Winding blue rivers, immense jagged-edged cliffs, ancient shrines, and stunning walls of marble... these are just some of the world-class natural attractions you'd find in Hualien’s Taroko Gorge. This breathtaking combination of solid rock and rushing water is located within the Taroko National Park in Eastern Taiwan (Hualien County) not far from the Pacific Ocean, and just two hours south from Taipei.
The word ‘Taroko’, in the local Truku aboriginal language, means ‘magnificent and beautiful’. And truly this is one of the most magical places in the world – a tourist destination that shouldn't be missed by anyone looking for a deep connection with nature (avid backpackers and fans of landscaping included).
But Taroko isn’t just a place for mountain hikers. If you want to see temples, amazing waterfalls or do some easy flat walks you’ll also be able to enjoy the ‘Taiwanese Grand Canyon’. The place can easily be visited if you're traveling with young kids, though if you are visiting with a little on a comfortable toddler carrier will definitely come in handy.
This Taroko Gorge itinerary guide will help you plan your own trip and make the best of your travel experience in this part of Asia.
What's Taroko Gorge & What Makes it Special
Taiwan is an island dripping in natural beauty near the southeast region of mainland China. Although small, it is comprised of nine national parks; this alone should be a testimony to its greatness.
It is well worth a visit, especially because of the Taroko National Park, considered the most famous Park in Taiwan thanks to its naturally formed gorge and beautiful outdoor scenery. Taroko Gorge is the Island’s biggest attraction, along with Sun Moon Lake and Alishan - other two amazing places we recommend you to visit.
The island doesn't boast nearly as much tourism as it should, which makes it a little gem. We had planned our visit to be around one week long, but eventually spent the full three weeks the tourist visa allows before leaving.
The Gorge has been formed by erosion, earthquakes, typhoons, and landslides over millions of years, leaving huge marble cliffs mottled with tropical flora, bright blue streams and pagodas surrounded by pristine forests. It is definitely one of the most spectacular canyons I've see in the world!
Taroko Gorge Facts
The establishment of the National Park (November 26th, 1986) was very significant and came in a time when environmental protection was a big thing in Taiwan. This fascinating and remarkable event was a reflection of the national feeling in recognizing the environmental damage caused by the country’s economic success.
After several years of abuse, Taiwan's government finally decided to found Taroko National Park in order to protect and restore their natural resources. What resources? Just consider the Park’s wildlife:
- 144 species of birds
- 251 species of butterflies
- 32 species of reptiles
- 18 species of fish
The park’s size is also impressive - it has an area of over 355 square miles! And not only is it wide and spacious, but it is also tall, with deep valleys and soaring cliffs and mountains. It might be intimidating to think about exploring such a massive place, but once you’re there you’ll fall in love with it immediately.
The major highlight of the National Park is Taroko Gorge. The gorge itself is made up of metamorphic rock such as marble and has had a huge canyon carved down. Its surface is remarkable as it is steep, you can get 3400 meters above sea level in just 60 Km.
With its gigantic tree-filled rocky cliffs towering over the Liwu River, it's no wonder why this area of the Park captures people’s attention so easily. Standing among the massive mountains of the Gorge will make you feel small, and you will find a new respect for the power of nature.
The original residents of Taroko are the Truku tribe, one of the 16 officially recognized Taiwanese aboriginal tribes who named the area in their own language. These tribes are an integral part of the Island's culture and a heritage for domestic ones.
They actually still live there, which gives you a unique chance to experience the Taiwanese aboriginal life-style and culture.
Taroko Gorge Guide: What to visit in Hualien’s Taroko Gorge National Park
The closest attraction to the Park’s entrance is Shakadang Trail, which is about a 15-minute walk from the Visitor Center. The 9 km trail is popular to hike because of the bright, pure blue water of the Shakadang River.
Eternal Spring Shrine
If you go up a little further on the Central Cross Island Highway, you’ll come to a structure that is truly a sight to behold. The Eternal Spring Shrine, or Chang Chun Shrine, is built over an active spring that turns into a waterfall pouring out from the middle of the Shrine.
The vibrant orange and blue rooftops and intricately patterned white gates are eye-catching. Even though this is a human-made structure, it is still one with nature because of the way it was carefully built around the spring. The Shrine beautifully serves its purpose of forever honoring the workers who died while building the highway.
There is also a bell tower that’s not too far away from the Shrine. You’ll have to cross a suspension bridge to get there, but once you’re there, you will be able to take in amazing, breathtaking views of the Park. The bell tower is serene and picturesque, so be sure to include it in your Taroko sightseeing plans.
Swallow Grotto Trail
Taroko Gorge is truly wonderful when you get to the Swallow Grotto Trail. Named after the birds that like to call this place home, the trail is surrounded on both sides by gigantic, sky-high cliffs that you have to see in person to believe. Restrooms are available on this relatively short trail.
Tunnel of Nine Turns
The Tunnel of Nine Turns, or Jiuqudong, is a long and curvy pedestrian path that can be found by proceeding forward on the highway past Swallow Grotto Trail and then going off-road to the left. The jagged, rocky cliffside tunnel is a marvel of nature that will make you feel like you’re getting lost deeper and deeper into the depths of a mountain.
Sadly, the Tunnel is often closed to the public for long periods of time, because it sometimes has to be reconstructed and fortified. If you are one of those who actually get to walk through it (we did) consider yourself lucky!
Near a place called the Heliu Campsite is Lushui Trail, a trail that’s a little over 2 km in total. Don’t miss out on this area of the Park, because its scenic views are definitely worth seeing! It’s not a difficult trail to hike, so it’s great for people who don’t have a lot of hiking experience but want to get out there and have a little adventure.
The Lushui Trail has a variety of environments such as breathtaking cliffs, a dark tunnel, wide-ranging open space, tree-filled forests. Because of this variety, if you want to take selfies of yourself enjoying the great outdoors, this particular trail is the perfect place to do it. Your social media followers are sure to be jealous.
Continuing along the highway, you’ll soon find a pleasant change of scenery: a small village known as Tianxiang (sometimes called Tiansiang or Tien-Hsiang). It’s a nice area with a hotel, restaurants, and shops that have irresistible souvenirs! You will find much-needed rest and relaxation.
There are sometimes special events such as lively performances by people who wear traditional outfits. This is something that makes a Taroko Gorge trip so special—you're not just experiencing nature, but also experiencing a rich history and culture.
Baiyang Waterfall Trail
After taking a well-deserved rest in Tianxiang Village, you may be wondering where to go next. You won’t have to go far. The Baiyang Waterfall trail is only about 700 meters away, and upon completing the trail, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking sight.
The trail is approximately 2 kilometers long and includes tunnels, so you won’t want to walk this trail without a light source! The path is not especially steep or difficult, so it is an enjoyable hike.
Soon, you’ll reach the spectacular Baiyang Waterfall, and you’ll be floating on a suspension bridge that gives you a tremendous view of the rugged mountain landscape.
The waterfall rushes down through multiple layers of rocky terrain, beginning at a dramatically high elevation you’ll have to tilt your head up to see and falling down to sprawling watery depths below the bridge. The waterfall’s substantial size leaves you with a strong impression of its great power.
Zhuilu Old Trail
Considered by many people (residents and tourists alike) the best trail Taroko Gorge, featuring narrow hikes along sheer +500mts cliffs and expansive, bird's eye views. If you’re looking for off the beaten path, take your Taroko National Park tour up to the next level with this exciting walk.
There are two suspension bridges along the trail (one is at the entrance in front of Swallow Grotto), i.e., two fantastic stages for taking enviable pictures and selfies.
The Zhuilu Old Trail (6 km) takes approximately 3 to 6 hours, and officially requires a permit and a guide. It’s an all-day kind of hike, so if you do plan on going, be sure to bring plenty of water and food for the entire trail. Additionally, you must begin before 10 am and use safety helmets for the most difficult parts of the route.
Qingshui Cliff is one of the most popular and spectacular sights on Taiwan's Pacific coast. This scenic attraction (named as one of the eight wonders in Taiwan) offers some of the most amazing coastal scenery in the country. From the Chongde Beach Rest area you can see out to the blue sea, grey sand beach and huge jungle covered cliffs that drop almost vertically into the sea.
Qingshui Cliff is where you’ll come across if you’re travelling from Taipei to Hualien. It is definitely well worth to stop and enjoy the great view – a Taroko Gorge tour would not be the same without stopping here.
You can park just after the Chungde Tunnel, highly recommended if you want to experience this seascape from an observation deck. Unfortunately the path to the beach has crumbled and swimming is prohibited. Also, beware of falling rocks and strong waves while walking on the beach. You need to check the Daily Trail and Road Conditions on the Taroko National Park official website before visiting.
Qixingtan is a sprawling stone covered beach with sweeping views galore – definitely one of the most striking landscapes in the world. The most popular area of Qixingtan is located behind the Hualien Airport.
In this market area local merchants sell gift and snacks, and visitors can see stunned how the bright blue sky meets an endless pacific expanse. There are also many sightseeing trails and beach pavilions, including a star-watching square.
Bicycling is a popular activity so you’ll find it easy to get away and reach your own quiet place to relax. Sadly, swimming is not allowed, but many people like to dip their feet in the cool, clean waters. Moreover, there are bathroom facilities and even showers to rinse the saltwater off your feet.
Things to Know Before You Go
Taroko Gorge entrance fee
There's no fee to enter the Park, you're only required to pay if coming from Zhuilu Old Road (Adults: NT$200, discount for students and children from 6 to 12 years old: NT$100)
Admission to the Park is free, but that doesn’t automatically mean you can go anywhere. The friendly staff at the Visitor Center will let you know if any areas are closed off because of landslides! (Please note that the Visitor Center is closed on the second Monday of each month.)
Even if it’s all clear, make sure you have a permit if you want to go hiking on a trail. There are multiple trails that can be hiked in this Park, and some require permits, such as the Old Zhuilu Trail, the Dali Datong Trail, and the Lushui Wenshan Trail (this is in order to limit the number of hikers who can go on these trails per day).
The Taroko National Park official website has the permit application, but if you’re simply entering the Park normally with general admission, there’s no permit needed. Taroko National Park is a popular destination because of its unforgettable natural beauty, so it’d be better to plan your trip on a weekday (weekday = fewer people and peace)
Taroko Gorge Map
When you enter the Park, the huge mountains and cliffs can be seen immediately. It might be tempting to let your excitement get to you and eagerly go around everywhere without planning first, but have a map in hand from the Visitor Center so that you’ll actually know where you’re going.
You can follow the Central Cross Island Highway to move through the Park, or you can let your adventurous spirit take hold and wander off the road left and right and see where you end up!
Weather in Taroko Gorge
Taroko Gorge weather tends to be pretty mild, although sometimes, there are large amounts of rainfall, so keep that in mind when you’re making your travel plans. Temperatures at low elevations are usually around 14C°/57°F in January and 27C°/81°F in July, but with the Park having a very wide range of elevations, just know that the higher you go, the colder it will be!
Other Fun Activities
When you’re planning your trip to Taroko Gorge, you may want to consider going in November if you love running and jogging as it's when Taroko National Park hosts a running event that includes a marathon, half marathon, and fun run!
For more information, see the event website. You can participate in a non-competitive way, or you can compete with other runners for a chance to win monetary prizes! What an awesome opportunity to make new friends and get some exercise while taking in the stunning sights of Taroko Gorge.
How to Get to Taroko National Park
Of course, if you’re going to head over to see the Taroko Gorge, you need to have a plan. What’s the best way to get there? Here are a few ideas:
Stay in Hualien!
While visiting Taroko National Park from Taipei may be tempting, you'll be missing out on a lovely city with great people and many things to see and do at your own pace. Hualien was in fact one of our favorite cities in Taiwan, and liked it so much that we could see ourselves living in it for some time.
If for some reason you really can't stay in Hualien then these tips will make your commute from Taipei easier.
How to get to Taroko Gorge from Taipei
- Train + Bus
There are several express trains working each day from Taipei to Hualien (Puyuma, Taroko express and Chu-Kuang express) which takes between 2-3 hours. If you’re only doing a one-day trip you can then take bus #302 from Xincheng's Train Station (the closest station to the entrance of Taroko Gorge National Park) to Taroko Gorge and Tianxiang. But if you need to check-in and drop your bags at the hotel, take a shuttle bus from Hualien's Train Station to Taroko.
The fastest way to get from Taipei to Hualien is by taking a flight from Songshan Airport in the Taipei city center to Hualien.
Renting a car is a great option if you want to arrange your own schedule and travel at your own pace. The Central Cross Island Highway is your only option for driving on a road in Taroko Park. It’s a long, curvy road that sightseers love because of the expansive views of the Gorge’s cliffs and trees. The whole drive from Taipei to Taroko takes roughly 3 hours.
- Tour Bus
If long and winding roads make you feel too nervous to drive, join the scenic bus tour through the Park by going to Hualien’s Visitor Center.
How to Get Around Taroko Gorge
If you want to commit to cycling around the gorge, then you can stop at Xincheng Station to rent a bike. Overall, it’ll be a 25km ride to Tianxiang and the route is pretty flat. Of course, that doesn’t include any of the trails.
Cars can be rented at Hualien airport, scooters just outside the train station in Hualien (200 NTD per day). Riding a scooter or driving a car in Taroko Gorge gives you the freedom and flexibility to stop wherever you go. In both cases you are supposed to have an international driver's license, but I did not have one and used my European license to rent a scooter.
Going on a tour would be the easiest option if you're able to pay and want to have more freedom beyond the shuttle bus times. If you're looking for day trips from Taipei to Taroko Gorge there you'll find plenty of options and recommendations.
If you're planning to stay for a few days in Taiwan there are different options to choose from. You can stay near the entrance to Taroko or find a place in Tianxiang or Hualien. But if you want an unconventional experience you can either camp with your family/friends or stay in an aboriginal village.
Plan Your Taroko Gorge Trip
Accommodation in Taroko Gorge
Flights to Taroko Gorge (Hualien)
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Rental Cars in Taroko Gorge
RV Rentals Taiwan:
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Tours in Taroko Gorge and Hualien
Get Your Guide offers small group tours and activities in Taroko Gorge including tickets to popular attractions.