Tunnels at Swallow Grotto

Taroko National Park

Oct 5, 2014 - Julie

Taiwan’s natural beauty really lives up to its name of Ilha Formosa (beautiful island) and nowhere is this more evident than Taroko National Park. Situated in the northeastern section of the island, Taroko National Park is a national scenic area famous for its marble gorge. It is often missed by many visitors who only stick to traveling along the west coast of Taiwan. We are so incredibly glad we took a day trip – let me show you why. One important note: our pictures from Taroko National Park, though stunning, do not do the park justice. Not even close. Even while we were taking the pictures, we felt that it did not properly capture the majesty.

From Taipei, we first headed to Hualien, where buses to Taroko National Park run throughout the day. A day pass allowed us to hop-on, hop-off at scenic spots at our leisure.

Shakadang Trail (砂卡礑步道)

We started the day at the Shakadang Bridge, below which begins the Shakadang Trail. The bridge itself is a pretty sight, a section of road between two tunnels. Far, far down from the bridge, the Shakadang River runs smoothly and quietly along the valley. Unfortunately, only 1.5km of the 4.5km of the Shakadang Trail were open the day we visited. Even though we were only able to trek the first portion, it was still a pleasant walk with the rock wall jutting out from one side and the river cliff down the other. We even ran into a Brazilian couple on the way – they were so shocked to find another Brazilian in Taiwan!

The river flows down in between the rocky mountains
The river flows down in between the rocky mountains

Buluowan (布洛湾)

Buluowan is a recreation area off the main road and up the mountain where several hotels in Taroko National Park are located. Visitors can also learn more about the Taroko/Truku tribe who are native to the area through exhibitions and presentations here. The roads used to explore Taroko National Park were built off of paths used by the Taroko/Truku peoples. There is also a short wooden trail with viewpoints and seating areas.

Julie at Buluowan
Julie at Buluowan

From Buluowan, instead of waiting for the bus (that sometimes forgets to come up to Buluowan), we took a trail of stairs down the hill to the next scenic spot, Swallow Grotto.

Swallow Grotto / Yanzikou (燕子口)

Swallow Grotto is really unlike anything I have ever seen. It is the best place to see the rocky gorge up close. Not only do you walk under and beside the cliff faces, you can see all the markings on the wall of the gorge on the other side of the river. Swallow Grotto is one of those places where you’re reminded of how insignificant you really are compared to the power of nature. Even though the rocks look very rugged and severe, it was nonetheless beautiful in its own way.

View from Swallow Grotto
View from Swallow Grotto

The most famous rock formation of Taroko National Park is also here – the Chieftain’s Profile Rock. To be honest, I probably would not have seen this if it was not pointed out to me, but it does look like a face profile!

Indian Chieftain profile rock
Indian Chieftain profile rock

Tianxiang (天祥)

Tianxiang is another recreation area at the end of the bus route. The ride from Swallow Grotto to Tianxiang is definitely the most scenic of the entire bus ride (probably also the most treacherous section of road as well). Regrettably, we did not have very much time to spend at Tianxiang, but it’s a large developed area with a shrine, a pagoda, a suspension bridge, temples, and a 5-star hotel.

However, our main reason to come to Tianxiang was to take the Baiyang Trail.

Baiyang Trail (白杨步道)

We could not have ended our day in a better way than the Baiyang Trail. This trail was highly recommended by both our Hualien host and online travelers and it certainly did not disappoint. What makes the Baiyang Trail so unique is that it has many tunnels – 8 in total, some of which were so long that it was pitch black in the middle of the tunnel. Using our flashlights, we saw some bats hanging in the tunnels.

Rocky tunnel at the Baiyang Trail
Rocky tunnel at the Baiyang Trail

This trail takes you along some of the most scenic parts of the gorge. It’s hard to describe with words how stunning the scenery really is. Imagine landscape where the lush, green mountains become steep, rocky canyon, with blue-gray water streaming through the valley and wispy clouds floating across the otherwise clear sky… except x100. Each turn opens up to another portion of the gorge that is more picturesque than the one you saw before.

The end of the sixth (seventh?) tunnel opens up to a waterfall… more like a waterfall area, really. Not only is the trail/tunnel above a massive waterfall, there are also waterfalls left, right, and up. Bridges and a pavilion nearby completes the picture. I could have stayed there and enjoyed the views all around for a long, long time.

View on the way to the Water Curtain Tunnel
View on the way to the Water Curtain Tunnel

The last tunnel of the trail is the best one – there is literally a waterfall running through its cracks! The Water Curtain Tunnel was a very cool experience. I had never walked through a wet tunnel with feet in the water and water pouring down like heavy rain. Other hikers were kind enough to give us their rain jackets after they were done with it, and we made sure to pass on the favour.

Entrance to the Water Curtain Tunnel
Entrance to the Water Curtain Tunnel

I felt really immersed in nature on this trail, surrounded by many living things. There were butterflies of all shapes and sizes flying around me for most of the trail. They would often catch me by surprise! Many birds and what sounded like macaque monkeys filled the air with their calls everywhere. Sometimes we would stop to look for the birds and monkeys because they sounded like they were right next to us, though we never saw any.

Butterflies were present all along the trails
Butterflies were present all along the trails

Taroko National Park was a wonderful day-trip and a must-see when visiting Taiwan, in our opinion. Even though we spent a full day there, there were still so many scenic spots we didn’t stop at, trails we didn’t trek. Being from Canada and Brazil, we both grew up hiking in national parks (albeit very different ones), but this was completely different and unique. Our pictures don’t capture the full experience – you have to go in person and experience it for yourself!

For more pictures from Taroko National Park, visit the gallery!