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Taroko Gorge, named after the Truku or Taroko aboriginal tribe, is one of Taiwan’s premier scenic attractions. Few visit without being blown away by its sheer magnificence and raw natural beauty. It is the star attraction of Hualien, Taiwan’s largest county, on the wild visually stunning east coast.
For many visitors to Taiwan with little time, Taroko Gorge is the only place they visit outside of the greater Taipei area. This only makes sense, as Taroko can be reached in a mere 2-3 hours from the capital, yet feels world’s apart.
I wrote this guide to Taroko Gorge based on many visits over the last 10 years. In it I’m going to cover all the main things to do in Taroko Gorge, how to get there, where to stay, and more. I’m also going to explain below why I think Island Life Taiwan Tours offer the best Taroko Gorge tours available.
For more general info about traveling in Taiwan, also be sure to see my introduction to Taiwan travel.
Taroko Gorge: General Overview
Taroko Gorge is the country’s premier scenic attraction, along with Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. It tops my list of best places to visit in Taiwan if you want experience dramatic nature on a short, easy-to-plan trip from the capital, and it is an essential stop on any Taiwan itinerary.
The area referred to as Taroko Gorge is a steep, dramatic valley carved by the Liwu River (立霧溪), which flows from the Central Mountains of Taiwan to the Pacific Ocean. The blue-green waters of the Liwu have created immense, vertical cliffs of marble and gneiss.
The Japanese first made the area a national park, called Tsugitaka-Taroko National Park, during their colonial rule of Taiwan. The KMT later abolished the national park, and it wasn’t reestablished again until 1986.
Ultra narrow Provincial Highway 8 runs up Taroko Gorge. The highway was first built in the late 1950s, and the 212 veterans who died while building it are today commemorated at Eternal Spring Shrine.
Highway 8 is actually the start of the Central Cross-Island Highway as it follows the Liwu River upstream and then continues into the high mountains and on to Taichung City. The first 19 kilometers or so of the highway are the portion in Taroko Gorge.
To visit Taroko Gorge, you’ll want to set aside an entire day. With that amount of time, you’ll be able to visit most of the places I describe in this article, including at least one hike, but if you want to include multiple hikes, you’ll want to budget two days. Taroko can even be done as a day trip from Taipei, but staying for at least one night is better. Also note that, like most of Taiwan, Taroko Gorge are very safe for solo or female travelers.
Popular as it is among tour groups, you can still enjoy many of Taroko Gorge’s attractions in relative silence if you get an early start or do one of the gorge’s many hikes. However, if you visit Taroko Gorge during a long weekend or especially the latter half of the Lunar New Year holiday in Taiwan, be prepared for some serious crowds! You can see more information on the best times to visit Taroko Gorge in my guide to when to visit Taiwan.
The Best Taroko Gorge Tours
The most convenient way to see Taroko Gorge, especially if you want to cover the main sights in one day, is by taking a tour from Hualien. There are several operators, but I personally recommend Island Life Taiwan Tours.
The reason I recommend them is because they specifically design their tours to avoid the crowds everywhere they go, including starting a little earlier than other tours. Also, their groups are small and their tours are conducted in English. They are also highly reviewed and have a five star rating on Tripadvisor.
To cover the main sights described in this article, choose the Better Taroko Gorge Tour. The tour also includes some off-the-beaten-track spots that other tours don’t, such as the Changuang Bell Tower Trail, the Baiyang Waterfall Trail, and the Water Curtain Cave, which you will read about below. They even provide flashlights and raincoats for entering the Water Curtain Cave.
If you really want to get off the beaten track and into the wild, consider the Lushui-Wenshan Trail Hike. And for a truly thrilling experience, you can’t miss the Zhuilu Old Trail Hike (I’ll describe the hike further below). You need police and park permits for these hikes, so it’s much better and easier to go through a tour company to do them. A popular option is to add an hour of ATV riding on the beach to your Taroko Gorge tour with this unique tour add-on!
Further afield, you can go up to one of the highest points in Taiwan on the Hehuanshan tour.
Getting to Taroko Gorge
Most people take the train to Hualien, but there’s also the option to fly from Tapei’s Songshan Airport. There are very few buses from Taipei to Hualien.
Flying from Taipei to Hualien
The fastest and most convenient way to get from Taipei to Hualien is by taking this flight from Songshan Airport in the Taipei city center to Hualien.
Trains from Taipei to Hualien
There are two train stops that are relevant for getting from Taipei to Taroko Gorge: Tiny Xincheng (Taroko Gorge) station is much closer to the gorge, but has few facilities and accommodations. The next stop, Hualien station in the county capital, is further away but has way more hotels, hostels, restaurants, night markets, and so on.
The train from Taipei to Hualien takes about 2 hours (NT440) on the Puyuma or Taroko express and 3 hours (NT340) on the Chu-Kuang express trains. For the faster ones there is no standing allowed, so you’ll need to book in advance (tickets are released 2 weeks before the travel date and often sell out almost instantly for weekends and holidays).
For the slower train, you can always buy a standing ticket right before and maybe even find a vacant chair to sit in. See here for more information on reserving train tickets in Taiwan.
From Xincheng station, it is only 10 minutes by car/scooter to the entrance of Taroko Gorge, while from Hualien it takes 30-40 minutes.
Getting to Taroko Gorge by Scooter on Your Own
If you want to get to Taroko Gorge by scooter, you can pre-book your scooter rental online to guarantee there will be one waiting for you. Book at scooter at Xincheng station here or at Hualien Station here. Helmet and rain jacket are provided, and you’ll need a local or international driver’s license.
Riding a scooter in Taroko Gorge gives you the freedom and flexibility to stop wherever you go, and riding through the tunnels and between the valley walls of Taroko Gorge is an incredible experience. However, it must be noted that there have been multiple scooter accidents in Taroko Gorge in recent years, some tragic, so you should do so at your own risk.
Taking the Bus to Taroko Gorge
Visiting Taroko Gorge by bus is the slowest and most inconvenient, but cheapest way. The buses are quite infrequent, so you really need to time it well. Still, the bus isn’t a bad option, and with some planning and an early start, you can still see a few of the main highlights of Taroko Gorge in a day. Note that the bus does not visit the Baiyang Waterfalls or the Water Curtain Cave.
Hualien county runs regular buses (NT170 per person, no change given, four per day) and tourist shuttles (NT 250 day pass, 13 per day) from Hualien through Taroko Gorge to Tianxiang, the village at the head of the Gorge, stopping at Xincheng station on the way, taking about 1.5 hours one way. Here’s the most recent Taroko Gorge bus route and schedule.
Cycling Taroko Gorge
Cycling Taroko Gorge is easily the best way to take in the dramatic scenery that Taroko Gorge has to offer. Avoid weekends and holidays, when traffic is much heavier, and be warned that some of the roads in Taroko Gorge are very narrow and don’t provide much space between you and passing tour buses.
Also, don’t go cycling in Taroko Gorge during or after heavy rain or a typhoon during summer in Taiwan. In 2017, a Japanese cyclist died from a landslide in Taroko Gorge for this reason.
You can rent bicycles around Hualien and Xincheng stations or right at the entrance to Taroko Gorge for about NT250 per day, but I’d suggest not wasting your time riding all the way from Hualien station to the entrance of Taroko (about an hour). From Xincheng station, it only takes 15 minutes to cycle to the entrance of Taroko, or you can take the bus to the entrance and rent a bike there.
Things to Do in Taroko Gorge
Taiwan is a geologically active island, and in few places is this more apparent than at Taroko Gorge. Earthquakes, typhoons, and landslides regularly destroy roads and trails.
Every time I’ve ever been to Taroko Gorge, at least one or more of the main sights or trails has been closed off, and one time, the entire highway was closed for set times every day past the Swallow’s Grove.
Avoid disappointment by checking what’s open before you go on the Taroko Gorge National Park website.
Taroko Gorge Entrance Gate
Welcome to Taroko Gorge! Tacky as it may seem, I couldn’t resist stopping here for a photo, and you will probably want to do the same 🙂
The entrance gate officially marks the entrance to Taroko Gorge. Just pas the gate, turn right and cross the bridge over the river to reach Shakandang Trail (see below) or the Taroko National Park Visitor’s Center. For all other sights in Taroko Gorge, keep to the left, passing through the rock arch visible in the photo above.
Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道), or “Mystery Valley Trail”, is an easy trail that follows a creek with crystal clear, sapphire pools of water. You WILL want to jump in, but you aren’t allowed to swim or go off the trail since people have died here.
This easy 4km walk takes about 2 hours return if you go the whole way. It passes through a Truku aboriginal village, where locals sometimes sell crafts or snacks along the trail.
To get there, cross the bridge that goes over the river at the Taroko Gorge Entrance Gate (turn right in the entrance gate photo above), turn left at the end of the bridge, and drive about five minutes past the Taroko National Park information center. Buses also stop at the start of Shakadang Trail.
Changuang Temple and Bell Tower
A lesser known stop right next to the famous Eternal Spring Shrine (see below), Chuanguang temple can be accessed by turning up up a steep side road.
The temple offers panoramic views over the surrounding valley. There’s a trail from the temple to the bell tower for even better views, but the section connecting the bell tower to the Eternal Spring Shrine (Changchun Shrine Trail) was closed at the time of writing.
This off-the-beaten track stop is usually included on this Taroko Gorge tour.
For temples lovers, be sure to check out my guide to the top 30 temples in northern Taiwan.
Eternal Spring Shrine
The Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠) is probably the most recognizable sight in Taroko Gorge and often crowded with tour groups. A picturesque waterfall streams out from the mountain, with a large colorful shrine built up around it to honor the many who died when the highway was first carved out by the Japanese in the 1910s.
The shrine is accessed through a tunnel that contains some smaller shrines, but (as of early 2018) access to the main shrine is blocked due to typhoon damage. When accessible, you can walk right up to the stream that runs through it before spilling down to the valley floor below.
For another incredible temple carved into the walls on the cliff, check out my article on Seokbulsa Temple in South Korea.
Swallow’s Grove (燕子口 or Yanzikou) is a stretch of road through multiple tunnels that you can walk along and peer over sheer vertical drops to the river far below—classic Taroko Gorge scenery.
The vantage points and short walking trail here get their name from the swallows who build nests in the cliff face.
You’ll want to take caution here, as most of the walking path shares the road with vehicles, including a series of dark tunnels. If driving though, do so very slowly and watch for pedestrians.
The road that goes through these tunnels continues for one kilometer (one way direction for vehicles) before joining up again with the main highway. Because the road is prone to landslides, don’t be surprised if it is closed when you visit, and the park headquarters suggest wearing helmets, which are available for free at the visitor’s center.
Zhuilu Old Trail
Taroko Park’s most exhilarating hike features narrow trails along sheer 500m+ cliffs and expansive, bird’s eye views over Taroko Gorge. This fairly tough 6-km hike takes 3-6 hours and officially requires a permit and guide. Also, you must begin before 10am.
To arrange a guide and permit, simply book the tour online with Island Life Taiwan Tours and they will arrange it for you. This hike is still on my Taiwan bucket list, so I’ve used a friend’s photo above.
At the time of writing, only the first 3.1km were open, so definitely check the status on the national park website or with the tour company before you go.
Tunnel of Nine Turns
The Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞隧道 or Jiuqudong) is a dramatic stretch of walking-only tunnels that was closed for six years due to major damage from a landslide. Fortunately, the tunnel was finally reopened to the public in 2019, after being fully renovated and made safe.
The 700-meter road features several tunnels and used to be a part of the original highway through Taroko Gorge. It features some of Taroko Gorge’s most epic views and definitely should not be missed.
The parking lot for the tunnel is just off the main highway, and buses of course stop here too.
Tianxiang (Tienhsiang) Recreation Area
Tienhsiang is the only “town” in the gorge, with a bus station, aboriginal and Taiwanese food stalls, and, as of a few years ago, a 7-11. For people taking the bus, this is your end point, and a good place to stop for a bite to eat before heading back down.
The views are excellent here, and you can cross the footbridge and walk up many stairs to the Buddhist Xiangde Temple and Pagoda.
There’s also a youth hostel here as well as Silk’s Place, the fanciest hotel in Taroko Gorge and all of Hualien.
Baiyang Trail and Water Curtain Cave
Baiyang Trail (白楊步道) is another easy trail starting 900 meters past Tianxiang, taking you to gorgeous Baiyang Waterfall, and past it the Water Curtain Cave (水濂洞), a tunnel in which water spills down on top of your head as you walk through.
It’s less than an hour each way. The portion of the trail to Water Curtain Cave was closed for some time, but has recently been reopened (updated: June 2019).
On this tour, you can get flashlights and raincoats for entering the cave.
Wenshan Hot Spring
Wenshan Hot Spring (文山溫泉) was once the most famous wild hot springs in Taiwan, being located right inside Taroko Gorge. Destroyed by a typhoon in 2005, it is now semi-open, and only requires sneaking around a fence or two to access.
The hot spring is located 2.5 kilometers past Tianxiang, and is probably the furthest point that you will consider going in Taroko Gorge unless you are planning to on traveling up the long and winding road to Hehuan Mountain.
Things to Do Beyond Taroko Gorge
Besides all the sights mentioned above inside Taroko Gorge, there are several other attractions near the gorge that can be combined with your day trip. To make your day less rushed or to ensure you can see all of them, try to add a second day to your visit.
The dramatic Qingshui Cliffs on the Suhua Highway, which leads north of Taroko Gorge toward Yilan County, are absolutely worth the trip.
If you’re touring Taroko Gorge on your own, would be possible to squeeze them in at the end of your visit to Taroko Gorge; but if you’re spending the night, you may want to save them for the next morning.
Gorgeous Qixingtan is a beautiful pebble beach between Hualien and Taroko Gorge, so it’s easy to stop there where traveling between the two, and most day tours to Taroko Gorge stop at the beach on the way back to Hualien. You can’t swim there because the tide and waves are very strong, but the views are unbeatable.
There are usually some stalls selling food and drinks at Qixingtan, and at busy times you can also rent bikes there to drive along the coast or all the way back to Hualien City, where they have a drop-off point.
Qixingtan is included on this Taroko Gorge tour.
It is even possible to continue further up Provincial Highway 8, the highway that runs through Taroko Gorge, to the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan.
Eventually it reaches the highest navigable pass in Taiwan, near Hehuanshan. This 3416-meter mountain is considered one of the best places to see snow in Taiwan.
You can also get there by joining this Hehuanshan tour.
From there, you can continue on to Cingjing Farm, a gorgeous high-mountain farm stay. If you don’t have your own wheels, you can hire a private driver to visit Taroko Gorge then take you to Cingjing Farm there).
The tiny aboriginal village of Sanzhan is only about 10 minute’s drive from Xincheng Train Station and the entrance to Taroko Gorge. The Sanzhan River, which runs past the village, has several great spots for jumping into the water. This is a real treat after a long day of hiking in Taroko Gorge, especially in summer.
Sanzhan is also the starting point for the Golden Grotto river trace, a long (and at times unsafe) river trace that is considered one of the best in Taiwan. See my pictures from Golden Grotto in my guide to the east coast of Tawian.
Where to Stay in Taroko Gorge
Choosing where to stay when you visit Taroko Gorge can be a tough decision. Three main options are staying right in Taroko Gorge, staying in Xincheng (the small town near the entrance to Taroko) or Sanzhan (a small aboriginal village nearby, or staying 45 minutes away in Hualien City.
Hotels in Taroko Gorge are limited and pricey. Xinxheng is very convenient and close to Taroko, especially because it has its own train station (Xincheng station, which is one stop before Hualien City). Hualien City is the furthest, but it has the best choice of budget accomodations and many things to do.
Hotels in Taroko Gorge
Silks Place Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) at Tianxiang, the small village at the top of Taroko Gorge, is the only 5-star hotel in Taroko Gorge National Park. It’s got a fancy swimming pool and incredible views.
Taroko Village Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) offers wooden huts and aboriginal buffet dinners. We stopped here for a lavish feast when we camped at Heliu campground to enjoy the best of both worlds! (If you want to learn how to cook aboriginal cuisine, check out this cooking course in Hualien!)
Hotels in Xincheng and Sanzhan
In Sanzhan, the Moon River Guesthouse (see on Booking) is 15 minutes ride by scooter from the entrance to Taroko Gorge. The hotel is very basic but friendly Read more about Sanzhan in the “things to do beyond Taroko Gorge” section.
Hostels in Hualien
Hualien offers the highest concentration of and best quality hostels in all of Taiwan, allowing you to enjoy the city’s restaurants and night markets at night, with relatively close proximity (30 minutes by car/scooter) to Taroko Gorge.
Some top rated hostels include Ni Hao Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), Just Walk Backpacker Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), and View Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).
Camping in Taroko Gorge
16.5km up the valley, Heliu Campground offers 12 wooden platforms for first-come-first-serve camping at NT200 per space. I stayed here with my family several years ago and the facilities were very basic, but it was an awesome setting. If you need to pick one up before your trip, here are some of the best 4-person tents for camping.
Well, I hope you’ve found all the information you needed for planning your trip to Taroko National Park. Let me know how your trip goes, and be sure to check out my other articles below on the area!