The current Taroko National Park was established in 1986.
The National Park stretches over 90,000 hectares - about 230,000 acres. So it is quite large for a small island as Taiwan, being as big as Mt. Rainier (US) or Dartmoor (UK) National Parks.
The National Park covers a much larger area than Taroko Gorge. In fact, it extends from the Pacific Ocean (Chinghsuei Cliffs) to over 3700 meters of altitude at Mount Nanhu.
Most of Taroko National Park area is remote and difficult to access. Actually two of the most challenging peaks in Taiwan are here: Nanhushan and "the Black" Cilai. To climb them, beside having proper equipment and experience, you must obtain a mountain permit.
The hikes I describe below are of a different kind. These are classic and very easy hikes, suitable for everybody. The trails are very well maintained. For these reasons these trails can be quite crowded on weekends.
Anyway the vast majority of Taiwanese tourists are much more interested in enjoying food than in outdoor activities - even more than the Italians, which is saying something :))
So, even on weekends, you will meet much less people on the easy trails than in the parking lots, having picnics.
The trail is close to the eastern entrance of Taroko National Park.
It is an easy trail but really worthy to be explored! It runs along the Shakadang creek valley, a tributary of the Liwu River. Some of the older Taiwan travel guides still refer to it as the "Mysterious Valley".
You can easily reach Shakadang Trail start in about 15 minutes walk from Taroko National Park Visitors Center. Just walk the road to the west through a tunnel. Don't worry! The tunnel has a safe pedestrian walkway.
Right after the end of the tunnel - and before a bridge - follow the metal stairs leading to the river. Here starts the trail that for its entire length runs along the left side of the valley.
If you have your own car or scooter, you can find a parking just after the bridge, on the left.
View at Shakadang (Mysterious Valley)
The first part of the trail is especially beautiful. Here the footpath runs high over the river, cast among the rocks. The river has an amazing and alluring turquoise color.
The unusual tint is given by minerals soluted in the water.
On summer hot days Taiwanese come here to bathe in the river.
Taroko National Park forbid to swim in the river (I wonder why, there are not many places in Taiwan where people can enjoy a good fresh water swimming) anyway they don't normally enforce - so you can swim too.
Clear, sweet fresh water of Shakadang
About halfway you will see an unusual vegetable garden managed by Truku aboriginals. They grow ferns to sell on the market.
The english name of these ferns is Bird's Nests. They are very good, especially stir fried. These ferns are widely eaten in Taiwan.
Bird's Nest - edible ferns grow by aboriginal people in Shakadang.
The hike ends at Sanjianwu (3D-Cabin) (4.4 kilometers in total). You need a permit from Taroko National Park to continue beyond - there are villages still inhabited by Truku people that do not wish to be disturbed. You come back along the same route.
Most of the trail is shaded, and as I said, it's really easy and well maintained. Anyway make sure you have water with you, especially on a hot summer day. There are not coffee shops along the way!
Time required: 3-4 hours roundtrip.
Landscapes in Shakadang (Mysterious Valley)
This footpath is a restored section of the historic trail that ran through Taroko Gorge before the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway.
The trail, only 2 km long, is usually in excellent conditions, easy and flat.
Just a short section near Lyushui is exposed, but made safer by a railing (see photo below).
Lyushuei- Heliou Trail
The trail starts from Lushui (Lyushuei), a few kilometers east of Tiansiang (see Taroko map). Lushui is just a name on the map. Below the road there is a small Taroko National Park Visitor Center and a cafeteria. A few meters above the road you will see a small geological museum (not very interesting - only chinese displays).
The path starts at the side of small geological museum.
As I said, the trail is not long but there is a little bit of everything ... a forest of fragrant camphor trees, a small suspension bridge, a short dark tunnel ...
If you are interested in creepy crawlies, in the right season (summer and early fall), you will also see lots of giant spiders that weave their web on the sides and above the trail :))
The tunnel is only about 20-30 meters long but there is a curve, so, especially when the sun is low, the middle part of the tunnel is totally dark - bring a torch!
Tunnel on Lyushui Trail - Taroko
Shortly before reaching Heliou, you will notice a small Shinto shrine carved into a boulder.
This shrine had been done by the Japanese before World War II to honor the police officers killed in the crackdown against the Truku Aborigines.
Trees have grown around the shrine, making the place fascinating and slightly disturbing at the same time.
After passed the shrine, the trail joins a dirt road that goes down. In a few minutes walk you will reach Heliou (an other name on the map) on the main road.
You can return to Lushui along the main road or going back on the same trail.
Time required: 1-1.5 hours roundtrip
Map of Lyushuei - Heliou Trail
We have been here in the summer of 2008, in what is certainly one of the most beautiful hikes in Taroko National Park.
In 2010 unfortunately the Water Curtain Tunnel has been closed by the National Park for safety reasons.
Contrary to what some Taiwan travel guides report the tunnels are not lit - I guess not to disturb a few bats that live in the longer tunnels - so you must bring a torch.
More, the Water Curtain Tunnel is accessible (at least it was in 2008) so if you want to go inside that tunnel, you may want to bring an umbrella or a raincoat.
From Tiansiang follow the main road uphill for about 700-800 meters.
On the left side of the road you will see a tunnel (see photo above). Continue into the tunnel (380 meters long) then along the dirt road that follows Liwu River valley for a couple of kilometers, with some other shorter tunnels in between.
A huge reservoir was planned here 30 years ago or so. Fortunately the project was cancelled when Taroko National park was established.
As you can see these photos, Bayang Trail is really a wonderful trail! At least when few people is around this hike gives a strong feeling of being isolated in a remote mysterious valley.
After the suspension bridge and the sight of the waterfall, you should be able to continue to the Water Curtain Tunnel (photo of the entrance).
Years ago an erthquake opened massive streams of water inside that tunnel.
If it is still open to the public, you can walk the Water Curtain Tunnel barefoot in the stream. Or you can walk with your shoes on the walkway to the right that, amazingly, is not slippery at all.
The gallery ends into a small ravine: here also the trail ends. You will returns along the same road.
Time required: 1.5-2 hours roundtrip
Hehuanshan, in the western part of Taroko National Park, offers a totally different environment.
The area is at 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of altitude or more, often above the tree line.
The air is thin, better walk carefully if you just arrived from the plains. Even better bring sunscreen: we are in the tropics!
Hehuanshan area is easily reached from the west with National Road 14. The road climbs from Puli and Chingjing Farm way to Wuling Pass at 3275 meters above sea level - the highest road across Taiwan!
National Road 14 then connects to the Central Cross-Island Highway (n. 8) in Dayuling.
Here often it snows in winter. When this happens entire families drive up to Hehuanshan to see the snow for the first time in their lives ...
Hehuan West Peak - View from the Summit
Therefore Hehuanshan area offers alpine landscapes and cool temperatures ... but those that look like high-altitude grasslands - as in Europe - are infact dense stands of dwarf bamboo, that is called Yushania.
As usual, things are quite different in the Far East :))
Dwarf Bamboo (Yushania) covers vast expanses on Taiwan high mountains.
For sure this peak is the easiest "3000" across all Taiwan!
The main peak of Mount Hehuan is the hill that you see on the left just before Wuling Pass, coming from Chingjing Farm.
A dirt road that detaches on the left will bring you at the summit in about 40 minutes-1 hour. And then the world (or at least the Far East) will be at your feet ...
Time required: 1.5-2 hours roundtrip
Hehuan East Peak is instead the mountain you see on the right, east of Wuling Pass.
It is a little bit more challenging, because the trail is longer and steeper.
The trail starts from Hehuan Villa that, at about 3150 m of altitude, is one of the two inns available in Hehuanshan area.
Time required: 2-2.5 hours roundtrip
Hehuan East Peak - the trail climb along the northern slope, on the left of the photo. In the background the Cilai Ridge.
View Hehuanshan in a larger map
In order to have a general idea about the location of the attractions and the roads in the park here you can find a PDF map of the park - it is not suitable for hiking.
You are welcome to print it - it should fit easily on a A4 sheet - and bring with you on your trip around Taroko.
On the National Park website you can find a good online map.
If you need serious hiking maps, 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 scale, you can find them in outdoor shops (not in bookshops). I have one about Taroko published by KMPress/Sunriver in Taiwan (ISBN 957-98006-2-6).