When people think of South Korea, they think of the sprawling metropolis of Seoul, a realm of technology, maybe they even think of the tense border with North Korea – they could think of one of many different things. But something that South Korea is quickly gaining a grand reputation for, is its multitude of amazing hiking trails.
Hiking is one of the most treasured past times amongst South Koreans, particularly amongst the elderly, but more and more young people are taking the opportunity to get out amongst the wilderness. Most the trails are close to city centres, and offer sweeping views of the lush and ragged Korean wilds, along with vistas of the sprawling cities the people call home. If you’re thinking about taking a trip to the Korean Peninsula, its worth it to consider branching out and taking a few hikes; it’s an amazing way to engage with Korean culture, and see the country from a whole different viewpoint. Here are my top five hikes in South Korea:
South Korea is a country rife with national parks; one of the largest and most iconic of which is Seoraksan. Located in Gangwon-Do, on the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula, Seoraksan boasts stunning mist-covered mountains and strange rock formations amongst thick forest and bountiful wildlife. The Unesco Biosphere Protection site is home to South Korea’s third-tallest mountain, Seorak-san (Snowy Crags Mountain), and amongst this amazing setting you will find a variety of temples sitting elegantly alongside the noble the mountain peaks.
You can stay amongst the park in Seorak-dong, where you will have easiest access to walking trails and the Seoraksan National Park Visitor Centre in Outer Seorak. There is accommodation there for all budgets, from solo backpackers to luxury hotels.
Buses run to Seoraksan, Seorak-dong, and Outer Seorak from the bus terminal in Sokcho, where the park entrance lies, and the famous hike to the top of scenic Daecheong-Bong. Leave five-to-seven hours for this hike (Many South Koreans time their hike to coincide with the sunrise at the peak)
Number four on this list may be the most accessible of all the trails on this list. Bukhansan lies outside Seoul, and is an easy 40-1hr train ride outside the city. From anywhere in Seoul, the mountains are ever-present, and none is more prevalent or more awe-inspiring than the northern National Park of Bukhansan. To get to the northern trails, simply catch the subway train network to Dobongsan, where the park entrance can be found by following
the crowds of hikers the signage. In the south of the region is Baegundae, South Korea’s highest peak, which can be reached from Bukhansanseong, just take the connecting bus 70 at the Gupabal train station.
Dobongsan is the most popular of the two, and boasting rugged paths and secluded, patient temples amongst the mountains. Mangwol-sa on the return descent is a highlight, and there are several forested temples on the way up, the perfect place for a rest and a water. Be sure to take the signposted detours to these reclusive structures, or pick up a map from the information centre at the park entrance. Be prepared for crowds at both trails – expect to see many people cooking noodles and drinking tea on the rocks, the standard Korean respite before the ascent to the peak.
The park offers grand, sweeping vistas of the surrounding countryside, as well as an unparalleled view of Seoul city. The trek is challenging towards the summit, but is a relaxing stroll until the final half an hour of walking. The park follows through woodlands and mountains rivers, climbing up towards pale rock formations, and climaxing with a ridge-top clamber. I had the great privilege of walking through Bukhansan, or at least the northern trails around Dobongsan. If you want to read about my adventures through Bukhansan in more detail, you can find my travel diary here.
3. Jeju Olle Trail
The Jeju Olle Trail encompasses about 25 different routes across the island, following the circumference of the tiny, southern island at the bottom of the Korean Peninsula.
This one makes the list because of how the trail immerses you in the unique culture and history of Jeju Island. You follow the coast, weaving through villages and paddies, always glancing up towards the mountains, as you make your way towards the fishing combines and white-sand beaches.
This trail was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my entire time in South Korea; I only covered a few of the routes during my time there, but I was exposed to the culture of Jeju in such a unique way that it left a lasting impression.
If you want to start from route 1, buses from Jeju-si, the biggest city on Jeju, take you right to the trailhead. Alternatively, visit http://www.jejuolle.org for more details. This one is a definite must-do in Korea, and I should be putting up a more in-depth description of the Olle trail on my travel diary very soon 🙂
This one makes the list because one of my biggest regrets of my time in South Korea was that I didn’t get a chance to do this awe-inspiring hike.
This is Korea’s smallest National Park, but one of the most famous. This park is steep and strenuous, filled with forested crags and unusual rock outcroppings. Bring lots of water, and your camera for the famous bridge spanning two rocky peaks.
You can reach Wolchulsan National Park from the town of Yeongnam, east of Mokpo, in the country’s South West.
On the island of volcanic island of Jeju, presiding over everything, like Olympus or Pompei, is the ever-present Mt. Halla. A giant presence on the mountain, Hallasan National Park, and the penultimate summit hike easily slides into number one on the list.
Making your way through dense forest, alongside glacial rivers and towering trees, the summit climb to Hallasan climaxes in a tour-de-force battle between yourself, the wind, and the terrain. Somewhat frosty as late in the year as November, the track is *somewhat* perilous, but well worth the adventure as you climb to the mountain-top lake at the summit. The return paths equally as gorgeous, as you descend into valleys of deep green mountain littered with boulders and rock formations, carved out by mountain waterfalls and rivers that freeze over in the winter. There are bridge crossings, imposing vistas, and forest ambles, making this the number one hike in Korea.
And if you’re lucky, you may even spot a deer.
Perfect in all seasons, a taxi to the carpark at the trail entrance at Seongpanak will take you fifteen minutes, and the trail at Seongpanak will guide you to the summit. Return via the Gwaneum-sa trail for breathtaking sights.
So there you have it! Those are my top 5 hikes you MUST do in South Korea. Which one are you going to shoot for first? Cheers for taking the time to read, until next time,
Read more about my adventures South Korea: