The Breathtaking Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan

A stretch of the Soputhern Cross-Island Highway.

The Southern Cross-Island Highway is one of the three breathtaking cross-island highway systems in Taiwan. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Commonly referred to as Provincial Highway No. 20, the Southern Cross-Island Highway is one of the three breathtaking cross-island highway systems that cut through Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range. The other two are: the Northern Cross-Island Highway (Provincial Highway 7), and the Central Cross-Island Highway (Provincial Highway 8).

For more beautiful images, please watch the following video.

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Completed in 1972, the Southern Cross-Island Highway is 208 kilometers (129 miles) long, which connects Tainan City’s West Central District on the west coast and Guanshan Township in Taitung County on the east coast.

Passing through hot springs, alpine lakes, hiking trails, pristine cypress forests, and magnificent valleys, this east-to-west route is one of the country’s most beautiful scenic highways. In particular, its passing through the famous Yushan National Park makes the highway even more popular with tourists.

The  Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan
 The section between Tianchi and Xiangyang of the Southern Cross-Island Highway. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Along this alpine highway, there are some notable attractions, including Tianchi (天池),  Kuaigu (檜谷), Yakou (啞口), Xiangyang (向陽), Wulu Gorge (霧鹿峽谷), etc.

History of the Southern Cross-Island Highway

The Southern Cross-Island Highway was basically constructed along the Guanshan Historic Trail, which was built in 1921 by the Japanese during the Japanese Colonial Period (1895-1945) for the purpose of regulating the aboriginal peoples there. 

The beautiful  Southern Cross-Island Highway.
 The section between Tianchi and Xiangyang of the Southern Cross-Island Highway. (Image: Julia Fu via Nspirement)

Taking 4 years and 4 months, this Cross-Island Highway was cut through the mountains in July 1968 and completed on October 31, 1972, but the highest sections were not fully completed until 1992.

The picturesque landscape along the Southern Cross-Island Highway.
The picturesque landscape along the Southern Cross-Island Highway. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Like the Central Cross-Island Highway, this highway was constructed by way of traditional excavation methods. Therefore, a total of 116 ex-soldiers and other workers died in this arduous undertaking.

The Wulu Gorge Section of the Southern Cross-Island Highway.
The Wulu Gorge of the Southern Cross-Island Highway. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

In fact, this highway and its 50-meter (160 ft) surroundings were off-limits to the public until 1993. Moreover, about 70 percent (140km) of the road was damaged and 22 bridges were washed away by strong typhoon Morakot in 2009 and the subsequent heavy rainfalls in 2012. What’s even worse, a bridge along the highway was swept away by typhoon Lupit in 2021.

Meishankuo at the Southern Cross-Island Highway.
The visitor information center at Meishankuo along the Southern Cross-Island Highway. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

After a 13-year closure, this beautiful alpine highway was finally reopened to the general public on  May 1, 2022. Nevertheless, the section between Meishankou and Xiangyang is only open from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every day, except Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Tianchi (Tian Pond or Heaven’s Pond, 天池)

Tianchi, literally meaning “Heaven’s Pond,” is an alpine pond tucked away in the Central Mountain Range at Meishankou (梅山口) along the Southern Cross-Island Highway. The lake is also nicknamed “Heart Lake” because it is in the shape of a heart. 

Tianchi is a popular spot along the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan.
Tianchi is a high-altitude pond nestled in the mountains about 2,300 meters (7,546 ft) above sea level. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Though it is simply about 2 meters (6.6 ft) in depth, and occupies only about 1,800 square meters (0.44 acres), the water in Tianchi never runs dry. Among others, Tianchi also marks the midpoint of the Southern Cross-Island Highway. 

The monument and the shrine are dedicated to those who died during the construction of the highway. (Image: Courtesy of Sandy Wang)

At the foothill by this east-west highway at Meishankou, there exists an eye-catching monument and a small shrine called Changqing Shrine (長青祠). They were built in 1979 to commemorate the 116 ex-soldiers and workers who died during the construction of the Southern Cross-Island Highway.

The Zhongzhiguan Historic Trail in southern Taiwan
The Zhongzhiguan Historic Trail at Tianchi. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

The lookout and the platforms around the shrine are great locations to appreciate the majestic views of Yushan (Mt. Jade) at 3,952 meters (12,966 ft), which is the tallest peak in Northeast Asia.

Besides, Tianchi is the end of the famous Zhongzhiguan Historic Trail (中之關古道). Meandering through beautiful forests with pristine cypress woods, this 3.5 km-long (2.1 miles) historic trail used to be an important route for the Bunun tribe, and was a special path for the Japanese police to regulate the indigenous peoples in that area during the Japanese colonial period. 

The  picturesque trails around Tianchi.
There are some picturesque hiking trails around Tianchi. (Image: Julia Fu via Nspirement)

Kuaigu (檜谷)

Literally meaning “Cypress Valley,” Kuaigu is an impressive roadside attraction located approximately 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from Tianchi. It is one of the most important natural forests along the Southern Cross-Island Highway.

A giant tree at Kuaigu
There are many giant cypress trees in the Kuaigu Section of the alpine highway. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

There is a magnificent cluster of towering cypress trees at Kuaigu. Among them are the thousand-year-old twin trees on the roadside, which is a popular spot for photography. 

The unique cypress twin trees at the Kuaigu
The unique cypress twin trees at the Kuaigu Section of the alpine highway. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Yakou (啞口)

Situated 2,722 meters (8,930 feet) above sea level in the Central Mountain Range, Yakou (literally meaning mountain pass) is the highest point of the Southern Cross-Island Highway. It is a great spot for viewing the breathtaking sea of clouds in the valley and the splendid landscapes around it.

The Daguanshan Tunnel at Yakou.
The Daguanshan Tunnel at Yakou. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Located at Yakou, the Daguanshan Tunnel (大關山隧道) is about 615 meters (2,017 feet) in length, it is the highest tunnel in Taiwan. The Daguanshan Tunnel is also the divide between Kaohsiung City and Taitung County.

The valley at Yakou
Yakou is a famous location for viewing the sea of clouds when the weather is good. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Xiangyang (向陽)

Nestled at the junction of Kaohsiung City and Taitung County, this attraction has been designated as Xiangyang National Forest Recreation Area. There are many towering ancient trees in this forest recreation area, foremost among which are Taiwan red pine (Pinus taiwanensis) and Taiwan red cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis).

The  Xiangyang National Forest Recreation Area
Xiangyang is known for its magnificent trails and beautiful cypress woods around. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

There are five picturesque forest trails, including Cypress Forest Plank Trail (檜木林棧道, 680 meters), Xiangyang Trail (向陽, 500 meters), Songing Trail (松景, 1,231 meters), Xiangsong Trail (向松, 7,350 meters) and Songtao Trail (松濤, 1,628 meters).

The unique Taiwan red cypress woods at the Xiangyang National Forest Recreation Area.
The unique Taiwan red cypress woods at the Xiangyang National Forest Recreation Area. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

In particular, Songtao Trai is one of the routes that lead to the famous Jiaming Lake, which is recognized as “High-Mountain Sapphire” and “Angel’s Tears.”

The stunning Wulu Gorge is full of steep precipices.
The stunning Wulu Gorge is full of steep precipices. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Wulu Gorge (霧鹿峽谷)

The famous Wulu Gorge is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in length. It is a large S-shaped gorge cut by the Wulu River. Due to constant erosion by the water in the high mountain rivers, the steep precipices at the Wulu Gorge are majestically beautiful. 

Wulu Gorge has colorful rock walls
The big S-shaped gorge features colorful rock walls. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

Lying beside the Southern Cross-Island Highway, the Liukuo Hot Springs (六口溫泉) at the Wulu Gorge was first discovered by construction workers of this alpine highway by accident. They then set up six bathing pools on the roadside for enjoyment after work. That’s the origin of the hot springs’ name.

Visitors are enjoying a foot soak and boiling eggs at the Liukuo Hot Springs.
Visitors are enjoying a foot soak and boiling eggs in the hot spring water at the Liukuo Hot Springs. (Image: Billy Shyu via Nspirement)

The hot springs in the six pools have different temperatures. The one closest to the source is the hottest, and it’s the place where visitors tend to boil eggs in the hot spring water. In particular, It is fantastic to have a nice foot soak while enjoying the colorful canyon cliff walls.


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