The national park is huge, but if you only have a day's worth of time, like we did, I'd recommend going for these 3 trails/look-out points:
1. Qixing Tan Beach 七星潭 & Qingshui Cliffs 清水断崖
On the road from Hualien into the Taroko region are two scenic spots where our driver took us for brief photo stops. Qixing Tan Beach is a tranquil pebble filled beach facing an endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, while a spectacular 5km stretch of cliffs called the Qingshui Cliffs can be viewed from a purpose built observatory.
2. Taroko Gorge - Shakadang Trail 砂卡噹步道
This is one of the few trails in Taroko that are right by the river, offering a unique perspective to marvel at the towering marble cliffs of the region. The trail follows the Shakadang Stream, famous for its crystal clear turquoise waters. On a warmer day I heard you could take a dip in the calmer pools, but unfortunately the weather was not fantastic that day. This trail takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete, and is an easy walk with well paved paths.
3. Taroko Gorge - Baiyang Waterfall Trail 白楊步道
Featuring rivers, waterfalls, valleys, cliffs and tunnels, this trail deep into the Taroko Gorge has it all. The stars of this trail are the magnificent Baiyang Waterfall and the Water Curtain tunnel, but unfortunately the latter was closed off to public when we were there due to rockfall.
This easy 2 hour hike brought us through pitch black tunnels, hair raising cliff edges and a suspension bridge before leading us to the Baiyang Waterfall observatory deck. The views from this trail are insanely beautiful, and so humbling. The Taroko Gorge started off merely as sediment at the bottom of the ocean, and these towering cliffs we see today are the result of over hundred million years of geologic forces. Now this is the real #taleasoldastime.
We managed to complete all this, plus a few more photo stops along the way at Swallow Grotto and the Cimu Bridge in about 10 hours - we left Hualien at 8am and reached back at 6pm.
If there was more time I would have loved to hike the Zhuliu Old Trail but that 4-5 hour hike would have left us with little time left to see anything else! Next time then, see you again Taroko, you were amazing!