Last Updated: September 10, 2018
How to Get a Permit to Hike the Zhuilu Old Trail, Taroko National Park, Hualien, Taiwan
If you’re looking to hike the Zhuilu Old Trail—whether solo or as a group—in Taroko National Park, you will need two park-issued permits: one from the national park and one from the police bureau (both permits are now completed online at the same time, so when you complete the steps for the permit through the link below you’ll be filling out the information for both simultaneously). There’s no way to skip the permits and hike the trail since the suspension bridge over the gorge at the trailhead is gated and locked, and there’s an attendant on duty across the road from the trailhead. The permits are easy to obtain–by following the steps below–and the cost (as of March 2017) to hike the trail is $200 NTD for adults, $100 NTD for children 6-12, and under the age of 6 is free, and you’ll pay cash in NTD at the trailhead.
To obtain hiking permits for the Zhuilu Old Trail, you will need to go to this website (https://npm.cpami.gov.tw/en/) and fill in all of the information. You will also need a Taiwanese emergency contact (in the “Person on Duty” section of the permit) to complete part of the form, but you can have a staff member at the hotel or guest house you’re staying at to act as your local contact. Actually, any Taiwanese citizen or permanent resident can act as your contact/guide (ARC holders can’t complete the section either). (Some websites or various local people will tell you that need to hire a guide, but this isn’t true. Again, any resident of Taiwan can fill in the necessary permit info online and you’ll be good to go. He or she doesn’t need to be present when you arrive at the park and start the hike either.) This procedure allows Taiwanese officials to initially contact someone who speaks the same language should anything happen to you, and for them to also learn more about you before they take further action on your rescue or family notification should injury or death occur. (I asked a Taiwanese staff member at a hostel I was staying at for permit help, and later picked up the permits, and hiked the trail alone with no questions or problems whatsoever.)
Important: It’s recommended that you apply for the permit at least 24-hours before your planned hike. Park officials only allow 96-people to hike the trail on weekdays and 156-people on weekends, so the earlier you apply the better to have the best chance to be granted a permit. After you’ve applied for the permit on the website above, you’ll receive a few emails about the process—one will be acknowledgement that you submitted for a permit and the other will be an email stating whether it has been granted—along with a PDF of your permit to print. It will also state to print two copies of the permit and bring them with you to show the park employee at the trailhead before he or she unlocks the gate for you to start the hike.
Getting Around the Park
There are several ways to travel to and from the park. The same goes for within the park. You can rent a scouter, take a taxi, a bus, or hitchhike. I’ve taken a bus and hitchhiked. You can buy an unlimited day pass for $250 NTD, and it’s cheaper than two, one-way tickets. The day pass is cheapest and best since it allows you to get on and off the bus at any stop and you can do this as much as you want. Hitchhiking is another great option. I’ve hitchhiked around much of Taiwan, the longest being from Hualien to Kenting, and it’s incredible how quickly you can get a ride. Plus, the people are very friendly and it’s the easiest place I’ve found to hitchhike in 18 countries and counting. That said, the bus is still the safest option since you don’t have to stand near the road and ask for rides, or take chances hitchhiking with strangers, but at least you have the option.
Park map from Taiwan Gov
The Zhuilu Old Trail is 10.3 km long, but only 3 km is currently open for hiking. When the trail was open in its entirety, most people started the hike at the Cimu Bridge trailhead and hiked to Swallow Grotto. But now, with the partial closure, all hikes begin and end at Swallow Grotto—a 3 km hike in and a 3 km hike out for a total of 6 km.
The trailhead for the Zhuilu Old Trail is at the start of the Swallow Grotto Trail. You’ll see a brown arrow sign with Swallow Grotto Trail on it. The Zhuilu Old Trail/Swallow Grotto trailhead is located on the right before the Yanzihkou (also spelled Yanzikou) Tunnel. There’s also a booth now (where the green tent is as shown below), which is across the street from the suspension bridge you will cross to start the hike, and there’s a park employee working in a booth to check you in, make sure you’ve paid the trail fee, and unlock the gate for you so you can begin the hike.
Zhuilu Old Trail/Swallow Grotto Trailhead
Swallow Grotto Suspension Bridge
I started the hike at 10:00 AM. The trail doesn’t open until 10 AM, so this allows you to check in early at the police station and get to the trailhead when it opens (between 7 AM-10 AM). The hike was a steady ascent up log steps, rocks, and dirt paths. There are a few small bridges to cross and open clearings to hike through before you reach the top, but mostly it’s wooded with dense vegetation. However, there are several openings along the way to take pictures. It’s also hot on the trail, so bring lots of food and water (two or three liters or more). Once you reach the Cliff Outpost the trail is closed, and there’s caution tape strung across the trail. This is a great place to hang out and snack before heading back down.
All in all, I’d say the trail can be strenuous for those who aren’t physically active. I found it to be easy, but I also hike often. At one point, near the top, I came around the corner to find an older British gentleman lying in the grass. He wasn’t moving and his eyes were closed, and he was covered in sweat. I stopped and spoke to him, asking if he was OK, and finally he opened his eyes, said the heat had gotten the best of him. His family and friends left him there to finish the hike, and would help him, he said, when they came back down. Otherwise, if he didn’t have help, I would have had to abort the hike and get him to safety. Again, this is just a reminder to bring lots of water and food and sunscreen. The heat is hard on people here if they aren’t used to it. Lastly, on my hike, I counted eleven people including myself on the trail during my hike, so perhaps it was an off day, which was fine with me.
Cliff Outpost. Trail’s End.
The Zhuilu Old Trail is arguably one of the most spectacular hikes in Asia. It’s been featured in various hiking forums and magazines for years. The vertical cliffs and sheer drop-offs along the hike are magnificent, and the narrow trail above the gorge makes many feel a little uneasy. Personally, I loved this hike and took many fantastic pictures. Just be sure to watch out for snakes (although I didn’t see any), and respect the terrain and vegetation. It’s a special place and should be respected for all who come after you.
Thank you for reading and enjoy the hike!
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Me on the edge of the old road
Other Helpful Links
Here’s a great step by step guide to fill out the Taroko permit application