It’s no secret that Veeran and I are partial to a wee hike every now and then. It’s been one of our favourite hobbies here in Korea and we have big plans to do lots of it on our future travels. When we started planning our big trip to Taiwan, there was one place that really stood out to us and that was Taroko Gorge National Park. Just take a look at it for yourself and you’ll understand. If that isn’t #mountainporn, then I don’t want to know what is!
We did our hike independently and, if I’m being honest, there are a few things that we would do differently on our next trip. Yup, while we spent a lot of time ogling our photos on IG, we overlooked the more important side of trip planning.. So, to help future travellers make the most of their trip, I’ve put together this handy guide filled with all the information that I wish I had managed to find before we went. Enjoy!
The Most Important Thing to Consider before your Trip to Taroko Gorge
If there is one thing that I wish we had known before we went, it’s the sheer enormity of the national park. We (stupidly) went expecting to be able to turn up and just hike and didn’t really realise that it didn’t exactly work that way. The hiking trails in the park are spread out so it’s best to choose a few that you think look good before you go. When you get there you can use the public bus service to get between them. (More on that later.)
We shunned the public bus thinking that was cheating but ended up just cheating ourselves. If you want to see the most beautiful parts of the park, take the bus and get off at the spots you want to see. Don’t try and hike on the highway between each spot, it’ll take you forever.
There are a few areas worth staying in around the gorge, and each place has its own benefits. Here’s a breakdown.
Hualien is the closest “city” to Taroko Gorge. This is where most trains from Taipei will take you to. (Some can take you closer to the park, but they’re not as frequent and sell out quickly in the high season.) It’s most likely that you’ll start your trip to Taroko in this area and there is a fair amount of decent budget accommodation here. This area also has a wider selection of restaurants than other areas.
The only negative? You’re an hour away from the entrance to the national park. However, the public bus that can take you right through the park starts here. If you purchase an all day ticket for 200 NTD then you don’t need to worry about any additional travel costs that you might incur. You just need to worry about that extra hour of travel time.
Check these budget accommodation choices near Hualien station:
Xincheng is half way between Hualien and Taroko Gorge and is the area that we decided to stay in. This area is close to the beach which is a beautiful place to visit if you want to have an extra day relaxing near the ocean. The beach is stunning with crystal blue water and mountains in the distance. To get to Taroko Gorge, you can take a bus that stops near the beach and, as above, you can get an all day ticket and not worry about travel costs. There is also a dedicated train station in the area where there are some trains that you can take to Taipei and beyond.
The downside? Well, you’re kind of in the middle. You’re not really in Taroko Gorge and not really in a particularly convenient city. In saying that, there is a fair selection of restaurants, convenience stores and (of course) bubble tea shops so you don’t need to worry about going hungry. Commuting between Hualien and Xincheng, then Xincheng and Taroko Gorge is a bit of a pain, though. We ended up spending unexpected money on taxis.
Accommodation is a little bit more expensive here but these are a couple of good picks!
If I could do it all again, this is the area that I would stay in. Tiancheng is at the back entrance of the park and is truly in the heart of the gorge. If you want to wake up surrounded by mountains with everything on your doorstep, this is the place to stay. I didn’t actually consider this as an option when we were planning our trip and wish I had known of it sooner.
The main reason why we didn’t even consider staying here is, ironically, that we thought it looked really out of the way. And it is out of the way of train stations. To get here, you’ll need to take a bus from Hualien station (over an hour) but when you’re here, you’re here. This area is even served by (a less frequent) train so you can explore the gorge without even having to go via Hualien.
Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center is, undoubtedly, the best pick in the area!
I’m throwing this in just to make you aware that this is a very plausible option. A lot of people explore Taroko Gorge as a day trip from Taipei and, although it would be a bit rushed, it’s definitely doable. The train takes around 3 hours so you could leave the city at 6am then leave Taroko around 6pm and get back to Taipei by 9pm. You’d definitely be tired, but it’s worth considering if you only have a short amount of time in Taiwan and don’t want to move around hotels too much.
My accommodation choice would be Eight Elephants and Dreaming Dragon’s Hostel!
Getting Around Taroko Gorge
As I mentioned, Taroko Gorge National Park is a huge place and, although you might think you can explore it all on foot, you’ll be spending a lot of time walking on the motorway. There are a few ways you can get from place to place.
Taking the bus around Taroko Gorge is definitely the most budget-friendly option. The bus frequencies are every hour so you’ll have a bit of time to explore each area before moving on to the next place. You can buy an all day ticket for 200 NTD.
Car hire is the most comfortable and most flexible way to get around the park. Although it’s expensive, it could be worth considering if you’re travelling in a group of 4.
Like hiring a car, hiring a taxi for the day is another option to consider if you don’t want to worry about bus schedules. This is fairly expensive but ok when shared among a group.
If we ever come back to Taroko Gorge, we’dprobably hire some bikes. The main motorway area doesn’t have too much ascent so it’s definitely doable. Much quicker than walking, much more budget friendly and a bit more active and exciting than taking the bus.
We saw a few people on scooters and wished we had thought of it. All the same benefits of a bicycle, but a fair bit quicker. This option is much better value for money for solo travellers or couples who want the flexibility of having a car but don’t want to spend too much.
Drivers in Taiwan seem pretty considerate of their two-wheeled friends so don’t worry too much. Although you should always travel with insurance, this should be even more of a priority if you plan on hiring a scooter on your holiday. I recommend World Nomads.
Unless you have a load of time or just want to check out a few trails in the same area, I wouldn’t really recommend walking through the park. You’ll save so much time and see so much more beauty if you take one of the other options.
How to Get to Taroko Gorge
There are 3 train stations that serve Taroko Gorge National Park and I’ll explain a bit about each one.
This station has the largest frequency of trains from around the country and it’s most likely that you’ll come here. Taroko Gorge’s main entrance is about an hour away by bus.
Close to the main entrance of Taroko Gorge. If you come here, it’ll take 10 minutes by bus to get to the national park. Trains to this station are much less frequent than trains to Hualien and can sell out quickly. Book ahead! Taiwan’s railway website is easy to use. I had no problem booking a train with my international card.
Tianxiang Station has a similar frequency of trains to Xincheng so, again, book ahead. I recommend this station if you want to stay in this area. Also, it might a good idea to take the train into either Xincheng or Tiancheng and take your return journey from the other station. Tiancheng Station is at the back of the park and Xincheng is at the front so this will save you a return bus journey to get to the train station at the end of your trip!
Food and Drink
It’s possible to buy food or drink in the park. At the Taroko Gorge visitor centre, there is a restaurant selling (very over-priced) lunch sets and drinks. Good for a last resort.
The tianxiang area has a few different restaurants and food is reasonably priced. There is also a 7/11 here where you can pick up snacks for your trip.
Halfway through the national park there is an area called Bulliwon. Again, this area has a 7/11 but I’m not sure about the exact dining options as we didn’t make it there. (If anyone has been, leave me a comment and let me know so I can keep you guys updated!)
How Many Days should you Dedicate to Taroko Gorge?
We had 2 full days in the area. One day we spent relaxing around our hotel and one day was spent in the park itself. We took the train back to Taipei at the end of the night. This was a nice amount of time but we never managed to see everything that we wanted to because we spent so much time walking along the motorway (like a couple of idiots….)
If you want to do a few different trails in the park, you could easily spend 3 days there. If you just want to do 1, a half day would be fine, but a bit rushed. It all depends on how much of the park you want to see and how much time you have. If we ever come back (which we probably will), we’ve both agreed that we’d like to spend 2 full days in the park and really take our time hiking some of the longer trails.
Tips for your Taroko Gorge Trip
- Book your train ahead if you want to take a train to Xincheng or Tiancheng station.
- Although you will see people in jeans, flip-flops and heeled boots, I’d recommend wearing proper hiking gear. At the very least, bring a rain jacket as the area is prone to heavy rains. Wear appropriate footwear as the paths can get slippy and some of the rocks are shaky underfoot.
- Choose your transportation wisely. Only commit to walking or cycling the full length of the park if you truly have the time. Otherwise, take a bus, taxi or hire a car or scooter depending on your budget.
- Pack plenty of snacks and water as there can be large distances between refreshment stops.
- Decide which area appeals most to you- do you want to stay in the heart of the park? Then, head for Tianxiang. Want to stay in the city with good dining options but have access to the park each day? Then head for Hualien. Want to be near the beach with access to some dining options? Go to Xincheng. Just keen for a day trip? Although you’ll be exhausted by the end of the day, it’s perfectly possible to stay in Taipei.
I hope this post will help you prepare for your trip to Taroko Gorge. If you do decide to go, please leave me a comment and let me know all about it. I really want to visit again but, for now, I’ll have to live vicariously through you guys!
Planning a trip to Taiwan? Don’t miss our 1-week itinerary!
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