Saturday, April 7, 2018

Taroko Gorge

taroko gorge taiwan


              If you enjoy nature, hiking, sightseeing, or just want a way to get out and about, then look no further than Taroko Gorge.  Taroko Gorge is one of those places whose sheer beauty and grandness has caused it to be touted as one of Taiwan’s most beautiful places.  


river taroko gorge taiwan
River through Taroko Gorge


              When we were planning our trip to the Taroko Gorge we were under the impression, brought about by not really doing our research, that we would be able to just show up at the park, do a hike, maybe camp overnight, and then leave.  Although in some cases this can be done, we were unaware at the enormity of the park.  The national park consists of a series of trails, both long and short, that jut off of the main road that passes through the gorge on its way west.  Most of the trails take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours to complete, with a few that are multi-day hikes.  One thing I wish I had known in advance of our trip here was that the multi-day hikes take a permit to do.  There is a limit to the number of people that can do these hikes each day, since they go through protected areas, so it is best to apply for the permit early.  


mountains taroko gorge taiwan
Mountains in Taroko Gorge


There is no entry fee to the park, but you need to spend a little money on transportation to and around the park to be able to fully enjoy it (more on that latter).  Although you can hike along the road from trailhead to trailhead, I don’t recommend it.  There isn’t a lot of traffic on the road, but the distance between each trail is significant enough that I feel it would be a waste of time to do this. 
              

My Experience



suspension bridge jhuilu old trail taroko gorge taiwan
Suspension bridge on the Jhuilu Old Trail


              A fairly large earthquake hit Hualien just before we arrived in Taiwan causing a lot of damage and the closure of Taroko Gorge.  We were unsure if the park would even be open by the time we got there, but fortunately they began to open trail by trail, and most of it was open when we arrived (I recommend checking for closures before going, as earthquakes, landslides, and washouts happen here from time to time).  As I mentioned above, we also did not know that we needed a permit for the longer hike (Jhuilu Old Trail), so we were unfortunately unable to do this hike.  


rock slide swallow grotto taroko gorge taiwan
Rock slide at the Jhuilu Old Trail


              Having bought the hop on/off bus pass, we boarded the first bus at 7am and headed towards the park.  The night before we had looked over the park map (retrieved from the bus station) and decided the places we wanted to stop.  Our DIY tour took us to Shakadang Trail - Swallow Grotto - Lushui-Heliu Trail – Tianxiang Village – Eternal Spring Shrine – Qixingtan Beach.


Shakadang Trail



cliff tunnel river shakadang trail taroko gorge taiwan
Cliff tunnel and river on the Shakadang Trail


This trail is 4.5 km long and is stated to take 2-4 hours (it only took us 45 minutes but we walked the first half fairly quickly).  The trail is rated as a casual walking trail and is fairly level for the whole distance of the trail.  Being both located nearer to the entrance of the park and an easy hike has made it one of the more popular trails, so you will want to hit this one early.  The trail being an out and back, you will get to see everything twice, so if there are a lot of people blocking that great picture opportunity you can always try again on the way back.  


shakadang trail taroko gorge taiwan
Shakadang Trail

river shakadang trail taroko gorge taiwan
River along Shakadang Trail


Taking the stairs case down from the bridge will get you to the trail itself.  From there the trail winds along with the river on one side and the cliffs on the other.  At times the cliff curls over the trail creating a semi-tunnel for you to walk through.  The scenery on this trail is beautiful to say the least.  The river is an extremely clear turquoise and rolls though and over huge boulders on its way to the ocean.   


Swallow Grotto



road tunnel swallow grotto taroko gorge taiwan
Vehicle tunnel and walkway at Swallow Grotto


              Swallow Grotto is not so much a trail as it is a walkway aside the road.  The pathway leads you through a long tunnel with openings looking out over a deep gorge.  The gorge contains small caves where swallow nest, giving it its name. 


swallow grotto taroko gorge taiwan
Swallow Grotto


Lushui-Heliu Trail



suspension bridge lushui trail taroko gorge taiwan
Suspension bridge on the Lushui Trail


              This is a great scenic trail that takes you up into the lush forest of the mountain side.  Some of the great sights on this trail include a short suspension bridge, a 30m dark tunnel (so bring a light/phone), and a cliffside trail overlooking the gorge and river with the mountains in the distance.  The trail goes between the Lushui Geological Exhibition Hall and Heliu Campground. 


tunnel lushui trail taroko gorge taiwan
A dark tunnel on the Lushui Trail


Tianxiang Village



pegoda xiangde temple tianxiang village taroko gorge taiwan
A pegoda at the Xiangde Temple


              Tianxiang is a small village at the end of the bus line.  It has a few places to get drinks and eat if you are hungry.  There is also the Xiangde Temple across the river that you can hike up to.


Eternal Spring Shrine



eternal spring shrine taroko gorge taiwan
Eternal Spring Shrine


              Built to commemorate those who died building the Central Cross-Island Highway through Taroko National Park, the picturesque Eternal Spring Shrine is a beautiful temple sitting atop a natural spring gushing out of the rocks into a waterfall.  To get to it you have to walk down into a small cave, where there is a shrine to those who died.  Then the path leads you through a tunnel to the shrine.  


shrine eternal spring shrine taroko gorge taiwan
Shrine for those who died building the highway


              This was the main sight I wanted to see in Taroko Gorge, but due to the earthquake the site was closed.  We were only able to make it part of the way through the tunnel before it was gated off.  You are still able to see the Eternal Spring Shrine from the road though. 


Qixingtan Beach


rock beach qixingtan beach hualien taiwan
Qixingtan's rocky beach


              Qixingtan Beach isn’t actually in Taroko Gorge but is located just outside Hualien.  It is part of the bus route though.  The beach is not made of sand but of smooth rocks of varying size, making it a unique but beautiful beach.  There is also a WWII military airfield here that is still in use today.  Due to it still being used, you are not able to tour or take pictures of it.  This being the case, you can still see the earth covered hangers over the wall and a few bunkers outside the military base as well. 


wwii bunker qixingtan beach hualien taiwan
WWII bunker at Qixingtan Beach


Getting There



              There are both buses and trains that travel from Taipei to either Taroko Gorge or Hualien.  If you are planning to use the hop on/off bus though, I recommend taking the train to Hualien since this is the location of the bus station.  The train leaves from the Taipei Main Station multiple times a day. 


Getting Around Taroko Gorge



rocky river taroko gorge taiwan
River at the Jhuilu Old Trail trailhead


              As I mentioned before, Taroko Gorge encompasses a huge piece of territory and although you may want to take it all in, you don’t want to spend all your time walking down a concrete road.  There are a few ways to best explore Taroko Gorge.


Buses


              There are two options for buses; the guided tour bus or the hop-on/off bus.  The guided tour bus office (yellow building) is located outside the Hualien train station, on the right.  This tour bus costs 650 TWD/22 USD, but unless you understand Chinese I don’t recommend this option.


shuttle bus taroko gorge taiwan
Shuttle Bus


              The best option for the gorge is the hop on/off bus.  The bus office (orange building) is also located outside the Hualien train station, but on the left.  A one-day pass costs 250 TWD/8.50 USD or 400 TWD/13.65 USD for a two-day pass.  You can also pay from location to location if you prefer, but you will need exact change.  This bus stops at each of the trailheads, so you can get on and off as you please.  It’s time table is also set up so that you will not have to wait long after completing a trail before the next bus arrives to pick you up. 


Bicycle


              The traffic on the road through the gorge isn’t that heavy and would allow for safe cycling.  There are a few options for renting bikes both in Hualien (there is one outside the train station) and the prices are affordable (about 250 TWD/8.50 USD).  You should always travel with insurance, this should be even more of a priority if you plan on cycling. My personal recommendation is World Nomads.


Scooter


              Scooters have the benefits of a bicycle, without all the work and a lot quicker.  Scooters also have the added benefit of allowing you the freedom of driving and stopping when you want.  There are many places in Hualien that rent scooters and it should cost you around 600 TWD/ 20.46 USD per day.  You should always travel with insurance, this should be even more of a priority if you plan on hiring a scooter. My personal recommendation is World Nomads.


Car Rental



rental car taroko gorge taiwan
Car driving through the tunnel at Swallow Grotto


             Renting your own car might be the most comfortable and flexible option, but it is also expensive.  There are a few rental places in Huelien, so if you prefer this option or have a few friends to split the cost, you can find one there.


Taxi


              A taxi gives you the comfort and flexibility of a car without worry about driving it down the windy roads.  Like a car though a taxi can be expensive.  A taxi from the Hualien train station to Tianxiang (the end of the bus line) will cost you about 1200 TWD/40.92 USD one way. 


Where to Stay



heliu campground taroko gorge taiwan
Heliu Campground


Both Taroko Gorge and Hualien have accommodations at various price ranges.

Hualien has a range of budget hostels to higher end hotels for you to choose from.  We stayed at the Mini Voyage Hostel, located near the bus station, and it was really nice.  If you plan the take the hop on/off bus, you will need to buy your ticket in Hualien, so it might be advisable to stay here as well.
Tianxiang (at the end of the bus line in Taroko Gorge) has a number of both budget and higher end hotels.  There are also three tent camping locations in Taroko Gorge; Heliu Campground, Lushui Campground, and the Bayang Trailhead Carpark. 


Campground
Heliu
Lushui
Bayang Trailhead Carpark
Distance from Tianxiang
2.6 kilometres East (towards Hualien)
2 kilometres East
(towards Hualien)
900 metres West
Cost / Availability
200 NT / platform
free
free
Only available 3pm-10am
Facilities
toilets and cold showers
Not available. Toilets a few minutes walk away at Lushui Service Station.
Toilets and cold showers           
Tent space
12 wooden platforms
grass/ soil
Asphalt carpark
Public Transport
bus
bus
1 kilometre walk from Tianxiang



Tips for Your Taroko Gorge Trip



lushui trail taroko gorge taiwan
Lushui Traii


              Take plenty of water and snacks.  There are not a lot options along the road for you to buy anything.

              ● Were comfortable hiking clothes and shoes.  You will see people wearing dresses, heeled shoes, and all sorts of other apparel, but I recommend wearing something that makes your hikes more enjoyable.  I feel like I should also recommend wearing good hiking shoes since everyone else does (if you know me, then you know that I do all my hiking in flip flops or barefoot when it gets to technical).

              ● Choose you transportation wisely.  The park is large, so don’t walk, cycle, or hitchhike the gorge if you do not have a lot of time or, in the case of the first two, you are not in good shape.  

              ●Enjoy your time.  Taroko Gorge is a wonderful place to disconnect and enjoy the nature around you.

               I hope this post will help you prepare for your trip to Taroko Gorge. If you do decide to go, please leave me a comment below and let me know all about it.

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