To date, Taiwan has been one of my favorite trips. Perhaps it was the authentically charming feel, the genuinely nice and helpful people, the varied and breathtaking scenery, or the unbelievably delicious bubble tea, but I am itching to go back. On second thought, it was definitely the bubble tea.
Anyway, hands down, my favorite part of the trip was hiking the Zhuilu Old Trail. Nestled high in the hills of Taroko Gorge and also known as “Vertigo Trail,” it’s an adrenaline fueled hike spanning 10.3 kilometers in its entirety, although only three kilometers are currently available to trek (as of Febuary 2015). The nickname came from the 500 meter stretch of trail running next to Zhuilu Cliff, much of which is less that two feet wide. The hike itself is moderately challenging with an admirable grade and takes about four hours roundtrip.
The trail begins with a breathtaking suspension bridge spanning Swallows’ Grotto with an unparalleled view of the gorge.
Once your husband gets you to stop taking pictures and pulls you off the bridge and onto the actual trail, it winds through the forest for about a kilometer. After that, things start getting interesting with whimsical rock formations and rusty bridges.
Finally, you’ll make your way up into the clouds and along a terrifying and exhilarating section of the trail that is dizzyingly narrow. You can look down and see the gorge below with the winding road and river snaking between. Even on our cloudy day, the view was spectacular.
The trail is somewhat hard to access however. Imagine a bunch of tourists trying to pass each other on a trail two feet wide, 1,100 meters above the canyon floor. Picture it yet? Yea. For that reason, the city only gives out 60 permits a day to hikers wishing make the trek. So, if you dare to do this hike, plan ahead.
Take the following steps:
1. Submit an application with the date you want to hike on the Taroko National Park Website.
2. Sign up for an account that includes a local mobile phone number (you’ll want to purchase a sim card or pay-as-you-go phone when you arrive in Taiwan) as well as an emergency contact that must be Taiwanese with a local phone number (we used our hotel in Hualien).
3. You’ll receive an email within the week from the online application system, so you can activate your account.
4. After activation, you’ll fill out the application form and send it back.
5. In 2-3 business days, you’ll have your ecological permit to hike!
6. Print your permit and take it to the Taroko Police Station the morning of your hike, and they will give you the approval papers to take to the trailhead.
7. Take the bus from the police station to the trailhead at the Zhuilu Suspension Bridge and hand your papers and permit to the man sitting in the tent.
8. He will unlock the magical gate (literally, there’s a padlock on it) to the suspension bridge, and you will finally be free to begin your much-anticipated Zhuilu journey.
9. FYI, you may receive contemptuous death stares from the people who disembarked the bus with you; they will want cross the bridge but will be left sad and confused as they watch you head out for awaiting adventure and realize they needed a permit.
Getting to Taroko National Park and the Zhuilu Old Trail
We stayed two nights in the nearby city of Hualien, within walking distance of Hualien Station, a two hour train ride from Taipei Main Station.
There are buses that run from Hualien Station to the Taroko National Park Police Station and Information Center, where you can find many maps and timetables on the buses that run to the surrounding sights and activities. From there you have access the rest of Taroko Gorge via bus. Plan to spend an entire day riding and stopping, walking around, hiking up to temples and pagodas, trying local cuisine, and enjoying the unreal beauty that is Taroko National Park.
And honestly, even if we hadn’t gotten to hike Zhuilu, Taroko National Park along with the city of Hualien would still have been my favorite part of the Taiwan trip.
Have a Taiwan adventure to share? Have you hiked the Zhuilu Old trail? We’d love to hear from you — comment below and let us know what you think!
Travel on, Beaches 🙂