Taroko National Park is one of the highlights of Taiwan, with the Taroko Gorge ranking among the great natural wonders of Asia.
When I was planning my trip most of the information I found was from travel agents selling tours. If you are in Taipei on a short visit it is possible to visit Taroko National Park independently as a day trip from Taipei. It will take a bit of planning though as it’s a full day of travel and not something you can just roll out of bed and go to.
The closest big city to Taroko is Hualien on the east coast of the island. Getting there from the west coast is more time consuming as there is no direct bus or train across the middle of the island.
The Central Mountain Range runs from north to south down the middle of the island, and once you visit Taroko you will understand why there is no easy access across the island (hint: the mountain range is HUGE). It’s this mountain range, and the rivers that have carved their way through it, that makes Taroko so spectacular.
This guide details how to visit Taroko National Park as a day trip from Taipei, the best sites to visit in the park, and where to stay if you prefer to stay longer than a day. This itinerary is for public transport, using the train and the useful local bus that serves the park. There are scooter rental agents near the Hualien Railway Station if you prefer to go by motorbike.
Taroko National Park Map
This map shows Taroko National Park in relation to Hualien and Taipei.
[Map of Taroko National Park.]
Getting to Hualien / Taroko National Park
Hualien is the gateway city to Taroko National Park, and the train is the best way to get there.
The first train leaves Taipei at 06:14 and arrives at Hualien at 08:20. I bought a ticket the night before at Taipei Main Station to make sure I had a seat.
Depending on what train you get the trip will take between 2 hours and 3 hours, 40 minutes. Check train times online at Taiwan Railways Timetable Information.
I got one of the Mountain Line trains to Hualien, and living up to its name you pass through some lovely mountain scenery on the way. This is nothing though compared to what you will experience later.
The station at Hualien is an architectural highlight of the city with its wavy wooden roof.
At Hualien there is a tourist information centre outside the station. The bus for Taroko National Park departs from here, and you can get tickets and a timetable from the office. The ticket cost NT$ 250 ($7.95 USD), and that can be used all day.
The bus runs throughout the day, stopping at the main spots within the park. Get the timetable so you can plan the day ahead. As much as I enjoy wandering at my own pace, if you are doing Taroko in a day then you will need to be mindful of the bus timetable. A missed bus could mean an hour or more waiting for the next one.
The timetable can also be found here: Timetable (Hualien Bus).
It takes 40 minutes to get from Hualien to Taroko National Park. The bus also stops at Xincheng Railway Station on the way to the park. You could technically get off at this station coming from Taipei, but the fast trains don’t stop here anyway.
Highlights of Taroko National Park
The highlights of Taroko National Park are spread out along a long road that runs through the gorge, so it’s not like you can just turn up and walk around. The bus stops at the most interesting sites, giving an ideal introduction to the park. Entrance to the park is free.
The first stop in the park is at the information centre.
There are some walking paths here and an information movie on show, but in hindsight I should have just kept going to the first big walk. If you only have a day then your time is better spent going to the next stop.
It’s at the Shakadang Trail that you start to see why this park is so famous. The bus stop is on a bridge on the other side of a tunnel.
From the bridge there are stairs that go down to the walking path that follows a river. At the path level the Shakadang Bridge reveals itself to be more photogenic.
The trail is carved into the side of the cliff that follows the crystal-clear waters of the Shakadang River.
Some sections of the river are so blue and green that it’s hard to believe it’s a natural colour.
I saw plenty of big spiders, but fortunately there were no encounters with poisonous bees and snakes.
The bees and snakes warning somehow reminded me of a Simpsons episode with this quote:
“Oh yeah, what are you gonna do? Release the dogs? Or the bees? Or the dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark they shoot bees at you?”
In this case I thought of snakes with bees in their mouth and when they hiss they shoot bees at you. That is something you would expect in Australia.
Getting back to the trail, there is only one way so you have to backtrack to get to the bus stop. The great thing about this walk is that you pass through rugged mountain scenery but it is almost entirely flat, so there are no arduous mountain climbs. This is the sort of nature walk I can get behind (apart from the poisonous bees).
Keep track of how long you have been walking to make sure you can walk back and get the next bus.
After a walk that would rank as a highlight for any other national park, it’s on to the main attraction of the park – the gorge.
The bus stop to get off at is Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto). At the stop you will see two suspension bridges, but they are reserved for those who have booked a walk on the Zhuilu Old Road. That gives me a good excuse to come back.
A short walk from the bus stop is the Swallow Grotto. The water in river is grey from the marble stone, and the road and walkway is carved inside the mountain with openings to view the river and gorge.
Like the Grand Canyon in the US, I found that no picture can do justice the feeling of seeing this in real life. This gorge is indeed gorgeous, and no one who has seen this gorge will begrudge you of using this pun.
On the other side of the tunnel system is a refreshment area with a cafe and restaurant. The prices here are at tourist prices, so if you can hold out until the next stop there are more food options.
At the end of the bus route is the township of Tianxiang. There are hotels, restaurants and convenience stores here, and walking paths from the town.
The highlight here is the Xiangde Temple, which has a good view of the town and its bridges.
There are a troop of Formosan Macaques in the town as well.
One of the things I didn’t stop at but I saw through the bus window was the Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shrine. The bus only stops here on the way back from the park, so allow for that if you want to see it.
Bonus Stop: Xincheng Beach
If you have time left in your day then make a stop at Xincheng Beach. This is the last stop on the bus between the park and Hualien. The beach is made of large stones, sort of like Brighton Beach and Nice in the south of France. I’m more of a white sandy beach kind of guy, but I was surprised with how smooth the stones were, and how soothing the waves from the Pacific Ocean sounded when filtering through the stones. When you sit on the “sand” you make a little dent as the stones give way to your weight. It’s like a cold stone massage.
There is a walkway along the beach with a market, though that wasn’t open during the day.
Returning to Taipei
At the time of my visit the last bus leaves Tianxiang at 17:55 and arrives at Hualien Railway Station at 19.25. The last train from Hualien to Taipei departs at 22:00 so it’s possible to stay in the park for the entire day and have time for dinner in Hualien.
I booked a ticket in advance just to be sure I had a return seat. It turned out that my ride back to Taipei was on the Hello Kitty Train.
There is no high-speed rail on the east coast of Taiwan, but it’s still pretty fast compared to where I’m from (Australia via Vietnam).
And back at Taipei Main Station after a great day out at Taroko Gorge.
Where to stay for Taroko National Park
If you have more time than a day trip from Taipei then staying near the park will be more relaxing. I stayed in Hualien City, where there are many hotels near the train station. The centre of town is further away from the station (at least not comfortably walkable), so I picked a hotel near the station to save time getting to Taroko.
Another option is to stay at Xiulin Township. This is at the Taroko Arched Gate at the stop before the Taroko Visitor Center. This would be a better option if you plan to spend more than a day exploring the park and don’t care to stay in a city. Accommodation is limited here so book in advance if you plan to stay here. The closest hotels to the entrance is Liwu Hotel Taroko and Hong Ying B&B.
For official park information visit Taroko National Park.