I was finally able to visit Golden Grotto 黃金峽谷 after waiting for years (very long trip from Kaohsiung). Golden Grotto is a long hike (5 km) up a fairly typical river valley (all of the valleys are really beautiful) on the east coast of Taiwan. Golden Grotto Waterfall is only a short distance up a side canyon from the main valley but it is neither easy to find the side canyon nor is it easy to climb up the 3 small waterfalls to the Golden Grotto. Once inside the grotto, hikers are surrounded by walls that tower above them and one of the most uniquely colored waterfalls that I have ever seen.
It is possible to DIY the trip with no gear but I highly recommend that you hire a guide with the full gear. Our trip (1800 TWD/person) included river tracing shoes, a full length 3mm wetsuit, a helmet, a life jacket and an amazing 6 course aboriginal meal afterwards. We also enjoyed cheap camping at a very cool place. Guided trips with English speaking guides will usually cost more.
How to get there – Golden Grotto is located in the village of Sanzhan about 10 minutes north of Hualien. The trailhead is on the south side of the river after passing through the village.
Mass transit – Most guides will pick you up at the train station or arrange transport for you. There are nearby bus stops for DIY’ers.
The hike – The hike is somewhat straightforward for the first 5 km. It goes up the valley and your local guide knows a variety of shortcut paths to avoid some of the walking on rocks. In the summer the creek crossings will be more difficult but they weren’t an issue when we went (January). About halfway there was a water intake that provided clean water downstream to the aboriginal community. Shortly before the side canyon there is an overhanging rock where you can take a break and leave your extra gear.
The side canyon doesn’t really have any distinguishing features and it is easy for DIY trips to miss. Shortly after entering the canyon you will arrive at a beautiful pool. This is where the fun part of your trip begins. Swim across the pool and climb up the first waterfall. This one is pretty easy. The second waterfall is much more difficult. Typically there hasn’t been a fixed rope here and this is where I was really happy to have a local guide and safety gear. You probably won’t have problems but this could quickly become an emergency if someone fell. The third waterfall is relatively easy to climb up since there is usually a fixed rope in place and it naturally forms steps.
The grotto is almost a cave with much of the area covered by overhanging rock. It is also much cooler in the grotto and I have heard that if you don’t have a wetsuit you will be shivering even in July. There isn’t much for swimming here but you just passed three amazing pools that you can swim in later.
Other info – The waterfall flows all year but the winter months it would be a very cold trip. We took advantage of unseasonably warm days (and a 3mm full body wetsuit) in January (around 25C) to go but this is not common for January although it has been during the last 2-3 years.
Permits – A mountain permit might be required for DIY’ers (check at the local police station). Going with a local guide covers this requirement as far as I know.
Guides – Roger 0930-158-912 (local Sanzhan tribe guide – some basic English) or Taiwan Adventure Outings (FB contact in link) group trips (uses local Sanzhan guides)
Camping is available at a newly developed property across the river from the Sanzhan village. The facilities are minimal (bathrooms, cold? showers and 2 large bamboo shelter common areas. They also have an extra day add-on for making bamboo bows and arrows and practicing archery.
Date visited – 1/1/2017