Accepting the challenge of Taiwan’s hardest cycling route
DAY 1: From Hualien to Tianxiang, total distance 40KM
For an average cyclist, it takes two days to get to the top. If you’re a more seasoned cyclist, you can challenge yourself and try to get to the top in only one day.
The route begins in the city of Hualien. If you leave early enough, it is possible to stop by at famous Qixingtan Beach and marvel at the amazing sunrise from the Pacific Ocean before continuing onwards to Taroko National Park. The distance from the beach to the park is only about 25 kilometers so there’s no need to hurry.
The first 25 km are mainly flat so, at the start of the ride, you can just enjoy the journey and the picturesque views of Taroko Gorge. The winding road goes through amazing marble canyon where cliffs can be as much as a kilometer in height. At some points you should beware of the falling rocks. If the risk is too high, the road will be closed so you don’t have to worry too much about proceeding onward.
The road starts to ascend slowly, but this part is still quite easy. Along the way, make sure to stop at Shakadang, Eternal Spring Shrine, Swallow Grotto, Lushui, and Baiyang Waterfall. The first day you only need to cycle 40KM. Check “Attractions-Taroko” for more details about the attractions along the way.
After approximately 3 hours and 40 kilometers of pedaling you should arrive at Tianxiang village.
The area has a service area, visitor center and a bus station as well. The area has been populated for a very long time. It’s one of the few spots in Taroko that are suitable for development and is also the largest recreational area in Taroko Gorge. In Tianxiang, the main attraction is XiangDe Temple, an attractive Buddhist complex only accessible by a footbridge.
Baiyang Waterfall trail will be a nice trail worth paying a visit also, but make sure in advance that it isn’t closed for maintenance. If you are not tired, there is even a hot spring 3 km further up for you to relax in. You can hike there. It will help your muscles to recover from the pedaling. This area has been closed for years after a typhoon hit Taroko and caused serious damage. It’s not well maintained so be careful walking on the slippery stone-steps. Enter this hot spring at your own risk. Details of this hot spring can be found in another post about “Lushui Wenshan Trail".
There are a few hostels and a 7-eleven on your way up in Tianxiang. It is possible to stay here for the night or at the next possible hostel which is 52 kilometers away. The cheapest place to stay in Tianxiang is the church. This church hostel is very basic, but there are all the necessary facilities and also plenty of cute kittens there for you to play with! You’ll get a decent dormitory bed for 300NTD.
During our trip, we had a supporting van from Taiwan Vista Tour to assist us with filming. Therefore, we decided to cycle up further for another 15 kilometers to Luoshao and so we would have sufficient time to get footage the following day.
DAY 2: From Tianxiang to the top of the mountain, total distance 75KM
The earlier you start your cycling on the second day, the better. At the time of sunrise there will be less traffic, and you can cycle almost alone. On the way, you will find foggy valleys and hear the ravens croaking in the trees. There are also several small waterfalls along the road. If you’re quiet enough, you may even run into a family of monkeys.
The roads are well maintained and meander through numerous tunnels and over the bridges. The road was originally an ancient trail call Hehuan Cross-Island Trail built by the Japanese to suppress Taiwanese indigenous people during the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, but it was later converted into a provincial highway when the KMT party retreated to this island from mainland China. At that time, there was no modern engineering equipment and the most important tool for open workers was the cross axe and explosives. There were 212 workers killed by the accident and natural disasters and 702 injured during the process. On average, more than one person died for each kilometer built. The entire project took over 18 years and cost over NTD $400 million . The road was finally opened in 1960.
After pedaling through hairpin bends up the mountain, there is a small cafe by a tree called the Bilu Sacred Tree. This tree is 3,200 years old and about 50 meters high with a diameter of 3.5 meters. There you can buy a cup of nice and warm coffee with local peach honey. Delicious! At this point the gradient really starts to bite so it’s better to save energy for the final 10 kilometers. Also, the temperature starts to cool down as the altitude is 2,150m. Remember to take warm clothes with you!
A little bit further you encounter Taiwan’s highest-elevation gas station where you can buy delicious and fresh rice dumplings, wrapped up in bamboo leaf. Near the gas station there is a youth hostel, which is the highest possible place to stay if you haven’t been lucky enough to stay in the hotel located just at the foot of Hehuan Mountains.
Kuan Yun Youth Activity Center is quite worth the price at $500 NTD. The price includes a breakfast, and it’s very clean and comfortable. You can drop your bags there and continue pedaling to the top. If you want to have a dinner at the hostel later in the evening, remember to make a reservation before 12 o’clock on the day you arrive.
There is still over 15 kilometers to pedal before reaching Wuling. At this point you’ll start to feel your legs and wonder why on earth you accepted this challenge. Nevermind the struggle, though. You’re one step closer to being the King of The Mountain. Enjoy the scenery along the way. You’ve earned it.
After passing the hostel you will find a cute little fruit stall from which you can enjoy another beautiful view of the mountains. They also have a sweet little watchdog! Just a few kilometers before reaching the top there are also two cafes where you can buy some food and use the toilet if you need to.
After passing the 3,000 m elevation mark, you might struggle with the altitude. This last part is definitely the hardest. The road gradient reaches 27 percent at some points, and the further you go the more it will challenge you. This is probably the longest half kilometer ever! It’s absolutely insane and incredibly steep. You will need to be determined to cross over this hurdle.
If you manage to reach the top, feel victorious. This is the hardest route you can cycle in Taiwan. Words can’t describe how amazing it will feel to finally reach the top after this brutal ride. You have to come and experience this challenge for yourself!