The section referred to as Taroko Gorge is the first 19 kilometers of Provincial Highway 8, or the Central Cross-Island Highway as it follows the Liwu River upstream and then continues on to Taichung city. Taroko Gorge is named after the Truku or “Taroko” people, one of the 16 officially recognized Taiwanese aboriginal tribes.
Visit remote Orchid Island in Taitung County to meet one of Taiwan’s most untouched aboriginal tribes, the Tao.
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!
I wrote this guide based on many visits over the last 10 years, including when I was researching my book Taiwan in the Eyes of a Foreigner, and I hope the information here can help you make the best of your Taroko Gorge/Hualien experience.
Did you know that there is one more spot that claims to be the “grand canyon of Taiwan”? Find out where it is in my Taichung day trips article!
Table of Contents
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. Further afield, you can go up to one of the highest points in Taiwan on the Hehuanshan tour.
If you are planning to spend two or more days in the Hualien/Taroko Gorge area, the company offers a discount if you book two or more of their activities.
Another very popular option is to add an hour of ATV riding on the beach to your Taroko Gorge tour with this unique tour add-on!
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).
Both Xincheng and Hualien stations have scooter rental shops right outside the door. You can expect to pay NT400-600/day. Nowadays they really do require a local license or international license. In some cases you may be able to get away with using your country’s driver’s license + your passport, but this is becoming less common.
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 a typhoon or heavy rain. In 2017, a Japanese cyclist died from a landslide in Taroko Gorge for this reason.
One great option is the ride-and-cycle tour offered by Taroko Lodge (read hotel reviews / check hotel prices). For around NT1000, they will drive you up to Tianxiang and you can cycle back down, mostly downhill. By skipping the long slog up the valley, you can have more time to stop and enjoy some of the sights as you race your way back down.
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 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.
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.
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 information center. Buses also stop here.
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.
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 was blocked due to typhoon damage.
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
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 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, 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
I was so impressed by the wild Wenshan Hot Spring (文山溫泉) that I wrote this separate article introducing it and how to find it. 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
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. You can also go sea kayaking below the Qingshui Cliffs!
Gorgeous Qixingtan is a pebble beach between Hualien and Taroko Gorge, so it’s easy to stop there where traveling between the two. For more information on both places, see my article on the East Coast of Taiwan.
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.
Staying near Xincheng (Taroko Gorge) train station is very convenient for accessing Taroko Gorge.
I have a friend who stayed at Taroko Lodge (read reviews / check prices) and raves about it. The owner speaks excellent English and is incredibly helpful. He can pick you up at the train station and can organize bike tours. The hotel is near Xincheng. They also have larger cabins for groups.
The Moon River Guesthouse (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.
If you want to stay right at the entrance to Taroko Gorge, where you can rent bicycles, try the hostel Liwu Hotel (read reviews / check prices).
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.
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
If you want to spend a night at the head of Taroko Gorge without breaking the bank, try the Catholic Hostel (03-8691122) or Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center (read reviews / check prices).
I hope you can now see why the Hualien 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!
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