Giant highways filled with scooters. Endless food stands with the world’s finest beef noodles and fried chicken. High end laptops and phones.
These are the things people think about Taiwan. But venture a little out of the city and you’ll quickly find that sixty percent of Taiwan is covered in trees.
Much of these are in the nine major national parks, of which Taroko (Chinese: 太魯閣, tai lu ge) is the most well-known.
Hiking and being in nature is what I live for, so Taroko was one of my favorite experiences in Taiwan. There are a few things to know to make sure you get the more out of your visit. We’ll cover them all here.
Our Favorite Trails
1. Zhuilu Old Trail
Hike Length: 5 km round trip (3-5 hours)
If you were only able to do one thing in Taroko, I’d prioritize this trail. This trail is less touristy than others and this bad boy has a little bit of everything. From this part of the park, you’re in store for some spectacular sights, including Swallow Grotto. The trail also has historical significance as it the only trail that connected two mountain ranges during Japanese rule over hundred years ago. Along the way you walk through lush forests and suspension bridges that give you a peak at some of the amazing views ahead. Because the end of the trail has steep and narrow cliffs, permits are required.
A few things to know about hiking the trail:
- There are two types of permits required for this trail – one from Taroko National Park and one from the Police Bureau.
- Make sure to reserve permits in advance. Permits are limited and because the trail is getting more popular, there is always a chance they will run out.
- While there is no fee to enter the park, the entrance into this trail is NT$200. All other trails are free.
We had tried to apply for both permits in advance, but I wasn’t positive I signed up for the first permit correctly and the Police Bureau’s site was in Chinese and even with Dana’s reading level, we weren’t totally sure if we were signing up for the correct permits. Side note you can get a permit form the Police Bureau the day before, but we didn’t want to risk it. In addition, there were a few other logistics we didn’t want to worry about.
Our guide, Cloud picked us up and dropped us off from our hotel in Hualien (~1 hour drive each way), took care of all of our permits, gave us great background on the trail, and really enhanced the experience (also taught Dana a bit of Taiwanese). Also we learned that Taiwan has a very distinct dialect to Mandarin! The tours are also small (max 8) to ensure the best experience.
They also provide kayaking, river tracing, rock climbing excursions, and multiday treks in Taroko, Hualien, and Taipei. Their other well known excursion is a rock climbing day trip near Taipei.
2. Eternal Spring Shrine and The Bell Tower
Hike Length: 20 mins to Changchun Shrine, 1.5km to Bell Tower 1 hour
A visit to Taroko isn’t complete without seeing the Changchun Shrine (Eternal Spring Shrine). The shrine was built in 1956 to commemorate 226 military veterans workers who died while building the Central Cross-Island Highway. The bell tower is not as frequently visited, but shouldn’t be missed.
The walk to the Shrine is a short leisurely 20 minute walk. There is an extended 2.2 km hike up past the Shrine up to the Taroko Tower and the Bell Tower, however the stairs have been damaged and the trail is closed when we visited (Nov 2018). See Photo Here.
Fortunately, you can still do the reverse hike to access the bell tower. To get there, you will need to go through the Sinasia Tunnel and start the uphill hike at the Temple Entrance Gate. You’ll reach the Changcuang temple where you can take a look around. Cross the hanging bridge just next to the temple and and follow the stairs to the bell tower. The bell tower is very high up, so you will need to go quite a few stairs. It’s worth it though!
At the Bell Tower, you can see some incredible views of the gorge. You can also ring the bell three times and make a wish.
3. Shakadang Trail
Hike Length: 8.8km, 3-4 hours RT
Shakadang Trail is known for its clear turquoise blue rivers. It’s a very easy and relaxing stroll with little elevation change. Because it’s so accessible, this trail is highly trafficked. You should plan on getting here early to avoid large crowds. We arrived early (8am) and we encountered very few hikers when starting out, however when we were leaving, we started seeing large crowds of people. If the blue waters and canyon views weren’t enough, there are also aboriginal food stands along the route. Try some bamboo rice or an aboriginal sausage!
Best Times to Visit
The park is open all year round. The best times to visit are in the spring (April – June) and Autumn (September – November). In Summer the temperature tends to be hot and humid. It is also typhoon season, so make sure to check the weather forecast before booking your trip.
What to Bring
- Mosquito Repellent – we didn’t see too many bugs on. the trail, but did find a couple bites after the hike.
- Umbrella or Poncho
- Good hiking shoes for medium – difficult hikes.
- Camera with a fully charged battery for capturing some incredible moments
How to Get There
Getting to Hualien
Taiwan has a great reliable train system. The best way to get to Taroko from anywhere in Taiwan is by train. Be aware that there is sometimes a big range in journey duration lengths and prices. For example we were going from Kaohsiung –> Hualien and had the options of 4.5 hour ride at NT$700 (US$20) or an 11h ride at NT$990 (USD$30). So make sure to pay attention to these options when booking your ticket. Tickets can be booked through the Taiwan Railway Administration site. The closest station to Taroko is the Hualien Railway Station.
Transportation options from Hualien to Taroko
- Taroko Tourist Shuttle Bus – This is the most popular option as it is very convenient and economical. A day pass is NT$250 (US$8). The bus stops at several big attractions in Taroko. The downsides as usual for public transport, is that it takes much longer and you’re constrained to a schedule. So it may not be a good option for you if you are limited on time.
- Rent a Scooter – This will give you much more flexibility and is still budget friendly. However, downsides are that it can be dangerous because of the winding and sometimes narrow roads, the inclement weather leading to slippery services, and the many large tour buses. Also keep in mind that some companies may only accept international drivers licenses.
- Rent a Car – This option is much more expensive but safer and more comfortable. Downsides are that parking may be limited in some popular trails
- Hire a taxi – This will be more expensive than hiring a car, but you won’t have to worry about parking, or navigating to the correct location. Your driver might also be able to serve as an informal tour guide.
Where to Stay
Since Taroko is one of the biggest attractions in Taiwan, you’ll have many options for accommodation. The two areas I’d recommend staying is either within the park or in the closest big city, Hualien.
After looking at the options, we decided to stay in Hualien. The benefits of staying in Hualien is that there are so many accommodation options that are high quality and budget friendly. Although it is still a small city, it had almost all of the day-to-day amenities of Taipei or Kaohsiung i.e. a legit night market (Dongdamen Night Market).
We decided on Hualien Wow Hostel. The location was perfect. It was very close to the train station, which was also where the Taroko Bus Station leaves. They are also one of the few hotels that provides breakfast (eggs, toast, a variety of spreads, fruits). The walls were a bit thin, but they offer earplugs at the front desk and the staff is incredibly patient and accommodating.
Tianxiang is the other option we were considering. It is just outside the park and your commute is cut down tremendously. The options are more limited, but there are some beautiful sites. If you’re feeling extra, Silks Place Taroko Hotel looked pretty magical. It was a little (A LOT) out of our budget, but it’s a beautiful property and a great option if you do want to treat yo’ self.
There are many more national parks around Taiwan. Taroko should be your #1, but it probably shouldn’t be the only one you visit. Plan on getting outdoors!
Have you been to Taroko National Park or Hualien? What was your favorite experience? Let us know in comments, or if you have any more questions, send us a message on Facebook.