Deciding to travel to Taroko via public transport made me realize something — there are very few complete, accurate, and updated guides to the National Park that is in English. After three successful trips to the gorge with a lot of variety, here is my attempt at making a comprehensive and complete guide to one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan. Comments/suggestions are welcome!
How to Get There
By Public Transport
From any major city in Taiwan, you can take the Taiwan Rail directly to Hualien County, then take busses to the national park from there. If possible, take the Puyuma or Taroko Express trains, which only stop at big stations and take just 2 hours to get from Taipei to Hualien. They also have very comfortable seats, costing only NT$400 a trip. You can check the schedule here.
There are daily busses that go from Hualien Train Station to Taroko. The Hualien Busses (花蓮客運) runs four times a day, stopping at Taroko East Entrance, Tianxiang, Luoshao, Dayuling, and Lishan.
If those don’t fit your schedule, there’s a Taroko Tourist Shuttle Bus (臺灣好行) also available roughly every hour. I recommend giving them a call at 03-8322065 before waiting for one, because they are also susceptible to delays and cancellations.
Charge your Easy Card before heading to the gorge for convenience. The shuttles also take cash, however.
Caution: ALWAYS CHECK BEFORE GOING for possible delays, cancellations, or road closings. In the case of our recent trip (March 2016), the roads were only open between 6:30am – Noon, 12-13:00, and 17-18:00, resulting in most busses to be cancelled except the morning bus entering the gorge, and the last 17:00 bus going out.
If you want to save time on waiting for busses and test your people skills, hitchhiking is a pretty common practice in Taroko. Most people driving on the road are either locals or fellow tourists and hikers. The fact that there’s only one road into the gorge also pretty much guarantees that your destination is also on the way to wherever they’re going.
Driving to Taroko is pretty straightforward. From Taipei, it’s about 3 hours of scenic but curvy mountainous roads. Just make sure to drug up your passengers prone to car sickness.
Same advice goes to drivers — check for road closings before heading to the gorge. Taroko is definitely not the worst place to be stranded at, but it’s a bit annoying to be stuck somewhere without food or have to spontaneously arrange accommodations.
Places to Stay
I personally prefer to stay in Tienxiang (天祥), a small town within Taroko. Of course there are plenty of B&Bs available right at the entrance of Taroko, but I find that staying within the gorge adds an extra feeling of “escape” to your hiking trip. With its affordability, relative comfort, and easy access, I don’t see any reason not to stay within the national park. The town comes equipped with a post office, police station, restaurants, and even a recently-opened 24-hour 7-11, proving further that you can find convenience in the most remote of areas in Taiwan.
Tienxiang Christian Church
Out of all the places I stayed in Taroko, this was by far my favorite. The stone church is owned by an old couple, who are very friendly and love to share stories about the area. The hostel is a lot more secluded, so it’s quieter and has a more relaxing vibe. There are gorgeous gardens on both sides, and direct access to the Taroko river from back yard. Note: The place is frequented by monkeys.
Price: $400 per person, $600 for a private room.
Tienxiang Catholic Church
I also stayed at this spot on the other side of Tienxiang. It’s closer to the main road, and is more spacious with more outdoor seating areas. Being on the top of the hill, you get an impressive view of the gorge straight from your front door. Beds are less comfortable, however, and hot water is unavailable after 10pm. Note: The place is frequented by cats.
Price: $250 per person, $800 for a double, $1000 for 4-person room.
Silks Place Hotel
This is a fancy smancy hotel in Tienxiang that comes with outdoor pools and jacuzzis overlooking the gorge. It frankly looks quite out of place, being in the middle of such a small modest town. Admittedly, the view from the luxurious white outdoor lounge beds on the rooftop must be pretty great, and a hot bath after a long day of hiking could be quite the bang for your buck.
Price: NT$7000-8000 a night.
For something in between a luxury hotel and a hard bed in a hostel, I would recommend the Crossing the Rainbow Bridge Homestay (走過虹橋民宿) near the Taroko east entrance. It’s run by a very friendly indigenous man also with a lot of stories to tell, who can also give great nearby recommendations. The homestay is comfortable, with soft beds, an adorable dining space, an outdoor porch area, and free bike rentals. A delicious homemade breakfast is also provided.
Price: NT$2000-3000 a night for 2 people.
Things to Eat
If you drive, you can easily drive back into town and eat at the Hualien Night Market. For food close to the gorge, I loved the Lan Lan Restaurant (藍藍餐廳), an inconspicuous restaurant right at the east entrance of Taroko that serves delicious wild boar and locally harvest veggies. Not sure if I was just always starving from hiking, but it was TASTY! Look for a vertical blue sign with white Chinese characters.
The only place I could find a complete, bilingual rough map of where most of the trails are was from Silks Place.
Here is a basic throw-down on the trails, and the same PDF from Silks also rates the trails by difficulty. Trails are subject to closings due to weather damages, but “closings” aren’t really enforced and really just means to continue trekking at your own risk. You can check for trail conditions on the official website here, thankfully in available in both languages.
The Zhuilu Ancient Road (錐麓古道) is by far the best hiking trail in the gorge, with an unbeatable view of the gorge from the cliffs in high altitude. On a nice day, you could probably watch a rock roll from your feet all the way into the river below. Although it’s supposed to be a 10km-long intensive trail that takes all day, it seems like it’s been closed at the 3.1km mark for several years. Once again, you can continue at your own risk, but many of the bridges later on in the trail are pretty severely damaged. Due to the dangerous nature of the trail, it requires a permit.
Registering for Hikes
Now this is SUPER IMPORTANT – Taroko’s best trails usually require permits. Permits take 5 days to process, but I’ve also heard you may be able to get one the day before if you go directly to the police station with all your IDs. There are limits to how many people can hike in a day, and during peak seasons it actually does get filled up pretty quickly — so plan ahead! Applying for permits are free. Feel free to apply for several trails before entering the gorge, in case you’re feeling spontaneous.
You will need one person with a Taiwanese national ID to vouch for you. Note: they WILL CALL whoever you list down as your guarantor. So don’t pick someone who secretly hates you.
You can apply for entry permits here. Please note that it is a two-step process, and the thing you finally print out should look like this:
Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Please feel free to contribute any information that may help hikers in discovering the GORGEousness of Taroko! Trek safely!