Taroko Gorge Travel Guide


Eternal Springs Shrine is Taroko's most famous landmark, but the gorge becomes much more beautiful further inland.


Taroko Gorge has long since been considered Taiwan's top tourist attraction, and rightly so. Since the recent influx of foreign tourists (mostly from China, but also from Korea and increasingly from all over the globe), it has become overwhelmingly crowded in places, particularly Eternal Springs Shrine, the Shakadang Trail and Swallow Grotto. But by leaving Hualien very early, staying in Tianxiang and if possible visiting on a weekday it's still easily possible to experience the magic of Taroko Gorge in relative peace, without having to push your way through busloads of tourists crowding narrow mountain pathways or compete for space in a crowded tunnel with dozens of oversized tour buses. It does, however, require more planning than it did some years ago, and I hope this guide will help with that.

Safety and Preparation


Safety


Taroko Gorge's giant cliff faces, heavy rainfall and frequent earthquakes make landslides and rockfall a very real risk, especially along the many paths which are literally chiselled into the cliffs. Please consider the status of your dependants, life and accident insurance, faith, karma or whatever else you see necessary, but understand that you're taking a small but significant risk entering Taroko Gorge.

Hard Hats

Eternal Springs Shrine path.
Hard hats are recommended for Swallow Grotto and Lushui Trails, but according to the Park HQ are not necessary for the Shakadang Trail. It won't save you from a landslide, but makes a significant difference for smaller rocks as the impact is spread more evenly over the skull. Helmets can be borrowed (free) from the Visitor's Centres, but must be returned to the same place that day, which can be inconvenient if staying in Tianxiang. On paths which are cut into the rock it's better to walk as close as possible to the cliff face, so that rocks have less far to fall and any rocks sliding down the cliff should pass over you.

Trail Closures and Updates

I recommend visiting a visitor's centre and getting advice on which trails are open, and following it. During my visit the Baiyang Trail was closed, and it appears that it will stay that way (see Baiyang Trail below) but many people, including families with young kids, just ignored the signs, ducked the ropes and walked on to see the waterfall. While it does sound like the risk is low, professional geologists have evaluated the situation and declared the area potentially unstable, which is certainly enough to put me off risking my life to see a "water curtain". In my experiences with the Taroko Park staff were all very professional and helpful, and I highly doubt they would close paths for no reason.

Safety Rails

Safety rails are often non-existent or very low, often well below the centre of mass of a tall westerner, so it would be very easy to lean over and fall, especially while carrying a heavy pack or among large crowds pushing to get past. This is especially so at the Xiangde Temple pagoda in Tianxiang. I recommend leaving your pack at your accommodation, a locker at Hualien or Xincheng Station (one station north of Taroko Gorge, which is also on the public bus route) or at the Taroko Gorge Visitor's Centre.

Wildlife


Signs warn of wasps and venomous snakes. It's best to make sounds as you walk (conversation is fine) as the snakes are as afraid of humans as vice versa. If you do meet any snakes back away gently and they probably will too.



What to Bring

1. A torch

Many of the paths pass through tunnels without lighting. Bring a small torch / flashlight. It doesn't need to be especially powerful; a pocket-sized LED torch is fine, but a single-LED keyring style won't be bright enough for some of the larger trails.

2. Good wet-weather gear

It rains a lot in Taroko Gorge. The low clouds give the gorge a new kind of magic, but being drenched probably doesn't.

3. Tissue / Toilet Paper

Like most public toilets in Taiwan, many along the trails don't have any, and there are limited numbers of place to buy it.

4. Food

Food in Tianxiang has had a reputation for being bad for a very long time, so it's best to stock up before coming. I recommend vegetarians and vegans go to the Loving Hut in Taipei.

5.Loose change for the buses (if you won't buy a day pass).

See below.

What to Bring

1. A torch

Many of the paths pass through tunnels without lighting. Bring a small torch / flashlight. It doesn't need to be especially powerful; a pocket-sized LED torch is fine, but a single-LED keyring style won't be bright enough for some of the larger trails.

2. Good wet-weather gear

It rains a lot in Taroko Gorge. The low clouds give the gorge a new kind of magic, but being drenched probably doesn't.

3. Tissue / Toilet Paper

Like most public toilets in Taiwan, many along the trails don't have any, and there are limited numbers of place to buy it.

4. Food

Food in Tianxiang has had a reputation for being bad for a very long time, so it's best to stock up before coming. I recommend vegetarians and vegans go to the Loving Hut in Hualien.

5.Loose change for the buses (if you won't buy a day pass).

See below.

What to Bring

1. A torch

Many of the paths pass through tunnels without lighting. Bring a small torch / flashlight. It doesn't need to be especially powerful; a pocket-sized LED torch is fine, but a single-LED keyring style won't be bright enough for some of the larger trails.

2. Good wet-weather gear

It rains a lot in Taroko Gorge. The low clouds give the gorge a new kind of magic, but being drenched probably doesn't.

3. Tissue / Toilet Paper

Like most public toilets in Taiwan, many along the trails don't have any, and there are limited numbers of place to buy it.

4. Food

Food in Tianxiang has had a reputation for being bad for a very long time, so it's best to stock up before coming. I recommend vegetarians and vegans go to the Loving Hut in Hualien.

5.Loose change for the buses (if you won't buy a day pass).

See below.

Accommodation

The vast majority of visitors to Taroko Gorge stay at Hualien, and take the public transport or private tours (see below), perhaps spending a night or two in the gorge (usually Tianxiang). I find it worth the extra time to stay in Hualien, especially with the good vegetarian food options there, however, an increasing number of accommodation facilities are springing up around Xincheng Station, two stops north of Hualien and at the foot of the gorge itself. A popular option which gets  rave reviews, is Yu's Homestay, which is in a beautiful setting two kilometres from Xincheng Station. If you'll arrive late and intend to hit up the gorge early the next day then this is a good option, but bring plenty of food and snacks, especially if you are vegetarian or have other dietary requirements.


Transport

A tour bus passes through Swallow Grotto.

Public Buses

By far the cheapest way to get to Taroko Gorge from Hualien is by the excellent public bus system, which has come and gone over the years but seems fairly well established now. Buses depart from the orange bus station to the left of the train station as you walk out the main exit. As of November 2014 the earliest bus from Hualien leaves at 6:30am, and the last bus departs Tianxiang for Hualien at 6:00pm. This schedule is likely to change, so it's important to get a copy of the timetable from the bus station before you leave.


The buses for Taroko Gorge depart from the orange bus station (outside Hualien Station).

A day pass costs 250NT or a two-day pass 400NT, and it's well worth it if you intend on a full day in the gorge. Alternatively a trip from Hualien to the gorge costs between 100 and 200NT depending on how far in you go.
This is an ordinary local bus system, and many of its passengers are locals going about their daily lives. As such expect minimal service - know where you're going (in Chinese if possible) and note that the bus does not give change, so don't leave without enough change for all your trips, so at least 300NT. If the driver doesn't speak English you can always offer an outstretched palm with a range of coins, and s/he will take the right amount. Also note that while from my experience the bus system is very reliable (in that it will come) weather and other road conditions, as well as it being overrun with tour buses, can cause serious, unavoidable delays, so be prepared to wait quite a while for the bus.

The sign above is the best indication that it's a public bus.

Finally, many people have difficulty figuring out which bus is the public bus among the sea of tour buses. They are generally smaller, but the key thing to look for is the sign as it approaches. And of course other buses won't stop for you!

Taxis and Private Tours

Taxi touts abound around the train station, generally offering day tours for around 3000NT. While most should offer a reasonable tour, I would recommend following a recommendation from your hotel. Combined tours generally go for around 700NT per person, but it depends on the number in the group and how long the tour will last, and how deep into the gorge it takes you. City Home offer their own tour services, and while I didn't try them myself I would certainly trust that they would offer an excellent service at a fair price.

Bicycle

Cyclists ride 105km from Hualien to Wuling Mountain, Taiwan KOM Challenge (Nov 15th, 2014)

Cycling the gorge, and continuing on to Lishan, NE Asia's highest peak, is by all accounts an incredible experience, but not one for their faint hearted  - literally or figuratively, as it passes over Asia's highest road - but it covers some truly spectacular scenery, apparently comparable to many European mountain vistas. It's then possible to ride on to Sun-Moon Lake and Taichung, but that's another post, and plenty is online already.
If you just want to see the gorge it's possible to hire bikes in Hualien or in the gorge, but I don't recommend it due to the narrow roads, fast cars and all the tour buses.

Scooter

Scooters carry many of the same risks as bicycles, with the added risk of being able to go fast. It is an incredibly functional way to get around, allowing one to stop off and take photos or explore anywhere at will. Prices are generally around 200NT per day (plus fuel) and require an international drivers license or local scooter license. If you don't have a license, know how to ride a scooter and want to try you may find someone willing to rent you one without the right paperwork, but note that your insurance probably won't cover you in an accident, in which case you may well be liable for all the damages, regardless of who's at fault.

Car

Many of the benefits of a scooter also apply to a car, but again with the narrow roads and ever more limited parking space by the entrances to the main hiking routes I don't recommend it. I think that driving in the gorge is best left to the professionals.

Train

Xincheng Station is closer to Taroko Gorge than Hualien, and starting from there will cut most of an hour off the bus journey from Hualien. However the Taroko Express trains don't stop there, but if coming from Taipei it may be worth changing trains at Yilan (or elsewhere - ask when you buy your ticket) and getting off at Xincheng. Also, if you will be going north after your day at Taroko Gorge (eg to Jiaoxi or Yilan) consider leaving your bags in lockers at Xincheng Station. You'll need to get off the bus and on to the next one (or take the train from Hualien and a bus from Xincheng to the gorge) but it's worth saving an hour back to Hualien just to collect your bags. Or leave them at the Taroko Park Headquarters Visitors Centre (below) but you need to be back by 16:45.



Taroko Park Headquarters & Visitors Centre

This large centre is the first stop in Taroko Gorge (after Xincheng Train Station). You may wish to stop for:

1. A book of hiking routes.

If you wish to hike extensively in Taroko Gorge (for more than a day or two, or for any of the hikes which require a permit), pick up a copy of Trails of Taroko from the gift shop (240NT). Simple maps of Taroko can be picked up at the visitors centre beside Hualien Station, but this book can only be purchased at the park headquarters. It's also not a bad idea to get the latest update on which paths are open and how far, and any dangers to be aware of.

2. A Helmet

If you will visit Swallow Grotto and / or Lushui Trail, borrow a helmet (free). The helmets must be returned the same day, by closing time, as they have a limited number.

3. Baggage storage

Storage is available from 8:45-16:45. There are no coin lockers.

4. Food?

The're a simple cafe which does traditional rice-based dishes, including a vegetarian/vegan (全素) meal set, but it would be much better to eat in Hualien before you leave or when you get back to Hualien (or Taipei).

Practicalities

Open: 8:30 - 16:45
Phone: 03-8621100


Map




Where Next?

Get Hiking! Taroko Gorge hiking trails
Consider spending a night or two at Tianxiang.
Consider taking a bus or private transport up to Lishan (coming soon).

See Also

Hualien Travel Guide

Swallow Grotto Trail

Is something out of date? Please let me know.