The first place I was researching in Taiwan before even buying my plane ticket to move here was Taroko National Park. I was convinced by the pictures I’d seen that Taiwan had to be the most beautiful place on earth, but even the most professional nature photographer isn’t able to do the park justice. The depth and momentous size of the gorge (19km long) is what gives it an awe inspiring feel, that you can really only experience there, in-person.
From Taitung, we bypassed Hualien and got off at Xinxheng station, where we stayed in a small hostel right outside the main gate within walking distance to the visitor center. We didn’t arrive until Monday evening so we used our last two hours of remaining daylight to check out the visitor center and surrounding trails.
One full day is not enough time to see all that Taroko has to offer. The park is 92,000 hectares (over 20,000 acres) running from the eastern coastline to the Hehuan mountain range in Nantou county. It includes Hehuan, Nanhu, and Qilai mountains, along with many other smaller ranges. Unfortunately, we only had one day, so we found a way to make the most of it.
It is difficult to get around the park without your own transportation, they do have a public bus system, it is possible, but the bus is inconvenient runs infrequently and only makes stops at the main attractions. Most people drive, or take a tour bus, rent scooters, or hire a taxi for the day (you can book a spot on a tour bus at the visitor center for around 1,000NT for the day). We rented bicycles. Extreme cyclists, and we saw a few, will ride up the gorge, or through the cross mountain highway, I love biking but I’m not insane, we rented bikes from a company that drove us to the furthest western trail so that we could bike our way back down the gorge.
We began in the mid-western part of the park on the one tourist trail I had yet to do. The Wushan hot spring is “legally” off limits, but for years I have known people to go there and even the owner of the hostel suggested we go there.
From the road it is a short hike down to the river where cold and hot run side-by-side. After Li-song hot spring (In Taitung county) it was the coolest natural hot spring I’d ever seen. For us though, on a 90 degree day, it was enough just to look and skip getting into the spring.
Not more than five minutes on our bikes gliding down the road (we did very little actual peddling) was the Baiyang waterfall trail. From a tunnel next to the road, emerged a 2km trail. It followed along the river until reaching the Baiyang waterfall, and the famous waterfall curtain.
The waterfall curtain is a short tunnel. The breaks in the rock allow for water to pour in, in several different places so that it makes small flat falls like curtains of water. Many people bring ponchos or rain gear to walk the 50 meters (maybe less). We took off our shoes and enjoyed the refreshing curtain as I guarded my phone with my life in order to take a few dimly lit pictures.
We stopped in Taixiang for lunch (popsicles), a rest in the shade, and to check out the Buddhist temple and pagoda.
Biking along the gorge was fantastic as long as there wasn’t too much traffic, after lunch it had picked up a bit and with the heavy concentration of construction going on in the park there were a few parts that were a tight squeeze on a narrow two lane road with tour buses, cars, scooters and us.
Liushui was the last walking trail that we did for the day, one way was a little more than 1.5km and took us about 30 minutes. On this trail we were able to get a feel for the higher trails that run along the edge of the cliff and a view of the river that was not blue(or green?) as the name suggests, but a greyish steel blue because of the recent rain and marble in the water.
We stopped at a few more viewing points along the way. With the Nine Turns Trail and Swallows Grotto trail closed, we only had the Eternal Shrine and the Shakadang trail remaining. We didn’t have enough daylight to be able to complete the Shakadang trail, so we chose to make the Eternal Shrine our last stop and call it a day.
The Eternal Shrine is probably the most iconic site in the park and the major tourist stop for many visiting Taroko.
We took our pictures and did our best to avoid getting caught up in the first tourist mob we saw that day.
In one day we hit every major open destination, did it in our own time, without a tour, and enjoyed the open air of the gorge in a way that would be impossible in a closed vehicle and it only took about eight hours to do it.
The next morning, because I don’t like to leave things unfinished, especially goodbyes, I got up and ran the Shakadang trail.
From Taroko we caught the bus to the Hualien train station, where we got the train to Taipei and then back to Taichung, rounding out our one week island journey.