The Zuilu Old Trail
A Walk on the Edge of Insanity
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…
Walking on the Trail
A Little Zhuilu Old Road History
The infamous Zhuilu Old Trail, historically called the “Zhuilu Old Road”, was originally built as a hunting path by the indigenous Truku tribes people in the early 1800’s. Used to access remote swaths of mountainous jungle, rife with wild boar, the Truku tribespeople made the perilous journey bearing machete’s, facial tattoos, and of course, courage beyond reason. Why did they need so much courage you may ask? Because the narrow path, 750 meters above the canyon floor, was a mere 30cm (11 inches!) wide at the time!
Flash forward a hundred years. Occupying Japanese forces reached the Hualien area in the early 1900’s and desperately needed a route to move heavy artillery through the treacherous mountains. After some time, they eventually discovered the Zhuilu Old Trail and decided to widen the cliff-side path to its current 90cm width. But that’s only part of the story…
Tales have been told that the Japanese governors brought in countless engineers and workers from Japan to widen the trail. But due to its extreme height and precariousness – they all flatly refused. Eventually, the Japanese invaders grew weary of the delays, and instead forced young Truku tribesmen to widen the path for them. 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.
Today, scattered along the first legs of the trail winding up to the cliff, remains can still be seen of several tribal sites and outposts of the Japanese presence.
Due to its high historical and cultural value, the trail has been designated as a “Historic Preservation Area” in Taiwan”. And in 2008, after much maintenance of the trail, it was reopened to the public.
Getting Zhuilu Old Trail Permits
There are many hoops one must pass through to get onto the Zhuilu Old Trail. A Taiwanese emergency contact, a local police permit and an Ecological Protection Area Entry Permit are all required for access. Also, for environmental reasons, the number of hikers is limited to 96 per day, while the number is increased to 156 on weekends. These slots can fill up FAST however.
If you’re DIYing it, permit applications can be filled out and submitted on the Taroko National Park website. Be sure to print all permits and bring them along with your passport to the trail head. If anything is incorrect or not present, you’ll need to head back to the visitors center to try to remedy things quickly. This can cost you an hour round trip, and the trail entrance closes for the day at 10am. Also note, that there are only a couple of parking spaces for cars at the trail head and these fill up very quickly.
For these and a number of other reasons (convenience, safety, transportation to the trailhead, etc.), most visitors use a guide service such as Island Life Taiwan’s Zhuilu Old Trail Tour with Extras that takes care of the permits, transport and everything for you.
Getting on the Trail
The trail head to Zhuilu Old Trail is located at the beginning of the Swallow Grotto Trail (Yanzikou Trail) area of Taroko Gorge National Park.
Note: There is very limited parking here.
After permits and identification are approved (again, bring your passports!), visitors cross a long suspension foot bridge to begin their journey. This is the bridge featured on the cover of countless guidebooks and is ONLY accessible to people heading onto the Zhuilu Old Trail. Think of it as an added bonus!
Looking up at the Zhuilu Cliffs themselves, the massive mountain reaches 1100 meters high above you. For perspective, that’s more than the height of the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa! It really is an amazing experience just to be there!
Heading to the Top
The 6 km hike is not for the faint-hearted as you will spend between 3 to 6 hours in total time hiking the trail.
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. These are often provided on Zhuilu Old Trail tours.
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.
About Island Life Taiwan
Based in Hualien, Taiwan (adjacent to Taroko Gorge National Park), Island Life Taiwan designs all of our unique daily itineraries to help you discover the rich natural beauty and culture of Taiwan, in the most enjoyable, and most immersive way possible. We’re dedicated to showing you the most amazing locations in eastern Taiwan, while having the most fun and avoiding the crowds. More than just a tour operator and adventure outfitter, our team truly loves showing this awe-inspiring part of the world to our guests, and when you love what you do, it shows.
So what are you waiting for? Contact us and let us help you pick the tour or adventure that’s right for you!