If you only have a few days in Taiwan and you want to go somewhere outside of Taipei, you should definitely go to Taroko Gorge. On an island full of mountains, rain forests, beaches, and abounding natural beauty, Taroko Gorge might just take the top spot as the most beautiful scenic area in Taiwan.
Taroko National Park is well known for its amazing marble cliffs and canyons carved out by the Liwu River. It is also a popular spot for hiking, rafting, and river tracing. If you have the time, come to the East coast and see it. If you don't have time, then make some time!
History and Background:
Taroko National Park is well known for its marble cliffs and canyons, and is also known as "The Marble Gorge." Millions of years ago, the rock we see today was sediment at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, but oceanic and tectonic pressure turned it into limestone, and later into marble. Later the Eurasian plate was uplifted where Taiwan is today, and a gorge was cut out of the limestone thanks to the Liwu River.
Taroko means "human being," from the Truku tribal language. Originally the Tupido Tribe settled in the area of what is now Tianxiang Taiti mesa. They built the Tupido Tribe Trail which was only 30 cm wide, and resided there until they were massacred by the Japanese in 1914. In 1917, the Japanese expanded the original trail made by the Tupido Tribe to 1.5 M and forced aboriginal tribesmen to carry goods along the trail to the east coast. This is now the Zhuilu Old Trail. Currently only 3km of the trail is open to the public. The Japanese created a national park in the Area in 1937, which was disestablished by the ROC in 1945, and then reenstated in as a national park in 1986.
How to get there:
By Car: From Taipei, Take National Highway 5 to Yilan and then drive on the Suhua Highway 9 to Hualien. A few miles before Hualien City, the gorge will be on your right.
By Train: Take the train to Hualien station, and from there you can rent a scooter or car, or take a tour bus to the gorge.
For more travel information see here.
Hours: 8:30AM-5PM (Zhuilu old trail is open from 7AM to 10PM).
Flying a Drone?
Apply for a drone permit here.
Price: Free! (Except Zhuilu old trail, which is 200 NT per adult. See below for more info.)
Map: Please see below:
We have visited Taroko twice so far, once in 2014 and once in 2018. Both times we have taken our own car, and both time the weather was crappy, so you probably can't tell which pictures are from when.
Near the entrance to the park, you can see a reservoir that is super muddy if it is raining.
Further down the road, the cliffs start getting higher and steeper, until it is hard to capture their sheer steepness and height in one photo.
Tunnel of Nine Turns 九曲洞
There are many tunnels on the road up to the gorge, but one section called the Tunnel of Nine Turns is especially breathtaking, and is a popular spot for tourists. Helmets can be rented at the beginning of the tunnels.
The beautiful marble canyon can be seen below. If you go river tracing, be careful because sudden rains can cause very strong currents.
Most people who walk along this path wear helmets for fear of falling rocks. Sadly a number of tourists have died from falling rocks over the years.
View of the steep marble cliffs from inside the tunnels.
Yes, they allow tour buses up this road, and it can get pretty crazy!
A tour bus magically travelling through a tunnel smaller than itself.
It's mind boggling how these buses get up this road. Be prepared to drive slowly and get out of their way.
Lanting Pavilion 蘭亭
Past the nine turn tunnel you will come to Lanting pavilion next to Cimu bridge (慈母橋). Here are some great views of the marble canyon and Liwu River.
The Liwu river cutting through some very fine white marble.
A small stream above full of marble boulders.
Construction on this road is ongoing, and rockfalls are commonplace. It is also common for the park to close during heavy rain or Typhoons. However, in the past few years more bridges and tunnels have been built to alleviate rockfall danger.
Zhuilu (Jhuilu) Old Trail 錐麓古道
Pictured above is the entry for Zhuilu Trail. As explained above, the Tupido Tribe built the original Trail in the 17-1800s which was only 30 cm wide, and resided there until they were massacred by the Japanese in 1914. In 1917, the Japanese expanded the original trail made by the Tupido Tribe to 1.5 M and forced aboriginal tribesmen to carry goods along the trail to the east coast. This is now the Zhuilu Old Trail.
Currently only 3km of the trail is open to the public. this trail is only open from 7am to 10pm. There are also venomous snakes and insects along the way. You can apply for a permit for the trail here. Fees for entry are 200 NT for adults and 100 NT for children.
For our full blog on Zhuilu Old Trail, click here.
Eternal Spring (Changchun) Shrine Trail 長春祠步道
The eternal spring shrine is a Buddhist shrine the built on the eternal spring shooting out of the mountain near the entrance of the park. The shrine was originally built to reverence those that died building the cross island highway. There is a trail tunneled through the mountain to the shrine, and an additional trail up the the bell tower. As of 2018, the trail to the bell tower was closed off.
A view of the bell tower above.
A Buddhist shrine in the tunnel along the path to the spring.
"Bridges and Roads in the Gorge"
"The Liwu river has formed a narrow gorge mouth here. Before it flows into the ocean, and this is crossed by Central Cross Island Highway Changchun Bridge. In the Japanese era there was a steel cable suspension bridge, Xianhuan Bridge, below where Changchun Bridge now stands. The bridge was part of the "aborigine pacification road" built by the Japanese in 1915.
The "aborigine pacification road" also brought the beauty of the Taroko Gorge scenery to the attention of the world. To give access to tourists, in 1935, with the "aborigine pacification road" as the base, the road was improved and became "Cross Hehuan Mountain Road" with leisure faculties and hotels built along the way. The terrace at the western end of Xianhuan Bridge was the site of "Taroko Tea House" where weary travelers could rest and drink tea.
To allow the alluvial gold in the river to be exploited and to use the Liwu River to generate hydroelectricity, the road from Taroko to Sipan was later made into a four meter wide road fro vehicles.
10 Years after the Japanese were defeated and left Taiwan. In 1956 the government began to build the Central Cross-Island Highway for national defense and economic reasons. Pacification of the aborigines, tourism, gold extraction, power generation, economic development in different eras, different people have built different roads in the gorge for different reasons."
The Eternal Spring running through a pavilion at the main shrine, and a perfect spot for a photo!
View from the shrine towards the parking lot.
The trail up to the bell tower, now un-kept and closed down.
Luckily we had already visited the tower in 2014. Here is a view from the top.
View to the east looking at Changchun Bridge down below. The first photo in this blog is clearer.
Changguang Temple down below.
If you can make it to the bell tower, feel free to ring the bell!
Further up the road is another photogenic scenic area called Tianxiang. The sign says:
"This spot is a river terrace beside Dasha Creek, and also were the river once flowed. You are now standing on an ancient river bed!
Tianxiang has four sections of river terraces, this is the lowest, offering views of Xiangde Temple in the distance; if you turn around and look in the direction of the car park, you can easily see flat river terraces on the edge of the mountain; the lower and the closer to the river terrace is, the younger it is. The higher up and further away, the earlier the terrace was formed. Fuyuan, Xiangde Temple, Tianxiang parking lot, Wen Tianxiang Park and the old site of a tribal village higher up are all river terraces formed at different time. The Tacjili River and Dasha River were mainly responsible for creating the multi lelve river terraces at Tianxiang. With the rivers continually cutting down and the Earth's surface countinuing to rise up, plus the accumulation of river sand, over a long period of time the multi level river terraces were formed. Looking don onto the Dashsha River bed you might see that the sand has already accumulated and formed small river terraces on both sides of the river."
A visitors center including 7-11 at Tianxiang.
Pudu Bridge (普渡橋) and Tianfeng Pagoda (天峯塔) in the distance.
"The Xiangde Temple, on the mountain on the other side of the river, can be called a Tianxiang landmark. The temple pagoda is built on the river terrace on the opposite bank of the Tacijili River. Clouds often float across the mountain summit, creating an old world air.
The temple was built because of the construction of the Central Cross Island Highway. The chairman of the Veterans Affairs Commission at the time, Mr. Chiang Ching-kuo, advocated the building of a temple here and it came into being as a result of the efforts of then director of the provincial highway bureau Lin Ze-bin and influential Hualien locals. The main hall was completed in 1968 with the Tianfeng Pagoda, White robed- Guanyin statue and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva statue and added later.
In Tianxiang, the Xiangde Temple is a place of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle. Walk up the steps after crossing Pudu bridge, climb up Tianfeng Pagoda and look out over the multi-level river terrace of Tianxiang, the river and the mountains beyond."
This time we did not go all the way to Xiangde temple, but we would highly recommend it.
Converging of the Tacjili River and Dasha River, one looking like black soymilk and the other like milk tea. The Silks Palace Taroko Hotel is in the distance.
"Look down and you will see two rivers meeting below. The one further away is the Tacijili river, the one just below is the Dasha River; they meet and become the Liwu River. The river flows east from here, and after cutting through the thick marble strata over tens of thousands of years, has formed Taroko Gorge. The mainstream of the Liwu River, the Tacijili River, flows down from Qilai Mountain and Hehuan Mountain, while the biggest tributary, the Dasha River, flows down from Nanhu Mountain. From its 3,440 meter High source on the north west of Qilai North Pea, the mainstream rushes east 58 km to the sea, falling such a height in a relatively short distance it isn't hard to imagine just how fast the water flows.
Two thirds of Taroko National Park are in the Liwu River catchment area. The river is alive, it has cut through mountains to form gorges, made river terraces, water the forest and nurtures a myriad of creatures and humans; the forest also conserves water. The Liwu River is the river of life in Taroko."
Things we missed in Taroko Gorge:
Hulien Qixingtan Beach 花蓮七星潭海灘
If you come to Taroko, chances are that you will stay in Hualien. While you are there, you should check out Qixingtan Beach. It's not the greatest beach; I mean its rocky and there are no showers, but the waves are big and the water is nice.
There is also a nice grassy park right next to it you can stroll on and enjoy the abandoned ROC bunkers.
Hualien Gongzheng Buns 公正包子
Also while you are in Hualien, check out Gongzheng Buns (公正包子)! Delicious pork buns for a very reasonable price.
Dongdamen Night Market 東大門夜市
Last of all, don't forget about Dongdamen Night Market. It's a huge market worth exploring and enjoying some local aborigine treats.
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We are US Expats that have extensive experience living and working in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.