Taroko National Park in Eastern Taiwan is famous for its rugged landscapes and canyons. Particularly impressive is Taroko Gorge, a steep canyon that allows you in a single afternoon to travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of forested canyons. In about 37 miles the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 3400 meters. Fittingly, the name, Taroko, in the local aboriginal Truku language means the “magnificent and splendid”. We believe you will agree with their description of this majestic place once you have the chance to see it.
Although a few visitors to Taiwan will decide to drive here, a typical trip to Taroko Gorge will first start with a train ride. Whether you are coming from Taipei or Kaohsiung, you will most likely board a train to arrive at your destination. Getting from these locations to Hualien, where the gorge is located, is quite easy. Both train rides are roughly 3-4 hours and are scenic and relaxing. Hualien will be your starting point for your trip into Taroko Gorge. If you have been researching Taiwan there is no way to miss how popular this destination is. And if you have visited here at the wrong time, you quickly become painfully aware of how popular this place can be. Being stuck in an endless caravan of tour buses trying to enter the gorge can be frustrating and ruin your plans to see this gorgeous area.
Just a few adjustments to your schedule will make a world of difference in your experience at Taroko Gorge. If you do not have an international drivers license or do not want to drive yourself, I highly recommend hiring a guide/driver for the day. You can use the public buses in the park but they are neither convenient or timely. To get the best of your day here you should plan for a very early start. Like they say the early bird gets the worm, or in this instance, the early bird avoids the traffic. Each time we have visited the gorge we make sure we enter early and it has always proved to be the best decision of the day. The last time we visited the park, we were leaving about 4:00 pm and there was a continual back up of traffic. Some people had been sitting there for hours on end trying to get in. But, don’t let the idea of traffic scare you away, Taroko Gorge is a “must see” destination.
If you plan your day right you will never know that there is such a traffic problem here. First, plan on arriving in Hualien the day before you want to visit the park. Then check all calendars, especially Chinese ones, for dates of upcoming holidays. Avoid coming to Taroko on a holiday ( if you know what’s good for you )and plan a weekday visit. If possible try not a visit over the weekend. Then enter early and, as a wise guide showed us, head to the back of the park and work your way to the entrance. This way if hoards of travelers do happen to show up, your day is almost over and you are close to the entrance for an easy exit out of the park.
Two exceptions to this are, you may want to hike Shakadang trail early before you head to the back of the park. This is the easiest and most popular trail and it will be busy later in the day. If you want to visit the visitors center do it early but, remember they are closed on Mondays. We have used this method each time we visit and have never gotten caught up in traffic and the hikes we have done while in the park have been free of masses of people. One side note is to check this link when planning a trip to see which trails have been possibly closed, http://old.taroko.gov.tw/English/?mm=11&sm=0&page=1#up. This is the message board for the national park and will alert you of any trail closures.
Stay an extra night and apply for permits in advance to hike Zhuilu Trail. This is an all-day hike and will take you to dizzying heights. If you don’t have a fear of heights this is one of the top trails in Taiwan to hike. With trails carved directly into the side of the mountain, 700 meters above the canyon floor this historic trail gives you views of the Taroko Gorge as no other. Highlights of the park also include Shakadang and LuShui trails. Bell Tower, Swallow Grotto, and Baiyang Waterfall. Check the national park site for a complete list. If you opt for a guide he will provide you with the best routes and advise you on which trails are open and meet your needs.
Wear comfortable shoes that are good for hiking. Layer your clothes depending on the season and bring an umbrella or rain poncho for the occasional showers. Make your visit to Taiwan complete with a visit to Taroko Gorge but plan according to the local conditions and circumstances. By keeping these suggestions and tips in mind and you will be sure to perfectly time your perfect day in the Taroko Gorge National Park.