Taiwan’s Gorgeous Gorges

Natural wonders pair with soft adventure to make this national park a must-see

By: Monica Poling

Taroko Gorge
A bridge spans Taroko Gorge.
Cut deep into the mountains of Northeastern Taiwan is the Taroko Gorge National Park, Taiwan’s most popular national park. Reportedly the world’s deepest marble canyon, the 11-mile gorge narrowly divides two massive granite mountains, providing stunning scenery and soft-adventure activities. The park’s diverse geography includes white-water rapids, high-elevation forests, natural hot springs, waterfalls and man-made tunnels; altitudes quickly rise from sea level to more than 10,000 feet high.

One of Taroko Gorge’s three visitor centers is located in Tienhsiang, where many of the park’s more popular trails are located. Tienhsiang is also home to the park’s only five-star hotel, the Grand Formosa Taroko, which cuts into a mountainous shelf overlooking the Liwu River.

The Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail
Taroko’s must-see trail is the Tunnel of Nine Turns, a man-made path blasted directly into the granite cliff. The views here are beyond stunning, and each turn reveals completely distinct scenery. The 1.2-mile path follows the contours of the marble canyon, which is divided by the Liwu River below. This walk is a gentle one, although it can sometimes be a near-claustrophobic experience, as the divided canyon walls are only separated by 30 feet at their narrowest point.

Lyushui-Holiu Trail
Lyushui Trail’s eastern entrance isn’t located too far from the Nine Tunnels Trail, and the two can easily be combined for an afternoon excursion. The hour-long walk, once an aboriginal pathway, is the park’s first self-guided walk. The park’s diverse topography, including dense forests, cliff terrain and a mini-waterfall are highlighted along the trail’s gentle but noticeable slope. A suspension bridge offers the best views of the Liwu River below, but the faint-of-heart may need some convincing to cross the bridge. The trail also passes through a 100-foot tunnel. So, a flashlight is highly recommended.

Baiyang Trail
The watery Baiyang Trail is the park’s most popular route, taking about 1½ hours to complete the round-trip excursion. This trek is an easy walk over flat grade and is highly recommended for first-timers. The trail was originally built in 1984 by the Taiwan Power Company during early stages of a plan to tap into area waterfalls in order to develop hydropower. The plans were eventually scrapped, but the trail remains. Visitors pass through a number of tunnels, some with a light at the end, but many curving into pitch blackness (a good flashlight is advisable). The path’s main attraction is the Baiyang Waterfall, which plummets into jade-colored pools at the bottom of the canyon. Bathing suits are advisable for the final tunnel, known as the Water Curtain, as travelers will get drenched from the spring water falling from the tunnel roof.

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Bathers in the Wenshan Hot Springs
Wenshan Hot Springs
The Wenshan Hot Springs is another one of Taroko’s not-to-be-missed attractions. This natural hot spring is comprised of three vibrant, all-natural soaking pools situated on the canyon floor. Visitors must cross a suspension bridge and climb down 300 steps to get there, but the trip shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes. There is a changing booth along the way, but most visitors wear their bathing suits beneath their traveling gear. The three pools feature water temperatures that range from hot to hottest, and each is a popular meditative spot for locals. In the pools, a slippery scramble will access the prime locations.

Accommodations
Taroko National Park offers many accommodation options, ranging from Haulien city hotels to youth hostels and campgrounds inside the park. The most luxurious option is the Grand Formosa Taroko, a five-star property overlooking Tienhsiang’s natural splendors. The hotel is located near many of the park’s best-known scenic areas, and it operates a shuttle bus that transports guests to and from these locations.

The hotel is across from one of the park’s three visitor centers, which provides an excellent assortment of information, most of it available in English. The hotel’s front desk staff, however, are also excellent park ambassadors.

The hotel has a number of fine restaurants, and breakfast is usually included with most packages. For the adventurous, and budget-conscious, there are several small, local restaurants next to the visitor center, which offer point-and-pick Chinese menus at affordable prices.

Transportation
Taroko Gorge is easily accessible via bus, train and express train from Taipei. An express train ride takes about two hours to Hualien and passes through stunning landscapes, an eclectic mix of mountains, fields and ocean.

The trains are comfortable and convenient, and station signage is clearly marked in English and Chinese. Onboard train announcements are also made in prerecorded English and Chinese, making the ride a stress-free way to see the northern part of the country.

Once in Hualien (Hsincheng is the closest stop to the park), the park entrance is still an hour’s drive away. Taxis are available, but guests checking into the Grand Formosa can take the hotel shuttle.

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Misty scenery in the gorge
Booking Taroko Gorge
Allstate Travel, based in Rowland Heights, Calif., offers a six-day Gorgeous Gorges tour package, starting at $999 per person.

The tour, which has a two-passenger minimum, includes international airfare, two nights at Taipei’s Grand Hotel, two nights at the Grand Formosa Taroko, roundtrip train tickets between Taipei and Hualien, shuttle transfers between the Hualien train station and Taroko Park, in addition to a Taroko Gorges tour.

Allstate Travel does not pay commissions, but they do pay a travel-agent booking bonus. Agents can contact the company for further information.

CONTACT

Allstate Travel
www.enjoyingtaiwan.com/en/

Grand Formosa Taroko
www.grandformosa-taroko.com.tw/home/english/index.htm

Taiwan Visitors Association
www.tva.org.tw

Taroko National Park
www.taroko.gov.tw

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