River trace to a tropical slot canyon that is so hidden and beautiful, it brings the word “magical” to mind

The hike to the Golden Grotto begins at San Zhan (三棧) township, the next river valley to the south of Taroko Gorge. San Zhan is a small town where three rivers converge before emptying into the Pacific, on Taiwan’s east coast in Hualien County. There is a parking area to the northwestern side of the town. From the parking area, head down a small path that descends to the waterfront and start hiking up river, heading west. This first section of river is quite wide, and you can hike on the rocks along the riverbank, with occasional shallow crossings. For reference on Google Maps, a little over half a mile (1 km) up river from the parking area, you will see a photo pin for 三棧玫瑰谷 (San Zhan Rose Valley). At this spot where the river widens, the crystal clear water is mostly shallow but there is a deeper channel up against some rocky cliffs that form stunning aqua swimming holes, with a few boulders you can jump off. Continuing up river, you will turn south and start crossing from one bank to the other more frequently. We managed to cross where the water was less than waist deep in most sections, although we had at least one crossing where the river was chest deep, so having dry bags for your gear is recommended. For the last mile or so (about 2 km) the river will make several large bends, and the lush valley walls get steeper. The river becomes narrower, so river crossings can be a bit more challenging in a few sections where the water is deeper and faster moving. At just under 3 miles (5 km) up river, you’ll come to several very large boulders along the right side of the river. From here you can see that the river continues and then makes a sharp left around the bend, but you will turn right and scramble up the boulders along a small tributary to enter the Golden Grotto. After scrambling to the top of the boulders, you’ll get to a beautiful aqua swimming hole that makes a perfect spot for a lunch break, facing steep canyon walls, and a small waterfall that feeds into the deep blue pool.

To continue up the canyon requires swimming across several pools and climbing up a series of waterfalls. As a word of caution, all of the scrambling and climbing will be very slippery and without ropes, so continue at your own risk. The first waterfall is only about 7 feet high and it’s easy to climb up along the boulders to the left. Above the first waterfall, the slot canyon turns up to the left. Around the next bend you’ll be able to see the second waterfall. This waterfall is about 12 feet high and is more challenging to climb up. To get up it, you’ll have to first swim across another deep pool and start climbing up just to the left of the base of the falls. The rock is smooth and slick, hand and foot holds are challenging to find, and you’ll climb directly up into part of the falls, so use caution and a spotter. The pool below is deep enough to jump into if you fall, which also means you can just jump off on the way down instead of down climbing. Above this falls, you’ll round another bend and come to a third falls about 30 feet high. You’ll climb directly up into the falls the whole way, but there are much better hand and foot holds that make this an easier climb overall. At the very top of this falls, you’ll enter a room that will take your breath away. Canyon walls tower above you, and a magnificent waterfall about 70-80 feet high plummets from the lush canopy above down the steep canyon walls. This last waterfall is the turn-around point, as the canyon walls become too steep to climb beyond. Enjoy this magical place, and then head back down river.

Tips: 

  • On our trip we only carried make shift dry bags for our camera gear (doubled up ziplocks), so we only carried it up to the second waterfall (shown in the photos above). Hauling a camera past this point requires a very reliable dry bag, because descending the canyon, you’ll jump into two pools and down climb at least one waterfall.
  • Water shoes and wet suits can be rented from outdoor shops in Taipei. Water shoes are definitely recommended as you will make numerous river crossings and spend much of the hike in the river. Wet suits would be nice to have for the swimming holes and waterfall climbs, as the mountain water stays very cold.
  • There are periodically guided groups that explore this area. Consider going in the winter and on a weekday for a better chance to explore Golden Grotto all by yourself. 


Be sure to check out these nearby adventures in Taroko Gorge: 

Relax at Wenshan Hot Spring in Taroko Gorge

Hike the Zhuilu Old Trail

Hike to Baiyang Waterfall in Taroko National Park

Pack List

  • Water shoes
  • Wetsuit (optional, but I’d take one next time!)
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Camera and tripod
  • Reliable dry bag
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RT Distance 6 Miles
Activities Photography, Swimming, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Swimming Hole

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