The curvy and mountainous Hehuanshan Road is currently the only paved road leading across the Central Mountains via the famous Taroko Gorge. Climbing up to Wuling, at 3,275 metres above the sea level, is the highest automobile pass in Taiwan.
The Hehuanshan Road goes from Taichung City to Hualien via the famous Taroko Gorge. It leads up from Puli in central Nantou past Wushe (Ren-ai) and Chingjing Farm up to Wuling. The road is narrow and winding throughout, and is considered a dangerous and difficult road by many drivers. This road often becomes clogged in winter, when many locals travel up the mountain to see snow. Recently, after several incidents, buses and large trucks were barred from this stretch of road.
The highway number 14 that connects Taiwan’s north, east and west is over 3100m above sea level making it the highest place you can drive to in Taiwan. At this altitude, there are few trees and so the views are plentiful and spectacular. Due its climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and pass through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. Check weather forecasts before leaving home, and remember that it becomes cooler and often more prone to storms at higher elevations. Be prepared with jackets, water, and emergency kit in your car. Just beware that the weather can be very changeable and warm clothes/waterproofs are a good idea all year round.
This road is usually open all year, but during winter months, it can be closed when the access is not cleared of snow. Often during the winter, snow falls in the Hehuanshan area which attracts tourists in great numbers wanting to experience something so unusual for a semi tropical island. On weekdays there's usually little traffic; at weekends and whenever there's snow, you can expect crowds of people and vehicles. Conditions can change quickly and be harsh, particularly during winter.
The drive is definitely worth it. Although it begins just south of Taichung in the bland town of Caotun, Hwy 14 makes up for a poor start in no time. After Puli, which is worth stopping into to visit the marvellous Chung Tai Chan Temple, the elevation rises and one turn after another brings stunning mountain views. Along the way you can break for sightseeing and some of the best hiking in Taiwan. Hwy 14 ends at Tayuling, just north of the forest recreation area of Hehuanshan (which sits at over 3300m), and from here you can go east to Taroko Gorge or north to Wuling Farm and Ilan. Public transport is not great, or even good, along the highway. Only Puli has anything like regular bus service from Taichung. By driving, and not stopping much, you can cover the route in four to five hours but give yourself at least two days. Near the top of the road there are several hiking trails: Hehuan East Peak, Hehuan Sharp Peak, Shimenshan and Hehuan Main Peak are all short and very enjoyable hikes.