Ah, Taroko! Even the name, which means “human being” in the language of the indigenous Truku tribe evokes magic.
Best known for its gorgeous gorge, the park itself is known collectively as Taroko Gorge National Park. This marvel of nature was formed during an infinitely slow geological courtship as the Philippine Plate to the east and Eurasian Plate to the west got intimate over the course of a few million years. This slow motion mambo helped give birth to the island of Taiwan, simultaneously providing the sort of steady compression that turns common limestone into marble, hence Taroko Gorge being known also as Marble Gorge.
But continental drift and compression alone didn’t create the exquisite layer cake that is Taroko. Water is key, and we have the magnificent Liwu River to thank, both for carving the gorge itself and for giving us a most excellent spot from which to view the marble canyons towering overhead.
As you can see (or will see, once you visit), the marble canyons of Taroko Gorge have come a long way since their humble beginnings as ocean floor sediment. If all the area had to offer was a pretty river winding through a canyon, Taroko Gorge would still hover large on the list of Asia’s must visit spots. The scenery is lovely, and visitors come by the busload just to look upon nature’s majesty for a bit.
But for those interested in more than gawking, Taroko Gorge is a prime spot for visitors looking for excitement, adventure and really wild things.
River tracing and hiking in Taroko Gorge
River tracing with a local guide
Having gone through the trouble of carving the canyon, the Liwu River now flows gently through it, winding and twisting and providing a lovely spot for rafting trips (especially popular during the summer months). River tracing in Taroko Gorge gives folks a chance to see the majesty of the gorge from an angle the tour bus masses can only dream about. And though the once-popular Wenshan Hot Springs are officially closed due to earthquake activity, crafty explorers who take the time to look for telltale wisps of steam rising from an otherwise cool river may find pockets of geothermal waters bubbling forth and creating lovely spots for soaking in the wild. (Read More: River tracing in Taiwan)
Taroko Gorge Hiking Adventure
Hiking is another top draw of the area (as one might expect from a place with gorge and national park in the name). While there are more trails than you can shake a stick at, we recommend keeping your stick (or hiking pole) tip-side down for maximum traction. The Shakadang Trail is a relatively level 3KM round-trip hike that follows the river and offers impressive views at every turn. Hikers looking for a more challenging trail will want to hit the Zhuilu Historic Trail (originally built by the Japanese military), which is twice as long and requires some serious climbing. MyTaiwanTour’s Taroko Gorge 3 Day Hiking Adventure hits both trails and much more.(Read more: Gorge Soaring – The Views of Eagles along Taroko Gorge’s Trails)
Bicycle Adventures through and beyond Taroko Gorge
Not for naught has Taroko Gorge become a magnet for cyclists. The winding road that begins at near-sea level climbs through Taiwan’s most iconic terrain before heading out to some of the island’s most beautiful (and challenging) climbs. Yes, the road can get crowded at a few points, and even bottle-necked at others (traversing terrain which Mother Nature may well have preferred to remain un-roaded means that route 8 is almost continually under repair). But few casual travelers go much further than the town of Tienxiang, leaving the road ahead largely free of traffic.
And what a road it is, climbing and winding and branching off towards some of Taiwan’s highest peaks, offering spectacular views of bamboo jungles, valleys, forests and mountains as far as the eye can see. This is the road that makes up much of Taiwan’s infamous King of the Mountain race, but with the right pacing and a few different choices (and granny gears) even riders of intermediate level will have a good time. (Check out #8 on Taiwan Scene’s Eight Unforgettable Taiwan Cycling Routes for more details on the road from Taroko to Lishan.
Really Wild Things
Ranging in elevation from sea level to 3700 meters, the park provides varying habitats for many a wide variety of flora and fauna. Hikers will come across bamboo, fir, hemlock, alpine juniper and pine. As far as potential wildlife encounters go, the park is home to a wide range of wildlife endemic to Taiwan, including the Taiwanese black bear, wild boar and deer, the serow (sort of a cross between a goat and antelope), and over a hundred species of birds. Though most of the wildlife in Taroko are fairly shy, you’re more than likely to come across troops of monkeys who live around the town of Tienxiang, and if you spend the night at the Taroko Silks Hotel you may wind up watching them play as you have breakfast.
Taroko Beyond Nature’s Bounty
Taroko Gorge is also home to some pretty significant shrines, temples and other cultural points of interest, places that’d be worth visiting even if they weren’t surrounded by loveliness on all sides. When you reach Tianxiang (a spot in which human-built beauty seems superfluous), one of the first things you’ll notice is an elevated complex boasting several massive statues, a large and ornate temple and, as if this weren’t enough, a classical Chinese pagoda. This is the Xiangde Temple, and visitors are welcome to stroll the grounds and meditate inside the temple. The pagoda, alas, is currently closed to the public, but well worth visiting just to look at from below.
And speaking of below, below the first peaks and just past the entrance to the park sits The Eternal Spring Shrine. It’s a must visit spot, and not just because it’s got all the charm and beauty you’d expect from a classical Chinese pavilion jutting out of a mountain and straddling a waterfall. The Shrine was built (and rebuilt, twice. Apparently jutting out of a mountain straddling a waterfall is not a key to architectural longevity in an area prone to typhoons, earthquakes and landslides) to commemorate the 200+ workers who died during the construction of the cross-island highway, an integral part of the road to Taroko Gorge.
It’s a good spot to visit before doing anything else. It’s close to the entrance, and it’ll give you a chance to thank the spirits of the people who made whatever adventures await you inside Taroko Gorge National Park accessible.
Planning a trip to Taiwan? MyTaiwanTour offers three different Taroko Tours, including one day : Taroko Gorge in A Day, two day : Exploring Taroko Gorge in 2 Days (Classic)/(Luxury), and three day adventure package. Or create a customized tour all your own!