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Zhuilu Old Trail: An Epic Cliff Hike in Taroko Gorge

Posted by:  Anusha Lee
Published date: February 9, 2021
Last updated: June 7, 2021
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge infographic
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge infographic
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Table of Contents:

About Hehuan Traversing Old Trail and Zhuilu Old Trail

Epic hike on Zhuilu Old Trail
Before we talk about Zhuilu Old Trail, we need to talk about 合歡越嶺古道 Cross-Hehuan Mountain Old Road aka Hehuan Traversing Old Trail. Hehuan Traversing Old Trail started from Puli Nantou 埔里南投 on the west side of Taiwan, via Wushe 霧社, Sanjiaofeng (Sanjiao Peak) 三角峰, Yingyingfeng (Yingying Peak) 櫻櫻峰 (Note 1), and Hehuan Saddle 合歡鞍部 (Note 2). Then, the trail crossed the Central Mountain Range and got into Liwu River Basin, via Guanyuan 關原, Tuobokuo 托博闊, Kalabao 卡拉寶, Gugaiyang 古白楊, to Tabiduo (now called Tiansiang) 塔比多(天祥) and Badagang 巴達岡 and other tribes on the east.
Taroko map from Taroko National Park website
A map mentioned 合歡越嶺古道 Cross-Hehuan Mountain Old Road from Taroko National Park website.
Here is the original content from The Council of Agriculture’s website: "合歡越嶺道西自南投埔里起,經霧社、三角峰、櫻峰、合歡鞍部,翻越中央山脈,進入立霧溪流域關原、托博闊、卡拉寶、古白楊,到達東岸之塔比多(天祥)、巴達岡等部落。"
When Hehuan Traversing Old Trail was built in 1914 during Japanese Occupation, it was meant to force and coerce indigenous people, the Truku (Taroko) people 太魯閣族, to succumb to Japanese government.
In 1950s, Taiwan government decided to connect the west with the east via Hehuan Traversing Old Trail and built Central Cross-island Highway. As a result, most of Hehuan Traversing Old Trail was gone and replaced by modern highway, only sections of the old trail were left. Lucky for us, Zhuilu Old Trail is one of the sections left on the east side of Taiwan.
View from Mt. Hehuan peak, 3,742 m (12,277 ft) Photo by Acer Lee.
Photo taken on Mt. Hehuan by Acer Lee
If you are interested in old trails in Taiwan, you can check out videos, Ancient Trails of Taiwan, produced by Taiwan Public Television Service. If you still can find those videos, please kindly let me know.
The total length of Zhuilu Old Trail was 10.3 km (6.4 miles) from Zhuilu Suspension Bridge 錐麓吊橋 to Cimu Bridge 慈母橋, but now we can only hike 3.1 km to Cliff Outpost 斷崖駐在所 and return to Zhuilu Suspension Bridge. The rest is closed due to the damaged trail and risk of falling rocks.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
We can only hike the section between Zhuilu Suspension Bridge and Cliff Outpost.
When it was built, the cliff trail was only 30 cm (12 inches) wide. Japanese government compulsorily recruited the indigenous men to expand the trail to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in width. But if you are afraid of height, the Zhuilu cliff section might still make your palms sweat and knees buckle.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
I drow two lines to ROUGHLY visualize how the width of 30 cm of trail might look like, which is less than shoulder width. Quite scary.
You need to apply for permits to hike Zhuilu Old Trail, and the time to enter the trail is between 7:00 am and 10:00 am. The ticket price per adult is NT$200. You need to get your ID ready when entering the trail.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
We have to stop here to submit our documents to enter the trail.
Foreigners in Taiwan did a great job about how to apply for permits and please check out their post for details.
zhuilu-00-suspension-bridge-gate
Staff at the check station will count how many visitors can enter this gate.
Note 1:
Due to typo, Yingyingfeng 櫻櫻峰 was supposed to be Yingfeng 櫻峰. Now, we can only find Yingyingfeng on the map. So, I change it to Yingyingfeng.
Note 2:
I have been wondering what Hehuan Saddle was when it was mentioned on the page of The Council of Agriculture. At first, I thought it was Wuling 武嶺, but it didn’t seem right to me. Later, I found a paragraph mentioned by a hiker’s post: "1935年日人修築合歡越嶺道時,在石門山北側鞍部鑿成一個隧道,並依此命名為「石門」". Translation: When Japanese built Hehuan Traversing Trail, they dug a tunnel at a saddle on the north of Mt. Shihmen and named this Mt. Shihmen. So, my guess is, Hehuan Saddle here refers to Mt. Shihmen 石門山, 3,237 meters (10,620 feet), which is also a 100 Peaks 百岳 and the easiest one to hike. If you know what Hehuan Saddle referred to in the old days, please feel free to let me know. I appreciate your help.

How to Get There

Since we are only allowed to hike from Zhuilu Suspension Bridge to Cliff Outpost, there is only one trailhead, which is located at Yanzikou (aka Swallow Grotto).
  1. 1. You can take Ropo Bus 302 at Xincheng Train Station 新城火車站 and get off at Yanzikou (aka Swallow Cave or Swallow Grotto) Stop 燕子口.
  2. 2. Or take Hualien Bus 1133, 1126, or 1141 from Hualien Train Station and get off at Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto) Stop. Please note that those buses will stop in downtown Hualien City, which will take longer to arrive at Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto) Stop. Please note that you can also take Hualien Bus 1133A to Taroko Visitor Center, because it will not go to Hualien downtown and get to your destination 30 minutes faster depending on the traffic.
  3. 3. The fastest bus to get to Swallow Cave Stop is Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus 台灣好行 Taroko Route 310 at Hualien Train Station.
When you get off at Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto), you will find toilets if you continue to walk another 0.6 km (0.37 miles). This trip is totally worth it because you’ll get the see the spectacular Taroko Gorge.

Peaks and Places to Reach

Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto): 燕子口, height 274 meters
Zhuilu Suspension Bridge: 錐麓吊橋
Badagang Outpost: 巴達岡駐在所, height 450 meters
Cliff Outpost: 斷崖駐在所, height 720 meters
See the map and itinerary first

On the Previous Day: A Warm-up at Xiaozhuilu Trail and Shakandang Trail

Because I had to go to Hualien from Taipei to do this hike, I booked train tickets and a hotel near the trailhead. I was thinking about staying at a hotel in Hualien City, but I changed my mind and booked one near Taroko Visitor Center instead, which turned out to be a great decision.
I arrived at Hualien Train Station around noon, and it rained a lot. This made me doubt I would have a good weather the next day when I hiked Zhuilu Old Trail. Luckily, when I arrived at my hotel near Taroko Visitor Center, the rain stopped, and I could go out to look around. I decided to go to Shakandang Trail 砂卡礑步道 again.
Dali and Datong Villages and Trails: Place worth to visit every year to see the most epic mountains in the East Taiwan
I've visited Shakandang Trail several times, and still enjoy this trail.
This was my second time to visit Shakandang Trail in 2020. In July 2020, I hiked Dali and Datong Tribes and then took Shakandang Trail back to Taroko Visitor Center.
Dali and Datong Villages and Trails: Place worth to visit every year to see the most epic mountains in the East Taiwan
Dali and Datong Villages: two must-visit places in Hualien, Taiwan
This time, I also took Xiaozhuilu Trail 小錐麓古道 (aka Little Zhuilu Trail). I decide to make a standalone post to talk more about this hike.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Xiaozhoulu Trail: A short but enjoyable trail

A Glimpse of Taroko before The Thrilling Cliff Hike

Distance: 6.2 km (3.85 miles)
Brief itinerary: Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto) (Height 274 meters) ➔ Badagang Outpost (Height 450 meters) ➔ No. 2 Badagang Suspension Bridg (Height 520 meters) ➔ Zhuilu Cliffs Starting Point (Height 765 meters) ➔ Cliff Outpst (Height 720 meters) ➔ Zhuilu Cliffs ➔ No. 2 Badagang Suspension Bridg ➔ Badagang Outpost ➔ Yanzikou
GPS coordinates of the trailhead: 24.173221, 121.566598
I’d been wanting to hike on Zhuilu Old Trail for a long time, but I was also worried that I couldn’t handle the height. I asked my friends who hiked there before, but I got mixed answers. Some said it wasn’t scary at all, but some said the cliffs made their knees weak. I guess I had to find out myself. Finally, I found Taroko Hiking Group 太魯閣登山隊 and saw this trip, so I signed up right away.
Taroko Hiking Group led by Brother Kim
Taroko Hiking Group led by Brother Jin 金大哥, the 4th one from the right on the first row. Bada 巴達, another guide, was the first one on the right on the second row.
I got up early and found out the weather was wonderful. I took a rare photo without too many tourists around at the entrance of Central Cross-island Highway. Then, I got a ride to Yanzikou.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
I got up early in the morning to take this photo at the entrance of Central Cross-island Highway. It was usually packed with tourists near this gate.
We got off car at Yanzikou, and our guides submitted our documents to the staff at the check station. The view of Zhuilu Suspension Bridge and the newly renovated Shanyue Suspension Bridge (aka Mountain Moon Bridge) 山月吊橋 was right in front of me. Like Zhuilu Old Trail, you also have to apply permits if you want to walk on Shanyue Suspension Bridge.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Stunning view to see two famous suspension bridges in Taroko Gorge.

Spectacular Toilet Trip with Taroko Gorge and Stunning Suspension Bridges

Then, I saw the toilet sign and I decided to go. I can tell you this was the best toilet trip I've ever made. Not only could I relieve myself, but also got to see one of the most remarkable works Mother Nature has ever done.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Just follow the wooden pavement and you will find the toilets and other great delights along the way.
As you can imagine, this toilet trip took longer than it should be, because Taroko Gorge was so amazing. I still can’t find words to describe how stunning it is.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Amazing view at Yanzikou.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Liwu River has been cutting through Taroko Gorge for thousands of years.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
On the way back to the get of Zhuilu Old Trail
Finally, I remembered there was a great hike waiting for me. I got hurry to catch up with our group and cross Zhuilu Suspension Bridge. I met some hikers who have a hard time to cross bridges like this. Lucky for me, I had no problem with it.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Crossing Zhuilu Suspension Bridge
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
View of Liwu River from Zhuilu Suspension Bridge

A Gradual Uphill Hike with Knowledgeable Guides Sharing Stories from the Past

After crossing the suspension bridge, we went uphill. The trail terrain was in a good condition, not too difficult to hike, and most of this part was shaded.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
After this section, the trail terrain became less rugged and easy to hike.
When we reached 1k mark attached on a huge boulder, the view opened up. Many of our hiking mates climbed up the boulder to take photos.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
You'll see the boulder with 1K mark packed with hikers because of the amazing views. Shanyue Suspension Bridge can be seen from the distance.
zhuilu-08-1k-boulder-view
View from the 1K boulder

Badagang Outpost

When I turned to the other side, I saw two door posts. Our guides told us those were the door posts of the old Badagang Outpost 巴達岡駐在所, where the old village was. In Truku language, Badagang means Sweet Bamboo or Taiwan giant bamboo 麻竹.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Entering the old door post of Badagang Outpost
While we were taking a long break here, our guides who were also indigenous people, Brother Jin 金大哥 and Bada 巴達, told us stories about Zhuilu’s history and the plants along the trail. They shared so many stories, but I couldn’t remember them all, which is a shame.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Brother Jintold us the stories around here.
I looked around this area and still could see some foundation remains, a water stone tank, and even some broken ceramics. I asked Bada about this, and he humbly told me that he wasn't that knowledgeable.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Bada told us the white thing on the edge of the stone tank was the frog spawn of Moltrechti's green tree frog 莫氏樹蛙.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
A piece of ceramic bowl I found at Badagang Outpost.
According to the sign, dormitory of Badagang Outpost was later remodeled as a hotel that could accommodate up to 20 travelers.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
This area was once packed with people and travelers more than 100 years ago.
Another sign explained about the blood-shed battles between Truku people and Japanese that happened more 100 years ago.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Battles that happened 100+ years ago.
We also saw beautiful Rosepink Zephyrlily 韭蘭 at Badagang Outpost. You can click here to see more beautiful flowers I found on other trails.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Beautiful Rosepink Zephyrlily at Badagang Outpost
After we resumed our hike, we quickly reached No. 2 Badagang Suspension Bridge 巴達岡二號橋 at 1.2 km mark. I tried to take photos on the bridge.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
No. 2 Badagang Suspension Bridge
Perhaps our guides had explained where Zhuilu Suspension Bridge was, but I was too far away to hear it. Some hikers said you can see it high up in the mountain when you cross Zhuilu Suspension Bridge. I think Foreigners in Taiwan might have found No. 1 Bridge.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
I saw a waterfall and our shadows from No. 2 Badagang Bridge.
Anyhow, views from both sides of No. 2 Badagang Bridge were great. Some people may find this scary.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
The view from the south side of the bridge
The trail remained ascending gradually, and Bada stopped from time to time to explain the trees or plants to us and also wait for slower hiking mates to catch up.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
One of our guides Bada has great knowledge in plants.
Then we reached a carved tunnel on a rock wall, and I could see a bridge, No. 1 Zhuilu Bridge 錐麓一號橋, through the it. As you can imagine, this is a hot spot for taking photos.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
No. 1 Zhuilu Bridge behind this small tunnel.
At somewhere on the trail, Bada stopped and pointed at a plant with intricated-pattern leaves saying this was Anoectochilus formosanus Hayata 金線蓮, which is very popular in Taiwan for its medical benefits. That was why Bada didn’t want us to disclose its exact location. After doing research, this beautiful plant is actually an orchid, and the flowers are so stunning. I’d love to see the flowers someday.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
I'm looking forward to seeing the flowers of Anoectochilus formosanus Hayata on the trail someday.

Finally, Walk along with the Cliffs above 700 Meters!

Within 10 minutes, we reached Zhuilu Cliffs, the section that would test my tolerance of height. Our guides relentlessly reminded us of the danger we might face on this section and watching out our heads not to bump into the rock walls, etc. They also reminded us not to lean on the handrails near the cliffs, which made me even more nervous.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
A sign before the cliffs to inform us things we need to know and do not jump and play.
After finishing taking photos at the sign, we started our journey of cliff hike. The weather turned a little bit cloudy, but it didn’t diminish the beauty of Taroko Gorge. The layers of mountains surrounding the deep valley cut by Liwu River made the cliff trail look so small, but the trail was also a great contrast to the winding river.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
The cliff trail looked so small from the distance.
I tried very hard to watch out my steps without paying too much attention to the beautiful views around me. It wasn’t fun to lose my footing here, but I was Okay with the 150-cm wide trail.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
It was difficult not to take your eyes away from the spectacular valley.
However, it would be a totally different story if I had to walk on the trail with 30-cm width. According to the previous description: “人人均捫壁蟹行,自始至終不敢交談”, meaning everyone had to lean on the cliff walls and walked like crabs and none dared to talk from the beginning of the cliff section to the end. I don’t think I would be able to force my legs to move any tiny inch.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Not sure I could do this trail if the width of it was only 30 cm.
While walking on the trail, I noticed there were some beautiful flowers on the almost barren cliff walls. I even found Taiwan Ladybell 玉山沙參, an endemic species in high mountains like Mt. Dabajian. Sorry for my blurred photo. It wasn’t easy to get a clear shot while I was on the cliff trail.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
We saw a withered Taiwan Ladybell on the cliff wall. Sorry for the blurred photo.
100 Peaks: Mt. Dabajian, Mt. Xiaobabajian, Mt. Jiali, and Mt. Yizhe
This Taiwan Ladybell was taken at Mt. Dabajian.
If you come here in May, June or July, you might also get to see a native species, Rosa pricei 太魯閣薔薇.
After the Taiwan Ladybell encounter, we reached a cave. Our guide Bada told us to check out the carvings on the rock wall, which was done more than 100 years ago. The carving said, “大正四年、梅澤柾、開鑿、記念”, meaning "Taisho Year 4 (1915), Mei Ze (Umezawa, Masa), Digging, Commemoration". You can use Google Translate to check out the history about this.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
This carving could be found next to a small tunnel.
I thought I would be very scared of the cliffs, but it turned out I was fine. There were several occasions that I was temped to stick out my head to check out the deep valley, but I changed my mind at the last minute. This was the best I dared to get.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
I didn't dare to stick my head out too far from the cliff. I think this was Zhuilu Tunnel.
This section was very short, the one-way trip was only 500 meters (547 yards). But some of my hiking mates were still not able to deal with the visualization stimulus and got panic. After I followed the curved trail after 3.0k mark, I saw those signs pointing to different directions.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Seeing this means you've reached the end of Zhuilu Old Trail.

The Hike That Had to End Early

Then, we reached our destination, Cliff Outpost, and we had a lunch break here. I saw a sign saying Zhuilu Outpost (it says Jhuilu Outpost on the sign) was 2.5 km away. It’s pity that we couldn’t hike further.
After lunch, it was time to head back to Zhuilu Suspension Bridge. It was difficult to say goodbye, and looking at surrounding mountains let me want to do more trails in Hualien.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Looking at Mt. Ta 塔山, 2,449 meters (8,035 feet) on the way back to the trailhead. Mt. Ta is one of Taroko Seven Heros but very difficult to hike.
As mentioned earlier, the whole Zhuilu Old Trail was 10.3 km and a point-to-point trail, but many parts of the trail are closed for safety reason. Some of my hiking friends hiked the whole trail a few years ago, and they all told me that the other 7.2 km of Zhuilu Old Trail was amazing, which leaves me hanging. I don't know when Taroko National Park will open the rest of the trail, but this is definitely on my Do It Again list.

Thoughts about This Hike: A Trail That Hasn't Finished Yet

Without a doubt, I definitely will visit Zhuilu Old Trail again, and hopefully I get to hike the total length from Cimu Bridge to Zhuilu Suspension Bridge. The trail terrain might be more rugged on the Cimu Bridge side, but I was told the views are even better.
Those are the trails I've done in Taroko.
It’s been a long time since my last visit of Taroko Gorge, and the beauty of this amazing place still takes my breath away. If, unfortunately, the Cimu Bridge side is still not open to the public, you will have plenty of time to visit other attractions in Toroko Gorge after the short Zhuilu Old Trail hike.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
View from the bridge of Yanzikou
Two female hikers and I decided to visit Tunnel of Nine Turns 九曲洞 together before heading back to Hualien Train Station, and it was so great to witness this geographic phenomenon that can only be found in Taiwan.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
We visited Tunnel of Nine Turns.
As to how scary it is to hike on Zhuilu Old Trail, the section of Zhuilu Cliffs isn’t as scary as they are in the photos, and there are handrails for you to cling to. If you only do the 3.1km trail, you can do it by yourself without going with a group.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
Marvelous of marbles being cut by Liwu River for thousands of years.
It’s pity that I missed the 100+ year-old Guanyin Statue. I’m sure our guides had told us where the statue was, but I might be too far away from them to hear that. After doing some research, the statue is located inside a tunnel on the cliff section.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien
More stunning work by the nature
If you are really afraid of height or not sure whether you are fit enough for Zhuilu Old Trail, there are many easier trails to enjoy in Taroko Gorge, like Shakandang Trail and Xiaozhuilu Trail. Just visit Taroko Nation Park website to find out more.
Zhuilu Old Trail in Taroko Gorge, Hualien

Map and Itinerary

Group Hike or Solo Hike: Group hike with Taroko Hiking Group 太魯閣登山隊
Date of Hike: November 15, 2020

Route map for Zhuilu Old Trail In Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan by Anusha Lee on plotaroute.com

Click Menu in the map to download, print or share the map.
Click timer to change the speed to meet your condition.
Note:
My GPS watch made some weird track so I have to use other hiker's track. Here's the source.

Based on my hike on November 15, 2020

07:54 Arrived at Zhuilu Old Road Toll Station/Check Station near Yanzihkou Tunnel. Took a toilet break and admired the beautiful gorge.
08:10 Started crossing Zhuilu Bridge
08:24 Passed 0.4k mark
08:22 Took a break at the big boulder
08:48 Reached the big boulder with 1k mark. Took photos and then passed the door posts of the old Badangang Outpost.
08:55 Arrived at Badagang Village and took a long break
09:22 Reached No. 2 Badagang Suspension Bridge
09:38 Passed 1.6k mark
10:00 Passed 2k mark
10:30 Reached the cave and No. 1 Zhuilu Bridge
10:41 Reached the cliff at 2.6k and sign of warning
10:53 Reached the cave with the carving
11:06 Passed 3k mark
11:09 Reached Cliff Outpost and took a lunch break
12:00 Left Cliff Outpost and took the same trail back
12:24 Back to the No. 1 Zhuilu Bridge and the cave
13:23 Back to Badagang Outpost
14:03 Back to Yanzikou checkpoint
Total time: 6 hours 7 minutes, including long breaks

Recommended Blogs and Resources:

Chinese only:
Hiking Biji: Zhuilu Old Trail
Hiking Biji: 我是新手,我想去錐麓古道!(the full 10km hike)
Trail details from Taroko National Park website
迴瀾一瞬: 登山族的北花蓮山岳 Mountains in northern Hualien
English posts:
Foreigners in Taiwan: Zhuilu Old Trail (including how to apply for permits)
The World Travel Guy: Zhuilu Old Trail – Best Hike In Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge

Related Posts on Taiwan Hikes:

Shakandang Trail and Xiaozhuilu Trail
Dali and Datong Villages
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