Taroko Gorge

Photo © cahuff1980

Travel Guide Asia Taiwan Taroko Gorge

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Introduction

Taroko Gorge (太魯閣: Tàilǔgé) is an impressive 19-kilometre-long canyon, situated near Taiwan's east coast. The area of the gorge is also identified as Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園; Tàilǔgé gúojiā gōngyuán). When Taroko National Park was established on November 28, 1986, it was of special significance for the environmental protection movement in Taiwan: it showed that both the public and the government agencies had realized despite the nation's four decades of extraordinary economic success, serious damage was being done to its natural resources.

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Geography

The most phenomenal aspect of the park is the amazing relief. In a single afternoon you can travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of subtropical forested canyons to high elevation sub-alpine coniferous forests. In about 60 km the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 3,400 metres. That's steep!

The force behind the steep valleys and narrow canyons is a (geologically speaking) relatively fast rate of uplift combined with ample water. Over the last 70 million years, these two forces collaborated to form the world's deepest marble canyon. The slot canyons here are remarkable with narrows sections 300 metres high and only a dozen metres apart, reminiscent of the Virgin River in Zion National Park in Utah, USA. Ignore the fact that Zion is in the desert, and made of sandstone and Taroko is subtropical and comprised of marble, and these two gorges have a lot in common.

The park has 144 species of birds, 10% of which are indigenous to Taiwan. It also hosts over 30 large species of mammals, including deer, boar, and bear. 251 species of butterflies, 32 species of reptiles and 18 species of fish have been identified, but considering the rugged terrain of the park, this is probably only a fraction of the species that actually live in the park.

The climate is subtropical and generally mild. Rainfall is abundant year round so be prepared and be especially cautious about entering the gorge during typhoons or periods of extended heavy rain due to the danger of landslides and rockfall.

According the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau, average temperatures at low elevations in the park range from 14 °C in January to 27 °C in July. At higher elevation it is much cooler with winter temperatures at 2,000 metres being about 5.5 °C in the winter and 17.5 °C in the summer and at 3,400 metres at the top of Hehuan, temperatures average -3 °C in January and 9 °C in July.

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Sights and Activities

  • Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道). Shakadang Trail is also known as "Mysterious Valley Trail", which is named because more than 40 years ago a group of young folks entered the river valley and found it very secretive. This place has attracted more and more travelers, and thus everyone is used to calling it "Mysterious Valley". However, its name was reverted to "Shakadang Trail" in 2001, according to the name of the river. This trail is built along the river cliff so travelers can easily observe both the folded rocks and ecosystem beside the river shore. 4½ kilometres after passing Sanjianwu (3D Cabin), the trail leads to an old Datong tribe village, which is a favorite of travelers. After the first curve, you can see running water from the cliff to the lake, a sight which has astonished many people. May is the season for You Tong flowers and makes the trail a pleasant floral walkway.
  • The Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠) (Drive from the west exit of the Changchun Shrine Tunnel of Central Cross-Island Highway, then turn south to Liwu River Valley). The Changchun Shrine (Eternal Spring Shrine) recognizes the personnel who died during the construction of Central Cross-Island Highway. Rivers adjacent to the Changchun Shrine become the scattering falls, and the Highway Bureau named it after "Chanchun Falls" which is now the significant landmark on Central Cross-Island Highway. In 1987 the cliffs of the rivers destroyed the pavilion nearby the Changchun Shrine, but it was restored and reopened to the public 10 years later. In the back of the Changchun Shrine, there are stairs leading to Kuanyin Caves, Taroko Tower, the Bell Tower, and through a hanging bridge called "Heaven Trail", to Changuang Temple. The river valley next to the Changuang Temple has a calabash shape, and is accordingly named Calabash Valley (Hu-lu Gu).
  • Buluowan (布洛灣).
  • Swallow Grotto. The Swallow Grotto is a short walk along very nice views of the gorge.
  • The Tunnel of Nine Turns. The Tunnel has been closed for some time, though; as of October 2013, this trail was even marked as "closed" on the free maps, so it may be closed longer-term. Check with the Visitor Center for up-to-date information.
  • Xiangde Temple.
  • Cave of Water Curtains (水簾洞). Named for the cave at the end of the trail, where water literally pours down in sheets from the roof. Hiking to this point on the Baiyang Waterfall trail takes one through many very long, completely unlit tunnels - an experience in and of itself. Be sure to take a torch, or you'll be walking in pitch black darkness.

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Cost

Entry to the park is free but if you want to go to some of the wilderness or into areas designated as Eco-protection areas or restricted mountain areas, you will need an entry permit. Be sure to apply for the permits early (at least 1 week before) as some permits are limited by a small number per day. Refer to the official Taroko National Park information website for application procedures.

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Getting There

The nearest major city is Hualien. Flights and trains are available from Taipei and most major cities.

By Train

A journey by train from Taipei to Hualien takes 2 hours by express train (NT$440) and 3 to 4 hours by local trains. The trains are cheap, reliable and comfortable. Station names are announced in English and Chinese so you should have no problem identifying your stop. The closest train station to the park entrance is 1 'Sincheng' (新城). From there, there is the choice of a one way taxi ride from the station to Taroko for about NT$200 or a day tour costing about NT$2,000.

The Tour Taiwan (台灣好行) Taroko Bus picks up and drops off at both Sincheng (新城) station and Hualien station.

By Car

A taxi from the Hualien train station to Tiansiang (town in Taroko National Park, where the Grand Formosa hotel is located) costs about NT$1200 and takes about 1 hour.

By Bus

From Hualien, bus departs from the train station at 6:30am (to Luoshao), 8:40am (to Lishan), 10:50am (to Tiansiang) and 1:50pm (to Tiansiang). After that, no bus is running anymore. All buses stop at Tzuchi Vihara, Sincheng Taroko Station (太魯閣火車站), Taroko Visitor Center (park entrance), Shakadang (砂卡礑) and Buluowan (布落灣). Although the distance is not large, this bus should take at least 2 hours to Tiansiang, due to very frequent stops and reduced speed inside the gorge. Price: about NT$170. No change is given, so be sure to bring the exact amount.

The Taiwan Tourism Office runs a Tour Taiwan (台灣好行) Taroko Bus departing from Hualien TRA station. There is a clearly signposted bus stop to the right as you exit the TRA station (in front of the tourist center), but you're better off getting on at the bus stop to the left of the TRA station, because the bus first stops there and tends to fill up quite quickly. The ticket office is also there. It stops at Qixintan Beach, Xincheng Railway Station, Taroko Archway, Taroko National Park HQ & Visitor Center (太管處), Changchun Shrine, Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto, 燕子口), Jiuqudong (Tunnel of Nine Turns, 九曲洞), Lushui (合流.綠水), Tianxiang (天祥) and then back along the a similar, but not absolutely identical route. The buses leave from Hualien at 07:50, 9:00, 10:20, 11:30, 12:30, 14:00 and 15:00 daily - it's about 40 minutes to the Park HQ, the full loop about 2½ hours. Buses from the Park HQ to Hualien leave at 10:10, 11:10, 12:30, 13:30, 15:00, 16:00 and 17:30.

One-way tickets from Hualien to the Visitor Center are NT$92 and can be bought from the counter. Tickets for taking the same bus within the gorge, or for returning, can be bought directly from the driver (exact change is recommended). You can also buy a day or two-day pass from the ticket counter in Hualien which can be very good deals.

Make sure you are standing on the right side of the road and hail at the bus if you wish to get on.

The Visitor Center offers free maps of the area. They can also provide you with up-to-date information on which trails are closed, as the weather and earthquakes may make them unsafe.

By Scooter

You can rent a scooter near the train station in Hualien. It takes around 30min to reach Taroko Gorge. However in some cases you may need a local drivers license to do so.

You can also rent a scooter by the Xincheng train station, which is closer to the park. The price quoted in April 2012 was NT$500 per day. An American or European drivers license (and possibly other countries as well) and a passport will suffice at this shop.

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Getting Around

By Bus

There are numerous bus tours visiting the gorge every weekend. And, while the buses are comfortable and air-conditioned, the tours tend to have a tight itinerary (including, of course, the obligatory stop at some local gift shop), leaving little time for extended hiking. Tour buses leave from the Hualien visitor information center and cost about NT$988 per person for a whole day tour.

There is also a non-tourist bus that brings passengers to and from Tiansiang. However, it goes pretty fast around some sharp turns along steep cliffs. If you get car sick easily or are afraid of heights, you might want to pass on this bus.

From Tiansiang, buses depart to inside the gorge at 8:00am to LuoShao (洛韶) and 10:05 to LiShan (梨山). Starting from Tiansiang (169.5 kilometres of highway 8; altitude: 480 metres), the bus to Lishan runs through Wenshan (167 kilometres, 575 metres), Huitouwan (163.4 kilometres, 750 metres), Xibao (161.4 kilometres, 915 metres), Luoshao (洛韶, 154 kilometres, 1,117 metres), Xinbaiyang (143 km, 1644m), Ci'en (132.8 kilometres, 1995metres), Bilü Sacred Tree (128.3 kilometres, 2,150 metres), Guanyuan (117.3 kilometres, 2,374 metres), Dayuling (112.5 kilometres, 2,565 metres), Lishan (1,800 metres). The bus to Lishan arrives there at 1pm, and departs from Lishan to Tiansiang at 3:00pm.

Buses from Tiansiang depart to Hualien at 9:10, 14:00, 16:40 and 18:00. Price: about NT$170. Don't forget to bring enough coins as no change is given.

By Car

Renting a car in Hualien is definitely an option, though be very cautious; the roads through the gorge are extremely narrow with numerous bends. In addition, there are pedestrians, scooters, cars and massive tour buses all vying for the tight space.

By Foot

If you do not have any of the above you can see some parts of the national park by foot. The closest hiking trail to the park entrance is the Shakadang Trail, which departs from the road after the first tunnel approximately 1 km from the park headquarters. The eternal spring shrine is only 1.4 kilometres further trough the tunnels. Taking this tour takes about 4-5h, don't forget to take enough water with you.

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Eat

Restaurants are in short supply in Taroko Gorge, and those at the service centers in Buluowan and Tiansiang are generally bad with inflated prices. The Visitor Center has a restaurant and a (relatively limited, compared to the average convenience store) choice of bottled drinks. The closest real convenience store is a 7-Eleven in Taroko Archway, about 10 minutes walking downhill from the Visitor Center. A packed lunch may serve as the simplest option for a day trip to the Gorge.

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Sleep

In the gorge are several options in Tienhsiang, from the top-end five-star Silks Place Hotel and the Leader Village Hotel (more like motel) to budget hostels. However, most tourists choose to stay in Hualien, where there's a greater range of accommodation albeit with a time trade-off.

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This is version 1. Last edited at 9:26 on Mar 8, 18 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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