You haven’t seen Taiwan until you’ve seen Taroko Gorge. South of Taipei, Taroko National Park sits on the east side of the island. Several hiking trails, waterfalls, glimpses of the coast, and beautiful shrines await you.
If you are in the Taipei area like we were then we highly recommend other hikes that are closer to the city. Check out our post on Hiking in Yangmingshan National Park for a great day hike from Taipei!
If you find yourself in Taiwan, head to Taroko Gorge and enjoy some nature. You will not be disappointed!
Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t allow for consecutive days off as we teach English online. If we had two days to adventure, then we would’ve used two days for Taroko Gorge. However, one day is still enough to appreciate its magnificence. You just have to plan ahead! So let’s talk about the deets.
How to Get to Taroko National Park
There are a few options.
You could take a tour; we saw many buses going through the park and ran into some tour groups on a few hikes.
You could also rent a car. That sounds like fun but driving in this area is dangerous and the way people drive makes it seem more dangerous. That’s your call!
We chose public transportation and have no regrets! The tours are on a schedule and their trail time is limited, having to be back at the bus. It depends on your preferences but we prefer going at our own pace so we can really enjoy what we’re seeing. Plus, having to walk a trail with a giant crowd doesn’t sound fun…
We stayed in Taipei, so to see Taroko Gorge in a day meant an early train ride on the TRA from Taipei Main Station. We purchased tickets online ahead of time. You can do that on Taiwan’s TRA website. You’ll want to take the train from Taipei Main Station to Xincheng Station. It takes around 2-3 hours, delays pending. Unfortunately, the high speed rail only runs on the west coast. But no worries, you’re in for some great views of the east coast on the ride!
Once you’ve arrived at Xincheng you can take bus 302 to the Taroko National Park Visitor Center. The bus stop is just outside the train station, parallel to the bathrooms.
It’s always a good idea to start at the visitor center, as the rangers have tips and you can get that free map! They also give you a handy schedule of the bus times so you don’t get stuck in the park! Taroko National Park is huge and if on foot like us, you’re going to take the bus to and fro during the day.
Hiking Taroko National Park
Okay, so as we’ve said, this park is huge. Fitting it all in a day is impossible, especially when starting from Taipei. There are many trails to choose from, but we highly recommend the ones below!
There isn’t much to this short trail, as its main purpose is to take you from the visitor center to the long, winding and awe-inspiring Shakadang Trail. Turn left out of the visitor center towards the road and follow the road to a tunnel. Enter the tunnel and stay on the left side where there’s a lit up walkway. After a ways, the trail head is on your left.
Xiaozhuli Trail offers some cool views of the shoreline in the distance with the town of Xincheng in the foreground. The highlight for us was the short suspension bridge along the way. Taiwan has many of these but this one was a lot of fun.
You’ll end this hike right where the Shakadang Trail begins, beneath the red bridge.
This trail spans 4.1km (2.5 mi) one way, so about 5 mi round trip. The hiking itself is easy and we went at a slow pace, taking lots of pictures and enjoying it all. The ground is flat for the most part, with the occasional rocky surface. The beginning of this hike was pretty crowded but the further you venture the more peaceful it becomes. And seriously, we mean peaceful. The river runs next to you the entire hike, rushing over smooth, colorful rocks, almost like someone painted them. Fans of geology would love this hike.
The water is crystal clear and at times becomes a wondrous turquoise color. The river is fascinating but there are also the lush mountains that surround you. The weather, in mid-December, was overcast and rainy at times, which was perfect! The mountains were mysterious, the clouds hovering over their peaks and traipsing slowly across the sky. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.
Having been in Southeast Asia during the hot months, we never really experienced the fall season. Taroko National Park houses some trees that change colors so that was a nice surprise! By “some trees”, we mean very few. But hey, we’ll take it.
You’ll find some grub in a hut around the halfway point of this hike. They sell tea and some sausages, as well as some things we don’t know. We tried the tea and sausages and they were so good! We packed food for our day, of course, but this was a nice treat. Only $3 USD!
You’ll return to the red bridge and then take the stairs up to the road. There are some more great views here and at the opposite end of the bridge you’ll find a restroom and the bus stop for 302! Onward!
This trail, around 2km (1.2 mi) one way, is all about waterfalls! And tunnels. Lots of tunnels. You’ll need a flashlight, as it gets completely dark at times. We just used our phones as flashlights. It’s fun to dare yourself to go as long as you can without one ( we made it maybe 10 seconds). The trail advises wearing a hardhat, due to falling rocks. A few people were sporting the head protection but most did not. Just be careful!
Getting to the Trailhead
It’s a little tricky. We were definitely questioning where we were going. You take bus 302 from the bridge at Shakadang to Tianxiang, a quaint little town with some restaurants, a 7-11, and an awesome view of a statue overlooking a bridge.
Keep going past the 7-11, following the road. You’ll be going uphill and the road will curve. It takes a little time (less than 10 minutes) but you’ll get there! You’ll eventually see a cool looking tunnel over the highway. Take care here as there is no sidewalk and many motorcycles are flying around the curves! The trail head is on the left side of the road, just a short walk within the tunnel.
And lo and behold, you begin the trail in a tunnel. It’s a long one. You then follow an easy path next to the river, eventually coming to gorgeous rapids and waterfalls. This was a great spot for pictures! We really took our time here and “soaked” it all in, not wanting to leave.
You’ll see another tunnel at the end of this trail. Take it! It leads you on a short walk to the “Water Curtain”. There are free ponchos sitting beside the entrance so be sure to grab one. Take the rock path over the water and enter, yes, another tunnel. Just a few steps and you’ll see water violently rushing out of the rock ceiling. It’s very loud, but very cool!
There were people hanging around inside, trying to get a picture. There’s really not a lot of room in there unless you want to stand in high water. We got our quick look and headed back to Tianxiang. This hike was beautiful!
End of Adventure
Our train back to Taipei from Xincheng was at 7:50 pm. We returned to Tianxiang around 5 and wanted to catch the 6 o’clock bus back to the train station. It’s a 50 minute ride back down to Xincheng. You don’t want to miss the last bus out of town! So we hung around Tianxiang for a bit, eating some dumplings and pork noodles. There’s a great restaurant next to the bus stop. The perfect place to end the day.
We wish we could’ve hiked the other trails and seen it all. It would’ve been nice to have our own car as well. But we had one day and made the most of it. It was absolutely worth it. Taroko National Park is a must-see in Taiwan. We hope you get to experience it.