Taroko Gorge National Park: the ULTIMATE Guide

Last Updated on January 3, 2020 by travelingwithsunscreen

If you’re in Taiwan, you can’t miss traveling to the Taroko Gorge. It’s a national park in Taiwan, and on the spectacular east coast of the island, where the mountains are right next to the beach. And it really is a gorge – a huge canyon! Not as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US, but I think it rivals it.

Hiking in Taroko Gorge National Park
Hiking in Taroko Gorge

How to get to Taroko Gorge from Taipei

We traveled to Taroko from Taipei, which is what most travelers will likely do, as the park isn’t easy to get to from other cities. The best way to reach the park is by train – there are several “special” express trains from Taipei, and a variety of normal trains. All of the trains to Taroko are TRA (Taiwan Railways Administration) trains, not HSR (high speed rail). This matters when you go to purchase your ticket – TRA has a different website from HSR, and also different ticket counters and machines at Taipei main station!

All the trains cost around $10 USD if purchased in advance and take a little under 3 hours. We booked our tickets 14 days in advance from the TRA website, which is when ticket sales open for normal trains in Taiwan. We would highly recommend booking as early as possible, as the trains to Taroko national park sell out! This is especially true if you’re trying to go on a weekend or a holiday. If you book your tickets online, you’ll get a booking code, which you’ll then use (along with your passport number) to print your tickets from a machine at Taipei main station.

The station closest to Taroko park is Xincheng – you can catch a public bus into the park from the station. Alternatively, there is the larger city of Hualien about 15km south of the entrance to the park. You can also take the train to Hualien station, and get a bus to the park from there. But unless you’re planning to stay in Hualien, we wouldn’t recommend this option, as it’s further from the park. Either way, when you go to book your ticket, you’ll want to search along the Hualien train line, where you’ll find both the Xincheng and Hualien stations.

NOTE: There is an HSR train from Taipei to Hualien, but it doesn’t stop at Xincheng. If you’re going straight to Hualien, that might be a good option. But the TRA train is only about 2 hours and 50 minutes, so we probably wouldn’t pay extra for the fast train.

How to get around the park

There are two main options: take the shuttle bus or rent a motorbike or car. We took the bus, but if we returned to the park we’d probably rent motorbikes to give ourselves more flexibility.

First, the bus: there are two companies that run buses along the one road that crosses the park. The bus numbers are 302 and 1133A. Both buses go from Xincheng station to town of Tianxiang in the park, and the 1133A bus also stops at Hualien. There are day passes available for both buses, but since they are run by different companies, a day pass is only valid for one bus. That’s annoying given that they both run about once an hour! A much better solution is to load your EasyCard up at a 7-11 or metro station before you get to the park and just pay for each bus ride separately (they are 10-30 NTD, less than $1 USD). There’s also a 7-11 in Tianxiang (inside the park) if you need to buy supplies.

The main problem with the bus is it doesn’t run very frequently. So if you try to take the bus to multiple stops in a day, you may find yourself spending a lot of time standing at bus stops on the side of the road. Also, the buses only run from around 7am-6pm, which makes it hard to do an early or late hike. For us, this was annoying because July in Taiwan is HOT! Like 35-37°C every day with a heat index of 40-45°C. Hiking in that heat is impossible! So we would have liked to get up super early and hike before/during sunrise, but that wasn’t possible since we had to take the bus.

Once we were in the park, we saw other people with motorbikes and realized that we should have rented them too. There are motorbike rental shops all over Hualien, and a few in Xincheng too. If we go back to Taroko someday, we’ll probably rent motorbikes in Xincheng. From there, it’s a 30 minute ride (on a good road with not too much traffic) to any of the hiking trails in the park.

Where to say in Taroko Gorge

Most hostels and hotels are either in Xincheng or in Hualien. Either of these would be fine places to stay (although we’d recommend Hualien as it has much more going on than Xincheng), but we think the much better option is to stay in the park itself. If you want to do that, there are only a couple of options – a fancy hotel, a poorly rated BNB, or the Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center, which is where we stayed.

Our beautiful view of the mountains from the Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center
Our beautiful view of the mountains from the Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center

It’s very pricey for us — about $90/night, booked through Agoda. But for that we got a beautiful room with a view of the mountains, and a tasty free breakfast. And since the alternative is staying outside of the park, probably in Hualien, it was worth it for us for one night. If you’ve only got a limited time at Taroko, we’d highly recommend staying here. To get to the hotel you just take either bus 302 or 1133A to the last stop, Tienhsiang, and the hotel is a 5 minute walk from the bus stop (near the 7-11).

What to do at Taroko?

Hiking is the thing to do in the park. The hikes vary in length and difficulty, with most of the main sights being very easy walks of 2km or less. But there are also longer (5-10km) trails in the mountains that you can hike as well. We first took the Baiyang Waterfall Trail which ends in a cave with cascading waterfalls (they call it a water curtain) from the ceiling – definitely don’t miss this, it’s really unusual and very cool. You can even walk to this trail from Tienhsiang.

Great views from the Baiyang Trail… bring a water proof backpack!

We also hiked the Lushui Trail, but part of it was closed due to a rockfall. But, we found another, unadvertised 5.5km hiking trail that branches off from the Lushui trail that was great! It takes a few hours, so we’d highly recommend starting off around sunrise to avoid the heat. The benefit of both of these trails is that you can walk to them from Tienhsiang. This is a huge plus, as waiting for the bus will take up a ton of your day. Another reason to rent motorbikes!

There are SO MANY of these signs, we’re amazed that we survived.

The most popular hike seems to be the Nine Turns trail – unfortunately we weren’t able to do it as we ran out of time! There’s also the Sun Moon Lake, the Eternal Spring Shrine, the Shakadang Trail…. and more. Gotta save some for the next trip, I suppose!

How long to stay?

We heard of some people trying to do Taroko as a day trip from Taipei – from our experience, this sounds like a terrible idea. It’ll take you about 5 hours to get to the park (train + bus), and 5 hours back. That’ll leave you with only a few hours to hike, and those will be during the middle of the day when it’s super hot! Sounds bad. We stayed one night in the park, and this seemed to be an ideal Taroko Gorge itinerary. Although if you want to do more hiking or camp, there is plenty to do for a couple of days.

On our way back to Taipei, we stopped in Hualien for dinner – we ate at the very tasty Amigo Pizza, which is about a 30 minute walk from the train station. Highly recommended for great pizza in an unexpected location!

So, is Taroko Gorge worth it? YES! It was one of the highlights of our time in Taiwan – don’t miss it!

Any hikes we missed? Let us know!

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