Cycle Taiwan
(Mlenny/iStock)
(Superjoseph/iStock)
Changchun Temple in Taroko Gorges. (Fototrav/iStock)
Small traditional pavilion perched atop a cliff. (Janniswerner/iStock)
Bridge to the Changchun Shrine, Taroko Gorge. (Superjoseph/iStock)
Tunnel of Nine Turns, Taroko Gorge. (Kompasstudio/iStock)
(Naes/iStock )
Suspension footbridge across Taroko Gorge. (Assawin/iStock)

Bike Through Towering Walls of White Marble in Taroko Gorge

Pedal in the cool shadows of sheer stone walls above the brilliant blue Liwu River

smithsonian.com

Millions of years ago, the Liwu River carved out a gorge through the mountainside of Taiwan’s eastern coast, winding its way through a vast scenery of breathtaking views, dramatic canyons and waterfalls.

Today, the gorge is the central feature of Taroko National Park, one of six National Parks on the subtropical island of Taiwan, and it’s home to some of the most dramatic scenery along the east coast. At times, the vertical cliffs and winding tunnels are so close together along the gorge that from a distance, they appear to meet. The mountainous wonderland can be explored on foot, dangling from the cliffs on a belay device while rock climbing or by car (along Highway 8). But the best way to see it all is by bike.

For five years running, this region has been home to the King of the Mountain Challenge, a grueling, 65.2-mile cycling race up the side of Wuling Mountain. The path is so steep, taking competitors from 0 to 10744.8 feet above sea level, that the relatively new event is now considered one of the most challenging international races, right up there near the Tour de France. On average, the climb takes professional cyclists between four and seven hours to reach the WuLing finish. This level of cycling, of course, isn’t for everyone. For novice to intermediate cyclists, there are plenty of more leisurely routes within the park that are just as beautiful.

The city of Hualien is roughly 30 to 40 minutes away from the park’s main entrance by car and offers the majority of accommodations, many of which offer shuttle services along Zhongbu Cross-Island Highway (Highway 8), the main road to the park. There are endless trails to explore inside this gorgeous park, but whether visitors plan to stay for the day or for a week, there are few must-see landmarks:

Begin at the park entrance at the Taroko Gorge Trail and head west to the first notable stop along the main path—the Eternal Spring Shrine. This 0.85-mile side-trail loop is a well-worth-it detour from the main road, as it leads to a peaceful commemorative shrine and waterfall honoring the 226 military veterans who died during the construction of Highway 8 between the years of 1956 to 1960.

Back from the main road, continue west to a 0.3-mile stretch of marble and limestone known as Swallow Grotto or the Yanzikou Trailit’s one of the park’s more popular trails for a reason. Visitors will enjoy stunning views of the mighty Liwu River as the many swallows for which the trail is named, flit in and out of their small homes in the rock’s face. After crossing the Jinheng Bridge, look for the famous landmark, "Chieftain's profile rock.” There’s no mistaking the distinct facial profile of a man in the rock.

From Swallow Grotto, continue west toward the Juiqudong Trail, more commonly referred to as the Tunnel of Nine Turns. (The trailhead for this one is located about 8.6 miles away from the east entrance of the park). The path was constructed in 1996 and winds through some of the narrowest parts of the gorge, offering incredible views of the rock folds and marble cliffs, but please note that due to the tunnel’s shape, visitors may experience strong, upward gusts of wind.

If you’ve got the energy, keep pushing west until you meet Tianxiang, a recreational area home to a magnificent plum garden and the 5-star hotel, Silks Place Taroko. In addition to offering sleeping accommodations for those hoping to make this a two-day journey, Silks Place offers high-end and authentic dining options if you’re sick of trail mix and cart food offered at various other points in the park.

After some rest, consider biking further into the park to the short Baiyang Waterfall Trail. Butterflies will float past you while you ride past dramatic waterfalls. Tianxiang and the waterfall trail are fairly far from the park entrance for more novice cyclists, but these attractions are along Highway 8 and also accessible by car. Many hotels in Hualien and near the park’s entrance (The Taroko Lodge, for example) offer shuttle services to various attractions and some visitors might consider taking the shuttle into the park first and biking back for a nice downhill coast back home.

Perhaps one of the best things about Taroko Gorge is the climate is subtropical and generally mild, year round. Average temperatures at low elevations in the park range from 57 degrees Fahrenheit in January to 80 degrees in July. The most comfortable temperatures occur in the fall, making it the favored season for high activity in the canyon. (The autumnal kaleidoscope of leaves doesn’t hurt either). Come winter, there are pure white plum blossoms everywhere. While snow dusts the peaks of Hehuan Mountain, take a dip in the Wen Shan Hot Spring. Spring is colorful, and summer offers additional opportunities for river rafting. Visitors are highly encouraged to refer to the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau’s weather forecast at least a week prior to cycling through the gorgethe area receives heavy rain, year round. The Taiwan Weather App for Android (English) is also available for the latest weather updates.

Entry into the park is free and permits are only necessary for some of the wilderness areas designated by the National Park as eco-protection areas. Please refer to the official Taroko National Park information website for more information.

Directions From Taipei:

The best way to get to Hualien from the airport is by train. From Taipei’s Main Station you can purchase a ticket to the Xincheng Station in Hualien County. The express train takes 2.5 to 3.5 hours. Station names are announced in English and Chinese.

Where to Rent:

There are many options for bike rental in this area as cycling is a very popular activity near Taroko Gorge. There is a Giant rental shop right off the train at Xincheng Station located within walking distance of hotel options. Make sure to call and reserve bikes in advance.