Visiting Taroko Gorge: How to Plan the Perfect Trip
Visiting Taroko Gorge is an absolute must when stepping foot in Taiwan and any visit here will quickly reveal why. This guide highlights everything you need to know about visiting Taroko Gorge for the first time. Plus PRO tips to help you plan the perfect trip.
No visit to Taiwan would be complete without visiting Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) – the most popular tourist spot and one of the country’s nine National Parks.
This impressive 19-km long canyon has been shaped by hundreds of years of erosion and boasts with dramatic natural scenery, colorful temples, glorious hikes through lush jungles and easy trails along high-rising marble walls. The gorge is one of the best examples of Taiwan’s natural beauty, rightly earning its mark as the #1 must-visit attraction in the country.
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Everything you need to know about visiting Taroko Gorge
How to get to Hualien from Taipei
The easiest way to access Taroko Gorge is to get yourself to Taiwan’s east coast first. Hualien is the biggest city nearby and a great add-on to any Taiwan itinerary. Here are some of the best ways to reach Hualien…
The easiest way to get to Taroko Gorge is by train via Hualien. Trains run daily from Taipei, but be sure to grab tickets for either the Taroko or Puyuma trains – which are a lot faster than the Chu-Kuang Express trains. The journey to Hualien takes less than 2.5 hours and costs NT440 per way. You can check prices and time schedules here.
Trains bound for Hualien fill up quite quickly, so it’s best to book tickets well in advance. You can buy tickets directly at any train station across Taiwan or online. There are clear rules for using the online booking platform, but it’s important to note that you can only book tickets up to 14 days in advance. Online tickets can either be collected at the train station or at any 7-11 iBon machine islandwide.
If you want to optimize your time in Taroko Gorge or have limited time, you might want to consider flying to Hualien.
Uni Air flies daily from Taipei’s Songshan Airport, and Mandarin Airlines has direct flights to Hualien from Kaohsiung. One way tickets shouldn’t set you back more than NT$2500, but as prices often change it’s best to check individual sites directly.
Once you arrive at the Hualien airport, you could either hop on the Hualien Bus (more details and schedules here), rent a car or grab a taxi.
It is possible to take a bus from Taipei to Luodong and then from there travel onwards by train to Hualien. However, as these combo tickets are only slightly cheaper and the travel time is nearly the same as the train, I wouldn’t recommend using this mode.
Another option you might want to consider is taking a shared sightseeing car from Taipei to Hualien. The journey takes about 8 hours but it’s an excellent choice if want to see a bit more of Taiwan’s beautiful coastline. The charter first stops in Jiufen – one of Taiwan’s most scenic mountain villages, before heading onwards. Further afield, you’ll also drop by Qingshui Cliff, the Nanfang-ao viewing platform and Yilan Jimmy Park.
How to get to Taroko Gorge from Hualien
Unless you are staying within the Taroko National Park at Tianxiang or near the park’s entrance, the best place to stay is in Hualien. (More on accommodation later). Although it is a 40-minute ride to the National Park, basing yourself here would give you so much more freedom to explore the city and surrounding areas. Not to mention, you’ll have better accommodation and food options.
There are a few ways you can navigate between Taroko Gorge and Hualien, the easiest obviously being driving a car or riding a scooter. Buses also run daily between Hualien and Taroko. Here are some tips…
It’s actually not necessary to drive to Hualien from elsewhere in Taiwan, as there are plenty of car rental options available in Hualien itself. You could easily take the train to Hualien and then rent a car on arrival. However, it is important to note that you will need a valid local or international license.
Driving within the park also has its constraints – the roads are quite narrow with tons of twists and turns, and traffic can get congested easily – especially if there are roadworks underway. Also, you’ll need to watch out for the huge tour buses and finding a parking spot can sometimes be a total pain. Nonetheless, if you want to explore the park at your own pace, this is a great way to do so.
For a hassle-free journey, you could also consider booking a private car charter for Taroko Gorge instead.
Another great way to explore Taroko Gorge at your own pace is by renting a scooter. This way you’ll also have the means to visit some of the amazing attractions in and around Hualien.
You can rent a scooter right outside the Hualien train station – there are a plethora of scooter shops lining the parking lot towards the left. Near the exit, and between the bus and train station, is another great little shop. The owner speaks excellent English and rentals go for NT$500 a day.
This probably goes without saying, but in order to rent a scooter anywhere in Taiwan, you must have a valid local license or an international license for a scooter. It’s also highly likely that you will need to leave some kind of identification at the shop to guarantee you return the scooter. So, be sure to bring some form of identification along – apart from your passport or ARC card. Originally the owner wanted to take my APRC but finally agreed to take my local car driver’s license.
If you are traveling on a shoestring, you might want to check with your accommodation beforehand whether it is possible to rent a scooter or even a vehicle through them. Many of the hotels and hostels in Hualien offer this service – often at a cheaper price than the scooter shops near the train station. In fact, Meci Hotel where we stayed only charged NT$350 a day which is quite a bargain.
The best way to reach Taroko Gorge via public transport is by bus. Buses run daily from the Hualien Bus Station (the orange building near the train station) towards Tianxiang. Although it’s pretty hassle-free to use the bus, keep in mind that the buses aren’t that frequent. So you may spend more time waiting for a bus than actually sightseeing. The best tip I can give you is to time your schedule properly beforehand. By doing so, you’ll be able to fully utilize this mode of transport.
If you do choose to use the bus to travel to/ within Taroko Gorge, I highly recommend investing in an Easy card. This way you can simply tap and go. Alternatively, you can also buy a 1-Day Pass (NT$250) or a 2-Day Pass (NT$400) at the bus station.
The earliest bus leaves Hualien at 6:30 am and the last bus from Tianxiang is at 5 pm. The journey takes about 1 hour and buses leave every 1.5hrs or so.
For more details on the bus schedules, check out the Taroko Shuttle Bus and Taroko Bus 302 here. You might want to download them for easy future reference too.
When to visit
Taroko Gorge generally enjoys mild temperatures year-round which drop as the elevation rises. Seeing that the elevation here rises from 60 m to 3,742 m, you might want to bring a light jacket and an umbrella along, no matter which time of year you visit.
Taiwan’s East Coast is also prone to heavy rainfall and earthquakes, so it’s vital to always keep an eye on the weather forecast before traveling here. Taroko Gorge, in particular, sees about 2000mm of rain a year. Typhoons aren’t uncommon in Taiwan either, especially during typhoon season which runs from July to September.
This probably goes without saying, but it’s best not to visit mountainous areas anywhere in Taiwan after extended periods of rain as rock falls and landslides can occur here.
How long to stay
How much time you spend in Taroko Gorge will ultimately depend on how flexible your Taiwan itinerary is. It is possible to explore the park in as little as one day, but seeing that there is so much to do and see, you’ll want to stay longer. To really get a feel of what the area has on offer, stay at least two to three days. This will allow sufficient time to work in a few hikes and explore some of the stunning areas around Hualien.
However, if you are pressed for time, this Hualien Day Tour from Taipei allows you to see the area in a shorter timeframe. The tour lasts 11hrs and includes a visit to Qixingtan Beach as well as the Swallow Grotto Trail in Taroko.
Similar to other popular tourist spots in Taiwan, like Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, it’s best to time your visit to Taroko Gorge. Try to avoid weekends and public holidays when most of the crowds and large tour groups come.
Taroko Gorge Accommodation
Where to stay in/ near Tianxiang
Silks Place is the only 5-star hotel right in the heart of Taroko Gorge. The hotel has beautiful rooms, a restaurant, a swimming pool, and a gym. It is however, very expensive.
Nearby you’ll also find the Taroko Tienhsiang Youth Activity Centre with basic rooms and a much friendlier price tag.
If you are traveling on a really tight budget but still wish to stay a few nights, you could consider camping. There are two campgrounds near Tianxiang, namely Heliu and Lushui Campgrounds.
Heliu, near Cimu Bridge, has 12 wooden platforms where visitors can pitch tents. There are also bathrooms with cold water showers. A platform costs NT$300 per day and works on a “first come first served basis”.
A little further along you will also find Lushui. Here you’ll need to pitch your tent on the grass as there are no tent platforms. Water and lighting are available too. No reservations or fees are necessary. For more details on camping, you can check out the park’s website, here.
Where to stay in Fushi Village
Where to stay in Hualien
Hualien is the biggest city near Taroko Gorge and an excellent base – especially if you are traveling onwards. There are many accommodation options to suit every pocket and traveling style. Here are a few places I highly recommend staying at:
Meci Hotel is an excellent mid-range hotel and only a few hundred meters from the Hualien train station. The exterior of the hotel may be a bit outdated, but the interior is top-notch. You’ll find clean trendy rooms, great staff and lots of food choices nearby.
A bit further away from the train station, you’ll find a few posher options. Both Lakeshore Hotel Hualien and LeaLea Garden Hotels – Hualien are excellent choices if you are looking to treat yourself.
What to pack for Taroko Gorge
Safety tips for visiting Taroko Gorge
- Check the weather conditions before visiting Taroko Gorge. Taiwan’s weather, especially on the east coast, can be unpredictable.
- Taroko Gorge is home to varied fauna and flora. While using the trails, please respect the environment and keep an eye out for poisonous snakes and giant hornets.
- When hiking, wear sturdy non-slip shoes. Bug repellant and sunscreen are also absolute musts when visiting Taroko Gorge.
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The Best Things to do in Taroko Gorge
Altitude: 60m | Length of trail: 4.4km | Time: 3-4 hrs | Difficulty: Fairly Easy | MAP
Just a short drive or walk from the park’s Visitors Centre you will find the Shakadang trail. There is a small parking area near the Shakadang bridge’s entrance if you need parking. The trailhead starts to the right of the bridge – follow the small staircase down to start the hike.
The Shakadang trail, also known as the “Mysterious Valley trail” is an easy hike and one not to miss whilst visiting Taroko Gorge. The trail takes you past the river valley which is renowned for its deep azure rock pools, beautiful natural scenery, and diverse plant and animal life.
Do note though that this trail runs near a restricted area home to the local Truku people – please pass by respectfully. From time to time you might also see some of the locals selling snacks and handmade souvenirs along the trail.
The trail ends at 3D Cabin and if you want to continue past this point you would need an entry permit to do so. You can find more details on obtaining permits for Dali and Datung here.
If you happen to drop by during May, you can also witness the beautiful Tung blossoms in bloom.
Eternal Spring Shrine Trail (Changchun Trail)
Altitude: 85m | Length of trail: 1.35km | Time: 30mins |Difficulty: Fairly Easy | MAP
No visit to Taroko Gorge would be complete without dropping by one of the most iconic landmarks in Taiwan – the Eternal Spring Shrine. The shrine was built in memory of 226 veterans who died constructing the Central Cross-Island Highway between 1956-1960 and plays an important role in the park’s history.
The small shrine is perched on the side of a mountain and a beautiful waterfall flows nearby. It’s a spectacular sight to see and one you definitely shouldn’t miss when visiting Taroko Gorge.
Unfortunately, the trail leading to the shrine is currently closed due is to construction (until end August), but you can still get an amazing view from the observation deck. The small coffee shop beneath the walkway also offers an excellent vantage point and is a terrific spot to enjoy a cuppa whilst marveling at the shrine from a distance. The entrance is right next to the bus stop. Alternatively, you can still get partial entry to the trail via the Three Holy Buddhas on the Westhead or from the Bell Tower near Changuang Temple on the east.
If you do get a chance to stop by here once the trail reopens, be sure to wear sturdy shoes as the trail is quite slippery.
Just a side note: The road leading from the Eternal Spring Shine to the Swallow Grotto is currently partially closed due to maintenance work being done on the mountain. This means that you need to queue up in order to travel onwards. Roadworkers open up one side of the road on the hour for about 10-15 minutes.
The Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou Trail)
Altitude: 274m |Length of trail: 1.37km | Time: 10-30 mins | Difficulty: Easy | MAP
The Swallow Grotto trail takes you past towering marble walls covered in lush vegetation with the Liwu rushing by below. It’s also named after the many swallows that you can see along the gorge.
The hike follows the old road all the way to Jinheng Bridge and is an easy walk. Generally, you only need about 20 minutes to finish a leg but as the scenery is mindblowing, work on a bit more if you want to stop for photo ops.
Apart from getting a bird’s-eye view of the marvelous gorge, potholes resembling swallow nests, and weird rock formations, you can also spot the
The best place to spot the rockface is from the observation deck at Jingheng Park, at the end of the trail. It’s also an excellent spot to take a breather and enjoy the beautiful scenery. There is a small coffee shop where you can enjoy a bite to eat, grab some refreshments or shop for local souvenirs too.
When following this trail you should ideally wear a hardhat/ helmet as rockfalls aren’t uncommon. You can borrow a hard hat at the Xipan check in/check out Service Station or alternatively, just wear a scooter helmet.
Zhuilu Old Road Trail
Altitude: 765m | Length of trail: 3.1km | Time: 5-6 hours | Difficulty: Intermediate | MAP
At the Swallow Grotto’s east trailhead, you’ll spot the Zhuilu Suspension Bridge – this is where the Zhuilu Old Trail starts.
The Zhuilu Old Trail is one of the most famous and dangerous trails to do when visiting Taroko Gorge. It follows through lush jungle and along a narrow path with sweeping views of the valley below. The Zhuilu Old Road plays an important role in Taroko’s history as it’s part of the Old Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road – a former means to connect to the local Truku villages.
Unfortunately, the trail is only partially open (Zhuilu Suspension Bridge to the Cliff Outpost) due to rockfall damages. Also, you’ll need a Park Entry Permit to do this particular hike. You can apply for a permit, here. Keep in mind though, that only 96 permits are issued per weekday, and 156 on weekends and holidays, so it’s best to apply for a permit well in advance. You’ll need two copies of the permit, as well as an ID card and NT$200 cash which you need to pay at the small office near the Zhuilu Suspension Bridge before accessing the trail.
The trail is open from 7 am – 6 pm, but you’re only allowed to enter it between 7 am – 10 am. If you do decide to do this hike, it’s important to know that the terrain is very rugged and the cliff section is narrow. You should really only attempt this hike if you are fit and not scared of heights. Spotting poisonous creatures along the trail aren’t uncommon either.
Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail (Jiuqudong)
Altitude: 300m | Length of trail: 700m | Time: 30-40 mins | Difficulty: Easy | MAP
The Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail is one of the most amazing trails in Taroko and well worth your time. The trail was closed on our visit, but it has reopened since.
You can only enter and exit at the west end of the trailhead. The trail takes you along an underpass lined with cliffs, dramatic marble walls, waterfalls, and the Liwu River. Just a stone’s throw from the entrance you can follow the Waterscape trail to get closer to the valley and the Liwu River. Other important points of interest such as the “Fish Leaping over the Dragon’s Gate” and the “Coiled Dragon of the Nine Turns” can also be found on the way.
Before visiting Taroko Gorge, it’s always a good idea to check the road or trail conditions. You can do so, here.
Apart from popping by the Sakuma Samata Shrine, you can also grab a bite to eat at one of the many vendors or small restaurants dishing up local delicacies before heading out to the Pudu bridge. From here you can access the Tianfeng Pagoda and some small temples.
Baiyang Waterfall Trail
Altitude: 480m | Length of trail: 2.1km |Time: 1hr | Difficulty: Fairly Easy | MAP
Another famous trail is the Baiyang Waterfall Trail – a few hundred meters west of Tianxiang. The trail leads you past several tunnels before reaching the breathtaking falls. Please note though, that you are only allowed to enter the first Water Curtain due to safety reasons.
It takes about 2 hours to complete a round trip and you might want to bring a flashlight as the tunnels can be a bit dark. It’s also extremely important to check the Taroko website for safety warnings before attempting this hike.
More info on other trails in the park can be found here.
Have you ever visited Taroko Gorge?
What tips or suggestions do you have for fellow travelers visiting Taroko Gorge for the first time? Let us know in the comments below.
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