- Hualien, Taroko Gorge
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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
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 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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
6. Book a 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
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
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
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?
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!