If you have added Hiking in Taroko Gorge to your bucket list of places to visit in Taiwan you’re in for a treat!
It’s very likely you may have seen images of the Taroko Gorge already and most of them may be from its most famous hike: the Zhuilu Old Road.
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This breathtaking trail was carved out of the marble rock over a century ago and it’s definitely a stunning short day hike you cannot miss when visiting the Taroko National Park.
I did the Zhuilu Old Road hike as part of my days camping in Taroko, keep reading for everything you need to know about this beautiful trail.
A brief story of the Zhuilu Old Road
Zhuilu Old Road is part of the Japanese Colonial Period Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road. After the battle of Taroko in 1914, a road was cut across the Zhuilu cliffs in order to control the aboriginal villages along the Liwu River.
For the following 20 years the road was extended and later even conditioned to give tourists a better access (this was back in 1934!)
The current Zhuilu Old Road trail goes from the Swallow Grotto to Cimu Bridge and it’s 10.3Km long. However, due to a landslide, the trail has been partially closed for a while now and you can only walk 3.1Km to an old Japanese Outpost.
The Zhuilu Old Trail with its narrow path along the sheer marble cliffs 500m above the Liwu river used to be originally only 30cm wide when it was carved over 100 years ago, now it’s a massive 90cm wide!
How to get there
The common starting point to go to the Taroko National Park is from the city of Hualien. You can go either by renting a scooter or taking a bus.
As I was staying for a few days in Taroko Gorge I went by bus. Once inside the park you have almost hourly internal buses that can take you around.
Before my days Camping in Taroko I stayed at the Cave Hostel in Hualien, which was decently cheap, really modern and with a great breakfast included!
From Hualien Train station, the bus 1133A takes almost an hour to arrive to the park. The departures from the station at the time of writing were at: 7:00, 8:30, 9:10, 10:00, 11:10, 12:00, 13:20, 14:10 and 15:10.
Be flexible on those times as they may change, when I went not even the official Taroko website had the correct timings on.
Make sure to go with your Easycard for cheaper bus fares. I paid 56NT from Hualien to Taroko with mine.
MY HIKING ESSENTIALS
If you just go for the day, you can rent a scooter in many places in Hualien, just outside the train station you will be approached by people renting them as well. Expect to pay +400NT per day and make sure to have a valid International Driving Permit as they ask for it pretty much everywhere in Taiwan.
When going by bus you can get off the bus at the Swallow Grotto which is right by the entrance of the Zhuilu Old Road trailhead.
To go by scooter, just enter to the Swallow Grotto and you will find a parking about 500m from the trailhead.
How to get a permit to hike the Zhuilu Old Road
Entrance to the Taroko National Park is free. However, some hikes require a permit and the Zhuilu Old Road is one of them.
More than a permit to prove your hiking abilities this is just a mechanism to control the number of people on the trail as otherwise it could be dangerous on the narrower section of the path.
The current limits are 96 people on weekdays and 156 on weekends/holidays. I think this is pretty good as otherwise the entire experience would be ruined if there are crowds on the main narrow stretch of the cliff path.
-You must apply at least 24h in advance on the official website
-You must enter the trail between 7 and 10 AM, they will not let you go later than that.
Applying for a permit to Zhuilu Old Road is otherwise very easy. On the Taiwan National Park’s website, go to the permits section and make sure to select the standard application NOT the “priority reservation for foreigners” as that one only works when you do it a month in advance.
You can apply for the permit on this link of the Taiwan National Parks’ Website
When applying for the Zhuilu Old Road you do not need to pay in advance, you pay just before starting the trail. In 2019 the entrance fee was of 200NT.
If you go by bus from Hualien, there are early buses so you can arrive to the trailhead at around 8am, well before the cut-off time of 10am.
When I went, they were asking everyone for a printed copy of the permit confirmation, I guess it may be possible to go without one if you just go with your passport as they have a printed list with the confirmed names. We did print a copy as it was specifically requested on the confirmation email.
What to take when hiking the Zhuilu Old Road
Your permit application confirmation is the most important bit to bring!
The Zhuilu trail is not really technical at all, it’s more of a nice walk in the mountain. You can do it in sneakers as there are no steep or slippery areas.
Make sure to bring plenty of water as even that the trail is only 3.1Km long (one-way) it can be very hot and humid.
Some snacks are always good to replenish your energy, even more if you plan to do more hikes on the same day. Some fruit such as apples or bananas are always a great snack when hiking and having a sweet tooth I also love to carry some snickers or biscuits 🙂
Hiking the Zhuilu Old Road
Once you have checked in at the gate and paid the 200NT entry fee to the Zhuilu Old Road it’s time to cross the hanging bridge that crosses the marble gorge.
This is already a promising start for the most scenic hike in Taroko National Park!
At the other side of the Liwu river you will start already on a gentle steady climb. Mainly on covered forest which is a relief when it’s hot, but there are some short uncovered patches where you can feel the heat if you happen to be hiking in the Taiwanese summer.
The path is initially on soft ground with some rocky sections, it never gets too steep and after some climbing you pass next to old ruins from a Japanese police station.
As the trail starts on a dense forest area, the views are non-existent at first. So, just enjoy the walk in nature while keeping an eye for snakes as apparently there are many (we didn’t see any)
The gentle climb will go on for about 2Km of the 3.1Km entire length of the trail. Afterwards it gets into a flattish section where the path starts getting narrower.
By the point you go through a small tunnel carved into the rocky mountain, you start getting the idea on the technical challenge of building this road so many years ago!
Arriving to the highlight point of the Zhuilu Old Road is for sure the reward you were expecting. The impressive sight of the Taroko Gorge is not for the faint-hearted!
The Zhuilu Old Road is now 90cm wide, I cannot imagine how dangerous it must have been to cross this section when it was only 30cm wide!
I really liked that the narrow passage is still relatively untouched. There are chains attached to the mountain wall to hang on if you don’t feel safe and some low fences in certain areas, but apart from that you get to experience the cliff almost as it was a century ago.
On our visit we had a perfect day, with no clouds and no wind so it was really safe to walk, but I’m not sure I’d want to be up there when there are strong winds! Surely the trail is closed when the conditions are not safe enough.
You enjoy the breathtaking views of the cliff for about 500 meters before arriving to the Cliff Outpost, which is (unfortunately) the point of return as onwards the trail is closed due to landslides.
At the Outpost there are some benches where you can rest a bit. It took us 1 hour to get to this point.
After chilling a bit and eating some snacks it was time to retrace our steps.
The entire hike was about 1h 45min going at an ok pace. As usual in the Taroko National Park, the informative boards at the beginning of the trail are overly conservative and mention that this hike could take 3-5 hours to complete.
As the Zhuilu Old Road trail is pretty short (forced by the landslides). I don’t even consider it a proper hiking day, but it’s still a really cool walk that will still leave room for another hike on your day at the Taroko Gorge.
I’d recommend continuing your day on my favourite trail by hiking the Lushui-Wenshan trail for a full on day hiking in Taroko Gorge!
If you’re looking for breathtaking views this is definitely the best place to go hiking in Taroko Gorge!
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about hiking the Zhuilu Old Road and check out the rest of my posts backpacking in Taiwan for other hiking in Taroko Gorge ideas and further inspiration on other destinations!