Taroko Gorge Hiking Routes

This post covers four popular trails which are flat and easy, can be reached by public transport and don't require permits.
Shakadang, Swallow Grotto, Lushui, Baiyang Waterfall, Links, Top of Page

Eternal Springs Shrine & Trail 
The "Eternal Spring"

The Eternal Springs Shrine (長春祠, also called Changchun Shrine) is Taroko's most famous site, and certainly the most popular. It was originally built in the 1950s, but the current construction was built during the 1990s (after damage from landslides). The shrine serves as a memorial to the more than two hundred men who lost their lives building the Central Cross-Island highway (1956 - 1960). The shrine is built around a natural spring, from which water appears out of the cliff seemingly from nowhere, and is quite a remarkable geological  formation (even if a not-so-well-hidden water pipe also helps add volume to the waterfall for added effect).

Eternal Springs Shrine is the place to take a 'selfie'.

Being the closest to Hualien and the gorge's most famous spot, it can become unbearably crowded, especially mid-afternoon, with tour buses arriving by the dozen. It's best to come early, and if you have limited time in the gorge I would consider taking a photo from the distance and skipping it, and spending more time on the hiking trails.

Eternal Springs Shrine just isn't large enough to accommodate this many people at once.

However the eternal Springs Shrine Trail, which leads up the mountain from the shrine usually remains surprisingly empty, and while it's no match for other trails in the park, it does offer some spectacular views of the gorge and a chance to observe the tourist masses below. While the trail is fairly well established, it's quite narrow in places and deceptively steep, so take it slowly. The path leads up to the Bell Tower , another memorial to those who lost their lives building the highway, a tiny Buddhist temple in a natural cave and unfortunately a statue of former murderous dictator Chiang Kai Shek, which, needless to say, can be given a miss. From there the path continues down the other side of the cliff, over a suspension bridge and to the Changuang Temple (a beautiful temple in active use, which offers little to the visitor), from which it's possible to walk back along the road to Eternal Springs Shrine.

Shakadang Trail 
Shakadang Trail

Shakadang  trail (砂卡噹步道, previously Mysteriously Valley Trail) is the most accessible trail in Taroko Gorge, but as a result it is almost certainly the busiest, with tourists arriving by the busload, especially during the afternoon. It's best to arrive early, ideally on one of the first buses out of Hualien Station. The trail follows the Shakadang River through a stunning valley. It's stunning scenery, and the path is mostly chiseled out of the cliffs, fairly flat and usually at least a metre wide, making it suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. The path itself is 4km long, and with a permit can go further, but on my visit only the first 1.5km was open, but that was well worth doing despite the crowds.

Shakadang Trail
To get to Shakadang Trail it's best to walk through the Shakadang tunnel from the Taroko Park Headquarters. I found this easier and safer than walking from Eternal Springs Shrine, where the bus driver dropped me off the first time, even if the latter is closer. The tunnel has raised, separated footpaths on both sides, unlike most others in the gorge, so while it's not a pleasant trip, at least it's safe.

Shakadang Trail

Note that Google Maps shows the trail starting on the opposite side of the Liwu River (see map) but it doesn't: this is a lookout with no path under the river as I assumed (and wasted an hour or so trying to figure out how to find the trail). They appear to be working on extending the path around the river further to meet in the middle of the tunnel, so this may be in place when you get read this. But I'm not aware of any plan to bridge the Liwu river.

Swallow Grotto
A particular rock formation is meant to look like an "Indian chieftan's head". Can you spot it?

Swallow Grotto (燕子口, also known by its Chinese name 'Yanzikou', including on the bus timetable) is another route on the popular tourist trail, so again it pays to start as early as possible. This 500 metre trail runs along the old Central Cross-Island Highway through a series of tunnels, mostly directly above the Liwu River, to the Jhuilu Cliffs, which are truly an awe-inspiring sight. Efforts are being made to widen the road to create a separate (much needed) pathway for those on foot, and to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of buses which ply this tiny mountain road.

Cyclists pass the Jhuilu cliffs at the end of the Swallow Grotto trail.

Many of the tunnels don't have concreted tops, and rocks look like they are waiting to fall, so it's strongly recommended to pick up a hard hat from the park headquarters before doing this walk.  

Lushui Trail
Lushui Trail

The Lushui trail (綠水步道) is a short, flat, beautiful hike along the historic Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road. It offers stunning views of the Liwu River, interesting geological formations and a chance to see the rare Taiwan Oak tree. It's about two kilometres long, and takes about an hour one-way. I walked this trail mid-morning on a Saturday, and it was almost deserted. Of the four main trails available without a permit that I walked, the Lushui Trail was by far my favourite. During my visit (mid-morning on a Saturday) this trail was almost deserted.

Memorial to Japanese who died on the Cross-Hehaun Mountain Road

The Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road was the original road the Japanese built during their administration of Taiwan (1895 - 1945), mostly to subdue and control the Taroko (aboriginal) tribe, to enable them to better exploit this resource-rich area for wood (including camphor) and minerals. It later became a popular hiking route during this time. While much of the old road was used to build the new Cross-Island Highway in the 1950s, this section has been very well preserved. This old memorial is for four Japanese who died on official business in the gorge.

Suspension bridge beside Yuefei Pagoda

The Lushui Trail can be easily reached from Tianxiang.  Most hikers start from the Lushui end (2km from Tianxiang), and enter the trail beside the Geological Exhibition Hall. Opposite this is a small exhibition of photographs of the history of the Central Cross-Island Highway, which includes some English signage. An overpriced cafe and souvenir shop is located downstairs, and the Lushui Campground is attached.  The trail comes out near the Heliu Campground, from which it's worth making the short walk to the Yuefei Pagoda and crossing the suspension bridge to enjoy views of the Liwu River, but a permit is required to continue along this path. From there it's possible to bus back towards Hualien, or to walk back to Tianxiang.

Baiyang Waterfall Trail
Baiyang Waterfall Trail (the beginning which is deemed safe and open to the public).

During the 1980s the (state-owned) Taiwan Power Company (known as Taipower) planned a crazy hydroelectric power station, which would have drawn so much water from the gorge that it would have disrupted the natural flow of rocks and debris to the ocean, destroying the gorge as we know it. By the time the Taiwanese government of the day (then a one-party dictatorship) finally saw sense and canned the project, several new areas of the gorge had been opened up for surveying and construction, complete with vehicle-sized roads and tunnels, some of which became the Baiyang Waterfall Trail.

The path is closed from here due to unstable ground resulting from the release of groundwater.

This very popular trail brings busloads of tourists right through the gorge. The two kilometre path passes through several tunnels, with apparently beautiful views, eventually reaching the "water curtain", where groundwater, disturbed by the drilling of tunnels after thousands of years, streams through cracks in the roof, forming a kind of a 'natural shower'. While it's no doubt a spectacular sight (Google image search), geologists are concerned that this outflow of water may severely affect the geological stability of the mountain, and so all but the first kilometre or so of the path has been closed. While it's clear that many locals and tourists alike flout the closure and proceed at their own risk (which the authorities seem to turn a blind eye to) I recommend following the advice of the geologists and staying clear of it. It's still worth the short walk through the first tunnel and up until the path is closed.

The Baiyang Waterfall Trail starts with a tunnel from inside this rock shelter 1km west of Tianxiang.

The Baiyang Waterfall Trail starts with a long tunnel off the main road near the far end of this rock shelter, about one kilometre west of Tianxiang. The carpark (which doubles as a free campground from 3:00PM - 10:00AM) is at the same end of the rock shelter (away from Tianxiang). If you are staying at Tianxiang and intend to walk this trail I recommend doing it as early as possible, ideally before the tourists and day-trippers arrive.

The information presented here is taken from the excellent 'Trails of Taroko book available from the Taroko Gorge Park Headquarters and Visitors Centre (240NT).

Where Next?
I highly recommend spending a night or two in Tianxiang. The Lushui Campground is my favourite camping site in Taroko Gorge.

See Also

Taroko Gorge Travel Guide
Camping in Taroko Gorge
Hualien Travel Guide
The Lushui and Baiyang Waterfall Trail are much more easily reached from Tianxiang

Is something out of date? Please let me know.