Zhuilu Old Trail – Best Hike In Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge
Zhuilu Old Road is an epic cliff trail in the mountains of Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s best national parks.
Zhuilu is an awesome hike. It’s probably one of my favorite hikes in Asia, with just the right level of difficulty and a perfect combo of adrenaline and mind-bending scenery.
It’s easy to arrange this hike on a budget, and the views are worth every penny!This travel guide will explain how to get there, and everything you need to know before you go!
History Of The Trail
Zhuilu started as a hunting path for indigenous tribes in Taiwan in the 1800s, who used it to access remote parts of the jungle for hunting wild boar and other animals.
The original path was only 30 centimeters (1 foot) wide! In the early 1900s, the Japanese colonials discovered the trail and used local indigenous slave labor to expand it. Using hand tools and dynamite, they went through extreme danger to expand the trail to its current width.
There are still some artifacts from the Japanese presence at Zhuilu, including a small Buddhist statue in one of the rock tunnels you pass through during the hike.
The Japanese used the trail for transportation and moving weaponry until the end of World War II, when the Zhuilu trail became a multi-day hiking trail used by Taiwanese people. Today, most of the trail is closed due to rockfalls, so it’s now limited to a day hike.
Zhuilu is popular internationally for offering some of the best possible views of Taroko Gorge, with a sheer cliff that lets you look straight down into the valley 500 meters below — the drop is taller than the Taipei 101 skyscraper!
Zhuilu Old Trail: What To Expect
Zhuilu is a moderate difficulty hike with a distance of 3 kilometers (2 miles) each way, for a total of 6 kilometers (4 miles).
The trail is out and back, so it takes about 2 hours going up, and 1.5 hours going back down. Maybe longer if you’re not a big hiker. No technical skills are needed, though.
The first 2.5 kilometers (1.5 mi) of the trail is a steady workout as you climb out of the jungle and up the mountain. Bring plenty of water. You’ll need it for this part.
The jungle is nice and you get some occasional views of the mountain tops through the trees, along with more bridge crossings and the occasional cave/tunnel.
However, the real highlight of the trail is the last 500 meters, where you walk along a sheer path on the side of the cliff. The cliff is intense and scary, but the path is basically wide enough for two people at all times.
All in all, it’s a very safe hike as long as you’re careful and don’t goof off. At the end, there’s a nice flat rest area where you can dig into your snacks and drinks before you start the journey back.
Entry to Zhuilu Old Trail is only allowed between 7 AM – 10 AM.
It’s a weird rule and I’m not sure why they have to be this strict. Theoretically, you could easily start the hike at noon and still be done in good time.
There’s also a rule requiring you to check out of the trail before 5 PM. This part makes sense, because they want to account for every hiker by the end of the day and make sure everyone is safe.
A permit is required for hiking Zhuilu Old Road.
Don’t let you scare this off, because permits are pretty easy to get from the Taiwan national parks website.
Do be sure to apply in advance, because they’re limited in number per day and do sell out. The park staff check this at the gated suspension bridge that leads into the trail, so there’s no way to go without it.
Only 96 permits are given out on weekdays, and 156 on weekends. Friday counts as part of the weekend. This is a popular trail and narrow in spots, so they have to do it like this to keep the crowds down and make the trail safe. It’s a good setup.
You’ll get an email when your application is approved (probably under 24 hours), and then you’ll need to print 2 copies of the PDF and bring cash to pay the park staff when you reach the trailhead. They say to bring your passport too, but we just showed a pic of ours and that was fine.
These are the current permit fees as of 2020.
- Adults: $200 NTD (~$7 USD)
- Children (6-12): $100 NTD
- Children (0-5): Free
How To Get There
Zhuilu Old Trail is part of Taroko Gorge National Park, in eastern Taiwan.
The trail starts right next to the entrance for the Swallow Grotto trail (Yanzikou).
Enter the gate (park staff will unlock it for you), cross the big suspension bridge over the marble river gorge, and then you’re on your way!
The Zhuilu trail is a perfect day trip from Hualien city, in eastern Taiwan.
First you will need to get to Hualien. There are lots of cheap flights and trains from Taipei, with a flight taking 1 hour for about $1,200 NTD ($40 USD), or a train journey taking 2 hours for less than half the cost — $450 NTD. We took the train.
I’d recommend staying at least a couple nights in Hualien so you can do this hike and also spend some time seeing everything else that Taroko Gorge has to offer. It’s an amazingly scenic area and Hualien has lots of restaurants and comfy hotels and hostels to choose from.
Taroko Gorge Bus
The best way to get from Hualien city to the Zhuilu trailhead is by bus.
Take the Taroko 1133A bus from Hualien Station and get off at Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) stop. The bus station is the bright orange building right next to the entrance for Hualien Train Station.
Complete timetables can be found here, but they’re in Chinese, so I’ve transcribed the Hualien bus station departure times below:
- 7:00 AM
- 8:30 AM
- 9:10 AM
- 10:00 AM
- 11:10 AM
- 12:00 PM
- 1:20 PM
- 2:10 PM
- 3:10 PM
Keep in mind the Zhuilu trail can only be entered between 7 AM and 10 AM, and the bus drive from Hualien to the trailhead at Yanzikou takes about 1 hour, so that means if you intend to hike Zhuilu the only feasible departure times from the list above are 7:00 or 8:30. I’d recommend 7:00, that way if you somehow miss it then you can at least catch the 8:30.
When you get on the bus (or visit the bus station), they’ll give you a Taroko Gorge pamphlet with the full 1133A timetable in English. For some reason this doesn’t exist anywhere online except in Chinese, but once you have the pamphlet in hand everything will all make more sense.
There’s a day pass for this bus that you can buy at the bus station or at any 7-11 or FamilyMart in Taiwan for $250 NTD ($8 USD). We bought this at 7-11 the day before our hike and it covered all of our bus costs for the day we hiked Zhuilu. Otherwise, you can pay on the bus with EasyCard or cash.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Hualien and Taroko Gorge is in the winter months, from November to April, when it’s less rainy and daytime temperatures hover around a cool 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 C).
Summer months will work, too, but be prepared for a bit more heat and humidity since the temps will be above 80 F (27 C).
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Xiong Zhi Mi B&B in Hualien city for $900 NTD ($30 USD) per night and loved it.
This price got us a clean double room with a private bathroom and cold A/C. It included free breakfast (and free cookies from the friendly staff!), and there are lots of great restaurants nearby too.
The train station is just a 15 minute walk away, or you can easily hail a taxi or rent a scooter to get around. The room prices may fluctuate from time to time, so just keep an eye out for a good deal.