Hiking in South Korea
If you travel to Korea, you should really consider bringing your hiking boots with you!
South Korea is a country full of mountains and hiking trails. There's no Grand Canyon but it is very beautiful in its own way. Every city or town in Korea has at least one small park where you can escape into the wilderness for some hikes. There are also plenty of National and Provincial parks around the South Korean countryside suitable for long day-hikers or even multi-day hikes. The choices can be quite overwhelming, so I've listed only my favorite spots for hiking in South Korea.
Songnisan National Park: the Top Hiking Spot in Central Korea
There are mountains all over Korea, and hiking is the most popular weekend activity. One of the most spectacular mountains is Songnisan National Park in central Korea. Beopjusa Temple, with a huge Gold Buddha statue is a good start to any of the hikes. At the mountain village, there are hordes of restaurants and home-stays where you can sleep the night. 1/2 way up the mountain, is a hut called Birosanjang where you can find some authentic wilderness, which is quite rare in Korea. And the hiking! Not so difficult, but with amazing views!
Seoraksan National Park: for Spectacular Fall Colors
Seoraksan National Park is Korea's most famous. It's located outside the fishing city of Sokcho, in the North-East corner of the country. During the peak fall seasons, it seems like 1/2 of Korea is climbing the mountain. There is a range of hikes from nice, easy waterfall viewing to cable car rides, to grueling multi-day expeditions. Choices abound!
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Wolchusan National Park: Craggy Rocks rising up from the Rice Fields
Tucked away in the corner of remote Jeollanam-Do, near Mokpo is the stunning Wolchusan National Park. It's Korea's smallest National Park but it's well worth a visit. There are long suspension bridges between peaks, craggy mountains and misty clouds surrounding the area. Amazingly, the peaks rise up from the very flat surrounding countryside, so you can get a fabulous 365 degree view.
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Jirisan National Park: for Multi-Day Ridge Hiking
Jirisan National Park is Korea's largest and has the second highest peak in South Korea (1915m). It's perfect for a small day-hike, or you can hike the entire park along the ridge, which takes 3 or 4 days. Along the way, you can have a true Korea experience staying in one of the 9 huts, packed in like a sardine with 500 of your fellow hikers. It's truly an experience that can't be missed. In the area is also some white-water rafting that would be fun in monsoon season.
Taean Haean Maritime National Park
While not strictly hiking, for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, Annmyeon Island in Chungcheongnam Province is well worth a visit. It's filled with flowers, beaches, salt farms, and a slow pace of life. You can camp at one of the many designated spots or strike out on your own and find your own little piece of paradise. The best way to see the island is by car, or do like I did and bring your scooter! The buses only stop at the major spots and not the secluded little beaches that are the most beautiful.
Also in the area are some beautiful West Coast beaches: Mallipo for crowds and fun, Cheollipo for wind-swept beauty and Baekripo for a true taste of isolation. Camping here was the quietest night of my life in Korea.
This whole area has recovered beautifully from the major oil spill that happened a while back. It's hard to believe.
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Gyeryongsan National Park
in the heart of Chungcheongnam Province is Gyeryongsan National Park. It's got 2 beautiful and famous temples and a challenging hike from one end of the park to the other which takes about 4 hours. There are peaceful streams and fabulous views of the surrounding countryside as well. A good way to do this is to either start in Gongju or Daejeon and then return to the other city on your way home.
Hallasan National Park in Jeju Island
The highest peak in South Korea offers a challenging day-hike. It's not possible to stay overnight on the mountain, but if you leave early enough in the day you should have plenty of time to make it to the top and back down. Hallasan is the prominent mountain in the center of Jeju Island and there are trails from all sides. Check with tourist information at the airport for the most up-to-date information on what trails are open.
Along the way, you'll encounter rainforest and rocky trails. As you get higher up, you might pass through the clouds and on clear days you'll have amazing views of the surrounding countryside and the ocean. At the top is a crater lake from an extinct volcano. Amazing and well-worth the effort, if not just to say that you've been to the highest point in South Korea.
Gwanaksan: a Seoul Getaway
South of Seoul, in the Anyang area is Gwanak mountain. If you're in the Seoul or surrounding area, it's a perfect getaway for a 1/2 day of rest and relaxation. There are more trails than you can count so just go to one of these subway exits and follow the other hikers. The best thing about this hike is that you can go anyway that looks good to you and you'll always find your way to a subway station down at the bottom. The hikes are not so strenuous, so anyone can do it!
Take subway line2 to Seoul National University and get out exit 3. Get on the bus that goes to the university campus (95,25,94,121,289,303,55-2,114 142).
Govt Complex Gwacheon on line 4, exit 10. Take the path west.
Sadang Station line 2, exit 4
Gwanak station- Line 1, exit 2
Gwacheon station- Line 4, exit 7
Suwon Fortress: an easy walk outside of Seoul
This is one my favorite places in Korea and I think I've been there at least 10 times. It's not really a hike, but more like a moderate walk in the park. There are some stairs to be climbed, but not a huge amount so anyone is able to do this. This place is kind of like the Great Wall of China, but 1/1000th of the scale! The walk around the entire fortress takes 1-2 hours and makes for a perfect day out. To get there, go to Suwon Station and then walk (about 30 minutes), or ask the most helpful tourist information for what bus to take.
The Suwon Fortress
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Bukhansan National Park
This is a mountain park that is accessible from Seoul via public transport. It's the closest park to Seoul, so expect it to be mobbed on weekends and holidays. However, this adds to the fun, as you can check out all the well-dressed Korean hikers and get offered some snacks and soju. The hikes are a grind, straight up and straight down, but the views of Seoul are phenomenal.
Deogyusan National Park
This beautiful park in central Korea is home to Muju Ski Resort, one of the biggest in Korea. It's a beautiful place for an overnight hike, as you can stay on top of the mountain in a shelter. There is a fabulous ridge, from which you can various other national parks in the area. There are less people here than at other parks, since transport is a little inconvenient. It's well worth a visit and is one of my favorite spots in Korea.
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