A hike in Seoraksan National Park was one of the few that I definitely wanted to do on my visit to Korea. Its stunning rock formations and abundance of flora and fauna earned it a status of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The park’s main peak, Daecheongbong (1708m) also happens to be the third highest in Korea. Which, of course meant that I had to climb it!
South Korea is not a huge country. Most places are within relatively easy reach thanks to short distances and a great public transport network. Yet I was still surprised to find that the seaside city of Sokcho, the gateway to Seoraksan National Park, was only 2.5 hours away from the capital, Seoul. We arrived late in the evening and after grabbing some dinner, planned our Seoraksan hike the following day. Our guesthouse owner helpfully pointed out that buses left for the main entrance in Outer Seorak from just outside our accommodation! Our plan, however, was to tackle the peak via a shorter 5km route from Osaek in Southern Seorak.
The next morning, armed with a whole shop’s worth of cereal bars and water, we jumped on the 6:30 bus and headed to Osaek. Aside from a few fellow hikers, kitted out in the latest and most expensive outdoor gear as is par for the course in Korea, the bus was empty. We drove towards the mountains as mist enveloped the forested peaks and jagged ridges, giving the area an ethereal feel.
Soon, the bus pulled up in a car park and we found ourselves in front of a large gate marking the entrance to the park. We paid our fee and started on the trail. Within metres though, I stopped in my tracks and did a double-take of the sign. It read “Daecheongbong Peak – 10.9km”. That couldn’t be right – the guidebooks and websites all said that the distance from Osaek to the top was 5km…I turned to my friend:
“Can you please check with the staff that we are in Osaek”
She disappeared and returned moments later with the news that we, in fact, were at the main entrance to the park in Outer Seorak. My friend, the guesthouse owner and myself all misunderstood each other – but here we were, facing an 11 km one way hike just to reach the top. The guidebook suggested that to hike to the peak and down to the other side in Osaek (slightly more manageable 16km) should still be tackled as 2 day/1 night trip.
I turned to my friend and said:
“Well, I hope you are ready to do this in one day!”
We started to walk and made our way past a few cafes and a large bronze Tongil Daebul Buddha, near Sinheungsa temple, before the path crossed a couple of bridges and wound through a forest. It was flat and easy to follow and we made good progress, as chipmunks hurried across huge rocks strewn along a creek.
The path climbed gently through the forest and past imposing rock formations as we navigated numerous metal walkways and staircases. The scenery was incredible and we often stopped to admire the rugged terrain, beautiful and mysterious in the mist.
The trail was very well signposted and we never felt unsure of where to go. There were also warning signs for falling rocks which is a common occurrence in the area. Cliffs rose sharply around us as the path snaked through the park and we continued past huge boulders and up more stairs.
Eventually we reached Yangpok Shelter and met a few people who broke up their hike with an overnight stay. It’s possible to stock up on food and basic necessities like batteries and toilet paper.
We continued on, passing a few pretty waterfalls as the sun started to peer through the mist and warming our faces. We reached a sign informing us that there were another 3.6 kilometres to go. Doesn’t sound like much right? Well, the toughest part of the hike was about to begin.
First up was a steep, rocky 0.6km section through a forested area. A map of the trails in the park highlighted that we still had a black (expert), orange (intermediate) and purple (advanced) sections to tackle before reaching the peak.
But, first it was time to enjoy the incredible views of the rock formations surrounding a viewing platform.
We passed Huiungak Shelter and headed to the start of the expert path. Steep rocky sections were broken up by countless staircases as we continued higher and higher. Some sections even had ropes for helping people haul themselves up the mountainside.
We came across another clearing with amazing views of the park. Peaks rose majestically below and clouds filled the valleys like steam in a giant cauldron.
It was getting harder to climb in the heat as the sun was high above us and the path continued upwards without any flat segments. The 1.5 kilometre section felt way longer but we continued on and finally reached Socheongbong Peak with more beautiful views of the mountains and wildflowers growing on the slopes.
We continued over the ridge, past a weather station and soon reached Jungcheong Shelter, only half a kilometre away from the peak. After a quick break, we tackled the final ascent and, here it was – Daecheongbong Peak. Six hours after we started our hike, we made it to the top of the third highest mountain in Korea. And it felt amazing.
We took loads of photos with the marker at the top, ate our cereal bars, watched a brave chipmunk dart around us and just took in the views and relaxed. After chatting with some guys from Canada, we were ready to head back down.
We had two options – either come back the way we came (11 kilometres and probably around four hours of walking) or a shorter route down to Osaek, where we were originally meant to start.
We picked the latter – hoping that the short-sounding 5km would see us down in no time. We were wrong. The way down seemed to involve even more stairs (not sure how that was possible) which weren’t kind on our tired knees. Other sections were rocky and steep and I slipped a number of times and at one point fell and scraped my arm.
We didn’t see many people on this portion of the hike as it was mid-afternoon and I guess most people attempting the peak were already done. The views were also not particularly great as the trail was mainly through forested areas. Not that we would have enjoyed the views at this point as we were too busy watching our step!
The progress was slow as our bodies were feeling the strain and the constant steps weren’t helping. We stopped by a creek and took a break to dip our feet into the freezing water. Soon after we heard a loud sound of a rockfall somewhere behind us – we were glad we were paying attention to those signs! During the end section I was holding onto the ropes on the side of the path and easing myself down one rock at a time.
Eventually we reached the end of the trail and walked out of the park exhausted but happy to have done such an epic hike – and all in one day!
Our adventure wasn’t over as we tried to find a bus stop to take us back to Sokcho. After being given wrong timetable information, we eventually got on the bus to another town where a bus driver literally chased down another bus that would take us back to our guesthouse.
Hiking the Travel Lexx Way
There are numerous hiking trails in Seoraksan National Park. Daecheongbong Peak can be reached from the main entrance to the park in Outer Seorak (10.9km, 5-7 hours one way) or from Osaek (5km, 3-4 hours one way). We tackled the one-way 16km trail (Seorakdong-Dacheongbong-Osaek) which combines the two trails. The routes are well signposted but are quite challenging – the route described in the post has a tough black (expert) section. There are a number of mountain shelters in the park which need to be booked in advance.
We completed the hike in around 10 hours. If I could do the hike over again, I would opt to start at Osaek and finish at Seorakdong – after getting the unexciting 5km section out of the way, you could enjoy the peak and the amazing views and nature all the way down for the next 11km.
#1 Bring plenty of water and snacks – however you can grab stuff in the cafes at Seorakdong (main park entrance) and at the shelters on the mountain.
#2 If you want to hike to Dacheongbong Peak in a day, start early and be aware that it’s a tough hike with loads of steep sections. It’s billed as a 2 Day/1 Night hike but is doable in around 10-12 hours. Be aware of sunset times as being stranded on the mountain is dangerous.
#3 A popular option is to spend the night at Jungcheong shelter near the top and ascend to the peak in time for sunrise.
#4 A hike to Biryeong and Yukdam waterfalls (2.4km each way) from the main entrance is also a good option. A cable car (KRW 9000, £6/$7) and mini hike to Gwongeumseong Fortress is a popular with visitors.
#5 Build in some time to explore the Sinheungsa – the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It’s close to the main entrance at Seorakdong. Don’t miss the giant Tongil Daebul bronze Buddha on the way.
What: Seoraksan National Park is a national park in South Korea. It’s one of the most beautiful areas in the country and is famous for its stunning rock formations. There are hiking trails, temples, waterfalls and even a cable car – making Seoraksan a very popular tourist destination.
Where: Seoraksan NP is about a 30 minute bus ride from Sokcho, in north-east of the country. Sokcho is 158km away from Seoul. While Seoraksan occupies an area of 400,000 sq m, the most popular sections are quite easily accessible.
Getting There: The easiest way to reach Seoraksan is by taking a bus 7 or 7-1 (KRW 1300, £1/$1.30) from central Sokcho directly to the park entrance – journey time around 30 minutes. To get to Sokcho from Seoul, buses from Dong-Seoul Bus Terminal take around 2.5 hours (every 30 mins but check timetable). Getting to Osaek is more complicated – there are direct buses but they are less frequent and don’t run in the evenings – even with a native Korean speaker in tow, getting back from Osaek to Sokcho wasn’t particularly easy. For more info on how to get around Korea on public transport, check out my 11 Essential Tips For First Time Visitors To Korea post
How much: Entrance to the park costs KRW 3500 (around £3/$4)
Accommodation: We stayed at the Story House in Sokcho – which offers comfortable en-suite dorms, free breakfast and bikes for rent. Oh and a gorgeous dog! Prices from £14/$18.