Taroko Gorge, Taiwan, sometimes called the Taiwanese Grand Canyon, is the country’s premier scenic attraction, along with Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, and the best place to visit in Taiwan to experience some dramatic nature on a short, easy-to-plan trip from the capital. For many visitors, if they only visit one destination outside of the Greater Taipei area, it is a trip to Hualien to see Taroko Gorge.
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. Popular as it is among tourists, especially from China and domestic ones on weekends and holidays, 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.
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.
Both Xincheng and Hualien stations have scooter rental shops right outside the door. You can expect to pay NT400-600/day. Nowadays most of them require a local license or your country’s driver’s license + passport. I used to have an international license, and some local scooter shops looked at it like they didn’t know what it was…Here’s more info on renting a scooter in Taiwan.
If you are comfortable with riding a scooter, I think this is the best option for exploring Taroko Gorge because it 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.
Taroko Gorge Tours
If you don’t want to ride a scooter, taking a van tour from Hualien or mini-bus tour (train ticket from Taipei included) to Taroko Gorge is another great option. You can also ask your hotel to arrange a taxi for you, with a full-day tour of Taroko costing around 2500-3000 per car. This option would is only a good deal if you have four people, otherwise the van tour above is cheaper per person.
The van tour has different options, while the mini-bus tour has a set schedule. If you hire a taxi, you can negotiate your itinerary. The drivers mostly speak at least a little English, and they drop you off at various spots and wait for you to come back, even if you want to do some hiking.
Another great local tour company offering Taroko Gorge tours is Island Life Taiwan Tours. On their popular Better Taroko Gorge Tour, they take guests to some off-the-beaten-track spots that other tours don’t, such as Changuang Bell Tower Trail, Baiyang Waterfall Trail, and Water Curtain Cave (see all these spots below). They even provide flashlights and shoe covers for water curtain cave.
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 some of the main highlights of Taroko Gorge in a day.
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. 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.
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 just before 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.
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 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 tough 10-km hike takes 6 hours and officially requires a permit and guide. Also, you must begin before 10am.
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.
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 (update: January 2019).
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. It 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 north of Taroko Gorgeaong the coast are absolutely worth the trip. It would be a bit much to squeeze them in at the end of a full day in Taroko Gorge; I would 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.
Where to Stay in Taroko Gorge
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.
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. See my guide to the east coast of Taiwan for more information about Sanzhan and the Golden Grotto.
Near the Entrance to Taroko Gorge
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!
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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