Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) is regularly featured as one of the top tourist destination in Taiwan. With its dramatic narrow canyons and steep-sided marble walls, it is easy to understand why the breathtaking Taroko Gorge is usually near the top of any foreign visitors’ must-do list. Hence, we wrote this Taroko Gorge Blog to provide potential visitors with useful information and tips on how to best explore this nature’s wonder!
Taroko Gorge Blog
This Taroko Gorge Blog is based on our Nov-2016 visit to Taroko Gorge. We’ve tried to make this travel blog as informative as possible so that travelers like you would be able to enjoy your visit!
Taroko National Park
“Taroko” comes from the word “Truku”, which is also the name of the indigenous tribe that lives in the area. In the tribe’s native language, the word “Truku” (or “Taroko”) translate into “A living terrace that was surrounded (formed) by three valleys”. (See note*)
Taroko Gorge is nested within the vast Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) in Hualien county (花蓮). The park was established in 1986, and is one of the eight national parks in Taiwan. Taroko National Park borders the Pacific Ocean (on its east) and covers more than 92,000 hectares. It is located at the convergence of three counties (Hualian, Taichung and Nantou).
The landscape in Taroko National Park is extremely mountainous. Specifically, the park has more than two-dozen peaks, most of which exceeds 3000m. Its highest point is Mount Nanhu at 3742 meters.
*Note: While writing this Taroko Gorge Blog, we had verified the information (background and meaning of the words “Taroko” and “Truku”) with Taroko National Park Headquarters’ Interpretation and Education Section.
Taroko Gorge, “The Marble Gorge”
Set within the national park, Taroko Gorge is approximately 19km long. It stretches from deep within the mountainous Central Range to the eastern coastal town of Xincheng.
The marble in Taroko Gorge has been over 200 million years in the making. It started off as seabed depositions. These depositions were then subjected to tremendous pressures, turning them into limestone. Subsequently, the sustained compression leads to the limestone metamorphosing into marble. Thus its nickname, “The Marble Gorge”.
The marble is later lifted above ground due to the tectonic movement of the Philippine Sea Plate and Eurasian Plate. The convergence of these two tectonic plates uplifts the marble to the level we see today. In fact, the region is so tectonically active that it is being raised approximately 0.5cm annually!
Incidentally, the region also receives abundant rainfall, which collects into Liwu River and erodes into the marble. Consequently, over the ages, this unique combination of rapid uplifting and high water volume (in Liwu River) result in the intensely narrow and steep gorge that we see today.
Taroko Gorge, the world’s deepest marble gorge, is truly one of Taiwan’s greatest sights.
Central Cross-Island Highway
Up until the early 1950s, there was no paved roads in Taroko Gorge. Only a small trail served the area. It was only in 1956 that the authorities started constructing a road to serve the rugged landscape.
The Central Cross-Island Highway (中部橫貫公路) (aka. Provincial Highway 8) was started with the intention to connect the eastern and western parts of Taiwan via the unforgiving Central Range. The 189.9km highway was constructed by courageous and hardy army veterans. Construction was completed in 4 years (1956-1960), which was astonishing given the treacherous landscape and extreme weather. However, the fearless army veterans did pay a dear price, with the loss of 226 lives and numerous other injured.
Today, the Central Cross-Island Highway is known to be one of the most scenic highways in Taiwan. Passing thru the high alpine regions of the Central Range, before descending into the spectacular Taroko Gorge near the eastern coast.
Though officially a “highway”, it is physically a narrow and winding road. At certain sections, the highway is little more than a one-lane road. Having said, most of the key attractions in Taroko Gorge can be accessed via the highway.
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Planning your Taroko Gorge trip
The suggestions in this Taroko Gorge Blog are based on our personal experiences during our Nov-2016 trip.
Mode to transport
Probably the best and most convenient way of visiting Taroko Gorge is via self-drive, or booking a car with driver. Although there are bus services to Taroko Gorge, but as one can imagine, the timing and stops are rigid compared to the freedom of having a car. As for regular guided bus tours, most seasoned traveler worth their salt would know the pitfalls of joining such tours.
Plan a day trip
If you are planning to only visit Taroko Gorge, the best advice would be to stay in Hualien city and make a day trip from there. This is because most visitors to Taroko Gorge could comfortably cover the major attractions within a day trip.
If you plan to visit the various mountains/peaks further into Taroko National Park, significantly more time and planning is required. These trips have to be planned separately from your Taroko Gorge visit. It is not advisable to explore both the highlands and Taroko Gorge on the same day.
As with most popular tourist attractions, Taroko Gorge can be crowded during holidays and weekends. Therefore, try to avoid these peak periods.
Entrance to Taroko National Park is free.
Check the weather
On the morning of the visit (or night before), check the weather conditions. Taroko National Park Headquarters does make timely safety announcements via their website (See link: English and Chinese). Given Taroko Gorge’s rugged landscape, it is obviously not advisable to visit during periods of typhoon and extended bad weather.
Ask the experts!
On the day of your visit, arrive early to avoid the tour buses. Crucially, your first destination would be to visit Taroko National Park Headquarters’ Visitor Center (map). It is located near the entrance of the park just as you drive into Taroko Gorge from Xincheng town.
Approach the staffs at the help-desk of the Visitor Center. Thereupon, ask for their advice on how to best plan your trip within Taroko Gorge. The staffs are extremely helpful, patient and knowledgeable. Based on the time you have and your group’s profile, they will suggest an itinerary for you. This is extremely important! The staffs have the latest update on the conditions in Taroko Gorge (e.g. trail closures, rockfalls, landslides and other dangers). Therefore, they are in the best position to advice on your itinerary.
Note: The Visitor Center closes every second Monday of each month. Opening hours are 8:45am to 4:45 pm.
Getting to Taroko Gorge
Self-driving, or engaging a car with driver, is the best and easiest way to explore Taroko Gorge. However, for those whom prefer to take public buses (from Hualien), refer to this link for more info.
Accommodation in Taroko Gorge
Accommodation options are limited within Taroko Gorge. As mentioned earlier, the best advice would be to stay in Hualien city and make a day trip from there. Hualien city is a mere 26km away (approximately 30 minutes’ drive) and offers abundant accommodation and dining options. For the list of accommodation options in Taroko National Park, click here.
Attractions in Taroko Gorge
The attractions listed in this Taroko Gorge Blog is based upon our Nov-2016 visit. Sadly, it had rained for a few days prior to our trip. As such, certain trails in Taroko Gorge (e.g. Swallow Grotto) were closed due to rockfall. Fortunately, the staffs at Taroko National Park Headquarters Visitor Center were extremely helpful and proposed the following itinerary to us.
Note: Depending on the situation during your visit, the staffs could propose a different itinerary from what is listed in this Taroko Gorge Blog.
1#: Shakadang Trail (砂卡礑步道) and Shakadang Bridge
One of the most popular trails in Taroko Gorge, Shakadang Trail is located a mere 3 minutes’ drive from the Visitor Center. Shakadang Trail is a flat and easy hiking route, with the only steps at its entry/exit stairways on Shakadang Bridge.
The trail is 4.5km (one-way) in its entirety. However, during our Nov-2016 visit, Shakadang Trail was only accessible till the 1.5km mark which is named 5D Cabin (五間屋, Wujianwu). The trail beyond 5D Cabin appeared to be closed due to earthquake/typhoon damage.
Used to be known as the “Mysterious Valley Trail”, Shakadang Trail is famed for its clear streams and pathways that cut into overhanging marble rock walls. A leisurely return hike to 5D Cabin takes approximately one hour. There are several local vendors at 5D Cabin selling snacks/craftworks, and restroom facilities are available.
The entry/exit point to Shakadang Trail is on Shakadang Bridge. It involves a pair of tight stairways linking Shakadang Bridge to the Shakadang Trail a few levels below it. Parking and restroom facilities are available beside Shakadang Bridge. Interestingly, Shakadang Bridge is also known as the “Bridge of 100 Lions”, due to the two row of small marble lion sculptures lining both side of the bridge.
2#: Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou, 燕子口)
Swallow Grotto is perhaps the best place to view Taroko Gorge. The relatively short trail is well known for offering spectacular views of the narrowest part of the gorge, with near vertical marble cliffs and the raging Liwu River below.
Swallow Grotto got its name from the numerous potholes on the marble cliffs that serve as nesting grounds for swallows. These potholes were formed due to the centuries of erosion from Liwu River.
Unfortunately, Swallow Grotto was closed (due to rockfall) during our visit.
Safety Tip: As Swallow Grotto is prone to rockfalls, park rangers do provide visitors with safety hats (without charge).
3#: Liufang Bridge (流芳橋)
Liufang Bridge is located at the 176.5km mark of Central Cross-Island Highway. Coming from the direction of the Visitor Centre, one would pass Swallow Grotto before reaching the bridge. Interestingly, Liufang Bridge runs parallel to another ragged and narrow bridge which is closed to public access.
The turbulent Liwu River had carved out a tight 90-degree turn at this part of the gorge. Liufang Bridge was thus built to link both sides of this constricted canyon.
This particular section of Taroko Gorge is extremely dramatic, given the meandering river accompanied by remarkably deep and narrow canyon with towering cliffs on both sides. This is truly a classic representation of the type of landscape found in Taroko Gorge.
To facilitate visitors, a multi-tiered wooden viewing platform was built next to Liufang Bridge. The platform offers excellent view of the winding Liwu River beneath and the stunning landscape around it.
Tip: Liufang Bridge (and the viewing platform) can be easily missed when coming from the direction of the Visitor Centre. Drive slowly after passing Swallow Grotto and take note of any subsequent bridge you pass. Liufang Bridge should be the first bridge with bright red colored railings on both sides.
4#: Cimu Bridge (慈母橋)
The bright-red Cimu Bridge has the distinction of being the only suspension bridge in Taiwan that is constructed from the marble found in Hualien. The name Cimu translates into “motherly devotion” in Chinese. It was said that the bridge is named as such due to the story of a mother whom lost her child to the river beneath the bridge.
There are two pavilions in the vicinity of Cimu Bridge. Each built by Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-Kuo (both former leaders of Taiwan) in memories of their respective mother.
5#: Tianxiang Recreation Area (天祥遊憩區)
Tianxiang is located at the convergence of Dasha River and Taci Jili River, forming the head of Liwu River. It is the largest recreational area within Taroko Gorge, hosting a few dining and accommodation options. There are also local food vendors, a convenience stall, visitor center and bus station in Tianxiang.
As the road condition and hiking options beyond Tianxiang becomes more challenging, most visitors and tour buses on a day trip to Taroko Gorge would take a rest here, before turning back towards Hualien.
Due to Tianxiang’s strategic location, the staffs from the park’s Visitor Center would normally advise self-driving visitors to arrive in Tianxiang by noon for lunch. After lunch, visitors are advised to head back out (the same way they came in) and explore the Taroko Gorge attractions that they’ve skipped while on the way in.
6#: Xiangde Temple (祥德寺)
Completed in December 1968, Xiangde Temple is a Buddhist complex located on the opposite bank of Yiwu River from Tianxiang. The temple can only be accessed via Pudu Bridge; a bright red/yellow pedestrian bridge over Yiwu River.
Xiangde Temple is built on multi-tiered elevated grounds and does require a fair bit of effort to reach its main temple hall. Other than the main hall, other interesting temple structures include the seven-story Tianfeng Pagoda (天峰塔) and a golden giant Buddha statue overlooking the entire complex. Visitors whom climb to the top of the temple grounds will be rewarded with panoramic views of Tianxiang and the surrounding canyon.
7#: Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠, Changchun Shrine)
During the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway (1956-1960), it was decided that a shrine be built within Taroko Gorge to commemorate the hardship and sacrifices of the army veterans. By 1958, Eternal Spring Shrine was completed, and the highway construction would in due time claim a total of 226 lives.
Eternal Spring Shrine is one of the most tranquil sights in Taroko Gorge. It sits peacefully on the slopes of a marble cliff and on top of the never-ending Changchun Falls which sprouts water into Liwu River below.
There is a 2km trail starting from Changchun Bridge, leading up to Eternal Spring Shrine before ending at nearby Changuang Temple. Allow approximately an hour for the hike. Due to time constraint and bad weather, we did not attempt this hike during our 2016 visit.
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For more Taiwan related Travel Blogs
This Taroko Gorge Blog is part of our Taiwan series of travel blogs. Below is the list of our travel blogs on other popular destinations in Taiwan.
For our Japan related Travel Blogs
We’ve written an entire series of travel blogs covering Japan’s most popular travel destinations, refer to the list below:
- 11-Days Free & Easy Itinerary for Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone)
- Free & Easy Japan: Tokyo Highlights
- Free & Easy Japan: Osaka Highlights
- Free & Easy Japan: Kyoto Highlights
- Free & Easy Japan: Hakone Highlights
- 4 Great Tips for your Japan Holiday
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