Sulfur Springs Valley, Taipei’s Thermal Hideaway

The Sulfur Springs Valley as seen from the nearby road

photography by: Omri Westmark

Reading time: minutes

Replete with geothermal activity and deposits of sulfur, the district of Beitou in northern Taipei is well-known for its series of popular hot-springs. Slightly away from the town’s tourist-infested bathhouses lies a rather hidden attraction. Perpetually enveloped in white fumes and putrid stench, the Sulfur Springs Valley boasts myriads of otherworldly sights as well as a footbath facility, where visitors can soak their legs in alongside dozens of local elders.

Over 700,000 years ago, a string of erupting volcanoes formed a geologically-active area that now encompasses large swathes of land north of Taipei. With hefty reserves of minerals lying underneath the ground, the region became a mining hub as early as the 17th century. It was the Qing Dynasty which first utilized the abundance of sulfur found all over the place. The extracted sulfur was then shipped back to Mainland China, where it was mixed with saltpeter and charcoal to make gunpowder.


It wasn’t until the Japanese colonial rule which started in 1895, though, that this post-volcanic territory really became a hot spring superpower. The Japanese, with their centuries-old fondness of onsens, seized the opportunity and erected several public bathhouses throughout the nearby village (that would later become Taipei’s Beitou District).


Due to environmental concerns, all mines in the area were eventually closed, yet to date, the landscape is still scarred by multiple defunct quarries scattered amid the forested hills. One such place is a former mining site known today as the Sulfur Springs Valley (aka Liuhuanggu Geothermal Scenic Area), located north of Beitou.


Part of Yangmingshan National Park, the abandoned mine greets visitors with wisps of white vapor and even more notably, strong odors of rotten eggs wafting through the air. Lying beneath the yellowish-grey shale is a reservoir of hot water that due geothermal activity rises upwards in the form of gases, dotting the site with numerous fumaroles.


As the water comes into contact with sulfur-containing minerals, the vapor features the distinct, pungent smell we all find hard to ignore. When mixed with water, the hot steam forms what known as white sulfur spring, featuring a PH level of 4 to 6 and temperature ranging from 50°C to 70°C.  Ever since the mine ceased its operations, the valley has been supplying fumarolic gas to a couple of major spa-resorts in Beitou, hence the pipes installed around the premises.


Interestingly though, the incessant supply of sulfuric vapor also reaches an adjacent pool, where bathers dip their feet in the hot water. Mostly frequented by senior citizens, the footbath is free of charge and open from Tuesday to Sunday (8AM–11AM and 1PM–6PM).


The geothermal scenic area is crisscrossed by multiple hiking trails, each of which offers different vantage points of the desolate valley floor, the blueish lake and the surrounding forested hillsides. As the closest metro station (Xinbeitou) is located in downtown Beitou, reaching the site entails either a bus ride or a 35 minute-walk.