Jhuilu Old Trail, or Zhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道), in Taroko National Park (太鲁阁国家公园) is an ancient trail used by the aborigine people in the early days. It is an important trail that connects the different tribes in the mountainous regions of Hualien, Taiwan (台湾花莲). The trail was about 30cm wide initially and was later expanded to 1.5m during the Japanese occupation.
The full length of the old trail is 10.3Km but due to damages from a number of typhoons, only 3.1Km of the trail is accessible. There are no signs that the full trail will be re-opened any time soon although repair works have been ongoing for many years. However, the current 3.1Km trail is good enough to reach as far as Cliff Outpost (断崖驻在所).
And the main reason for hiking on Jhuilu Old Trail, instead of sticking to the main road, is to have wide views of Taroko Gorge from a higher ground — on a cliff about 600m up.
Some Points Before You Go
1. Entry Permit
Getting on the Jhuilu Old Trail requires 2 entry permits:
You will need to understand Traditional Chinese to fill up the application forms or get someone who can understand to help. Once you received the approval slips, print out 2 copies and bring them on the hiking day — one copy for the gatekeeper at the trail entrance and one to keep on your person as proof of entry.
Do apply early as only 96 people are allowed to enter the trail per normal day and 156 people during holidays. Alternatively, join a tour group in Hualien and pay for a hiking guide and any applicable fees. They will take care of all paperwork.
More info on Taroko National Park's website.
2. Entry Fee & Time
Effective from March 2017, entry fees are required for entering Jhuilu Old Trail — NT$200 for adults, NT$100 for children age 6-12 and under 6 is free.
Entry time is between 7am to 10am, last entry at 10am, so do not be late.
3. Bad Weather & Risks
Entry to the old trail will be suspended during bad weather, especially typhoon seasons. All entry permits for affected days will automatically be voided. Re-application is required for changing to other days.
Renting of safety helmet is available for free beside the ticketing booth and strongly recommended for protecting the head against falling stones when walking along the cliff.
In 2016 alone, in two separate incidents, two hikers fell off the cliff and died due to their negligence. Hikers are advised to take safety precautions when walking the narrow trail (average 90 cm wide) on the cliff, especially when taking photos.
Read further to check out the old trail, the scenery and what to expect before deciding if you are able to go on the trail or bring any children along (personally, I will advise against bringing children).
First, get to the trail entrance at Swallow Grotto (燕子口). There are public buses plying the road in the national park. You can take a bus from the ticketing booth and alight at Swallow Grotto. Check with the staff there if unsure.
The trail entrance is a raised wooden platform by the road. Wait for the gatekeeper to inspect your documents before proceeding.
The platform is connected to a suspension bridge across the gorge, aptly named Jhuilu Suspension Bridge (錐麓吊桥). Only 20 persons are allowed on the bridge at any one time.
You can have some great views of the narrow Taroko Gorge from the suspension bridge.
In the photo above, the road on the upper-left corner is where visitors will get to take close looks at Taroko Gorge — very close. You will see things from different angles on Jhuilu Old Trail.
Check out the great views on both sides of the bridge.
After crossing the bridge, the trail will lead into the mountains, mostly going uphill. Beware of venomous snakes and wasps during certain seasons. Keep to the trail where you can see what you are walking on.
After hiking for 1.2Km, you will come to another suspension bridge, called "Badagang No. 2 Suspension Bridge" (巴达冈二号吊桥). The bridge will bring you across a ravine.
After crossing the bridge, continue on the trail through the forest. Once you have ascended high enough and get to closer to the cliff, the views will open up and you will be able to see further and wider.
And see the deep gorge below you. Do not take photos when walking. Do not stand on protruding rocks as they may become loose under your weight.
For the last part of the 3.1Km trail, you will be walking along a carved out path on the cliff face. There is a guiding rope where you can hold on. And put on your safety helmet.
The photo below shows the gorge on the left and the trail, on the cliff, is to the right. Can you see someone walking on the trail?
After the 2.8Km mark, you will soon reach a point where you will be able to get a wide view of Taroko Gorge or part of it. However, it is also very dangerous at this point to be looking down and taking photos. The 2 hikers that died fell off somewhere near this point.
I used a DSLR camera with a re-directional LCD viewing screen that allowed me to take photos without leaning out and looking down. I "viewed" the scenery below through the LCD screen of my DSLR and photos, not directly.
If you don't have such feature, keep walking, do not risk your life for a photo. Remember, safety must come first!
And here is the wider view of Taroko Gorge. And this is why hikers take to Jhuilu Old Trail — to get a view from above. This view is captured through my camera. There is no way to be looking down from this angle without falling over.
Continuing towards the Cliff Outpost at 3.1Km, you will come to a small opening where you can take a break. It is also the end of the accessible old trail. Heed the warning signs and turn back.
Going back on the same trail you came, you will get to see the scenery along the trail again but from different angles. Also, expect mists in the afternoon during certain seasons.
The trail ends once you are back at Jhuilu Suspension Bridge. A total of 6.2Km. Hiking on Jhuilu Old Trail will take about 3-5 hours depending on individual or group fitness level.
Once back at Swallow Grotto, continue sight-seeing like any other visitors to Taroko National Park. You have seen the magnificent Taroko Gorge from higher ground, so continue to check out the gorge at closer distance like all visitors.
Going off the beaten path allows us to see what most visitors don't get to see and that is the reward itself. Some risks may be involved, we need to be aware of them and do things safely instead of putting our life at risks.
Go on adventures and come back with amazing stories!