Taroko Gorge (太魯閣: Tàilǔgé) ) is an impressive 19-km-long canyon, situated near Taiwan's east coast. The area of the gorge is also identified as Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園; Tàilǔgé gúojiā gōngyuán).
The Taroko Gorge is composed mainly metomorphic rocks, such as marble,gneiss, "schist",etc. The name, Taroko, means the "magnificent and splendid" in the language of Truku, the aboriginal tribe who resides in the area.
When Taroko National Park  was eventually established on November 28, 1986, it was of special significance for the environmental protection movement in Taiwan: it showed that both the public and the government agencies had realized despite the nation's four decades of extraordinary economic success, serious damage was being done to its natural resources. According to the National Park Act of the Republic of China (passed in 1972), parks are established to protect the natural scenery, historic relics and wildlife; to conserve natural resources; and to facilitate scientific research and promote environmental education.
The most phenomenal aspect of the park is the amazing relief. In a single afternoon you can travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of subtropical forested canyons to high elevation subalpine coniferous forests.
In about 60 kilometers the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 3400 meters. That's steep!
The force behind the steep valleys and narrow canyons is a (geologically speaking) relatively fast rate of uplift combined with ample water. Over the last 70 million years, these two forces collaborated to form the world's deepest marble canyon. The slot canyons here are remarkable with narrows sections a thousand feet high and only a dozen yards apart, reminiscent of the Virgin River in Zion National Park in Utah, USA. Ignore the fact that Zion is in the desert, and made of sandstone and Taroko is subtropical and comprised of marble, and these two gorges have a lot in common.
Flora and fauna
The park has 144 species of birds 10 percent of which are indigenous to Taiwan. It also hosts over 30 large species of mammal including deer, boar, and bear. 251 species of butterflies, 32 species of reptile and 18 species of fish are also known but considering the rugged terrain of the park, this is probably only a fraction of the species that actually live in the park.
The climate is subtropical and generally mild. Rainfall is abundant year round so be prepared and be especially cautious about entering the gorge during typhoons or periods of extended heavy rain due to the danger of landslides and rockfall.
According the the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau, average temperatures at low elevations in the park range from 14 degrees Celsius in January to 27 degrees Celsius in July. At higher elevation it is much cooler with winter temperatures at 2000 meters being about 5.5 degrees C in the winter and 17.5 degrees in the summer and at 3400 meters at the top of Hehuan, temperatures average -3 in January and 9 in July.
The nearest major city is Hualien. Flights and trains are available from Taipei and most major cities.
From Hualien, public buses depart from the train station at 6.30am (to Luoshao), 8.40am (to Lishan), 10.50am (to Tiansiang) and 1.50pm (to Tiansiang). After that, no bus is running anymore. All buses stop at Tzuchi Vihara, Sincheng Taroko Station (太魯閣火車站), Taroko Visitor Center (park entrance), Shakadang (砂卡礑) and Buluowan (布落灣）. Although the distance is not large, this bus should take at least 2 hours to Tiansiang, due to very frequent stops and reduced speed inside the gorge. Price: about 170NTD. No change is given, so be sure to bring the exact amount.
In 2010, the Taiwan Tourism Office began running a Tour Taiwan (台灣好行) Taroko Bus departing from Hualien train station, stopping Qixintan beach, Sincheng station, Taroko Archway, Taroko Tourist Information Centre (太管處), Shakadang Trail (砂卡礑), Buluowan (布洛灣), Swallows Grotto (燕子口), Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞), Lushui (合流.綠水) and finishing at Tiansiang (天祥). The service was free until the end of 2010, then discontinued in 2011 and resumed in 2012 but as a paid service. On weekdays, there are 7 buses per day, departing from 7.50am from Hualien with last bus leaving Hualien at 3:00pm. From Tiansiang to Hualien, buses begin at 9:40am with the last bus leaving Tiansiang at 7.00pm. The buses run hourly (Hualien Paid Shuttle Bus). Additional services run on weekends. The Tour Taiwan bus stops are red in colour with the 'Tour Taiwan' logo. They are placed in prominent locations at the pick up/drop off locations. Make sure you are standing on the right side of the road and hail at the bus if you wish to get on. 1-day unlimited pass is NT$250, 2-day unlimited pass is NT$400, which can only be purchased in Hualien and not on the bus, single fares can be paid for only with the exact change. As of October 15, 2012, Shakadang Trail and Tunnel of Nine Turns have been closed due to typhoon damage; it is a good idea to ask the information center about a good tour path.
A journey by train from Taipei to Hualien takes 2 hours by express train (440NTD) and 3 to 4 hours by local trains. The trains are cheap, reliable and comfortable. Station names are announced in English and Chinese so you should have no problem identifying your stop. The closest train station to the park entrance is Sincheng (新城). From there, there is the choice of a one way taxi ride from the station to Taroko for about NT$200 or a day tour costing about NT$2,000.
The Tour Taiwan (台灣好行) Taroko Bus picks up and drops off at both Singcheng (新城) station and Hualien station.
A taxi from the Hualien train station to Tiansiang (town in Taroko National Park, where the Grand Formosa hotel is located) costs about NT$1200 and takes about 1 hour.
You can rent a scooter near the train station in Hualien. It takes around 30min to reach Taroko Gorge. However in some cases you may need a local drivers license to do so. You can also rent a scooter by the Xincheng train station, which is closer to the park. The price quoted in April 2012 was NT$500 per day. An American or European drivers license (and possibly other countries as well) and a passport will suffice at this shop.
Entry to the park is free but if you want to go to some of the wilderness or into areas designated as Eco-protection areas or restricted mountain areas, you will need an entry permit. Be sure to apply for the permits early (at least 1 week before) as some permits are limited by a small number per day. Refer to the official Taroko National Park information website for application procedures: http://www.taroko.gov.tw/English/
There are numerous bus tours visiting the gorge every weekend. And, while the buses are comfortable and air-conditioned, the tours tend to have a tight itinerary (including, of course, the obligatory stop at some local gift shop), leaving little time for extended hiking. Tour buses leave from the Hualien visitor information center and cost about NT$988 per person for a whole day tour..
There is also an excellent shuttle bus which you can take from Hualien train station or several other stops right before the entrance to the Taroko National Park (Taroko Route). This bus runs all the way to Tiansiang and you can get off and on at about 10 stops. It runs approximately every hour from about 8:00 to 17:00 [though not on the hour]. There are a few extra services at weekends. The current timetable should be picked up at the Taroko Visitor's Centre, where you should also enquire which parts of the gorge might be closed due to recent rockfalls. The bus gets fairly crowded at the end of the day when everyone wants to leave. It costs NT$250 for a 1-day unlimited use pass or NT$400 for a 2-day pass (which can only be purchased in Hualien and not on the bus), single fares between stops are cheap but you need the exact change.
There is also a non-tourist bus that brings passengers to and from Tiansiang. However, it goes pretty fast around some sharp turns along steep cliffs. If you get car sick easily or are afraid of heights, you might want to pass on this bus. From Tiansiang, buses depart to inside the gorge at 8am to LuoShao (洛韶) and 10.05 to LiShan (梨山). Starting from Tiansiang (169.5km of highway 8; altitude: 480m), the bus to Lishan runs through Wenshan (167km, 575m), Huitouwan (163.4km, 750m), Xibao (161.4km, 915m), Luoshao (洛韶, 154km, 1117m), Xinbaiyang (143km, 1644m), Ci'en (132.8km, 1995m), Bilü Sacred Tree (128.3km, 2150m), Guanyuan (117.3km, 2374m), Dayuling (112.5km, 2565m), Lishan (1800m). The bus to Lishan arrives there at 1pm, and departs from Lishan to Tiansiang at 3pm. Buses from Tiansiang depart to Hualien at 9.10, 14.00, 16.40 and 18.00. Price: about 170NTD. Don't forget to bring enough coins as no change is given
Renting a car in Hualien is definitely an option, though be very cautious; the roads through the gorge are extremely narrow with numerous bends. In addition, there are pedestrians, scooters, cars and massive tour buses all vying for the tight space.
The Gorge is not the best place for a first scooter experience. However, it's a fantastic place to ride for those with experience. Scooters are available to rent in Hualien. If you run low on fuel, the locals often stock a small supply that they'll part with for a miraculously uninflated price. There is also a gas station 50km passed Taroko on the number 8 road (around kilometer 118). The drive there climbs to an impressive 3 km altitude. Bring warmer clothes and rain gear. Also make sure to get a helmet with a rain visor. You can rent a scooter from Pony near the train station in Hualien (around NT$400/day)
For the truly adventurous, cycling is a wonderful way to traverse the park.You can rent a bike just in front of the entrance of the Taroko national park. It costs NT$250 for a day.
If you do not have any of the above you can see some parts of the national park by foot. The closest hiking trail to the park entrance is the Shakadang Trail, which departs from the road after the first tunnel approximately 1 km from the park headquarters. The eternal spring shrine is only 1.4 km further trough the tunnels. Taking this tour takes about 4-5h, don't forget to take enough water with you.
Although Taiwan is not a hitchhiking paradise, it is pretty easy to hitchhike in the Taroko gorge and, more generally, on Highway 8, especially if you are a foreigner.
Drive from the west exit of the Changchun Shrine Tunnel of Central Cross-Island Highway, then turn south to Liwu River Valley, you can see the Changchun Shine (Eternal Spring Shrine) which recognizes the personnel died during the construction of Central Cross-Island Highway. Rivers adjacent to the Changchun Shine become the scattering falls, and the Highway Bureau named it after "Chanchun Falls" which is now the significant landmark on Central Cross-Island Highway.
In 1987 the cliffs of the rivers tumbled and destroyed the pavilion nearby the Changchun Shine. After 10 years it has been restored and now open to the public agagin. In the back of the Changchun Shine , there are stairs leading to Kuanyin Caves, Taroko Tower , Bell Tower , and through a hanging bridge, so called "Heaven trail" to Changuang Temple. The river valley next to the Changuang Temple has a calabash shape, and it is named thereafter as Calabash Valley (Hu-lu Gu).
Note: If you decide to take the Taroko Shuttle Bus, the Eternal Spring Shrine stop is only on the way back (Tianshiang -> Hualien Train Station), so you can make it one of your latter stops during the day. As of October 2013, the path beyond the Shrine (which is directly visible opposite the bus stop) is closed, so you can't climb further, and a round trip should only take 10-15 minutes. However, the view is worth a pause. The path to the Shrine is usually wet and can be slippery, so exercise moderate caution.
The Swallow Grotto provides a great view of the river deep below, which has carved out a narrow gorge. On the cliff opposite the Grotto Path, you can see a number of holes in the rock which house the eponymous swallows. This path takes about 20-30 minutes going one way; you will eventually come to the Jinheng Bridge. The path, like many in Taroko Gorge, have rocky overhangs above the head which are always dripping with water, so a hat or something of the sort would be handy. Swallow Grotto also is a favorite of the tour buses, so expect to see many groups here, many of them wearing the hard hats that are technically advised for all of Taroko Gorge.
The Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail is currently closed (October 2013) and also marked as such.
The Shakadang Trail, as of October 2013, was only open to the 5D Cabin, and takes about 45 minutes going one way at a moderate pace. It follows the path of the Shakadang River below, which is extraordinarily pristine and wonderful to behold. This path is well worth your time. Note: If you decide to take the Taroko Shuttle Bus, the Shakadang Trail is only accessible when you are on a bus that is entering the park (from Hualien Train Station going to Tianshiang); the bus going back does not make a stop here. If you get off at the Park HQ to get some maps, you can also walk about 0.6 km through the tunnel on a pedestrian walkway to the Shakadang Trail in about 10-15 minutes.
Shakadang Trail is also known as "Mysterious Valley Trail", which is named because more than 40 years ago a group of young folks entered the river valley and found it very secretive. This place has attracted more and more travelers, and thus everyone is used to calling it "Mysterious Valley". It renamed to "Shakadang Trail" in 2001 again according to the name of the river. This trail is built along the river cliff so travelers can easily observe both the folded rocks and ecosystem beside the river shore. After 4.5-km passing Sanjianwu(3D Cabin), the trail leads to old Datong tribe village. After the first curve road, running water from upright river cliff to the lake has astonished many people. In May, it is the season for You Tong flowers and make the trail a pleasant flower hallway.
Swimming and straying off the path are forbidden, since the river is wildly unpredictable and has deep currents.
Tienshiang is the terminal station of the Taroko Shuttle Bus (台湾好行), so many travelers may find it convenient to stop here. On the hillside above, you will see the seven-tiered Tian Feng Pagoda and temple. The hike up will take a moderate 20 minutes, and the pagoda, which contains two spiral stairs, is well worth climbing as well. The view from the top is epic in all directions, from an all-encompassing view of Tienshiang to the clouds that brush the surrounding mountaintops. There is a lovely statue of the Guanyin below the pagoda. Tienshiang is also where the beginning of the Baiyang Waterfall Trail (2.1 km) is located; the entrance is located 900 meters west of Tienshiang.
Taroko national park features a lot of different hiking trails. For most of them solid sneakers are enough, if you want to leave the well prepared paths you need to get permission of the park administration. Don't forget to take enough water with you when hiking. Also, ask the information centre about the weather. At certain times of the year there is predictable heavy rainfall about the same time everyday and you want to make sure you aren't hiking at those times. Often rains start around 3pm, in which case you need to get an early start to do a couple of hikes in a day.
River Tracing is available from the community centre in the nearby town of Sanjahn. There is a community centre from which you can rent all relevant gear for about 500NTD. However, if you want to rappel down waterfalls or do anything complicated, it is recommended that you contact a tour agency as the community centre of Sanjahn does not arrange tours.
Annual Taroko International Marathon
Every Year in early November the Taipei Road Running Association and Taroko National Park closes the winding road through the gorge and host a marathon, half marathon, and 5 kilometer fun run. The event is open to the public and anyone can participate by contacting the CTRRA through their website. If you plan on attending this event or just visiting the gorge during the marathon weekend, make sure you make your hotel and transportation reservations early and keep in mind that the road through the gorge will be closed for a good portion of the race day.
Various local aboriginal handcrafts are for sale in the gorge as well as some local liquor. On the road from Hualien to the park entrance are lots of roadside stands selling whatever fruit is in season.
Although western tourists are few and far between, this area is still rather a tourist trap. In spite of this, restaurants are in short supply.
Leader Village  (near Bruwan) has a restaurant with aboriginal food that is fantastic. However, you may need to make reservations beforehand.
The large restaurant at the Bruwan service center is horrible and should be avoided. There are smaller shops with better food along the main road.
There is the occasional souvenir shop and snack bar along the way, with slightly inflated prices.
There are also a couple of options in the Grand Formosa Hotel in Tiansiang. The café there is reasonable for a snack and an air-conditioned break from the heat if you are so inclined, but prices are high. The restaurant proper is quite fancy and expensive.
Just across the parking lot from the Hotel are some several reasonably cheap food stalls, and one very small grocery store. A few small restaurants are available here that serve a variety of Chinese dishes. Some of the food is on display so even if you can't speak or read any Chinese, you should be able to fill your tummy with something you can palate. The phrase "Wo yao mai zhe ge" (I want to buy that.) will serve you well. Opening time: 8.30am to 7pm (life in Tiansiang stops after sunset).
In the gorge are several options in Tienhsian, from the top-end five-star Grand Formosa Hotel and the Leader Village Hotel (more like motel) to budget hostels. However, most tourists nominate to stay in Hualien, where there is an abundance of all kinds of accommodation.
Lyushui Heliu Campground - there is a camping area charged for NT$200 per tent about 17 kilometers into the gorge on the left side of the road. There are about 10 parking spaces ,a cold water shower and restroom ,and drinking water are available there. Reservations are not accepted. The campground is a semi developed terrace with access and good views of the river. It is very close to the road but since there is hardly any traffic at night, that should not be a problem.
Backcountry travel in the park is technical and requires a permit.