The Zhuilu Old Trail
On the Edge of Insanity
The Zhuilu Old Trail (aka Jhuilu Old Trail)
High in the mountains above Taroko Gorge National Park near Hualien, Taiwan lies a trail unlike any most people ever see or experience in their lives. Carved into the flat face of a massive cliff of solid marble, the Zhuilu Old Trail sits perilously more than 700 meters above the canyon floor below.
With limited (often no) guardrail or fencing along the trails edge, one can stare down past their toes at the great Liwu river winding like a little creek over half a mile down. As if that wasn’t enough, the 500-meter-long cliffside portion at the top is only 90cm wide!
This…is the Zhuilu Old Trail…
History of the Zhuilu Old Trail
Once part of the old Cross – Hehuan Mountain Road during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the infamous Zhuilu Old Trail was originally built as a hunting path through the mountains by Truku tribes people in the 1800’s.
It wasn’t widened to its current 90cm width until the occupying Japanese in the early 1900’s needed a route to move heavy artillery through the treacherous mountains.
It was said that the Japanese governors brought in numerous engineers and workers from Japan to widen the trail, but due to its extreme height and precariousness, they all refused. Eventually the Japanese “enlisted” young Truku tribesmen to widen the path for them, and the young men were made to dangle from cables half a mile up using nothing but hand tools to chip away at the hard marble.
Due to its high historical and cultural value, the trail has been designated as a “Historic Preservation Area” in Taiwan”.
In 2008 after much maintenance of the trail, it was reopened to the public.
Getting Permission for the Hike
There are many hoops one must pass through to get onto the trail. A Taiwanese emergency contact, a Taroko National Park permit, and a local police permit are all required to access the Zhuilu Old Trail as stipulated by the National Park.
Also, for environmental reasons, the number of hikers is limited to 96 per day regulated via an Ecological Protection Area Entry Permit, while the number is increased to 156 on weekends.
For these and a number of other reasons (safety, transportation to the trailhead, etc.), most visitors use a guide service when embarking on the trek.
Getting on the Trail
After permits and identification are approved (bring your passports!), visitors cross a long suspension foot bridge to begin their journey.
Looking up at the Zhuilu Cliffs themselves, the massive mountain reaches 1100 meters high. More than the height of the worlds tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
It really is an amazing experience just to be there!
Heading to the Top
The 2.5km hike up the mountain to the cliff portion often requires rest stops to catch your breath and coming down requires breaks to give your knees and thighs a chance to rest. A couple of suspension bridges await you on the trail as well.
Note: Bring plenty of water and snacks as there is nowhere to obtain either on the trail
Trekking poles can be helpful as well for the steep portions.
At the Top!
One of the main reasons why the trail is so spectacular is because of the sweeping views from the top. With a bird’s eye view of Taroko Gorge and the cross-island highway winding far below, the views out into the mountain range are at once dumbfounding.
Overlooking the narrow Swallow Grotto canyon, Zhuilu Old Trail has a superior vantage point to view the entire Taroko Gorge area.
Note: Once on the cliff portion, it is important to walk slowly and pay attention
Not only is the path extremely narrow with a 700 meter cliff drop to one side, but there are low overhanging rocks as well. People have been known to hit their heads while walking carelessly so take your time.
It’s always green on the forested hike to the top as Taiwan is pleasantly situated in the subtropics. No matter the season, the mountains are always breathtaking. However, in the summer, there is a chance you could end up in a sea of clouds rolling over the mountain range.
Hiking in the mountains on a cloudy afternoon can be a bizarre experience as up on Zhuilu you can feel as though you are walking in the clouds. That’s because you are!
Also, the trail will close if there is heavy rain so pay attention to the possibility of inclement weather.
Zhuilu Old Trail is One of the Greatest Adventures in Eastern Taiwan.
Together with the Mugua River Gorge and the journey to Lisong Hot Springs, it ranks as one of the wildest and most fun days out one can have in the greater Hualien region.
We hope you enjoy it!
For further reading on Taroko Gorge National Park, check out: Taroko Gorge National Park: The Jewel of Taiwan