I know what you’re thinking: What the heck is river tracing? Only the most awesome new outdoor sport there is!
All of the photos from my Hualien Outdoors adventure are courtesy of Hualien Outdoors.
What is River Tracing?
“First developed in Japan, river tracing is a combination of hiking, bouldering and climbing in and above a river canyon. Also called river trekking and related to canyoning, it involves particular techniques like rock climbing, climbing on wet surfaces and understanding the geographical features of river and valleys.” –Hualien Outdoors
One of the most popular places in the world to go river tracing is Hualien, Taiwan. In the summer Taiwan is hot and sticky, but the rivers are beautiful, fresh and clean. On the outskirts of the famous Taroko Gorge, Hualien boasts some of the best river tracing in the world.
I first read about river tracing in Lonely Planet (yeah, guides are sometimes good for something), who recommended the company Hualien Outdoors. At $100-$160, the trip was a bit pricy for me, but after watching the videos on the website, I knew I had to splurge! I contacted the company and told them the dates of my stay, but unfortunately they didn’t have any trips available. BUMMER!
River Tracing with the Locals
But that’s okay, my really awesome hostel with a 30-person dorm room and staff that didn’t know anything about Hualien had river tracing trips! I was really nervous that the Taiwanese river tracing trip was going to be lame, but I was assured by the staff that all of the previous customers said it was really great. Plus it was way less expensive than the one from Hualien Outdoors.
To sum it up, it was lame, and there’s a reason why Hualien Outdoors is much more expensive.
Let me paint a picture for you here: I’m in a group of about 40 people. I’m the only foreigner, and I’m the only person who has any idea how to swim. We were also forced to wear wet suits even though it was burning hot outside (I actually thought I was going to faint).
We then start walking down a completely flat river, and spend a solid 20 minutes looking for crayfish. What is this? Fun at the river day? Then once it got deeper, they had us hold hands and float on our backs as they spun us around in a circle. I’m pretty sure they did the same thing in my kindergarten swim lesson.
The only part of the day that was actually cool was cliff jumping 12 meters. It doesn’t sound that high, but man it was scary! Literally no one wanted to go except me. I was elated to finally have something fun and adventurous to do! After I went, a few men decided to jump after me so they wouldn’t be outdone by a girl.
After this, the river tracing leader, an older aboriginal man, kept pointing at me, yelling “BOSS!!” I’m pretty sure it was the only word he knew in English.
Overall, the Taiwanese river tracing day was fun but not what I wanted. I could have just gone to the river and done all of the same stuff myself without wearing a wetsuit or paying any money.
River Tracing with Hualien Outdoors
The next day while hiking Taroko Gorge, I met a guy from Singapore who mentioned he was going river tracing the next day. When I discovered it was through Hualien Outdoors I was so jealous! I mentioned I couldn’t go because I had to head back to Taipei that day to catch my flight the day after. To my surprise, the Singaporean was also heading to Taipei that evening, and assured me that river tracing would be over by 4pm and we could be on a train by five or six.
In a world-class move of spontaneity, I borrowed my hostel’s phone to call the company. Thankfully, they agreed to take me on! WhooOOooo!!!! I even lowered the cost for everyone by $20 by making the group bigger. You’re welcome.
You get what you pay for
Long story short, river tracing with Hualien Outdoors was incredible. Our guide, Matt, was fantastic. Originally from Canada, he’s a real outdoor enthusiast and started this company from scratch. His trips are more expensive for good reason; They’re more demanding and dangerous. His gear is very good quality, especially the no-slip shoes. Also, the trip comes with health insurance, just in case anything bad happens.
Matt is also very experienced, and can help out in the case of an emergency. He knows which rivers to choose depending on the group, and scopes out his routes to make sure there haven’t been any rock slides or damage. Honestly, you pay for what you get, and a trip with Hualien Outdoors is worth it.
AWESOME River Tracing Adventure
After a hearty breakfast, we hopped in the van to drive to our river for the day. Matt selected a decently advanced course for us, considering we were all beginners. I was with a group of four Singaporeans. Coincidentally, the Singaporean guy I met in Taroko Gorge didn’t know the other three Singaporeans. I feel like I’m saying the word “Singaporeans” a lot…. SINGAPOREANS.
Anyway, the Singaporeans and I strapped on our gear, which consisted of slip resistant shoes, a life jacket and a helmet. This is all necessary, especially the helmet and shoes. The last thing you want to do is slip on a rock and crack your head open.
From the moment we stepped foot on the river I knew it was going to be better than my first river tracing experience, and that was just the warm-up! For hours, we swam through crystal pools, jumped from rock to rock, pulled each other up waterfalls and posed for silly photos.
I would describe river tracing as a mix of hiking, swimming, and rock climbing. It’s so much fun, but also extremely exhausting. I also slipped on the rocks a few times, leaving my legs covered in cuts and bruises.
By the time we reached the lunch spot I was exhausted. Eating a lunch of cheese and fruit was very welcome, especially after a year of living in China…. Man, I miss cheese.
Animals that can kill you
While at lunch we spotted a snake that is highly poisonous, which really freaked me out. It was sitting on a rock right behind one of the guys’ heads, so thankfully nothing happened. Apparently they only bite if you scare them, but it was so close to all of us, it could have gone very wrong very fast.
On the way back to the car, we hiked trails for a portion of the way back. This was fun, but also a bit dirty since we were all wet and wearing water shoes. On the way back we spotted way too many spiders the size of my head, and a plant that gives you the reaction of a bee sting if you touch it. Where are we? Australia?
Being Spontaneous is Good
There’s something to be said for being spontaneous. River tracing in Hualien was probably my favorite experience from my trip to Taiwan. I say “probably” because the trip was so incredible it’s hard to choose! I’m really glad I made the switch and decided to stay in Hualien for an extra day. While it meant losing my last day in Taipei, I know I’ll be back.
If there’s one benefit to traveling solo, it’s that you can make split-second spontaneous decisions without considering another person. If I was traveling with someone else, I probably would have had a tense discussion about the itinerary. For me, the money was well-worth the experience, and I really, really, really wanted to go. Thankfully, I didn’t have to convince anyone but myself!
In conclusion: if you go to Taiwan, you HAVE to go to Hualien to hike the Taroko Gorge and go river tracing with Hualien Outdoors.
In case any of you were wondering, I was not sponsored by Hualien Outdoors. I’m not getting paid to write this, and I paid for my river tracing experience out of pocket. I just wrote this post because I really enjoyed my experience with them, and I wanted to share this amazing company with all of you! Whether a post is sponsored or not, all opinions are always my own!
44 comments on “River Tracing in Taiwan”
I love this! I did something like this in Puerto Rico, except ours also included ziplining and rapelling down a waterfall, but most of the trip was this hiking through the river stuff. It was really great! I really love outdoor trips :D
Wow that sounds awesome! I would have loved it if zip lining and rapelling were part of this trip! I’ll have to check that out when I make it to Costa Rica someday!
This looks like so much fun!! Would definitely love to try when I visit Taiwan just not too keen on seeing giant spiders, that part is a bit scary but I am working on getting over my fear as we will be road tripping in Australia for 6 months after new zealand. Need to get over my fear of spiders! I love your writing, it makes me laugh out loud so many times, love reading about the spontaneity of your adventures and in your writing style too :-)
Thank you so much! You should definitely try to get to Taiwan if you can. It’s such an incredible country. Also, the spiders aren’t that bad because they don’t really move and they’re way up in the trees. It’s not like Australia where I saw giant skins that spiders had SHED. Yes, that is a thing in Australia.
This looks SO fun! I was in Hualien in 2013 and Taroko….I wish I knew about this!
Yeah I had never heard about it until I saw it in Lonely Planet. Be sure to check it out if you ever go back!
That sounds like something my wife and I would love to do! Thanks for sharing.
No problem! It was a really great trip. Let me know how it goes if you decide to do it :)
I really enjoyed your pictures – looks like you had a fantastic time!
Thanks Jen! Yeah it was definitely one of my favorite all-time travel experiences
Wow your sight is extra special! River tracing…first time I heard about it! Thanks.
Thanks Carol. I hope you have a chance to try it sometime!
That does look fun! I suspect I’m just a bit too unfit but perhaps if I make it over to asia I’ll get a bit fitter first
While being athletic definitely helps, he has easier courses than the one we did. It was also more fun than hiking, which made me feel energized rather than tired
Sounds like a great experience but extreme in places – not sure I could cope with some of the wildlife! :)
Haha thankfully I didn’t see too much wildlife, although the spiders were kind of scary!
This looks pretty cool! Awesome to learn about new possible adventures thanks for sharing!
No problem! I hope you have a chance to try it out
I love this! River tracing seems like my kind of adventure, meaning not too extreme. In a way it reminds me of climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica.
Wow that sounds fun! I agree, it’s adventurous but do-able and fun enough that you don’t mind the exercise
This looks like so much fun!
Yeah it was great!
Looks like fun, but I would be probably a little afraid ;)
Don’t be! If you slip it hurts a little, but other than that it’s really fun!
Good for you with the cliff jumping! Funny that the men would only go after you did . . . I agree in that they wouldn’t allow being outdone be a girl ;)
Yeah it was hilarious to see them egging each other on! I think about four people including me jumped out of 50+ people
Glad you got to change your plans and go on the good tour, too! This sounds so awesome (except for the huge spiders!)–I would love to try this out someday. Never knew it existed!
You should definitely give it a shot if you can! Apparently they have it in Costa Rica and New Zealand too.
This looks like so much fun, we love adventure travel! When we were in Guatemala we went to Semuc Champey where you can go on a cave tour and your climbing. wading and swimming through caves and waterfalls with nothing but a candle. It’s amazing!
Wow that sounds amazing! I would love to try that. Adding it to my bucket list!!
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I saw your post and am going to Taiwan in a few weeks. Do you think a 10 year old would be able to do this? I love the idea, but the snake part really frightened me.
A 10 year old can definitely participate! This company picks adventures for every age range and ability. The route he chose for us was a bit advanced for beginners, but most of us were pretty outdoorsy. He would probably choose an easier route for you and your family. Just be sure to have a somewhat flexible itinerary if you can, and contact him in advance so he can try and get a group together for you. I think he usually tries to have at least four people.
Oh, I *definitely* need to make this happen! Thanks for the hot tip!
No problem! I loved Asia Outdoors- it’s definitely worth the money and maybe you can get it sponsored :D
What month did you visit? And what months did you find or read would be best for river tracing? Thanks much.
I went in June and it was great! Although we were a bit worried about the weather since a typhoon was rolling in (it came the next day). I would say you want warm weather but summer can be a bit worrisome with typhoon season. Winter may be a bit too cold, but he has wet suits you can use. I’m sure if you send him an email he’ll let you know if he runs tours in the winter. My guess would be fall and spring are the best!
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Kind of want to get a sense of the difficult level. Did you go on an intermediate trip or an advanced trip? Also, how fit is fit? I’m kind of average I guess. I don’t work out but I’m ok on occasional 8-10 mile hikes?
Also I really want to go but I also hate bugs. I’m a serious food source for mosquitos and considering I’ll prob be highly uncomfortable in long pants (which is a hot but more reasonable option in the city), were there a lot of mosquitos on the trip?
Hey Julianne, I would say our trip was intermediate. We were all decently fit, but none of us had ever really been river tracing before. I’m not out of shape, but I’m definitely not hiking every single weekend either. I found the difficulty level great. It was just hard enough that it felt like an accomplishment, but there was plenty of swimming and walking too. If I couldn’t heave myself up a rock face, there was always a hand reaching down to help me. Definitely, don’t worry about being outpaced! As for the bugs, I didn’t find them too bad since you’re in the water a lot of the time. I mostly got eaten on the hike back. Maybe get a waterproof bag and bring it with you for the hike (a very small one!) with some mosquito spray inside, or ask if they can carry it for you in the pack. Then you can spray yourself down right before walking back. Hope this helps!
Great to hear you had a good time river tracing in Taiwan! Next time your in Taiwan you should check out Nan Ao (南澳) that area has great river tracing spots, and you can learn a little bit about the local aboriginals that live in the area.
Wow great suggestion! I did have the opportunity to spend a few days or Orchid Island (Lanyu) and stay with an aboriginal family, but when I go back to Taiwan I’ll be sure to check out Nan Ao.