Putting the “Gorge” in “Gorgeous” at Taroko Gorge

When it comes to the rain, there is no escaping it. Nearly every day since landing in Taiwan, rain has been dogging our every step. Fleeing as far south as Tainan bought us a brief reprieve, but now that we’re back up in the north, the miserable, cold drizzle has returned with a vengeance.

When it comes to the rain, there is no escaping it. Nearly every day since landing in Taiwan, rain has been dogging our every step. Fleeing as far south as Tainan bought us a brief reprieve, but now that we’re back up in the north, the miserable, cold drizzle has returned with a vengeance.

We’re on Taiwan’s eastern coast in a little city called Hualien. Our first night here, within minutes of stepping off the train, the heavens open up and down comes the rain, flooding the streets and taking our dreams of exploring right along with it. We have several hours before our CouchSurfing host can meet us, so we find the nearest movie theater and duck in for a showing of Life of Pi. Miraculously, it features weather that makes our current stormy skies look downright idyllic and we remember that sodden as we are, things could certainly be worse. After all, neither of us is traveling with a tiger… yet. After months on the road, stopping in for a film is a luxury we haven’t afforded ourselves, but we argue that this little outing is really a form of appreciating the local culture since the director, Ang Lee, is Taiwanese.

But truthfully, we haven’t traveled all the way to Taiwan in general, nor Hualien specifically, to watch movies in their director’s homeland. No, we’re in Hualien for much the same reason that most visitors come calling, to visit the nearby Taroko Gorge.


Now, if WikiTravel is to be believed, the best way to see Taroko Gorge is by scooter, which isn’t really news to us, since it’s our opinion that a scooter is pretty much the best way to see nearly any place. The only possible exception to this is when it is raining, in which case riding a scooter swiftly transforms from being one of life’s purest delights to a soul-crushing form of torture.

But we aren’t going to let a little thing like bad weather get in our way. After all, the local cinema only has so many English-language films on offer, and we already have tickets booked to our next country, so the clock is counting down before we have bid farewell to Taiwan. There is no way we can let the possibility* of rain keep us from seeing the gorge, and on our own set of wheels. I mean, this is the very reason we have been carting around our rain jackets, right?

*In all honesty, the rain has been such a constant during our time in Taiwan, that it’s really more a question of “when” not “if” it will rain at this point. It is silly for us to think we can make it to the gorge without getting soaked, but we’re dreamers, and stubborn ones at that, so we decide to go for it anyway.

Renting scooters as a foreigner in Taiwan can be tricky at best and impossible at worst; of course, should you prove successful, the subsequent riding of said scooter is likely to be considered by most Westerners a cruel and unusual extreme sport given the creative rules of the road that fellow Taiwanese scooter drivers employ and obey. Lucky for us, our CouchSurfing host in Taipei, Jackie, has hooked us up with a close friend of his named Ingrid who lives here and has generously offered us the use of her scooter for the duration of our stay. Better yet, Tony has been riding motorcycles for something approximating 20 years at this point, so he’s got the skills that make sure we not only arrive in style, but also alive.

With all possible obstacles out of the way, we wake early on the morning of our second day in Hualien and head for the hills.

I keep referring to Hualien as a town, because that’s how it feels. With such dramatic mountain scenery ringing it, Hualien feels like it has been plopped right down in the middle of nature and is simply to sleepy to move anywhere else. So, of course, it is impossibly picturesque and I seem incapable of thinking of this city as anything other than a quaint, quiet mountain village. The ride out to Taroko does little to dissuade me of these notions as the skies are (mercifully) blue, the air is crisp and clean, and all that seems to be missing are little twittering flocks of bluebirds to make this seem like something right out of a fairytale. It seems like a good sign that we haven’t even made it to the gorge yet and I’m already blown away by the scenery and have a grin that’s impossible to wipe from my face.

Although there is a tourist bus that services Taroko, for us, a scooter is clearly the best way to experience the gorge, though with all the winding roads and the many tour buses that pass us along the way, it’s not a ride for the faint of heart (or novice riders). With our own wheels, we are free to drive at our own speed and enjoy the fresh air (well, so long as another exhaust belching bus hasn’t cut us off), and simply stop wherever strikes our fancy and see the sights at our own pace. If we see something pretty (there are several temples scattered about through the park, and of course the natural landscape itself is stunning) and want to stop for a photo, or simply laze about lying on our backs on a picnic table gazing up as wispy white clouds swirl about across the canvas of blue sky above us, we can.


And so naturally, we do.

In the local dialect of the aboriginal Truku people who live in the area, Taroko means “splendid”, and when you see the gorge in question, it’s hard to disagree. The force of water flowing through this area has managed to carve out a canyon in the rock, much of which is marble. To gaze up at the towering slabs of rock before us, which form some of the highest peaks in the country, it’s a bit dumbfounding to think about how much time it would take for the water to eat away at something so solid and seemingly unyielding. As I crane my neck and look skyward, I think that if ever there were a monument chiseled from the earth itself in testament to the splendor that is nature, surely this must be it.

Despite my stated aversion to hiking, Tony points out that it would be a shame to visit the park and not at least do one of the hikes on offer. I am feeling suitably inspired by our surroundings to agree that as exhilarating as seeing the park by scooter is, seeing some of what lays not directly on the main thoroughfare would probably be very nice indeed. Unfortunately, because of some recent natural disaster (honestly, with Taiwan, it’s difficult to keep track of what has collapsed due to a typhoon, or landslide, or earthquake), many of the paths to several of the famous hikes are closed, so we decide to do one we simply label as “the waterfall hike”.


Having spent the morning being shockingly lazy given our surroundings and unsure of exactly how rigorous this upcoming hike will be, we decide to first fuel up on the picnic lunch we have packed, comprised largely with things we have purchased from the bakery section of the local Carrefour we passed on our way to Taroko. We pull into a parking lot/rest area just past the gorge proper and proceed to be joined for our meal by the scruffiest, mangiest little puppy I have seen, who also happens to be the most affectionate, friendliest little guy. My heart breaks for him because the mange has rendered him as ugly as can be, so all other visitors flee at the very sight of him, but I can tell that all he wants is a little bit of love, his tail a constant blur as he wags it about like a windmill. I end up playing with him and cuddling him, and then bursting into tears while I feed him the bulk of my lunch. After so long in Asia, this is not the first dog we have seen leading a relatively pitiful existence, but I have to admit, I do not expect to encounter this kind of neglect in Taiwan. We agonize about simply leaving our new less-than-furry friend to fend for himself in the park, but recognize that we’re not equipped to really do anything more for him than we already have. Still, I weep as we make our way to the start of the hike and it takes all of my willpower not to turn and look back at him, as I don’t want to risk encouraging him to follow us.

We walk the first section of the waterfall hike in a silence that is punctuated only by my intermittent sniffling as I try to focus on the beauty that surrounds me. Soon enough, I breathe a little steadier as the gorgeous scenery around me begins to bewitch me. It turns out we need not have worried about an arduous hike as the walk to the waterfalls turns out to really be more of a scenic nature walk that skirts high above a rushing river; in contrast to the water below, we set a leisurely pace that simply lets us enjoy the moment. Not to denigrate the park’s namesake because Taroko Gorge itself is certainly lovely, but for us the waterfall and its adjacent rapids at the end of the trail are by far our highlight of the day, even with the terrifying shaky suspension bridge and all!

On our walk back along the trail, the sky begins to darken ominously, as if in warning of things to come. The path becomes thicker with fellow hikers, and when we reach the road and begin our ride back to Hualien, the traffic is terrible. Our CouchSurfing host DaiDai has warned us that just as Cinderella had a curfew of midnight, Taroko Gorge is best before 3 pm when all the tour buses carting hoards of mainland Chinese tourists descend en masse. We putt along at miserable speeds, dodging gawking pedestrians and trying not get run off the road by reckless bus drivers. Low rumbles begin to sound in the distance so we forego the pilgrimage up to the Eternal Spring Shrine, settling to take some photos from the road instead before piling back on the bike in a bid to beat the rain.

A bid that turns out to be a complete failure as within minutes of clearing the park gates, the sky erupts and a cascade of rain comes crashing down on us. Even with our rain jackets on, we are mostly drenched to the bone by the time we roll up at DaiDai’s door, surely leaving her aghast at the gutter snipes she will be hosting this evening. An ignoble end to the day to be sure, but certainly not enough of a catastrophe to put a complete damper on all we have seen and experienced. I’ve got a feeling that anyone who stands in the shadow of Taroko Gorge, the supermodel of canyons, walks away feeling awestruck, but also more than a little sloppy.

Have you ever visited Taroko Gorge? What is the best hike you have ever done?

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36 comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m sure that exploring the Gorge by scooter is the best way, we did it by bus and it was great but we still had to depend on the bus timetables and make sure we didn’t miss the last ride back to Hualien.
    You’ve been pretty unlucky with the weather, which is a shame. We visited only few days after you guys and fortunately missed the rain.
    I’m so happy you cuddled and gave some love to that not so lucky dog, as I’m sure you know, those dogs are the ones that need it the most!

    Aug. 6 2013 @ 9:14 am
    1. Franca author

      It is really nice for us to have the freedom of exploration that is afforded to us by using a scooter but visiting the gorge by bus is certainly better than not visiting at all! I just wish we had been blessed with the good weather you two managed to snag! If there was one downside to our time in Taiwan, I think it had to be that we were plagued by bad weather!

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:26 pm
  2. very true, so gorgeous!

    Aug. 6 2013 @ 9:18 am
    1. Hogga author

      Thanks, Hogga! Glad you enjoyed!

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:27 pm
  3. Paul Kuehn

    What unbelievabe beauty!!Just think what it would be like to live in a place like that,it must be hard to leave all that beauty,but then theres so much more to see,Hope you get this,I think im doing it right? write if you can,we know your ok as we check facebook, but Im not sure if your getting our emails, Love Maureen

    Aug. 6 2013 @ 3:03 pm
    1. Paul Kuehn author

      Hi Maureen! Yes, you are doing the commenting right and thank you for taking the time to drop us a line (we are getting your emails, btw). I always think that people who live so close to this much natural beauty must wake up every morning with a big smile on their face. Surely you can’t be sad when you live as close to paradise on earth as is humanly possible? 😀

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:32 pm
      1. Paul Kuehn

        Hi Steph, I just found your reply! We are trying to comment on your 20 years hence site,but cant seem to make it work,so today the computer has made it to the kitchen table for surgery,we will cure it or murder it,are you still in Bali?we are tracking the earthquakes,hope they are far away from you guys ,you have a magnificent website its so easy to read,doesn’t drag ,the pictures and text are both really interesting,tell Tony I liked his food interview!!! Love Maureen

        Aug. 18 2013 @ 9:58 am
  4. Wow. I wish Shawn or I knew how to ride a motorcycle because that does look like a fabulous way to go. However, we’re not that stupid. Neither of us knows how to ride.

    I have a feeling I’ll be craving some green hills and mountains after so much time in deserts and beaches. Not that I’ll complain too much, but I’m a PNW girl at heart. I love the trees.

    It seems like you were doing a lot of couchsurfing during this time. Were your experiences always so good? Did you plan to do it this much?

    Aug. 6 2013 @ 3:57 pm
    1. Carmel author

      I really think that being able to ride a motorcycle when visiting Asia adds another layer to travel here in a way that wouldn’t be nearly so important in any other part of the world–nearly everyone owns or rides a scooter/motorcycle and it’s often the cheapest, fastest, and most interesting way to get around and see a place. I’m glad that you two won’t attempt riding a motorbike without any prior experience, but I do think that part of every long-term traveler’s preparation for visiting Asia should be learning & practicing to ride a motorbike in the years leading up to leaving for their trip! Tony’s been riding for more than half his life, and I took a motorcycle course and had my own scooter in Nashville that I rode frequently for about 1.5 years before we left and in many ways I think that was some of the most important prep work I did for our trip!

      I’m actually going to write a post specifically about our CS experiences in Taiwan and why I think it’s another important/amazing way to experience the country, but the short answer to your questions is: We have not had a single bad CS experience on our trip, and we didn’t have any set ideas about how much we would or would not use CS, but I don’t think we anticipated using it as much in Taiwan as we did, but it was really easy to find hosts. Also, Taiwanese people are so amazingly kind and generous that if you could only CS in one country, I think it would have to be this one. Meeting locals there definitely made our trip extraordinary.

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:41 pm
  5. Absolutely stunning photos and what a gorgeous hike. That poor puppy… it breaks my heart to see an animal suffer like that with no one to love him.

    Aug. 6 2013 @ 6:14 pm
    1. Maddie author

      Thanks, Maddie! Taroko is one of the places that is so spectacular in real life that we found it quite challenging to photograph in a way that did it justice… I’m glad our hard work paid off! I just wish that we could have done more for the poor little puppy. He deserves so much better than his current lot in life.

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:43 pm
  6. Beautiful!! And aww, mangey puppy. Poor thing. I would have been in tears too. We started throwing food leftovers outside our dive shop for the stray dogs and cats but now we’re acquiring quite the menagerie and have to decide if that’s a good thing or not long-term. Do you think its a sign that I’ve been in the tropics too long that I swooned at “cold drizzle”?

    Aug. 6 2013 @ 9:17 pm
    1. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown author

      Initially the cool weather was a delight when we arrived in Taiwan, but after nearly 3 weeks there and all the outdoorsy stuff we wanted to do, the rain became a real drag. There is nothing worse than riding a scooter and getting soaked to the bone!

      There is so much that I love about Asia, but their casual neglect and sometimes abuse of animals is one thing that never fails to turn my stomach. Maybe it is because I’ve lived a privileged life but whenever I see all these poor strays who just want some love, it makes me think that I’ll never be able to get on board 100% with this place.

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:47 pm
  7. Great post guys! Love that you pulled a pun on gorge and gorgeous- I may or may not have given Dan the hardest time for doing that on our own post ;-P Your photos are really beautiful! The first time we camped in Taroko it rained for nearly three days straight, but like you said, there is NO avoiding the rain in Taiwan. Also, driving a scooter is hands down the best way to experience it-glad that is the way you took! The hike to the waterfall was closed when we went, so unfortunately we never got to experience it. There was another lovely hike on the outskirts of the gorge that led up to a lake, although I can’t remember the name for the life of me!

    Aug. 7 2013 @ 7:56 am
    1. Casey @ A Cruising Couple author

      Rest assured, if there is a pun to be written, I will write it! 🙂

      I’m glad we were able to do the waterfall hike, but there were other hikes we wanted to do that sounded lovely that were closed… I guess given where the gorge sits, one has to expect that some natural disaster or another will likely have parts of it closed. It sounds like the great thing is that no matter what hike you choose to do, the result will be unadulterated beauty!

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:50 pm
  8. I too have an aversion to hiking. Hence why I don’t have a favorite. But I would love to see that gorge. It looks beautiful.

    Aug. 9 2013 @ 2:35 am
    1. Nicole author

      Yes, I would probably say that my favorite hike is the one where I have to expend the least effort, which is probably why I liked our visit here so much! Honestly, the “hike” to the waterfall was on a paved path that was mostly flat (though curvy) and required minimal exertion.

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:52 pm
  9. Taroko Gorge is gorgeous! But poor dog! Seems like it rains there more then here in FL where I am. Those roads did look a little steep and I guess nothing wrong with wishful thinking about the rain. Great photos!

    Aug. 9 2013 @ 9:08 am
    1. Thomas author

      The thing that really annoyed us about the rain in Taiwan was that our guidebooks said that December was the best time to visit the country because it’s when the weather is the best… if that’s the case, I hate to think what the bad weather months are like!

      The roads in the gorge weren’t actually all that steep (that might have been wonky/artistic photography on my part), though they were very curvy!

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:54 pm
  10. WOW! I love it. Those pictures are so beautiful. Exploring by scooter is definitely one of the most invigorating (and often frightening….in both good and bad ways) ways to explore an area.
    My heart is breaking for that little puppy though :/

    Aug. 9 2013 @ 10:11 am
    1. Claire author

      There is definitely a freedom to exploring on scooter that I don’t think you can get by using a car, but you’re right that it can be a bit hair-raising at times! I think if we had had a car, we might very well have picked up that puppy and tried to find somewhere to take him back in Hualien, but there’s no way we could safely transport him on our scooter… Tony’s a good rider, but he’s not that good!

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 7:58 pm
  11. Taroko gorge, obviously gorgeous! Those colors from the stone to the water just suck you right in. I learned the hard way that scooter was the best way to explore the gorge! I’ll have to go back and do it the right way when I return to Taiwan!

    It’s my impression that Taiwanese people really care a lot about beauty and aesthetics when it comes to people and animals. I’m not sure if that has to do with their disregard for the numerous strays all around the country but it may be? It is quite sad how many there are and spread throughout all of Taiwan. You’ll never find a long-haired doxen that’s a stray though.

    Aug. 9 2013 @ 12:23 pm
    1. Heather author

      I would think that the Taiwanese love of beauty would mean they wouldn’t want all those pitiful strays wandering around the countryside, but I think the reason the animals are strays in the first place is because the Taiwanese have a very specific notion of what constitutes a “cute” dog and those are the ones that are protected. Like you said, a teeny tiny dachshund isn’t going to wind up roaming the streets, but a slightly ungainly (and destined to be quite large) black dog of indeterminate breed is easily rejected. By and large we loved Taiwan, but that ability to ignore the plight of any dog in need is one we can’t so easily turn a blind eye to!

      Aug. 9 2013 @ 8:02 pm
  12. HI Steph, it truly is a gorgeous gorge! Looks like a breathtaking nature walk. What a great adventure getting there by a scooter. I guess trying to beat the rain is always part of the adventure. It’s so so kind of you to tend to that poor dog. Your photography is beautiful, Steph! And yours too, Tony. 🙂
    I have many favorite hikes – Lares Valley Trek in Peru, Cinque Terre in Italy, High Atlas in Morocco and Kilimanjaro, etc. I have to keep Taroko Gorge in mind when I got Taiwan.

    Aug. 10 2013 @ 9:50 am
    1. Marisol@TravelingSolemates author

      Yes, when you take a scooter out, you know that the journey to wherever you’re going will likely be just as much of an adventure as the destination itself! I’m not really one to be bothered by rain, but when it comes pouring down, there probably is nothing more miserable than being on a bike… we did our best to escape it, but alas, we lost that battle!

      I’ve not been to any of the places you mentioned for favorite hikes, but Italy & Morocco are on our list, so maybe we’ll have the chance to check those places out (I know Tony is gunning for Cinque Terre)! I think that Taiwan is probably the number one country we’ve visited so far in terms of having inspiring hikes… there are so many more throughout the country that look incredible but that we, sadly, did not have the chance to do. Next time! 😀

      Aug. 13 2013 @ 3:18 am
  13. Clever title and GORGEous indeed.

    Aug. 11 2013 @ 5:53 pm
    1. Rob author

      Thanks, Rob. I can never resist a good pun. Can’t resist a bad one either, for that matter! 😉

      Aug. 13 2013 @ 3:20 am
  14. What an amazing photography I’m seeing. I’ve always wanted to go to Taiwan. Taroko Gorge will definitely be on my list.

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 12:42 am
    1. Nico author

      Taiwan is just an incredible country filled with so many amazing things to see. I hope you do make it there one day; it’s a criminally undervisited country!

      Aug. 13 2013 @ 3:47 am
  15. Wow, that looks like a really special place guys. Beautiful! I love the little grotto!

    Aug. 13 2013 @ 2:49 am
    1. TammyOnTheMove author

      Taroko is probably one of the country’s top 5 most popular attractions but it never felt overrun and it’s easy to feel like you’ve got it all to yourself. Finding somewhere like that in Asia is truly special & cause for a celebration!

      Aug. 13 2013 @ 3:23 am
      1. Paul Kuehn

        Hi I just wrote you a reply to your aug.9 post, but its in the wrong place, so heres a new one,some day we will learn how to do this!!!!!bye Maureen

        Aug. 18 2013 @ 10:04 am
  16. Hi!
    Got here through eTramping and immediately headed for your Taiwan section as I love this island. I really like your articles. Think I’ve found my new site to be going through for the next weeks while having lunch at work haha 🙂
    All the best from London!

    PS. I went to Taroko 3 years ago so reading this article was like a trip down memory lane 🙂

    Jan. 31 2014 @ 7:59 pm
    1. Les @ The Indie Traveller author

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! It’s always nice to hear from our readers, especially when they love Taiwan as much as we do! 😉

      Jan. 31 2014 @ 9:12 pm
  17. Great photos, despite the weather. As I read your post, I realized how blessed I was to enjoy Taroko Gorge in sunny weather. The day, and the fact we freewheeled down the gorge on bicycles were highlights of my short stay in Taroko. Like you, cycling permitted stopping at different trailheads. Here’s a link to my description of the experience: http://packinglighttravel.com/cycling-trips/cycling-taiwans-taroko-gorge/

    Apr. 4 2015 @ 8:19 am

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