Taroko National Park: 3 easy trails not to be missed

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Here are the easiest trails we recommend to enjoy the superb Taroko National Park.

The Mysterious Valley in Taroko National park
The Mysterious Valley in Taroko National park

Taroko National Park is one of the largest in Taiwan. It was established in 1996.

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 we describe below are of a very different kind. These are classic and very easy hikes, suitable for everybody .

The trails are very well maintained, unless are damaged by typhoons and falling rocks. In that case, the trails or part of them can be closed, so it is always a good thing to check with the National Park before.

1 – Shakadang Trail (Mysterious Valley)

This 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”.

The beginning of Shakadang Trail in Taroko National Park
The beginning of Shakadang Trail in Taroko National Park

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 – walk down the metal staircase leading to the river. The trail starts here.

Another beautiful  view of the Shakadang Trail  - Mysterious Valley
Another beautiful view of the Shakadang Trail – Mysterious Valley

If you have your own car or scooter, you can find a parking just after the bridge, on the left.

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 color is given by minerals dissolved in the water.

Clear, sweet fresh waters of Shakadang
Clear, sweet fresh waters of Shakadang

About halfway, you will see an unusual vegetable garden managed by Truku aboriginals. They grow Bird’s Nests ferns to sell on the market.

These ferns are very delicious, especially stir fried. They are a real Taiwan delicacy!

Bird's Nest - edible ferns grow by aboriginal people in Shakadang.
Bird’s Nest – edible ferns grow by aboriginal people in Shakadang.

The hike ends at Sanjianwu (4.4 kilometers in total). You will come back along the same route.

If you are fit, from Sanjiawu you can reach Dali and Datong aboriginal settlements along a more difficult trail ahead. (2-3 more hours)

Most of the trail is shaded. But make sure you have water with you, especially on a hot summer day.

Time required: 3-4 hours roundtrip.

Another view of Shakadang Trail
Another view of Shakadang Trail

2 – Lyushuei-Heliou Trail

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 with a railing.

Lyushuei- Heliou Trail
Lyushuei- Heliou Trail

The trail starts from Lushui (Lyushuei), a few kilometers east of Tiansiang. Lushui is just a name on the map (bus stop), with a small Taroko National Park Visitor Center and a cafeteria. A few meters above the road you will see a small geology museum (not very interesting, only Chinese labels).

The path starts at the side of the museum.

The trail is short, but there is a little bit of everything … a forest of fragrant camphor trees, a small suspension bridge, a short dark tunnel …

In the hot 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 it is not straight, so, especially when the sun is low, the middle part of the tunnel is dark. Bring a torch!

Tunnel on Lyushui Trail - Taroko
Tunnel on Lyushui Trail – Taroko

Shortly before reaching Heliou, you will notice a small Shinto shrine carved into a boulder.

This shrine had been built by the Japanese before World War II, to honor the police officers killed in the crackdown against Truku Aborigines.

Trees have grown, engulfing the shrine, so making the place fascinating and, at the same time, weird.

Shinto Shrine
Shinto Shrine

After the shrine, the trail joins a dirt road, leading downhill. 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
Map of Lyushuei – Heliou Trail

3 – Baiyang Waterfall Trail

For sure, this is one of the most beautiful hikes in Taroko National Park.

There are a few pedestrian tunnels along the trail. Be aware that these tunnels are not lit, not to disturb a few bats that live in the longer tunnels. So you must bring a torch.

More, the Water Curtain Tunnel may be closed (for safety reasons). If it is open, and you want enter the tunnel, you must bring an umbrella or a raincoat.

Entrance to Baiyang Trail - Photo by WeiHsiang Wang [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Entrance to Baiyang Trail – Photo by WeiHsiang Wang [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From Tiansiang follow the main road uphill for about 700-800 meters.

On the left side of the road you will see a tunnel. 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 from 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.

Bayang Bayang Waterfalls - WeiHsiang Wang [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Bayang Bayang Waterfalls – Photo by WeiHsiang Wang [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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 earthquake 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 on the right that, amazingly, is not slippery.

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

Taroko National Park Map

On the National Park website you can find a PDF map. The Park website itself is quite good, updated conditions of the trails can be found here.

Outdoor shops, sometimes bookshops, can provide more serious (1:50,000 or 1:25,000 scale) maps.

See also:

Taroko Gorge, the most beautiful place in Taiwan: best spots and views. Taroko Gorge is a splendid place with massive marble cliffs mottled with tropical vegetation, blue streams and pagodas surrounded by green forests

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