About Taroko Gorge Waterfalls (太魯閣的瀑布 [Tàilǔgé de Pùbù])
The Taroko Gorge Waterfalls (太魯閣的瀑布 [Tàilǔgé de Pùbù]) were my excuse to celebrate the many unnamed and named waterfalls in Taiwan’s most famous natural attraction.
The Taroko Gorge itself featured very tall vertical-walled gorges composed of marble and cut primarily by the Liwu River (立霧溪 [Lìwū Xī]).
So we’ll break up this page into sections of specific walks or excursions in the gorge that involve natural waterfalls.
Experiencing the Taroko Gorge – The Baiyang Waterfall
The original intent of this write-up was to discuss the Baiyang Waterfall on its own, which was perhaps the most significant of the waterfalls in the Taroko Gorge.
However, our October 2016 visit to the Taroko Gorge was a bit disjointed mainly because of safety closures.
At that time, the verticality of the gorge combined with the typhoon-induced landslides limited access along Hwy 8 that ultimately limited access to the village of Tianxiang (天祥), and subsequently caused the closure of the trail to the falls.
When we came back 7 years later in an attempt to finally visit the falls, the waterfall itself had an even longer term closure though the Baiyang Trail was partially open.
In this instance, a severe landslide above the Baiyang Waterfall caused damage to the lookouts and the suspension bridge that would have allowed hikers to view the falls.
The resultant instability of the earth there forced the authorities to prevent access to the second half of the trail in the interest of visitor safety.
As a result, only access for the first kilometer of the trail was open, and that encompassed a tunnel and then a gentle walk to a lookout at the half-way point.
However, only a partial view of a different waterfall within the main river and the gorge itself could be seen from there.
There was no view of the Baiyang Waterfall, and the tunnel continuing onto the second half of the trail was blocked off.
The official website of the Taroko Gorge has more information concerning this closure, which you can read about here.
It sounds like this status will remain until it’s determined that the earth is stable enough to resume trail work for that second half of the Baiyang Trail.
In the meantime, we can’t say anything more about the Baiyang Waterfall nor give it a proper write-up until we’re successfully able to make a visit (whenever that will be).
Experiencing the Taroko Gorge – Walking around the Swallow Grotto Area
The Swallow Grotto (燕子口 [Yànzǐkou]) Area was one of the more popular spots to go for a walk within the heart of the Taroko Gorge.
It was certainly the target of our in-depth exploration of the Taroko Gorge by foot during our October 2016 visit (which was marred by typhoon-induced landslides limiting how far into the gorge we could explore).
Nevertheless, during this walk, we noticed quite a handful of random waterfalls (none of these had names as far as I’m aware) among the nearly vertical marble cliffs here.
Indeed, this walk essentially paralleled a busier road with tunnels and divided roads, but the part concerning the Swallow Grotto actually hugged ledges directly opposite the impressively tall and vertical marble gorge walls.
Once we managed to find parking as deep into the Taroko Gorge as we could (given the circumstances), we found ourselves somewhere near the so-called Swallow Grotto area and walked a narrow road in an out-and-back manner.
Parking was only available in designated spots (basically where the lines along the road were not red; see directions below).
Then, we wound up walking about a length of 2.6km round trip (or 1.3km in each direction), which took us around an hour or so, and this was reflected in the walking difficulty rating you see at the top of this page.
In a way, the Swallow Grotto section of the Taroko Gorge was kind of a microcosm of the Cross-Island Highway (Hwy 8) that went through the vertigo-inducing and neck-cranking narrow gorge.
I almost felt as if even having such a road (let alone a pedestrian-friendly path) was a constant battle against Nature’s tendency to have landslides and rockfalls here.
Heck, many people died working on this road, which motivated the Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shrine further to the east end of the Taroko Gorge.
Indeed, both the Cares Gorge and the Taroko Gorge featured roads or trails that used to be created for the purposes of commerce (and later hydroelectricity).
Actually, this is not an uncommon way for remote sights to become tourist attractions around the world (e.g. Doubtful Sound in New Zealand also comes to mind in that regard).
Nevertheless, the Taroko Gorge felt a little more developed because they let vehicular traffic (including tour buses) through the narrow roads while the Cares Gorge was foot traffic only.
Perhaps from a waterfalling standpoint, the waterfalls of the Taroko Gorge were more legitimate as they weren’t primarily caused by overflow spillage from ditches like in the Cares Gorge.
Instead, many of these waterfalls came from springs where water would emerge from potholes within the marble in addition to the conventional waterfalls tumbling down grooves and gullies in the cliffs as well.
As far as waterfall highlights were concerned, we did encounter a couple of notable unnamed ones that were definitely natural, but they were side waterfalls that ultimately fed the Liwu River.
I wondered whether such sights that we enjoyed on this walk would have been noticeable had we been allowed to drive through this stretch of the gorge.
That’s because during our walk, I noticed that roadside pullouts were quite few and far between on the narrow (mostly one-way) roads.
Perhaps a happy medium between walking and driving would have been to explore the area by bicycle (though we didn’t see that many people do it this way during our visit).
Something quirky that we saw during our walk was that most of the visitors were wearing hard hats to apparently minimize injury should a rock fall on you.
Mom and I wondered if even those helmets would be of any help should one be unfortunate enough to have a rock fall hundreds of meters onto one’s head.
I guess in the off-chance the rocks were the size of a golf ball or smaller then perhaps the helmets would be of help.
However, if it’s any kind of rock the size of a tennis ball or bigger, then I don’t think the helmet will help much in terms of preventing a fatality.
Not everyone wore one of these hard hats, but they were offered for free near the mouth of the Swallow Grotto area (there may also be other spots where they’re distributed).
So that underscored the inherent danger of being within this area, but I’ve learned that often the most beautiful places in the world also tend to be the most deadly.
After all, the very forces that created such scenery also tended to be the same forces that could be destructive as well.
That said, this might be the most popular way to experience the Taroko Gorge on foot so expect to be sharing this experience with other visitors.
Experiencing the Taroko Gorge – the Shrine of the Eternal Spring
During our semi-auto-tour of the Taroko Gorge, we also stopped by the permanent waterfall tumbling beneath the Shrine of the Eternal Spring (長春祠 [Chángchūn cí]; see picture at the top of this page).
There was a fair bit of parking around a cafe with a nice view of the waterfall (it was open on our first visit in 2016 but it wasn’t on our 2023 visit).
It’s also possible to walk from this viewing area across a bridge, and then through a cave and series of tunnels towards the actual shrine itself, which was built around a spring that gave rise to the waterfall’s flow.
This walk was perhaps around 300-400m in each direction, which makes for a pleasant 30-minute excursion should the trail be open (it wasn’t on our October 2016 visit, but it was during our late June 2023 visit).
At the start of the “cave” part of the walk was the so-called Amitahba Rock, which featured a trio of golden Buddhas fronted by burning incense as well as some inscriptions.
It’s worth noting that the Shrine of the Eternal Spring was built in order to commemorate the people who have lost their lives building the 192km Cross-Island Highway that includes this deadly stretch through the Taroko Gorge.
The path then continued along a ledge that partially went through more tunnels before going right up to the bridge, pagodas, and shrine complex itself.
I had to be very careful about my footing here since it was raining and the floor was VERY slippery.
It appeared that there used to be a trail that would continue up to a bell tower, but it was closed during my visit.
Finally, I do want to mention that there are many cars and tour buses that seem to be content to get the views from the road, but only a small fraction of those people bother to explore this shrine.
That made for a surprisingly quiet experience, which these days, is one of the few ways to experience the Taroko Gorge intimately through a legitimate waterfall (especially as long as the Baiyang Waterfall is closed).
The Taroko Gorge Waterfalls reside in the Taroko Gorge National Park near the city and county of Hualien, Taiwan. It is administered by the Taiwan National Government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting the Taroko Gorge National Park website.
We made our visit to the Taroko Gorge and its waterfalls (太魯閣 [Tàilǔgé]) by self-driving so this is how I’ll describe the directions.
That said, most visitors (especially international visitors) visit the Taroko Gorge by taking a bus or hiring a private taxi from Hualien (花蓮 [Huālián]).
Prior to hiring a rental car within the city of Hualien (within a block or two from the train station), we actually took mass transit from Taipei to Hualien.
Then, many buses leave from the station and head to the Taroko Gorge.
There were also many taxis waiting for people wanting a more customized experience on the fly without renting a car.
Thus, transportation logistics didn’t seem to be an issue regardless of whether or not you have your own vehicle.
However, I’ve observed that the buses tended to leave you towards the mouth of the Taroko Gorge or go up to the village at Tianxiang (closer to the Baiyang Trail).
Thus, any further exploration would require walking a long ways to get deeper into the gorge as well as walking back out.
I’d say you would need a minimum of a half-day to even appreciate the Taroko Gorge, but you’d probably need more time than that to give yourself the chance to explore the best parts of the gorge.
Driving from Hualien to the Taroko Gorge
Anyways, once we picked up the car rental from Hualien, we then drove about 19km north along the Tai 9 (台力) Route to the mouth of the Taroko Gorge.
We then followed the signs and kept left to go into the gorge along the Tai-8 (台八) Highway.
We probably could have also crossed the Liwu River’s mouth on the right to continue on Tai-9 and then turn left to go into the gorge from the other side of the river).
Anyways, after another 3km or so, we kept right and crossed over a smaller bridge to continue west along the north side of the Liwu River (立霧溪 [Lìwū Xī]).
Note that the visitor center was just to the west of the north side of the bridge, which was where we saw lots of buses drop people off.
Then, after 9km we kept right at a fork (instead of heading into the tunnel on the left), which was the one-way entrance to the Swallow Grotto (燕子口 [Yànzǐkou]) part of the gorge.
We definitely noticed foot traffic in this part, but parking wouldn’t be for another 1km where there was a cafe and several shoulders to park the car.
This was where we left the car and walked back towards the Swallow Grotto.
Overall, this drive took us around 45 minutes to cover the 32km distance.
Driving from the Swallow Grotto to the Shrine of the Eternal Spring
When we regained the car after visiting the Swallow Grotto, we then got out of the one-way section another 120m or so further before turning left to go east on Tai-8.
We then continued east on Tai-8 for around 6km before keeping right at a fork (to void the tunnel on the left).
This fork led a further 1.5km to the parking for the Shrine of the Eternal Spring.
After our having our fill of this spot, we were able to continue driving east to leave the gorge and eventually re-join the Tai-9 highway going south back towards Hualien.
Driving from the Swallow Grotto to the Baiyang Waterfall Trail
Assuming that we regained the car at the Swallow Grotto area, we’d then continue the drive deeper into the Taroko Gorge (on the Cross-Island Highway) for another 10km or so.
The turnoff for the Baiyang Trail car park is on the right shortly after leaving the rock shelter tunnel, where a narrow road goes by an oversized vehicle lot before descending to the small cars lot.
It’s also worth noting that this car park is about 1km north of the mountain village of Tianxiang.
Just to give you some geographical context, the city of Hualien was the main base for excursions into the Taroko Gorge. Hualien was 98km (over 2 hours drive) south of the Su’ao Township, 122km south of Yilan City (over 2.5 hours drive or less than an hour by train), and 173km south of Taipei (over 3 hours drive or 2 hours by train).
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