Taroko Gorge is the best place to hike in Taiwan. Its famous for massive marble walls in a giant chasm that is many kilometers long. The mountains around the park reach well over 3000m and provide a stunning backdrop for any outdoor enthusiast. On my first day in Taroko National Park I joined a few other backpackers and drove from Hualien with a goal of reaching the highest peak. A late departure and stop at the visitors center made us realize that would be impossible so we hiked Shakadang Trail instead. In hindsight this was perfect since the trail is stunning and gave us a chance to relax in the cool waters taking all the beautiful landscapes in on foot rather than speeding by them on a scooter.
Getting to Taroko National Park
Take a train or plane to Hualien
You can find MANY hostels in Hualien for ~500NTD/night
Take a guided tour, public bus or rent a scooter for the 45 minute ride to Taroko National Park.
Follow Highway 9 all the way. There are clear signs.
Some people prefer to stay closer to Taroko Natoinal Park. There are much fewer hostels there but you can also camp in the park!
Shakadang Trail is the first stop after the visitors center and very easy to find. The signs are well posted and you can park your scooter or car just past the bridge after the first tunnel. Starting down the trail its easy to see how magnificent Taroko is; crystal clear water flows past gigantic boulders in a rainbow of blues and grays.
The trail itself follows just above the river bank alternating from a well trodden path to walkways carved into the gorge itself. Taiwan preserves its aboriginal heritage throughout the island but especially in Taroko National Park. There are still some tribes living off the land and supplementing their income with tourism. Along the way we stopped at a hut selling delicious local sausages and fruits unlike anything I tasted in the big cities.
Waterfalls are frequent and add a stunning natural beauty to this already amazing landscape. The valley reminded me of Seattle’s Olympic National Park with lush life like in the Hoh Rainforest. I’m told most of the Pacific Northwest is lush from regular rain so it makes sense that Taiwan’s rainiest subtropical forest would resemble that region.
Its easy to imagine a flood coming through after a heavy rainfall and carving this gorge for us to enjoy. Evidence of water’s power lies around every turn with massive boulders and trees lodged among the rapids. I played with some long exposure photography to capture the true sense of Shakadang’s beautiful river.
The further along Shakadang that you go the less the trail looks like a trail. It appear abandoned and decrepit but in fact is simply recovering from typhoons and earthquakes. Continue at your own risk and you’ll see massive sections missing or being held together with massive chains.
Swimming is technically not allowed but we decided to take a dip in the afternoon sun when no one was watching! The water is cool and refreshing but the current quite strong. Be careful and make sure you find a quiet pool. Flash floods and seismic activity are common so be sure to always stay alert on Shakadang Trail!
After our dip we kept hiking a bit finding a gigantic green tunnel high above. Perhaps for trains or other vehicles these types of bridges are a common sight throughout Taroko National Park. The trail grew even more weary and we passed a few hikers coming back who said its more of the same for a few kilometers. Upon hearing this we decided to head back and catch the Eternal Spring Shrine before nightfall.
When we finished Shakadang Trail it was quite easy to find the Eternal Spring Shrine. Coming out of the parking lot you turn back towards the entrance and are faced with a one way road. Less than a kilometer down the road you’ll find another parking lot and can see the shrine in the distance.
Park your scooter and walk along the river to a great red bridge. Follow the steps past a stone Buddha and a pleasing incense will fill your nostrils. The trail to Eternal Spring Shrine is almost entirely a tunnel through the mountain. You get a few glimpses of the river but I advise bringing a flashlight. I used an app for my phone to light my path but was disappointed when they didn’t allow us into the shrine. Turns out the best view is from the parking lot.
If you’ve still got time you can keep driving through the tunnel and take an immediate right up the mountain. There’s another temple who’s name is escaping me and a suspended walkway over the jungle back towards the Eternal Spring Shrine. Explore it and let me know what you find because I ran out of time and wanted to drive back before it was pitch black.
Have you been to Taroko National Park? What was your favorite trail?