).

As I type this, the closures mentioned (Meishan Pass to Xiangyang, closed Tues/Thurs) are located on the highway WEST of Lisong Hot Spring, so they do not affect those driving from Chishang in the east.

A road block on the southern cross island highway in taiwan, with a mannequin in yellow suit telling traffic to stop, orange pylons across the road, and some road work being done in front of a tunnel in the background
One of several spots I had to wait for road construction work

On my drive from Chishang to Lisong, I saw MANY small rocks which had fallen on the highway. I also noticed trucks driving along to pick them up. I also passed 2 or 3 spots where they were doing repairs of major damage from larger landslides, and I had to stop and wait for a few minutes at each one.

Because of this, I felt quite nervous the whole time I was driving. I just kept thinking, “Please, rocks, don’t fall on me. Don’t fall on me. Don’t fall on me”. This is a very real risk to be aware of if riding a scooter to Lisong.

Having said that, the drive on the Southern Cross-Island Highway to Lisong Hot Spring is phenomenally beautiful. In a few sections, I’d even compare the scenery to Taroko Gorge.

Shortly west of Chishang, the road crosses a long bridge over Xinwulü River to near the start of the Cross-Island Highway. It doesn’t take long before the scenery becomes extremely dramatic, especially around these tunnels.

A blue scooter parked at the side of a highway, with a vast view of a river to the left, and a small stone tunnel over the highway in the distance, and green mountains beyond
Picturesque tunnel on the cross-island highway

After that, I reached the road construction sites where I had to wait until the workers took a break to let vehicles pass. I also passed (to my surprise!) the only convenience store I’d see on this drive, a FamilyMart right here.

Soon after the FamilyMart, around Wulu Gorge, I noticed a highway way, way up the mountain on the opposite side and wondered if that’s where I was headed. It was.

Looking up a road with a dramatic river valley to the right
Approaching Wulu Gorge
Looking up a narrow river valley with a long vehcile tunnel carved into the cliffs on the right side
Taroko Gorge-like scenery

Wulu Gorge is where I saw scenery very similar to Taroko Gorge. This is an incredibly picturesque valley on the Wulü River before it meets Xinwulü River.

There are virtually no pullovers or lookout platforms, but I couldn’t help but stop at the side of the highway several times to admire the scenery and look down over the side at the river valley below.  

Looking down a dramatic valley at a winding, turquoise colored river
This could easily have been shot in Taroko Gorge
A waterfall plunging down the sides of a cliff to a turquoise colored river below
I shot this beautiful scene right after one of the road construction stops.

After the highway made a 180-degree turn here, just as I had noted earlier, it started to go up, up, and up the mountain.

There were lots of small fallen rocks on the road here, so I cruised through without stopping, despite the increasingly dramatic views to my right.

An expansive view of a river valley with green forested mountains on either side and gray cloudy sky above
Looking down on the Wulü River valley as I drove up
A scooter parked beside a cement rail on a highwya with a view going deep down into a valley on the left and a road visible on the opposite side
Looking down on the highway (below left) that I had just driven up

Next, I passed Lidao Tribe (利稻部落), a Bunun (布農族) aboriginal village, which even has a guesthouse here.

A few more big turns in the highway, and I finally reached the unmarked turnoff for Lisong Hot Spring here.

A highway with cement wall on the left and a paved turnoff on the right that disappears over a hump
The unmarked turnoff for Lisong Hot Spring (to the right)

Because it is unmarked, I highly suggest that you use GoogleMaps when driving to Lisong. The scooter rental shops provide cell phone holders. Make sure your battery is sufficiently charged to make it there and back. I always bring an extra battery pack.

The turnoff is just past this tiny tea processing shop. There will be a cement wall on your left (see above photo) and views of tea farms and a mountainous vista to your right.

Just after you take the turnoff, you’ll descend past a cabbage farm and then down into the forest.

A mist enshrouded tea farm
View of tea farms from the turnoff
A small paved road going past a cabbage field and farmer's house
Drive down past the cabbage farm

Whether you came by car or by scooter, you can drive this small road all the way down to the Lisong Trailhead here. The road is narrow, bumpy, and steep in parts.

By scooter, I just took it very slowly, braking most of the way, and I was fine. I wouldn’t want to do it if the ground were wet.

An image of a narrow road through the forest shot by someone riding a scooter, with the front of the blue scooter and one rearview mirror visible in the foreground
Driving down the access road to Lisong Hot Spring

It’s very clear when you arrive because there’s a chain (see picture below) across the road and space for a few cars to park.

I’m not sure if a small car like a Toyota Yarris (a common rental car in Taiwan) could handle the drive down, but I can confirm that I saw one SUV parked down there.

If you decide not to attempt driving down, you could park at the highway and walk 25 minutes down to the trailhead.

Hiking to Lisong Hot Spring

A scooter parked in gravel at the side of a very narrow cement road in the forest with a chain across it.
This chain is as close as I could drive to the trailhead.

From the small parking spot, it’s just a few minutes’ walk along the same road (past the chain across it) to the official Lisong Hot Spring trailhead.

Just before I reached the trailhead, I had a scary encounter. There were 4 or 5 dogs, likely owned by a local farm, chained down. As I approached, they started barking like crazy. I had no choice but to follow the trail right past them, but they couldn’t quite reach me.

Then, I was terrified to find one of them had broken free from its chain. Emboldened by its freedom, it came right up to me barking. I thought it was going to bite me, and it got very close to it, but didn’t quite.

I did my best to keep following the trail, maintaining eye contact with the dog. Around the small trailhead sign (see below image), where the trail starts descending into the forest, the dog laid off and I pressed forward.

At that point, my heart was racing a million miles an hour and I was rushing down the trail to distance myself from the dogs. In my haste, I slipped and cut my leg. Not a good way to start a difficult hike!

A black dog standing in some shrubs near a sign for a hike trailhead with some used gloves hanging on it
Screenshot from GoogleMaps showing the trailhead and dog that came after me

Because of my above experience, I would not hike to Lisong Hot Spring alone again. I’ve read many reviews of the hot spring by local Taiwanese, and many of them do mention the dogs, but none say that they were attacked like I was. A few even insist not to worry about the dogs.

I suspect that the free dog who came after me was a freak incident, and hopefully the farmer has fixed that broken chain so it won’t happen to other people.

Unfortunately, because I knew I would have to pass by the dogs again when I left (and yes, that dog would come after me again), I wasn’t fully at ease the whole time I did the hike. I was hoping I’d run into some other people going up at the same time as me, but that never happened, so I had to face it alone again.

A trail going down through the forest with chain ropes on either side
Start of the trail going down

Anyways, in the first few minutes of the trail, there are dozens of used gloves hanging on posts and trail ropes.

Because there are so many ropes on the trail, using gloves is recommended to avoid ropeburn. I knew this before I went, so I had brought some old gardening gloves from home. But if I went again, I’d just take one of the used pairs there.

A rope for guiding trekkers down a steep rocky trail through the forest
One of many trail sections with ropes

The trail drops steeply through the forest, with many sections where you need to climb down rocks or especially steep sections with the help of ropes.

This is not as scary or difficult as it sounds – anyone who is reasonably fit can handle it, and no technical climbing experience is required.

It took me 45 minutes from the trailhead to reach the riverside. I should note that I was hiking very quickly. Other people mention taking an hour or longer.

There’s only one trail and it’s easy to follow, so there is no chance of getting lost or going the wrong way. I could hear the sound of the river for some time before I reached it.

A rope wrapping around a tree and then descending along a path going down through the forest
An especially steep section

At the riverside, I reached a rocky beach on the river. From there, looking left, I could actually see a bit of the colorful cliffs of Lisong Hot Spring – that’s how close you are when you get to the river.

At this point, I changed into my bathing suit and waterproof sandals, and I left my backpack, dirty gloves, and shoes on this beach to retrieve on the way out. I put my camera and phone in my dry bag.

Even though the hot spring is on the same side of the river as the trail, it’s not possible to access from that side.

Instead, I had to cross the river right in front of me. It’s very easy to see where, as there is a rope crossing the river. When I went, the water was so shallow (not even reaching my knees) that I didn’t even need to use it.    

A shallow creek with rocky shore on either side and a rope crossing it
Rope for the first river crossing at the bottom
Looking down a rocky river shoreline, with some green colors of a thermal hot spring on the rocks in the distance
Looking left from the riverside before crossing, I could barely make out the colors of Lisong Hot Spring in the distance.
A zoomed in shot of a cliff with some green mineral building from hot spring water
Shot from same spot but zoomed in with my telephoto lens

After crossing the river, I turned left and followed the riverbank in the direction of the hot springs. The most difficult part was a large rock to climb (see below image). After that, I continued along the riverbank then had to use some ropes and go in the river a bit to get around a cliff.

There are a few flat-ish spots by the river here where I’ve heard some visitors even spend the night camping.

A large boulder beside a creek with some logs propped up and rope for climbing over it.
Climbing this boulder was the hardest part. You could also swim around it.
A flowing creek with rocking shore and small cliffs on the opposite side
Continuing along after the boulder
A green colored creek with rocky shore in foreground, cliff with rope at its base on the right side, and more cliffs on opposite bank
A final cliff to go around (note the rope)
A cliff with rope on the right, creek in the middle, and cliffs with colorful mineral deposits on them on the left
The hot spring coming into view as I went around the cliff
The right half of the picture is a riverside cliff with rope crossing along it, quickly flowing blue-green creek to the left, and colorful mineral deposit cliffs on the right
Coming even more into view

Within a few minutes, I found myself directly opposite Lisong Hot Spring in all of its stunning visual glory. I sat there for several minutes taking it all in, and of course taking many photos.

Looking up a river with most of the picture taken up be colorful, steaming cliffs on the right bank with mineral deposts on them
Nearly opposite the hot spring
Looking across a rover and two shallow hot spring pools dug into the river bank and colorful cliffs above them
The hot spring pools come fully into view
Two shallow hot spring pools with green and orange hued cliffs above them
Standing directly opposite the hot springs

The final step to reach the hot spring was to cross the river again, again with a rope, which this time I really needed to use.

For this part, I had to drop down into the river, which was about as deep as I am at the deepest point, and pull myself across with the rope.

If you plan to carry your camera, phone, or any other valuables across with you, then you’ll need to bring a waterproof dry bag like I did. It would not be possible to make this crossing while holding items up with one hand, or at least you’d have a very high chance of getting them wet or dropping them in the river.

A rope descending over the hump of a cliff in the foreground, a river in the middle with the same rope visible going across it, and a collection of hot spring pools at the base of colorful cliffs on the opposite bank
Rope to cross the river to the hot springs

And just like that, after many years of imagining this moment, I was at Lisong Hot Spring!

Even though I had seen a few other people on the trail that day, I had the springs all to myself for the whole time I was there.

Nick Kembel lying flay with his arms and legs up, in a shallow thermal hot spring pool with rocks around it and colorful cliffs behind
Me soaking in the hottest pool, shot by balancing my camera on a rock

There were three main pools of hot water at the base of the cliff. One deeper one (waist deep) was closest to the river and had some cool river water mixed in with it (far left of below photo).

The pool in the middle and right were hotter and shallower, especially the one on the far right, which was barely deep enough for me to lie down in (see above pic).

In future years, these pools could look totally different, as they are totally submerged when the river level rises in the rainy season and rebuilt every year.

Image showing the three main soaking pools at Lisong Hot Spring, with orange and green colorful cliffs behind them
The three main soaking pools

There was even a shovel there, which visitors use to dig or maintain the pools.

Lying in the hot springs with no one else in sight, gazing up at the steaming, colored cliffs, with the sound of the river beside me, I felt a deep sense of awe for my surroundings.

The Return Journey

Looking downstream along a river, with a small hot spring pool formed on the right side riverbank
Looking downstream from the hot springs, in the direction I would now return (note rope on opposite bank)

The climb out from Lisong Hot Spring is no joke.

First, I had to swim back across that deep section of river again, with help from the rope, and climb up the small cliff on the opposite side. Then I retraced my steps to the trail.

It took me a full hour to hike back up to the trailhead (note: others indicate it took them 1.5 hours).

This was of course more gruelling than going down. My leg and arm muscles (from using the ropes) would hurt for a whole week after the hike!

An arm with flower tattoo on it and blue glove holding a rope which foes up a steep, rocky trail to a tree above
Climbing back up

The whole way up I was dreading facing those dogs again. I even armed myself with a stick and some rocks in case I needed to defend myself.

And, sure enough, the dogs started freaking out when I reached the top, and that same one came after me. It came so close to biting me that I used the stick to keep it back as I made my way towards my parked scooter.

The dog incident marred my experience of Lisong Hot Spring. I’m especially nervous about dogs ever since I was bitten by one a few years ago in Peru.

If you do this hike, please circle back and let us know in the comments below whether or not you also had issues with the dogs!

On my drive back to Chishang, I enjoyed the same epic scenery as on the way in. I arrived a little over an hour ahead of my scheduled train, which was plenty of time to enjoy one of Chishang’s famous bento boxes.

Read my Chishang guide to find the best one!

A hand holding up a bento box with a blue train car behind that says Chishang on the side
Enjoying a Chishang bento box before going home

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