Nearly everything I read while reading up about Taiwan National Cycle Route 1, I read that nearly everyone skipped the section between Hualien and Yilan counties on the East Coast by using the train from Xincheng Station (新城火車站), at the entrance to Taroko Gorge, and Su’aoxin station, just on the other side of the “bad” section. So of course I had to know if it was at all possible, safe, enjoyable, or anything to ride it. So I did.
TL;DR: if you skip this section of the route you are missing some of the best riding in Taiwan.
However, you are also skipping some of the worst riding not only in Taiwan, but some of the worst riding I’ve ever done, ever. But you don’t need to skip the whole thing!
The Suhua Highway route used to be completely shared between cars, trucks, buses, scooters, bicycles. Everyone took this route. It is twisty, windy, hilly, narrow, and has lots of sections where rockfalls are common. Not only was all of the shared traffic (especially in the tunnels) very dangerous, but rockfalls have caused lots of closures and even killed people.
Finishing up in 2020, the Suhua Highway Improvement Project opened a bunch of new tunnels to straighten out the road and make the route safer. Additionally, rockfall roofs were built along the old section of the highway to protect road users in particularly dangerous sections. Finally, rockfall netting was installed on the cliffs along the old highway.
Since the pandemic swooped in in early 2020 and Taiwan only recently reopening its borders to tourists, most of the English language information about this portion of Route 1 seems to predate the completion of that work. I hope to correct that for future people who go looking for information about this amazing bit of riding!
The main focus of this post is the route specifically between Xincheng Station and Su’aoxin Station. This is where most of the information I’ve found online says to take the train.
I’ve broken this section up into 7 smaller sections, each one covering a logical unit of the route, to make it a bit easier to talk about.
- Xincheng Station to Chongde Station
- Chongde Station to Daqingshui Recreation Area
- Daqingshui Recreation Area to Heren Station
- Heren Station to Heping Station
- Heping Station to Nan’ao Station
- Nan’ao Station to Dongao Station
- Dongao Station to Su’aoxin Station
Note: these notes assume a northbound direction, as it’s the direction I rode in and the direction most people will probably ride in. In at least one section there’s a separate tunnel for southbound traffic. In some of the tunnels you would be going up hill if coming southbound. I’m happy to include notes from others’ experiences going southbound, but I haven’t personally ridden it that way.
Xincheng Station to Chongde Station
You’ll cross the Taroko Bridge with a very large sidewalk next to it. The sidewalk doesn’t seem to have ramps to get up on it on the south end, nor to get off of it on the north end, and the curb is very tall. You’ll need to lift your bike up onto it.
Just as you near Chongde Station you’ll pass a small restaurant (太魯閣中村志明咖啡風味餐) on the left hand side of the road. Stop here. They are famous for their cinnamon rolls but their other food is also great. The portions are huge. The staff extremely friendly. I am not sponsored by them, I promise.
Chongde Station to Daqingshui
Past Chongde Station, the road gets very narrow. It climbs up a bit and then passes through some very narrow tunnels with zero shoulder. Traffic is very heavy. Lots of large trucks and buses. Multiple times while riding through these tunnels I had a bus literally inches from my left shoulder and riding on the white line with the tunnel wall maybe half a meter to my right. I got the impression that everyone passing me sympathized with my plight, I didn’t feel any aggression from drivers, they just clearly had no way to give me any more space than they were.
Two of the tunnels were also especially smokey. Full of exhaust fumes. One was particularly bad. I honestly would advise wearing an N95 mask when riding through it. You could see the exhaust in the air. It was bad.
Additionally, this section of the route was not particularly rewarding. There were gaps between tunnels from time to time where you might be able to pull out a bit and look out at the ocean and the cliffs, but I didn’t stop, I wanted to get through as quickly as possible.
It was rideable. Like I said, I got the impression that folks were being careful, but when there’s nowhere to go, there’s nowhere to go. It was extremely uncomfortable riding.
Daqinshui to Heren Station
After smokey narrow dangerous tunnels, this section is a literal breath of fresh air. Once you leave the last tunnel and arrive here, the old highway splits away from the new tunnel and climbs up a hill and passes through a number of tunnels and rockfall roofs. The views are amazing. The road is completely quiet. And it’s not much of a climb.
Heren Station to Heping Station
Another quiet section of road with a couple of long tunnels along the cliffs. You pass through a small village before descending down to Heping Station.
Heping Station to Nan’ao Station
This section is much hillier than the previous sections. You get a bit of a tease going through a couple of short tunnels before ending up back at the coast next to Hanben Station but then the climbing begins in earnest. It’s a long way up, but the views are incredible. At one point you’ll see the dual highway tunnels poke out of the hills and back in. They’re fully covered still, so it’s like the tunnels were laid and someone chipped away the hillside around them. The views are amazing and the descent is lovely.
Nan’ao Station to Dongao Station
After 3 lovely mostly-car-free sections, you’re back with traffic. It’s a big climb up to the tunnel, on a twisty, narrow, sometimes rather steep road. However the lane is generally fairly wide, sightlines are good enough, and pinch points are few and far between. There are some pinch points, however, so do be aware. If you’re going around a corner and the lane narrows, large vehicles like buses and trucks need to take wider turns, so you might want to check to make sure none are coming before rounding the corner. One of these spots, at least, was a really great photo opportunity, so it was a natural stopping point.
The tunnel itself looks intimidating on Google Street View. I’m fairly certain the street view imagery is from the southbound tunnel, which I think is the older of the 2 tunnels and is only one very narrow lane. The northbound tunnel is 2 lanes. There is signage at the entrance which leads me to believe that it’s intended for the lanes to be reversible, but whether that’s a regular occurrence for handling extra southbound traffic volumes or simply there in case the southbound tunnel needs to be bypassed, I don’t know. Elevation profiles I saw made it look like it was going to be a pretty long climb inside the tunnel, but it didn’t feel like much if any climbing. I was definitely pedaling the whole way and meeting resistance, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing very hard. Additionally, it’s a twisty windy climb up a 2 lane road, so you have basically one lane worth of traffic in a 2 lane tunnel, so you shouldn’t face huge amounts of traffic.
The descent into Dongao is pretty great. I stayed the night in Dongao and it was nice and quiet. I had dinner at a “stuff on rice” type of restaurant. It was excellent. There’s a breakfast spot there that was sadly closed when I arrived at about 9:45am. The reviews are great. I was really sad to miss it.
Dongao Station to Su’auxin Station
This section was a bit of a surprise for me. The road was fantastic, great views, all of that. But it was very busy. Lots of trucks, especially. Given that Highway 9 has its own set of tunnels paralleling this section, I was not expecting much traffic at all. It wasn’t a weekend. The hill itself didn’t have enough touristy stuff on it that I thought could account for the traffic? Not sure. I’m assuming something was up with the tunnels.
At any rate, despite the busy traffic, the lanes were quite wide and I felt like I had plenty of room. There were lots of pullouts to take photos and get a break from the traffic. It was again a lot of climbing, but very rewarding climbing. Near the very top there’s a big parking lot for the Suhua Highway Monument and there are great views looking south. To the north you get to see just how much climbing you have left, and it’s not a false summit!
From the summit it’s a nice winding blast of a descent. There are a couple of good views of various bits of Su’ao, a couple of places with a scooter and bike lane (great for passing people in cars!) and what looks like will be a really awesome rest area when it re-opens. Sadly, it was closed, and there was a stretch of pinched road past the construction site, but by that point I’d gotten so far ahead of the traffic behind me that I got through the area before they caught up.
The tunnels that parallel this section of the route are on 1968, so it may be worth checking the tunnel status before riding this section. Again, I’m not sure what the status was that day, but the traffic levels felt too high to be “normal”.
If you’re passing through this area on a bicycle, either as part of a lap around the island, or just wanting to ride some of the best riding Taiwan has to offer, I highly recommend you do not skip the whole thing. To summarize, here’s how I generally view each section:
- Xincheng Station to Chongde Station – Ride it. It’s fine, nice bridge, good food.
- Chongde Station to Daqingshui Recreation Area – Totally skippable. Ride it if you’re a completionist, but it’s genuinely some of the worst riding I’ve done ever.
- Daqingshui Recreation Area to Heren Station – Ride it. It’s great. I would only skip it if you are skipping from Chongde Station to Heren Station with the train but I would say it’s worth backtracking for. It’s not that much climbing!
- Heren Station to Heping Station – Ride it. It’s amazing.
- Heping Station to Nan’ao Station – Ride it. It’s amazing.
- Nan’ao Station to Dongao Station – Ride it, with a big asterisk. You’re sharing the road with heavy traffic. It can be a bit dicey in places, but is generally ok. It’s quite rewarding, however.
- Dongao Station to Su’ao Station – Ride it, with a small asterisk. I think my experience with this road having heavy traffic was not the norm. But even if it is, I’d say it’s no worse than Nan’ao to Dongao, and equally if not more rewarding.
Here are some ways you could do the whole section. Note that I haven’t vetted these for compatibility with train schedules and such. There are lots of trains through the area, but most are going to be express trains which won’t make all of the stops and generally don’t take bicycles.
- Ride it all. Yep. Even the crappy tunnels.
- Ride it all except the crappy tunnels. For this you’d take the train from Chongde Station to Heren Station. And from there I’d recommend backtracking to Daqingshui just because it’s so good.
- Ride only the separated sections. Train from Chongde to Heren. Ride to Nan’ao. Train from Nan’ao to Dongao. Ride the rest. If you’re concerned with traffic levels from Dongao to Su’ao, take the train from Nan’ao all the way to Su’ao.
With the number of train stations through here it should be pretty easy to put together your own adventure.
Future Heping to Nan’ao rail trail?
Looking at the map and looking around while I was passing through, I saw what is likely an old rail line that passes through a couple of tunnels between Hanben Station, which you go past just before starting the big climb, and Nan’ao Station. At one point on the climb you can look down and see a structure standing between 2 tunnels with a paved surface on top linking the two. And there was a truck parked there. So clearly it’s possible to go through. Whether or not it is open to the public or will be or what is anyone’s guess, but it would be exciting if this was eventually going to be a rail trail.
One downside to that becoming a rail trail is you’d miss out on the amazing climbing that section has, but if it makes the route more accessible to folks, then I’m all for it!
The structure is visible on Google’s satellite imagery, I didn’t take a picture of it while I was passing through for some reason.
And that’s it! I want to reiterate that the good parts of this route were some of the best riding I’ve ever done. If you skip this whole section using the train, I think you’re absolutely missing out.
I didn’t go into this blindly.
- A Spokes and Megapixels video from about a year ago where he turned back at the tunnels didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
- A /r/bicycletouring reddit post and its comments hinted that it was doable.
- A ride report video from the Jayoe Nation YouTube channel was what finally gave me the courage to actually attempt this.
Without these fine folks I wouldn’t have attempted it. I would have missed out on this amazing bit of riding. Thank you, friends.