Taroko Gorge (太魯閣: Tàilǔgé) is a deep, rocky, tree-lined canyon with a boulder-strewn, blue-green river at the bottom. Its magnificent scenery makes it an incredible place for hiking, and it welcomes visitors with trails ranging from flat and leisurely to strenuous and heart-pumping. The 19-km-long canyon near Taiwan's east coast is protected as Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園; Tàilǔgé gúojiā gōngyuán).
The Taroko Gorge is composed mainly of metamorphic rocks, such as marble, gneiss, and schist. The name, Taroko, means the "magnificent and splendid" in the language of Truku, the aboriginal tribe residing in the area.
The nearest town is Xincheng near the entrance to the national park, which has a train station and a handful of hotels, restaurants, shops, and even a night market serving the steady flow of tourists. The visitor center is near the entrance to the park, and Tianxiang, a village of sorts with not-that-great restaurants and a couple of stores, is located deep in the gorge past most of the main hiking trails. Alternatively, many visitors go to Taroko National Park as a day trip from Hualien.
When Taroko National Park was established on November 28, 1986, it was of special significance for the environmental protection movement in Taiwan: it showed that both the public and the government agencies had realized despite the nation's four decades of extraordinary economic success, serious damage was being done to its natural resources.
The most phenomenal aspect of the park is the amazing relief. In a single afternoon you can travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of subtropical forested canyons to high elevation sub-alpine coniferous forests. In about 60 km the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 3400 m. That's steep!
The force behind the steep valleys and narrow canyons is a (geologically speaking) relatively fast rate of uplift combined with ample water. Over the last 70 million years, these two forces collaborated to form the world's deepest marble canyon. The slot canyons here are remarkable with narrows sections 300 m high and only a dozen meters apart, reminiscent of the Virgin River in Zion National Park in Utah, USA. Ignore the fact that Zion is in the desert, and made of sandstone and Taroko is subtropical and comprised of marble, and these two gorges have a lot in common.
Flora and fauna
The park has 144 species of birds, 10% of which are indigenous to Taiwan. It also hosts over 30 large species of mammals, including deer, boar, and bear. Monkeys can be seen if you're on a quiet trail and keep your eyes and ears peeled. 251 species of butterflies, 32 species of reptiles and 18 species of fish have been identified, but considering the rugged terrain of the park, this is probably only a fraction of the species that actually live in the park.
The climate is subtropical and generally mild. Rainfall is abundant year round so be prepared and be especially cautious about entering the gorge during typhoons or periods of extended heavy rain due to the danger of landslides and rockfall.
The weather in the gorge can often be surprisingly well with open and blue sky, even when it is raining in Hualien.
According the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau, average temperatures at low elevations in the park range from 14°C in January to 27°C in July. At higher elevation it is much cooler with winter temperatures at 2000 m being about 5.5°C in the winter and 17.5°C in the summer and at 3400 m at the top of Hehuan, temperatures average -3°C in January and 9°C in July.
The nearest major city is Hualien. Flights and trains are available from Taipei and most major cities.
- Shuttle bus from Hualien (Left when coming out of the Hualien TRA station, where also you can find the ticket office.), ☏ , , (08:00-20:00). The buses leave from Hualien at 07:00 (wheel chair access), 08:30, 09:10, 10:00, 11:10 (wheel chair access), 12:00, 13:20, 14:10 and 15:10 (wheel chair access) daily - it's about 40 minutes to the Park HQ, 1 hr 15 min to Tianxiang, and the full loop about 2½ hours. Buses from Tianxiang to Hualien leave at 08:40 (wheel chair access), 10:00, 10:40, 11:40, 12:50 (wheel chair access), 14:10, 15:00, 15:50 and 17:00 (wheel chair access), and 30 min later from the Park HQ aka Taroko Visitor Center.. The bus stops at Qixintan Beach, Xincheng Railway Station, Taroko Archway, Taroko National Park HQ & Visitor Center (太管處), Changchun Shrine, Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto, 燕子口), Jiuqudong (Tunnel of Nine Turns, 九曲洞), Lushui (合流.綠水), Tianxiang (天祥) and then back along the a similar, but not absolutely identical route. But it stops also where hailed. Make sure you are standing on the right side of the road and hail at the bus if you wish to get on. It goes quite slow, so you will not feel your stomach that much. On the way back, do not catch the bus at the Taroko Visitor Center at the entrance of the gorge, otherwise it might be full in the evening. However, during the week this will seldom happen. There are 1- and 2-day passes available, for NT$250 or NT$400 respectively. (Actually, you can pass on the ticket to the next traveller, because the ticket is only made invalid once at Hualien Station and after that no one checks the date. They just want to see it in your hands. Also, since the ticket is valid from the day of the first use, the purchase date on the ticket does not mean anything.).
- Regular buses from Hualien. +886 38322065. Regular buses depart from the Hualien TRA station at 06:30 (to Luoshao), 08:40 (to Lishan), 10:50 (to Tianxiang) and 13:50 (to Tianxiang). All buses stop at Tzuchi Vihara, Xincheng Taroko Station (太魯閣火車站), Taroko Visitor Center (park entrance), Shakadang (砂卡礑) and Buluowan (布落灣). Although the distance is not large, buses should take at least 2 hours to Tianxiang, due to very frequent stops and reduced speed inside the gorge. The buses no. 1126, 1133 and 1141 can also be used with the 1- and 2-day shuttle bus passes. Otherwise, the price is about NT$170, with no change given. So, be sure to bring the exact amount. EasyCard can also be used.
The Visitor Center offers free maps of the area. They can also provide you with up-to-date information on which trails are closed, as the weather and earthquakes may make them unsafe.
A journey by train from Taipei to Hualien takes 2 hr by express train (NT$440) and 3-4 hr by local trains. The trains are cheap, reliable and comfortable. Station names are announced in English and Chinese so you should have no problem identifying your stop. The closest train station to the park entrance is 1 Xincheng Station (新城). From there, you can use the before mentioned shuttle or regular buses, or there is the choice of one way taxi rides for about NT$200 or a taxi day tour for about NT$2,000.
A taxi from the Hualien train station to Tianxiang (town in Taroko National Park, where the Grand Formosa hotel is located) costs about NT$1200 and takes about 1 hour.
You can rent a scooter near the train station in Hualien. It takes around 30 min to reach Taroko Gorge. However in some cases you may need a local drivers license to do so.
You can also rent a scooter by the Xincheng train station, which is closer to the park. The price quoted in April 2012 was NT$500 per day. An American or European drivers license (and possibly other countries as well) and a passport will suffice at this shop.
Fees and permits
Entry to the park is free but if you want to go to some of the wilderness or into areas designated as Eco-protection areas or restricted mountain areas, you will need an entry permit. Be sure to apply for the permits early (at least 1 week before) as some permits are limited by a small number per day. Refer to the official Taroko National Park information website for application procedures:
Note, many tunnels can also be traversed on foot, in case you want to get from one to another just nearby sight.
The shuttle bus and regular buses, see above.
Furthermore, there are numerous bus tours visiting the gorge every weekend. And, while the buses are comfortable and air-conditioned, the tours tend to have a tight itinerary (including, of course, the obligatory stop at some local gift shop), leaving little time for extended hiking. Tour buses leave from the Hualien visitor information center and cost about NT$988 per person for a whole day tour.
Regular bus lines are a convenient and inexpensive way to get around the gorge and avoid the need to look for parking, though they can be very crowded. You can use Taipei's EasyCard to ride the buses with a 90% discount—tap when you get on and when you get off. If you pay with cash no change is given.
Bus lines through the gorge include the 302, 1126, 1129, 1132, 1133, 1133A, and 1141. They run pretty frequently from early morning to early evening, but at inconsistent intervals, and different lines stop at different places, so get ahold of a schedule to plan your transportation. The buses are often late and sometimes even a few minutes early, so don't take the schedules too seriously. Major stops served by most of the buses include:
- Hualien Station 花蓮火車站
- Xincheng Station 新城火車站
- Taroko Arch Gate 太魯閣
- Taroko Visitor Center 太魯閣遊客中心
- Shakadang 砂卡礑
- Swallow Grotto 燕子口
- Tunnel of Nine Turns 九曲洞
- Lushui 绿水
- Tianxiang 天祥
The 7-Eleven in Tianxiang is useful for reloading your EasyCard.
Don't miss the last bus back in the evening!
Renting a car in Hualien is definitely an option, though be very cautious; the roads through the gorge are extremely narrow with numerous bends. In addition, there are pedestrians, scooters, cars and massive tour buses all vying for the tight space.
The Gorge is not the best place for a first scooter experience. However, it's a fantastic place to ride for those with experience. Scooters are available to rent in Hualien. If you run low on fuel, the locals often stock a small supply that they'll part with for a miraculously uninflated price. There is also a gas station 50 km passed Taroko on the number 8 road (around km 118). The drive there climbs to an impressive 3 km altitude. Bring warmer clothes and rain gear. Also make sure to get a helmet with a rain visor.
You can rent a scooter from Pony near the train station in Hualien (around NT$400/day).
For the truly adventurous, cycling is a wonderful way to traverse the park. You can rent a bike in front of the entrance of the Taroko national park. It costs NT$250 for a day.
If you do not have any of the above you can see some parts of the national park by foot. The closest hiking trail to the park entrance is the Shakadang Trail, which departs from the road after the first tunnel approximately 1 km from the park headquarters. The eternal spring shrine is only 1.4 km further through the tunnels. Taking this tour takes 4-5 hr, don't forget to take enough water with you.
Although Taiwan is not a hitchhiking paradise, it is pretty easy to hitchhike in the Taroko gorge and, more generally, on Highway 8, especially if you are a foreigner.
The following sights will be encountered in a westward order from the entrance of the park, though starting early in the morning at Baiyang Waterfall trail and heading eastwards will lead to far less crowds.
- 1 Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道) (buses stop at Shakadang going into the park but not going out, so to catch a bus out you'd need to walk along the road through the tunnel forward to Changchun Shrine or back to the visitor center). 4.1 km, 3-4 hr round trip. Shakadang Trail is also known as "Mysterious Valley Trail", which is named because more than 40 years ago a group of young folks entered the river valley and found it very secretive. This place has attracted more and more travellers, and thus everyone is used to calling it "Mysterious Valley". However, its name was reverted to "Shakadang Trail" in 2001, according to the name of the river. This trail is built along the river cliff so travelers can easily observe both the folded rocks and ecosystem beside the river shore. 4½ km after passing Sanjianwu (3D Cabin), the trail leads to an old Datong tribe village, which is a favorite of travelers. After the first curve, you can see running water from the cliff to the lake, a sight which has astonished many people. May is the season for You Tong flowers and makes the trail a pleasant floral walkway. The beginning of the trail is pretty flat and easy, and it gets less crowded after you pass the stands selling food and drinks.
- 2 The Eternal Spring Shrine (Changchun Shrine / 長春祠) (Drive from the west exit of the Changchun Shrine Tunnel of Central Cross-Island Highway, then turn south to Liwu River Valley). 2 km, 1-1.5 hr round trip. The shrine and its walkways are sometimes closed, due to (supposedly) Typhoons. It seems like you are supposed to stay on the road, take your pictures and leave. But it is nevertheless impressive. The Changchun Shrine (Eternal Spring Shrine) recognizes the personnel who died during the construction of Central Cross-Island Highway. Rivers adjacent to the Changchun Shrine become the scattering falls, and the Highway Bureau named it after "Chanchun Falls" which is now the significant landmark on Central Cross-Island Highway. In 1987 the cliffs of the rivers destroyed the pavilion nearby the Changchun Shrine, but it was restored and reopened to the public 10 years later. In the back of the Changchun Shrine, there are stairs leading to Kuanyin Caves, Taroko Tower, the Bell Tower, and through a hanging bridge called "Heaven Trail", to Changuang Temple. The river valley next to the Changuang Temple has a calabash shape, and is accordingly named Calabash Valley (Hu-lu Gu).
- 3 Buluowan (布洛灣). 400m, 20 min.
- 4 Xiaozhuilu Train. 650 m, 20 min.
- 5 Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou Trail). 1.37 km, 20 min. The Swallow Grotto is a short easy walk along very nice views of the gorge, finishing under the impressive Zhuliu cliffs. Kiosk with restrooms available halfway. Closed as of December 2019.
- 6 The Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞).
- 7 Xiangde Temple.
- 8 Lushui Trail (Suspension bridge & waterfall) (Alight at either Lushui or Heliu bus stops). 2 km, 1 hr. Great and picturesque view. Further down the road in addition a great view from the 9 bridge.
- 10 Dekalun Trail. 1.3 km, 3 hr. Challenging trail with lots of birds.
- Huoran Pavilion Trail. 500 m, 2 hr.
- 11 Cave of Water Curtains / Baiyang Trail (水簾洞) (entrance 1 km up the highway from Tianxiang bus stop; look for the big tunnel on the left). An easy 2.1 km trail, 2 hr round trip. Named for the cave at the end of the trail, where water literally pours down in sheets from the roof. Pack a poncho or use one discarded by other considerate hikers (or inconsiderate, depending on your point of view). Hiking to this point on the Baiyang Waterfall Trail takes you through many very long, completely unlit tunnels — an experience in and of itself. Be sure to take a torch/flashlight, or you'll be walking in pitch black darkness. The first part of the trail is wheelchair-accessible.
Taroko national park features a lot of different hiking trails. For most of them solid sneakers are enough, if you want to leave the well prepared paths you need to get permission of the park administration. Don't forget to take enough water with you when hiking. Also, ask the information centre about the weather. At certain times of the year there is predictable heavy rainfall about the same time everyday and you want to make sure you aren't hiking at those times. Often rains start around 15:00, in which case you need to get an early start to do a couple of hikes in a day.
- 1 Lushui-Heliu Trail. An easy 2-km, 45-min walk from the park office at Lushui to Heliu. Winds around short cliffs above the main road. Does pass through one dark tunnel, so bring a flashlight.
- 2 Dali Datong Trail (大禮大同步道). The trail starts near the Visitor Center and goes up through a forest, offering expansive views of the area and the Liwu river. The trail is of medium difficulty, consisting of mainly stairs and dirt paths. Once arrived at the top, you will hit some restricted areas. It takes 10.6 km and 2-3 hr one way and 6-7 hr round trip. Might require a permit.
- 3 Lushui-Wenshan Trail. 5.5 km, 5 hr. Might require a permit.
- 4 Zhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道) (take the bus to Swallow Grotto 燕子口). A strenuous hike that used to be part of an old cross-mountain trail through Taroko Gorge, starting near Swallows Grotto as it winds upwards through the green forest and coming out on a narrow cliffside path 700 m above the road but not more than a meter or two across. Not for anyone with fear of heights, but offers stunning views of the mountains on the other side of the gorge. Fortunately there's a cable to hold onto, but still, be careful and don't bring small children. At the 3.1-km marker after the narrow cliff trail is a flat area that makes a good place for lunch or a snack. The trail ends there as further tracks have high risks of rockfall and landslides. There are lots of monkeys in the area around the trail, so look and listen for them snacking on leaves up in the trees. Hikers are limited to about 150 a day, so the trail is peaceful compared to the relative crowds below. Apply as early as you can as permits do run out, sometimes within minutes of becoming available at 07:00 one month in advance. The permit lets you start the hike between 07:00 and 10:00—try to make it early (before 08:00) to have the trail almost to yourself. Apply at https://npm.cpami.gov.tw/en/index.aspx; [dead link] once you get the permit, print it out and bring it and your passport with you to check in at the trailhead. NT$200, NT$100 for students; paid on arrival.
- 5 Sanjhan. River tracing is available from the community centre in the nearby town of Sanjhan. There is a community centre from which you can rent all relevant gear for about NT$500. However, if you want to rappel down waterfalls or do anything complicated, it is recommended that you contact a tour agency as the community centre of Sanjhan does not arrange tours.
Taroko International Marathon
Every year in early November the Taipei Road Running Association and Taroko National Park closes the winding road through the gorge and host a marathon, half marathon, and 5-km fun run. The event is open to the public and anyone can participate by contacting the CTRRA through their website.  If you plan on attending this event or just visiting the gorge during the marathon weekend, make sure you make your hotel and transportation reservations early and keep in mind that the road through the gorge will be closed for a good portion of the race day.
Various local aboriginal handcrafts are for sale in the gorge as well as some local liquor. On the road from Hualien to the park entrance are lots of roadside stands selling whatever fruit is in season.
Restaurants are in short supply in Taroko Gorge, and those at the service centers in Buluowan and Tianxiang are generally bad with inflated prices. The Visitor Center has a restaurant and a (relatively limited, compared to the average convenience store) choice of bottled drinks. The closest real convenience store is a 7-Eleven in Taroko Archway, about 10 minutes walking downhill from the Visitor Center; another 7-Eleven is in Tianxiang. A packed lunch may serve as the simplest option for a day trip to the Gorge. For breakfast and dinner, there are tasty options in the nearby town of Xincheng.
- [dead link] Leader Village (near Bulowan). The hotel has a restaurant with aboriginal food that is fantastic. However, you may need to make reservations beforehand.
- 1 Tianxiang. 08:30-19:00. There are a couple of options in the Silks Place Hotel in Tianxiang. The café there is reasonable for a snack and an air-conditioned break from the heat if you are so inclined, but prices are high. The restaurant proper is quite fancy and expensive. Just across the parking lot from the Hotel are some several reasonably cheap food stalls, and one very small grocery store. A few small restaurants are available here that serve a variety of Chinese dishes. Some of the food is on display so even if you can't speak or read any Chinese, you should be able to fill your tummy with something you can palate. The phrase "Wǒ yào mǎi zhè ge" (I want to buy that) will serve you well.
- Shakadang Trail. Right before the Shakadong Trail turns into a wilderness trail (about 1.5 km), there are a few food stalls run by members of the Taroko tribe. The food's cooked fresh, tastes good, and is fairly priced for the location. Wild boar sausage and mochi with ground nuts are NT$40 each, and a can of apple juice is NT$30. Closed promptly at 16:30 in November.
Xincheng has several restaurants. There are also little shops selling sandwiches, which make a good breakfast or part of a packed lunch. Vegetarian options are not a problem.
- 2 Xincheng Night Market (near the train station). Starts at 18:00. Definitely quieter than the popular night markets in Taipei, but still a lively enough place to get dinner, a snack, or a drink. Don't expect a lot of English.
- 3 Ban Tian Hong (半天紅 Bàn Tiān Hóng), No. 9, Bo'ai Road, Xincheng 新城村博愛路9號, ☏ . 11:30–14:30, 17:00–20:00, closed Tuesdays. Hot pot (with meat or vegetarian). Alternatively there are some rice and noodle dishes too, but hot pot is the specialty. English menu available.
In the gorge are several options in Tianxiang (Tienhsiang), from the top-end five-star Silks Place Hotel and the Leader Village Hotel (more like motel) to budget hostels. However, most tourists choose to stay in Hualien, where there's a greater range of accommodation albeit with a time trade-off.
- 1 Catholic Hostel, Tianxiang (花蓮縣秀林鄉天祥33號), ☏ . A popular budget hostel, very basic rooms but reasonably clean. Staff is mostly non-English speaking. Bunk NT$300, single room NT$400.
- 2 [dead link] Youth Activity Center, Tianxiang, ☏ , email@example.com. NT$1,000-1,200/bed.
- If you head 50 km further into the mountains, e.g. with a regular bus, there is the Kuan Yun Youth Activity Center for NT$500.
- 3 Taroko Lodge, No. 35-5, Minzhi, Hsiulin, ☏ . A bed-and-breakfast type of homestay located outside Taroko Gorge in Xincheng. Rooms are a little basic for the price, but the hosts are friendly, and will help out on self-guided tours and apply for hiking permits on your behalf. Bicycles are available for rent. NT$2500.
- [dead link] Leader Village, 231-1 Fu Shih Village, Hsiulin, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Located in the Pulowan park and run by charming aboriginals. Three meals available, and dance and music shows on certain nights. NT$3,500.
- 4 Taroko Xincheng Old Street Homestay (太魯閣新城老街民宿), No. 6-1, Lane 1, Ren'ai Road, Xincheng 新城鄉仁愛路1巷6-1號, ☏ . A guesthouse with very helpful staff—they really go the extra mile with advice, recommendations, and rides to other places in Xincheng, where the hotel is located. Don't expect much English, though. Buses into the park leave from just around the corner.
- Lüshui Heliu Campground (17 km into the gorge on the left side of the road.). There are about 10 parking spaces. A cold water shower and restroom, and drinking water are available. Reservations are not accepted. The campground is a semi-developed terrace with access and good views of the river. It is very close to the road, but since there is hardly any traffic at night, that should not be a problem. NT$200.
Backcountry hiking is technical and requires permits from the authorities.
- Rock fall. In May 2004, the Hualien area experienced a strong earthquake resulting in the mountain-sides becoming unstable in many areas. Therefore, it is strongly advised not enter the gorge during or just after periods of prolonged heavy rainfall. There are several signs in English marking the more dangerous areas and hard hats are provided at the Tunnel of Nine Turns.
- River activities. The river that passes through the gorge is extremely swift and dangerous. Care is especially required after heavy rainfall.
- Snakes. There are numerous signs up warning visitors of poisonous snakes. Whilst snake sightings in the gorge are uncommon some of Taiwan's snakes can be deadly and hence all unrecognised snakes should be treated with caution. Most snakes are shy so to minimise the likelihood of encountering a snake make plenty of noise whilst walking to alert them of your approach.
- Hualien - The biggest city in East Taiwan.
- Hualien Ocean Park - Hualien's biggest man-made tourist attraction.