Taroko Gorge National Park Guide

It’s easy to pass by the small island of Taiwan on a map of the world. When most westerners think of Taiwan, they rarely, if ever, think “tropical island” and all too often think of the “made in” tags on their computers and electronics. What many people don’t realize is that Taiwan is actually one of the most stunning islands on earth that nobody is talking about.

Ilha Formosa, the name written in the logs of a passing Portuguese merchant ship in 1544 simply means, “beautiful island”. An appropriate name for a green gem nestled in the Pacific Ocean, hugging the Tropic of Cancer and covered with verdant green tropical and subtropical forests, towering mountains, sandy beaches, sparkling blue rivers and more waterfalls than one could even imagine.

Yet amidst all this abounding natural beauty, one place stands out above all others. Taroko Gore National Park.

History Of Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge Guide
Swallow Grotto Canyon

With a geologic story that begins 145 million years ago in the early Cretaceous Period, the towering stone canyons of Taroko Gorge are awe inspiring in their height and grandeur. Though often referred to as the largest marble canyon in the world and nicknamed “The Marble Gorge” because of the large quantities of the stone in it, the rock is actually a unique combination of marble, granite and quartz micas, giving it a wide range of colors and textures.

From the narrow canyon of Swallow Grotto, where the Liwu River has carved an almost gravity defying slot through the Earth, to the towering waterfalls of Baiyang, known to the Truku tribe as da-ou-la-ss, “waterfall of the cliffs”, the rich geologic diversity of Taroko Gorge make it one of the more surprising National Parks in Taiwan, that never ceases to amaze.

Taroko Gorge Guide
Truku Tribe

Taroko Gorge takes its name from the Truku tribe, one of the 16 tribes of Taiwan and a splinter group of the Atayals.

The Truku settled in the gorge between 1680 and 1740 having come from the Nantou area near Sun Moon Lake. Prompted to relocate, likely due to the scarcity of hunting grounds in the west, the Truku crossed the Central Mountain Range and settled in the mountainous areas of Hualien. Isolated from their Atayal brethren in the west for 250 years, they soon developed customs and dialects of their own. A fierce but unified tribe, they lived communally by sharing the land, livestock and harvest equally.

The remains of 79 old Taroko villages have been found within Taroko Gorge National Park, and learning about their history can be one of the most fascinating aspects of a Taroko Gorge Tour. The Zhuilu Old Trail offers a unique experience walking on a former Truku hunting path, carved 700 meters up into the cliff side!

Taroko Gorge Guide
Zhuilu Old Trail

Originally founded in 1937 as the Tsugitaka-Taroko NP by the ruling Governor General of Taiwan under the Empire of Japan, the park was abolished after Japans defeat at the conclusion of World War II in 1945. Reestablished in 1986, through huge infrastructure investments by the government, Taroko Gorge National Park has become one of the premier attractions in all of Taiwan.

Flora and Fauna of Taroko National Park

Taroko Gorge Guide
Formosan Macaque

It has often been said that there are only two primates indigenous to Taiwan, humans… and the Formosan Macaque.

One needs only spend a day in the wilds of the Taroko National Park to get a glimpse of both of them! Drawn to the fruits of the abundant fig trees in Taroko and other fruit bearing plant species, the Formosan Macaque (also called the Formosan Rock Monkey), thrives in Taroko and are a unique species to Taiwan. But they are certainly not alone…

Sambar deer, countless lizard and spider species, 144 bird species, more than 250 kinds of butterfly, rivers teeming with fish, freshwater shrimp, crab, numerous species of frog and so much more fill the jungles and forests of the Gorge. Taking a walk through the forests of Taroko, it becomes pretty obvious at once that you are not alone!

Tips When Visiting Taroko Gorge National Park

Here at Island Life Taiwan, we love showing people around Taroko Gorge National Park. One of the most scenic and naturally beautiful areas in Taiwan, Taroko Park is home to some of the most stunning locations on the island. With the worlds largest marble canyon and a rich history and culture, Taroko Gorge has become a must see region for travelers looking to get away from the urban centers while in Taiwan. As local experts, here are 10 of our top tips for visiting Taroko Park. For an outstanding visit to the Gorge, we highly recommend our top rated, small group Better Taroko Gorge Tour.

1. Go Early

Taroko Gorge National Park

By 10am, most of the walking paths throughout Taroko Gorge National Park begin to fill with large tour groups. Many of their guides even bring megaphones to yell information to their groups. So when trying to enjoy the serene grandiosity of Taroko and the sounds of nature, this can be quite distracting. Also, who likes having to wait in line to get to that perfect photo location and then having twenty people in your shot! For these and many other reasons we suggest getting to Taroko as early as possible.

One great option is hitching a ride with Island Life Taiwan Adventures & Experiences who offer a fun filled, and affordable, Taroko Gorge Tour that leaves Hualien at 7:30am making their guests among the first few people in the park. Thus having many trails all to themselves to start the day and having a much better chance of seeing wildlife in the park.

2. Bring an Umbrella

Taroko Gorge National Park

Some days the sun can be blindingly hot… other days a cloud can roll through the gorge and dump rain unexpectedly. Having a small umbrella with you can protect against both! Like our parents always said, it’s better to have and not need, than need and not have!

3. Avoid the Large Tour Busses

Taroko Gorge National Park

While the low prices of the large tour busses visiting Taroko Gorge each day can make them tempting, take a look at what you’re actually getting for the money. Most of the busses don’t have an English speaking guide to explain anything. They typically all use the same route at the same times so you can expect 2-10 other bus loads of people to be at any place you are at the same time. That can mean 200 people at the same viewing area as you. They only give you a few minutes of time at each stop, and only visit a tiny percentage of the numerous wonderful places in the park.

And worst of all, on an 8 hour Taroko Gorge National Park tour, expect to spend only a few hours in the park and the rest at high pressure gift shops off the highway. The reason they can charge so little is because they receive commissions from the gift shops they visit. We highly recommend small group tours, private tours or if you’re feeling spunky, DIY!

4. Try an Aboriginal Sausage at the End of Shakadang Trail

Taroko Gorge National Park

Yes, you’ve probably already tasted a Taiwan sausage on a stick by the time you visit Taroko Gorge National Park, but not like these! The old Truku man who sells them, claims they’re the best in Taiwan, and while we can’t go that far, they certainly are up there. Made with black peppercorns grown in the park, they are unlike any others in Taiwan. Near the 1.5 km mark on the Shakadang Trail you’ll find several aboriginal stands selling their wares. You can’t miss the sausage man!

5. Don’t Plan on Walking Between Trailheads & Viewpoints

Taroko Gorge National Park

While some guidebooks foolishly suggest that you could walk completely through Taroko, we highly advise against it. The distance from trail head to trail head can often be 5-10 kilometers on winding narrow roads with NO shoulder. Add to that, speeding tour buses, tunnels with no lights and you have a recipe for a terrifying and LONG walk.

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6. Book a Zhuilu Old Trail Tour

Taroko gorge trails in Taroko Park, Zhuilu Old Trail tour

Do you like heights?! Do you like the idea of walking on a 90cm wide trail carved into the side of a cliff, 700 METERS above the canyon floor?! Did we mention, no ropes or guardrails? Welcome to the Zhuliu Old Trail. An old Truku tribe hunting path, widened slightly by the Japanese military during their occupation of Taiwan, this trail is a once in a lifetime experience for the daring amongst us. Book ahead as only a few permits are issued each day. See Taroko from an entirely new perspective.

7. If You Decide to DIY, Check for Trail Closures

Taroko Gorge National Park

Taiwan is Typhoon country and the mountains throughout Hualien County are notorious for landslides during big storms. Taroko Gorge is no different and several trails are closed every month for maintenance. If you decide to DIY it, be sure to check for the latest trail closures. The Taroko Park Service website has reasonably updated information, though it’s best to consult with a ranger at the visitor center to confirm or use a tour company that will take you to the best places currently available.

8. Spotting Wildlife

Taroko Park tour in Taroko Gorge National Park

There are over 300 kinds of butterflies in Taroko Gorge National Park, 150 kinds of birds, 46 large mammals including the Formosan Black Bear, the Formosan Macaque (Grey Rock Monkey) and the Sambar Deer, and countless lizards, snakes, insects and other wildlife in the park. As suggested before, the best time to see wildlife is early in the morning before throngs of tourists enter the park and scare them into the hills.

While you probably won’t spot any bears or deer, the Formosan Macaque tends to hang around throughout the park. Good places for spotting them include the trees behind the 7-11 in Tianxiang, the small path behind the visitor center, and in the trees around the Qingshui Cliffs.

9. Bring a Wide Angle Lens for Your Camera

Taroko Gorge National Park

The views through the gorge can be sweeping beyond words. If you have a DSLR camera or even an Iphone with a lens kit, a wide-angle lens can really help capture the grandiosity of the park. While tripods are typically unnecessary, a wide angle can help you get that towering mountain above you, the sprawling cliff to your left and the river below into one spectacular shot.

Want to see Taroko Park and more on Taiwan’s wild East Coast? Island Life Taiwan offers well-constructed day trips to numerous wonderful places in the area. There are so many things to do in Hualien, why would you not?

Help A Rescued Taiwan Dog Get To Their New Home!

Are you flying Direct to SFO, LAX, SEA, YVR or YYZ from Taipei, Taiwan with EVA or China Airlines? Find out how to help the “Adopt Dogs From Eve” nonprofit by volunteering to help transport rescue dogs from Taiwan to the North American west coast. It’s free and easy as the program takes care of all the paperwork and arrangements. Check out their Facebook Pages here and here to ask about details.

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About Island Life Taiwan

Based in Hualien, Taiwan (adjacent to Taroko Gorge National Park), Island Life Taiwan designs all of our unique daily itineraries to help you discover the rich natural beauty and culture of Taiwan, in the most enjoyable, and most immersive way possible. We’re dedicated to showing you the most amazing locations in eastern Taiwan, while having the most fun and avoiding the crowds. More than just a tour operator and adventure outfitter, our team truly loves showing this awe-inspiring part of the world to our guests, and when you love what you do, it shows.

So what are you waiting for? Contact us and let us help you pick the tour or adventure that’s right for you!

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We Hope You Enjoy Your Visit!

The Zuilu Old Trail

A Visitors Guide

High in the mountains above Taroko Gorge National Park near Hualien, Taiwan lies a trail unlike any most people ever see or experience in their lives. Carved into the flat face of a massive cliff of solid marble, the Zhuilu Old Trail sits perilously more than 700 meters above the canyon floor below.

With limited (often no) guardrail or fencing along the trails edge, one can stare down past their toes at the great Liwu river winding like a little creek over half a mile down. As if that wasn’t enough, the 500-meter-long cliffside portion at the top is only 90cm wide!

This…is the Zhuilu Old Trail…

Hualien Tour Guide

10 REAL Reasons Why Using a Tour Guide in Hualien is a Great Idea

We’re often asked: “Why should I use a tour guide or adventure service in Hualien when I’m a DIY-er with loads of travel experience? Why would I need someone to show me around when I can just explore on my own?”And the truth is, you don’t. But we think you can see a heck of a lot more and have a way better experience when you do! Here are 10 REAL reasons using a tour guide in Hualien is a great idea.

1. Much More Efficient

Hualien tour guide

Unlike Thailand, Central America or other popular DIY travel locations, Taiwan has very little tourist infrastructure in place to facilitate DIY style travel. Slow infrequent buses, a lack of English signage, license restrictions for renting scooters, etc.

That’s not even mentioning what it’s like to drive a rental car or scooter in Taiwan. Yikes!

The possibility that you could spend half your precious time in Hualien just trying to figure out where to go and how to do it is very high. A guide knows where to go, how to get there, the best time to go to beat the crowds and more.

It is very possible you will see and experience more on an 8 hour tour with an efficient guide than a full day or two trying to figure it out on your own. Vacation time is precious, why waste it!

2. Up to Date on Trail & Road Closures

Taroko Gorge National Park

The newest Lonely Planet Taiwan that arrived in May 2017 lists at least three highlights on the East Coast that have been closed for more than a year. Guidebooks are outdated long before they’re even published.

While it might be easy to find out online if the Eiffel Tower is closed, trails and parks in the Hualien Area have no such online presence. Hualien is typhoon country, so imagine spending half a day trying to get to the “perfect swimming” hole you read about, only to find it was destroyed by a typhoon over a year ago. Guides know what’s closed and can often take you to awesome alternatives the guidebooks don’t know about!

3. Intimate Knowledge of the Area

Zhuilu old trail tour on taroko gorge national park tour jhuilu old trail

There is so much to learn about Hualien. It’s storied history, its geology and ecology, its culture and more.

From the geologic forces that created the largest marble canyon in the world (Taroko Gorge) to the Taiwanese aboriginal cultures that were the predecessors of indigenous cultures from Madagascar to Easter Island and everywhere in between. A good guide can impart information in a way that enhances your visit and educates as it entertains.

4. Equipment and Supplies

Hualien Rivers Velley tour in the Mugua River Gorge

Let’s say you find out the location of one of Hualien County’s numerous amazing waterfalls. Then when you go, you discover you have to hike through a long curving tunnel to get there, and you don’t have a flashlight. Then you get to the river and find out you have to hike up the river, but you don’t have the proper shoes.

Note: Western water shoes don’t work well on the slippery river rocks of Taiwan

Finally, you get near the falls, but you don’t a have a rope to get the last 20 feet up! A good guide will have everything you need. From proper water shoes, gear and safety equipment to toilet paper, hand soap and flashlights. A good guide’s got you covered.

5. The Food

When you’re traveling in a foreign country, sometimes it can be hard to find good food.

Maybe you take the easy route and just go for western owned restaurants with English menus, 7-11 curry bowls or pre-packaged rice boxes. That’s all well and good, but it just isn’t experiencing everything Hualien has to offer. A guide can introduce you to numerous local dishes and traditional roadside delicacies you otherwise may never have known about!

Taiwan has some of the best food in Asia, eat it up! 

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So Much to Discover in Hualien!

6. Safety

Hualien tour guide

Safety is always a concern when travelling in a foreign land. Taiwan is no different. For example:

Driving a rental scooter or car in Taiwan is a risky proposition. With large Tour buses hurdling down the road at dangerous speeds, the unpredictability of other drivers is more a concern than your own skills. Using a guide that provides transportation and is familiar with the roads and driving conditions takes the worry away.

There are numerous poisonous snakes in Taiwan. And all of them live in the forests in and around Hualien. A good guide will clear the path ahead on the trail for you and will also know where the closest treatment location is should someone need it.

Currents are strong and flash floods DO happen. The ocean is beautiful around Hualien and the swimming excellent. That being said, the currents can be deadly and a proper guide will know where it is safe to swim. Same goes for the rivers. Flash floods happen every year and a good guide will know where it is safe to swim and when it is time to leave the river.

7. Secret Spots

East Rift Valley, Butterfly Valley and Mugua River Gorge on our Hualien Rivers & Valleys tour

The tourist maps tell you one thing, the guide books another, and that other guest at the hostel another yet. But a guide who lives in Hualien year-round will know all the secret local spots.

And let’s be honest, those are usually the best! There are so many things to do in Taiwan, let someone who lives here show you the best of them.

8. Fun Activities

Mugua River Gorge Tour Hualien Tour

Going somewhere new and looking around can be a blast. But there are so many fun things to be done that you just might not know about. This is where a good guide can be especially helpful. A good guide will have activity ideas that maybe you never even thought of!

Tasting jumping live prawns, taking an afternoon swim in a secret swimming hole, eating lunch IN the river, not beside it! Without a guide, who knows what you might miss out on.

9. Ease and Convenience

what to do in hualien? One of the best things to do in hualien is a taroko gorge tour in taroko gorge national park

There is something special about taking a step back from the planning to just enjoy your vacation sometimes. Being picked up, taken for a wonderful day out and then returned to your hostel/hotel is one of the great pleasures in life.

Yeah, you could stay up in your hotel all evening planning the next day’s itinerary, OR you could just send an email or make a call and let a guide do all the work for you.  Allowing you extra time to go to the night market and try that stinky tofu everyone is talking about!

10. More Fun Together

Hualien Tour Guide

Whether you are a solo traveler, a couple, a group of friends or a family, joining a guide or small group tour can add a whole new quality to an experience. The quality of sharing in a wonderful day together.

We here at Island Life Taiwan, love what we do. We love the beauty and adventure of the East Coast and enjoy more than anything sharing it with our guests.

We hope you come join us soon!

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About Island Life Taiwan

Based in Hualien, Taiwan (adjacent to Taroko Gorge National Park), Island Life Taiwan designs all of our unique daily itineraries to help you discover the rich natural beauty and culture of Taiwan, in the most enjoyable, and most immersive way possible. We’re dedicated to showing you the most amazing locations in eastern Taiwan, while having the most fun and avoiding the crowds. More than just a tour operator and adventure outfitter, our team truly loves showing this awe-inspiring part of the world to our guests, and when you love what you do, it shows.

So what are you waiting for? Contact us and let us help you pick the tour or adventure that’s right for you!

We Hope You Enjoy Your Visit!