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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 no 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
Getting to Taroko Gorge by Scooter on Your Own
Taking the Bus to Taroko Gorge
Cycling Taroko Gorge
Things to See 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 🙂
Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道) 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.
Changuang Temple and Bell Tower
A lesser known stop right next to the famous Eternal Spring Shrine (see below), Chuanguang temple is up a steep road and 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.
Eternal Spring Shrine
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.
Zhuilu Old Trail
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 has been closed for several years due to major damage from a landslide. The photo above was taken in summer of 2008.
The Tunnel of Nine Turns is scheduled to reopen in mid-2019.
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 is also a hostel and (very expensive) hotel here (see accommodation section below).
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.
Around Taroko Gorge
Qixingtan is included on this Taroko Gorge tour.
It is also possible to continue further up Taroko Gorge to the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan, where you take in epic views of mighty Hehuanshan, one of Taiwan’s most famous mountains, visit Cingjing Farm (hire a private driver to visit Taroko Gorge then take you to Cingjing Farm there), or continue all the way to Sun Moon Lake and Alishan.
Where to Stay in Taroko Gorge
Hostels in Hualien
Good Choices in Xincheng
Stay in an Aboriginal Village
The Moon River Guesthouse (read reviews and check prices) in Sanzhan (三棧), a small aboriginal village 15 minutes ride by scooter from the entrance to Taroko Gorge, is my favorite place to stay when I go to Taroko Gorge.
The guesthouse is friendly but basic and, the surrounding scenery is phenomenal, there are great spots in town for jumping into the river, and this is also the starting point for the Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷) river trace.
See my guide to the east coast of Taiwan for more information about Sanzhan and the Golden Grotto. You can also find the best place for cliff diving in Taiwan in my guide to the best beaches near Taipei.
Near the Entrance to Taroko Gorge
Hotels in Taroko Gorge for a Splurge
Silks Place Resort (read reviews / check prices) at Tianxiang is the only 5-star hotel in Taroko Gorge National Park, with rooms starting around NT8000, while Taroko Village Hotel (read reviews / check prices) 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!)
Cheaper Hotels in Taroko Gorge
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.
I hope you can now see why Hualien’s Taroko Gorge is the best place to visit in Taiwan for anyone who is into nature and the outdoors. Let me know how your trip goes, and be sure to check out my other articles below on the area!
I never travel without a guidebook! I recommend these: