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Five Years of The Golden Grotto 黃金峽谷五週年紀念 (River Tracing the Sanzhan River Part I)

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Explore the Golden Grotto, Taiwan's premiere river tracing / canyoning destination


River trace through a spectacular and remote slot canyon in Taiwan on an unbelievable, once in a lifetime adventure!


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INDEX (because yeah, this is a long article...)

Welcome to The Map Room's series about the Sanzhan River in Hualian!

This is the first in an occasional series of, hopefully, four articles about river tracing in the amazing Sanzhan River in Hualian, Taiwan.

Traces in this series:

  1. The Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷) - intermediate level trace

  2. The Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷) - advanced trace (to be released at a later date)

  3. The Black Gold Grotto (黑金峽谷) - advanced, technical trace, further upstream from the Platinum Grotto (to be released at a much later date)


  • I will periodically revisit this article and update it as new information becomes available. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have new information! (last updated June 20, 2021)

  • All recommendations, times, and other information are for average conditions with average water levels. Please also see important safety notes for river tracing (below).

  • GPX, route maps, and practical information are at the end of this article.

The Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷)! If you live in Taiwan and love the outdoors, chances are you've heard of it, but you may never have been there. Located a few hours' trace up Hualian's Sanzhan River (台灣花蓮三棧溪), it's arguably the most famous of all river tracing destinations in Taiwan - and THAT is saying something! Timeless, yet ever changing, it's a place of wonder, power, and unparalleled majesty.

You may have also heard that, far beyond the Grotto, something called The Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷) awaits, and perhaps you've even heard whispered rumors of something even more remote, something called the Black Gold Grotto (黑金峽谷)? In the next post I will take you to the First Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布) the edge of the Platinum Grotto itself. It's not an easy journey, and what lies beyond is truly difficult to reach. It's not for the faint of heart, the inexperienced, or ill prepared, and I hope to do more detailed posts on them in the future. But the Golden Grotto? Well, just read on!

On the way between the Golden Grotto and the Platinum Grotto

Jumping off of the Ferocious Falls (殘暴一號瀑布), at the Entrance to the Platinum Grotto Itself

After five years, and at least 13 trips to the Golden Grotto, and several expeditions far beyond, it's finally time for me to share what I've experienced in this amazing, world-class adventure travel destination. So please, join me on an adventure like no other!


I've tried to include only the best of my photos from all the times I've been to the Golden Grotto, but as you can imagine it's been quite a challenge! That's why I've put together a gallery with additional pictures for you to check out. Please take a look!




The Entrance Area


The entrance to the Golden Grotto at Sanzhan River in Hualian, Taiwan


Starting my most recent hiking and river tracing journey to Hualian's Golden Grotto with my friend Johan.

An Aboriginal Curse!

This sign is a curse saying that, if you leave your garbage in the river area, the ancestors of the local aboriginal tribe will curse you. No, I'm not even making that up! Curses are seen as serious stuff by most Taiwanese.

The Entrance to the Golden Grotto at Sanzhan River in Hualian, Taiwan

New construction along the old trail to the aqueduct tower (see below). There are two ways to start your journey to the Golden Grotto, and here is where you make your choice! Going up (left) will take you along the aqueduct trail, which you can follow all the way to The Tower (below). This saves you time, but misses some nice tracing.

Going right takes you along this path down to the river, where you immediately cross for the first of many times. It takes a bit longer, but you get some beautiful river scenery in exchange! I've included pictures of both routes below, so have fun and take whichever one you like!

New Construction Along the Old Trail to the Aqueduct Tower

The River Route


Crossing the Sanzhan River at the Cliff Diving Tree

If you're like me, you love a good cliff dive! There's a REALLY great one, very high and very unique, just beyond this point. It's one of the first things you reach if you take the river route.

Let the Real Adventure Begin!

River Tracing Across the Sanzhan River

Cliff Diving Tree

This is the best jumping area along the whole route to Hualian's Golden Grotto, bar none! First, you climb up the cliffside, then follow the diagonal crack from the bottom left of the photo, pass under the trees, and climb up the high cliffside using the root system of the big tree. Finally, climb out from there onto one of its branches and take a flying leap about 16 meters (about 50 feet / 3 stories) into the depths below! The jumping pool is incredibly clean and clear, and usually teaming with large fish (they always get out of the way well before getting hit), so it's a crazy experience looking, and then jumping, down.

Beautiful Azure Blue Waters of Hualian

Azure blue waters dominate the entire trace to the Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷), The Platinum Grotto (白金峽谷) and Black Gold Grotto (黑金峽谷) far beyond. While I'm not going to take you as far as the Platinum Grotto or the Black Gold Grotto on this journey, I hope to do follow-up posts for each of them in the future!

A Picture From my First River Trace to the Golden Grotto, So Many Years Ago...

A picture from my first visit to the Golden Grotto, all those years ago! I had only been river tracing for a year or so at that point, and was honestly pretty nervous about entering the legendary Grotto all on my own. I had no GPX map and not much information to go on. What if I missed the entrance? What if the river was too rough? 

I've been there 13 times now, and ventured deep into the remote river canyons beyond, but no matter how many times I return, the Golden Grotto will always be a place of awe and wonder for me!

The Aqueduct Route


Sino-American Aqueduct

This aqueduct, which runs along the side of the cliffside trail, was a joint project between the American government and the Republic of China (i.e., Taiwanese) governments back before the USA recognized the People's Republic of China (i.e., Mainland Chinese communist government) as the legitimate holder of the UN security council seat. The US funded the work, and the local government used the funds to build the whole thing.

Cliffside Hiking Trail Along Hualian's Sanzhan River

This section of the trail to the Golden Grotto is carved out of the naked rock of the mountainside cliffs. It's an exhilarating feeling, like something out of the adventure movies I used to watch as a little boy.

Jungle Walkway

Walking along the trail from the entrance to the Golden Grotto towards the aqueduct tower takes you over this wooden bridge in the jungle.

Jungle Trail Aqueduct  

Trailside Sign

Looking Down from the Cliffside

Nearing The Tower...

The last stretch of the cliffside walkway, just before it ends at the aqueduct tower, offers an amazing view of the river.

The Tower


The Beautiful Sanzhan River Aqueduct Tower, Hualian, Taiwan

This tower is at the end of the cliffside, aqueduct trail. It's a really fun place, with a great swimming hole and another of the most unique jumps I know in Taiwan. I always make a point to stop and have a bit of fun here before passing by!

Johan Looks Down from the Tower

Taking in the View from the Top of the Tower

The Beautiful Sanzhan River Aqueduct Tower, Hualian, Taiwan

The Sanzhan River Aqueduct Tower

Long neglected, this whole area has recently seen a flurry of construction and renovation. Until now, this has been one of the absolute best places to jump, despite being only about 8 meters (24 feet / 2 stories) or so high. Last time we visited, they had started installing a 'protective' chain around the edge, but hopefully this will not inhibit jumping in the future!

Jumping from the Sanzhan River Aqueduct Tower

Jumping from The Tower into the deep, azure-blue pool 8 meters (24 feet / 2 stories) below is exhilarating, but ALWAYS check the depth of any jump on a new day, no matter how many times you've been there before! I have personally witnessed the pool - normally at least as deep as the tower is high - filled so full of rock and gravel that I was literally able to walk across in ankle deep water. By the next time I returned, it had all washed out and returned to its previous depth. ALWAYS take a jump with confidence, or not at all, knowing that you NEVER leave it to chance and have checked the depth first.

Commemoration of Sino-American Cooperation

This sign on the side of the tower commemorates the cooperation between the US government and the Republic of China (i.e., Taiwanese, then still recognized as the government of all of China) governments.

The Valley



An Adventurer's Dream

The beauty of places like these simply must be seen to be believed. Pictures can convey a lot, but there is truly no substitute for seeing them with your own eyes, feeling the cool water as you hike and river trace up the impossibly clear rivers and streams of Taiwan's east coast!

Chrystal Clear Mountain Streams

The waters of the river are rich and colorful, especially on a sunny day! River tracing (canyoning) here is like something out of a dream.

Notice the tunnel-looking feature running along the top of the boulder to the right (above). You can see it clearly from behind in the picture below. I've always been fascinated by this feature, and I wonder if, long long ago, it used to stand upright as part of the watercourse of some now long lost waterfall.

The Jumping Rock from Below  

Take a Dive!

There are tons of places to dive off of boulders and waterfalls all along the way to the Golden Grotto, though this may be the most unique. It's a lot of fun, especially if you have extra time for all the special and interesting places along the way!

Heading Upstream

Aboriginal Shelter

As with most outdoor destinations in Taiwan, the aboriginies come here often. No matter how far you get into the wilderness, you can bet they've been there recently!

Aboriginal Picnic Table

Only 130 km (80 miles) north of the Tropic of Cancer as the crow flies, the deep blue pools of the Sanzhan River are the image of a tropical paradise in all but name.

Smooth River Rocks

These flat river rocks make perfect skipping stones!  

Heading Into the Wild

Trail Marker

When heading back out from the Golden Grotto, watch for the massive, pointed boulder (seen standing alone at the center left of this photo). Cross from the campsite just before it and watch on the right to find one of the secret trail entrances. There are several long sections of trail, starting just after The Tower, which save you a lot of time in getting to the Golden Grotto while still letting you down for the best sections of river tracing. Don't worry - you'll still get PLENTY wet on the way! Check out the GPX file for trailhead locations, as well as some of the major landmarks to check out along the way!

Riverside Campsite

There are plenty of places to camp as you make your way along the Sanzhan. This is one of the nicer ones, but even if it's occupied you can just move on to the next one.

Secret Trail

Knowing the hidden entrances to the riverside trail can save you hours of time while sacrificing very little in terms of the best swimming and jumping spots.

Johan Traces Upriver

Did you notice the massive, upright boulder in the river behind Johan? Cross over from here on the way back to the parking lot and look for the trail on the right bank before you pass it. It's a great trail marker!

Riverside Trail

Another Great Riverside Campsite!

Mountain Mists

Dave Fords the Sanzhan River

Rocky Expanse

Once you hit this rocky expanse you will come to a sharp right turn. The valley suddenly narrows and becomes much steeper. From here, it's only about 15 minutes to the Golden Grotto!

Nature's Children

This is a photo from when a friend brought his 10 year old son (in orange) along for the trace. With proper swimming and outdoors knowledge and experience, and adult supervision, children as young as 10 or 11 can do this trace - though it will be quite a challenge for them.15 and older would be better for anything beyond the Golden Grotto.

Just Around the Bend

The last bend before the Golden Grotto entrance!

The Curve


The Canyon Curve Just Before the Golden Grotto

The Final Push!

Beautiful Reflections

John Rounds the Bend

More Reflections...

Blue Waters

John Snaps One!

Rocky Banks

Johan and David Press Onward

Such Amazing Beauty!

The Curve Campsite


Sunny Day

Though sometimes the Sanzhan River Valley can have mist, fog, or drizzling rain, other times the whole place is flooded with light and color!

Beautiful Reflections

The Bend Campsite

This campsite is very close to the last big bend before the Golden Grotto. For individuals or small groups, it's a great option. It's even better if you want to hit the Grotto for photography; the golden hour for this place is between 10 and 12, depending on the time of year, so starting from here in the morning will give you plenty of flexibility for catching that perfect shot. After all, it's only about 15 minutes from here to the Grotto entrance - if you can resist all the amazing photo opportunities on the way, that is!

Thre are plenty of campsites along the way. For the exact location of this campground, and a selection of others, just download the GPX file at the end of this post.

Camping on a Rainy Day

Camp Cooking


There's nothing like a good campfire to lift your spirits after too many nights in the city!

The Bend Campsite

The Canyon


Fog Fills the Valley

Sometimes the Sanzhan River Valley can be a foreboding place

There are plenty of bends on this river, but this is The Bend. As soon as you turn past the campsite at The Bend, you will know. The wide, angled sides of the river valley suddenly and abruptly change to the high, vertical walls of a tall, narrow canyon. It's incredibly beautiful!

That said, this is also where I bust out the helmet. The first time I ever came here, I saw a big avalanch just beyond what I did not yet know was the entrance to the Golden Grotto, and I've seen another in this exact section as well. I've also seen people injure themselves badly on the way out on jagged rocks that weren't here when we went in, so keep one eye on the beauty, and the other peeled for rockfalls.

Taiwanese Slot Canyon