Taroko Gorge is arguably the best hiking destination in the whole of Taiwan – and it would be a short argument. Fewer than 100 permits to the Zhuilu Old Trail are granted on weekdays, making it the most sought after of hiking areas on the island. Created under Japanese rule with aboriginal labor, this road carved through the mountains is an easy and relatively simple trail, but in just one day trekkers can find canyons, cliffs on the coast, and go from sea level to 3,400 meters in the sky.
Hiking through dense forest and high into the mountains above Taroko Gorge National Park, travelers explore both the scenic and historical path of the Zhuilu Old Trail, ideal for the daring weekend hiker.
Reaching heights of 500 meters above the Liwu River, Zhuilu Cliff – one of Taiwan’s marvels of nature – is circumvented by the 6.2-kilometer-long and 90-centimeter-wide trail. Originally an ancient Truku tribe hunting path, the trail was widened by the Japanese military during the Taiwan occupation in 1914. The winding trail comes to an end at the Swallow Grotto as hikers cross the Jinheng Suspension Bridge.
For a section of the trail there is nothing but a rope nailed into the side of the mountain to keep climbers’ balance. It’s a frightening section of the hike, but safe.
Located near the center of the park, the Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou), affectionately named by the locals after the swallows that fly in and out of the rock formations.
Tunnels overlooking the narrowest portion of Taroko Gorge intermingle with the grotto, near the most rapid area of the river. The 20-minute walk along the trail takes travelers past the Indian Chieftain’s Profile Rock, a marble masterpiece sculpted by the Liwu River, and into the Swallow Grotto.
There are walls on each side of the river with caves forming natural nesting areas for spring swallows.
Travelers take the Swallow Grotto Trail from Swallow Grotto to the Jinheng Suspension Bridge, measuring 82 meters in length and 11 meters wide, to enjoy views of the gorge, potholes in the rock, springs, and the sights of the Liwu River from nearly straight above the water.
Designated one of the eight wonders of Taiwan, the deep sea area around Qingshui Cliff is the only place in the National Park where travelers can witness the three distinct color variations of the Pacific Ocean.
The winding highway snakes along the curving face for over 20 kilometers. The cliff, rising more than 1,000 meters high on one side, drops almost sharply into the navy blue, emerald green, and chartreuse sea on the other.
Hikers should consider their fitness level for this hike. Hiking veterans will need three to four hours to complete half the route; novice hikers may require six to seven hours to complete their journey.
Although travelers in reasonable physical shape should be able to hike the Zhuilu Old Trail, there are steep ascents and descents which may be problematic for hikers with serious knee or leg problems. The rainiest months are June, August, and September. Because the trail is closed during monsoon season and during low fog covering the mountain, the best month to hike the trail is October.