Tarako Gorge is a beautiful national park located in Taiwan. Ever since we booked our flights to Taiwan, Taroko Gorge has been on our radar.
After seeing just a few photos you will have no question why we wanted to come here. The gorgeous turquoise rapids from the national park’s rivers flow through the gorge and if you blink you may miss one of the many waterfalls, big or small. You also can’t miss the subtropic flora and fauna along the cliffs and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a rock monkey. (we did not, womp womp.)
First Stop: Baiyang Waterfall
We took a bus making our way all the way to the end of the park to Tianxiang. Here we loaded up on water at the 7 eleven and made our way to the trail head inside a road tunnel after about 10 minutes of walking. At this point, we realized our flashlight battery was dead. Oops. There are about 8 tunnels you go through, some short and easy, some long and completely pitch black with turns. We would have been fine using the dim light from our phone’s home screen had it not been for the sign that said watch out for venomous snakes and wasps in the caves.
NOPE. NOPE. NOPE.
Scott is terrified of bees, and these aren’t bees we are dealing with, they are wasps and they are the size of a bird. Now I am terrified. I also hate snakes. I just hate them, they are creepy and scary. I actually had a nightmare the night before that I was bitten by a poisonous snake, was I foreshadowing something? I already was paranoid now that I saw this sign so we decided to latch on to some friendly local old couple we coined as our “mom & dad,” for the day and followed them through the tunnels.
After each tunnel, you are greeted with magnificent views. Looking up we saw the tall walls of the gorge that seemed to never end, looking down you saw a raging, turquoise river that was scary looking yet beautiful. One wrong step towards the edge and you would be swallowed by the river.
After our 6th tunnel, we made it to an opening with a bridge that offered views of a double waterfall. This was probably the most picturesque view we would see the entire day. Both of us were in awe and decided this was the perfect spot for Scott to pop up our drone, Walter, for some great footage.
I saw a sign reading, “water curtain 50 m” and decided to follow our “mom & dad” with the flashlight since it was only 50 m. Boy was that a bad move.
The tunnel kept getting darker and darker and there was no water curtain. Instead, there was another sign that said the water curtain was even further. Well, I never told Scott where I was going and now I am stuck on the other side of the dark tunnel that I think is filled with venomous snakes. Shit. As I am about to just run through the tunnel and face my worst fears, mom & dad come back and I ask them to walk me through.
As I return with a big smile on my face I notice Scott looks panicked flying the drone. He looks at me and said it was gone. Our drone was GONE. I assumed at this point it was high up somewhere stuck in a tree in the gorge. Nope, apparently the drone was acting funny as soon as Scott launched it and Walter had a mind of his own. Walter somehow got trapped under the bridge between the raging river and Scott who had no control. Then one of the propellers hit the bridge, broke, then spun out of control on a cliff next to the RAGING river.
We both were about to leave Walter behind when we saw a flat path, through jungle vines, that lead straight to the drone. Scott braved the vines and the cliffs, while I was about to have a heart attack, and he saved Walter. If it had crashed anywhere else it would not have been in a sort of safe location to save OR it would have just been swallowed by that beautiful angry looking river.
We moved on with our phone light to the curtain where we got to witness water falling inside a cave into the clearest, gentle water stream. It was really beautiful and unlike anything we had ever seen.
Second Stop: Wenshen Hot SpringsOur Airbnb host picked out the spots we had to see during our day trip through Taroko. He really nailed it on the head in our opinions, but he put an emphasis on this particular spot, Wenshen Hot Springs. After making it back to the trail head of Baiyang Waterfall we walked about another 20 minutes down the road to try and find Wenshen. We were a little uncertain about where we were going as there were no signs and our map ink was bleeding as it was printed out and had gotten wet.
We just kept going with it deciding it must be just a little further. The only problem was my legs were aching. A day before our departure I fell like a fool up and escalator in Tokyo leaving me with swollen, bloody, and bruised right knee, ankle, and foot. We had bought some Tiger Balm and that helped keep my mind off the pain.
Finally we saw a small parking lot, and further, a sign that read Wenshen. We were excited we found it and continued off the road and onto our trail. After 5 minutes of walking and crossing a narrow bridge, we were greeted by a sign that said CLOSED with a locked gate. WTF. Our Airbnb dude was a local and this place looks like it’s been closed for years. Why would he send us here?
We stood there for a brief minute wondering if we just wasted the last 40 minutes until we saw a local man bathing in the river below. We decided to go around the gate and proceed down the sketchy, broken stairs that were probably the reason why this place was closed.
As we got to the bottom we were feet away from the raging river only being separated by a bit of elevation and man-made stone walls with two empty looking pools. As we looked perplexed the local man pointed over to the left knowing what we were looking for.
Walking on about a 2-foot narrow pathway along the RAGING river for a few seconds we saw there was ONE natural hot spring left! There was one scary step then we had a private natural spa up against the flowing river. We got into our swim suits and stepped in, holy shit was it hot! When we finally adjusted to the hot, sulphuric water it was the most relaxing experience we have ever had with mother nature. Hanging out on the edge of a natural hot spring overlooking the gorge and that beautiful turquoise river goes right up there to one of the favorite things I have ever done. And we had it all to ourselves!
After about 40 minutes we started to head out. I noticed that my aches and pains in my knee, ankle and foot were gone. Double win. Our local bathing friend was still there doing something that looked like fishing with his mouth, that will always be a mystery to us, but we are so thankful he pointed us in the right direction otherwise we may have missed this incredible experience.
Third Stop: Swallow’s Grotto
After missing a bus and almost having to wait an hour for another bus we made it to Swallow’s Grotto, one of the most famous must-see spots in Taroko Gorge. The walk itself is easy and doesn’t take too long. We were welcomed by seeing signs that say beware of rockfall and it seemed everyone had a hard hat on except for us.
We started to wonder if we should be worried that we didn’t have a hard hat. We were hoping that rocks won’t fall down and crack us on the head. We went on anyways. We started by walking along the road through a tunnel that had openings on the side revealing gorgeous grooves through the grove and small dark caves that were home to the swallow’s nests. When you looked down you were greeted by that wild turquoise river that looked scarier and angrier than ever and an occasional small waterfall falling from the rocks.
It was absolutely beautiful, but something made if feel terrifying. Perhaps it was the fact we didn’t have a hard hat, the numerous signs saying watch out for falling rocks and landslides, or that there was barely a fence in some spots that could stop you from falling down and being swallowed by the gorge and it’s rapids.
I expressed my uneasiness to Scott when we both saw a closed off section at the edge of the tunnel where a HUGE chunk of the bridge had fallen into the river. OMG I thought, why are we allowed so close to this area that is obviously closed? I was starting to think this place was barely holding together and my thoughts escalated to we could die at any moment here.
I sometimes suffer from irrational thoughts. Even though I was scared, I was still amazed at the unrivaled beauty this national park kept presenting to us.
Fourth Stop: Changchun Shrine or Eternal Spring
This was going to be our final stop as we had been walking and waiting for the infrequent buses all day. This is another obligatory spot if you’re planning a trip to Taroko Gorge as it’s one of it’s most recognizable icons. Here, you may have to fight the crowds and tour buses, but still worth the view.We were in a little less “awe” when we arrived at the Eternal Spring Shrine as we had already seen tons of photos of it and already expected what to see unlike everything else we had been earlier in the park. That being said, it was still magnificent.
There were tour buses dropping people off and we scuttled our way through the manageable crowds to catch a closer glimpse of the shrine with the cascading waterfall falling below it into the river. We decided to follow the short walk to the shrine where we were welcomed with a closed sign and a not so great view. Here we read a sign and learned that the shrine is dedicated to the 200+ lives lost to veterans who built the highway through the gorge. Again, I was thinking about that lingering feeling I had all day about this place being dangerous.
We turned around and decided to walk back to our Airbnb as another bus was going to be another hour wait. As we were leaving we realized we missed the gem of this stop. It wasn’t the shrine, although a site worth seeing, it was the 40 min hike up to the temple on the cliff offering views of the surrounding area. We only got to hear about its beauty from some of the only other western tourists we kept running into throughout the day.
We are so happy we made Taroko Gorge fit into our Taiwan trip. We almost brushed off this trip as it was forecasted to rain. We had great weather and excellent suggestions from our Airbnb host. We have never been to a place like this before. What made Taroko Gorge so special was that you were surrounded by what felt like a jungle and a forest together with rugged cliffs, some of the clearest turquoise waters in the rivers, and beautiful waterfalls large and small everywhere. No matter where you looked you were surrounded by beauty. The highlight for us would have to be the Wenshen Hot Springs as it seemed like we unveiled a forgotten hidden treasure that healed my aches and pains with an incredible view.
Oh and remember that lingering feeling of danger surrounding me all day with the signs warning me of poisonous snakes, giant wasps the size of helicopters, and falling rocks? Not to mention the number of sites we saw that looked like they needed repairs or had been lost to erosion. Well, it turns out Taroko Gorge is one of the most dangerous roads in the world! But don’t let that scare you, it’s really worth visiting if you visit Taiwan!
While we were visiting there was heavy construction going on, which from what we hear has been going on for quite some time and will continue for the next few years. This causes the bus schedules to be a bit off and infrequent. Sometimes you would get on a bus and have to wait inside a tunnel for 35 minutes until the bus was allowed to move. The best way to catch a bus and avoid waiting an hour to get to the next spot would be to make sure you check the bus stop signs times and ask a local who may speak English if they know any updates. That’s what worked for us!
Want to experience something especially unique in Taroko Gorge? Do the Datong Village Hike to see a local tribal village who still resides deep in the gorge. Check out this guide for Datong Village Hike by The Down Lo.
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