Korea is a paradise for active travellers. Hiking is a national pastime and there are trails for all abilities all over the country. Its natural beauty is just begging to be explored and with it being the same size as England, it’s pretty easy to do! Here are eight Korea hiking trails you have to do on your next visit.
For hiking in Seoul…
Bukhansan National Park
If you think National Parks are remote and hard to get to, think again! Bukhansan is practically in Seoul itself, easily reachable by subway and bus. It even has a Guinness World Record for highest number of visitors per square foot. There is plenty to see too. From numerous Bukhansanseong Fortress gates that are dotted around the park to the Golden Buddha at the Guknyeongsa Temple, there is no shortage of sights. And then there is the hiking of course. Most people summit the Baegundae Peak which offers amazing views of Seoul but there are other, less trodden paths which take you to other peaks in the park. Views are equally sublime.
While not many cities can boast top class hiking trails on their doorstop, hiking in Seoul is easy and fun! The trails are not technical, signage is excellent throughout and you don’t even have to come prepared! There are outlets of all major outdoor gear companies just outside the entrance to the park so if you left your hiking boots at home, you’re in luck! Koreans love wearing the latest hiking bling so you can fit yourself hat to toe with the best gear!
DO: Stock up on snacks and water before you head up to the peaks. It can get VERY hot and I didn’t spot drinking water on the trails. There are fountains and vending machines near the entrance. Outdoor gear stores and cafes are also a good bet to grab some supplies.
DON’T : Bukhansan is VERY popular so if you wanted some solitude, you are unlikely to find it here unless you set off early or use less-trodden trails. I wouldn’t recommend a weekend visit, that’s for sure…Hiking in South Korea is generally better on weekdays!
TIP: I managed to get a bit lost and climbed a bunch of secondary peaks before finding myself at Baegundae Peak. I would recommend getting there first as early as possible so you can have it to yourself (well, sort of). Other peaks and parts of Bukhansan National Park are less busy throughout the day so you can leave them for later in the day. They will have more shade too!
For stunning views, flora and fauna…
Daecheongbong Peak hike, Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan National Park boasts some of the best hiking in South Korea. The trek up to Daecheongbong Peak, the 3rd highest mountain in Korea, is tough but well worth the effort. The views along the trail are stunning, jagged peaks rising above the clouds and fields of wildflowers clinging to the slopes. There are waterfalls, bridges and ropes to negotiate on your climb. While it’s possible to do the hike in one day, many visitors to choose to overnight in one of the mountain shelters along the route before ascending to the top for sunrise. It definitely pays to take your time – gazing over the clouds to the sprawling forested mountain slopes while chipmunks dart between your feet is a magical experience.
Elsewhere in the park, there is a good network of trails for all abilities. These link the main entrance with temples and waterfalls including beautiful Yukdam Falls. Those less adventurous can take a cable car to Gwongeumseong Fortress for some great views. Most visitors base themselves in nearby city of Sokcho, which is itself interesting to explore for a day – with beaches, markets and a hand-pulled ferry called Gaetbae.
DO: Stock up on water and snacks. Remember to bring money for your entrance fee (KRW 3500), cable cars and any food/souvenirs you may want to buy at the main entrance.
DON’T: Attempt to do Daecheongbong Peak as a day hike unless you have higher than average fitness. It took my friend and I 10 hours but it can easily take longer. Being stranded on the mountain in darkness or if you’ve ran out of water would not be fun.
TIP: One way of potentially making the hike easier is to arrive at the small Osaek entrance and using this shorter section for your ascent to the peak (only 5km versus 10.9km from main entrance). You could then enjoy the views all the way down to the other side. However, this depends on your knees – I HATE going down mountains and would rather have a shorter (and less challenging) section saved for the descent.
Check out a post on my hike to Daecheongbong Peak in Seoraksan National Park
For going off-the-beaten-track
Sobaeksan National Park/Danyang
Probably the most off-the-beaten-path option on this list, Sobaeksan National Park is yet another awesome hiking destination. However, with buses running from nearby town of Danyang right to the park’s entrance, the trails are easily accessible. The hike to Birobong peak, the highest in the park, is a straightforward 3-4 hour return trip. Expect wildflower-covered slopes, stunning views and a chance to bag the 25th tallest peak in South Korea! There are also plenty of other hiking options as well as temples within the national park. And with Sobaeksan receiving only a fraction of the visitors of Seoraksan, Bukhansan and other national parks, you can enjoy it all without the crowds!
Add the incredible Guinsa temple and otherworldly Gosu Cave nearby – all accessible from the town of Danyang where most visitors base themselves – and you have a perfect mix for an adventurous couple of days. Paragliding is another popular activity for visitors and you can often spot them circling over the town.
DO: Pack some warm clothes. The winds that batter the long ridge line that runs through Sobaeksan can be freezing, even in the summer.
DON’T: Rush your visit. There is plenty to see and do in the area and though a 24 hour visit is technically possible, you will not have a chance to relax.
TIP: Stay at the cosy Us On Earth guesthouse. While it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the bus station, it’s well worth it for the clean, comfortable rooms, plentiful breakfasts and a huge terrace to relax on.
Check out a post on my hike to Birobong Peak in Sobaeksan National Park
For a perfect mix of nature and culture…
Gyeongju National Park
While the city of Gyeongju itself has plenty to keep visitors busy, it’s the national park which surrounds the city that has some of the most interesting sights in the area. Bulguk-sa Temple, a 30 minute bus ride away, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is worth exploring. It’s home to a number of Korean National Treasures and is an important part of the country’s history. It’s then possible to hike to Seokguram Grotto (another UNESCO site) via a 2.2 km trail.
Elsewhere Namsan Mountain just south of the city is perfect for nature and culture lovers. It has a huge network of trails sprinkled with shrines, rock carvings and ruins which provide plenty of detours and opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenery. Samneung Valley Trailhead is a great place to start with plenty of short, manageable trails criss-crossing the mountain.
DO: Take your time to explore the ancient capital of a kingdom that ruled two-thirds of the Korean peninsula for almost a thousand years! Gyeongju is pretty walkable and easy to explore with frequent buses running to sites further away.
DON’T: Forget to check the last bus times. You don’t want to be stranded in the mountains without a ride back to your accommodation!
TIP: The night-time Seongdong Market is a great place to people watch and try some great Korean and International street food!
For hiking in Busan’s sacred mountains…
Mt. Geumjeongsan, Busan
Korea’s second city has plenty to offer – from its sandy beaches to bustling markets and temples. It also has plenty of mountains on its doorstep with great hiking opportunities. Beomeosa Temple, north of the city, is well worth a visit but instead of heading back to the beach after your visit, head up sacred Mt. Geumjeongsan. Hike to the 801 metre summit of Godangbong or walk along remains of ancient fortress walls. There are great views from the top and numerous trails around the mountain. The mountain is very important to Koreans and you can read about its significance on handy information boards as you hike.
Hiking in Busan couldn’t be more accessible. As an alternative, head to Taejongdae park for strolls through pine forests and along rocky cliffs. There are great views of the ocean and, on a clear day, even Japanese islands.
DO: Get to Beomeosa Temple early, especially if you are planning to explore the area on a weekend. This is a really popular place for tourists and locals alike. The hiking trails can get pretty busy too so if you want to avoid the crowds, set that alarm!
DON’T: Forget that Busan is a quite a spread-out city. While public transport connections are good, it can take a while to get between sights. Budget enough time for hiking and sightseeing!
TIP: There is a cable car near Oncheongjang station, which whisks visitors up the mountain. It’s about a four hour hike from there to Beomeosa Temple and makes for a great walk.
Check out a post on my hike on Geumjeongsan Mountain
For an island getaway…
Korea’s largest island is an active traveller’s playground. Mountains, caves, beaches and great hiking await visitors who make the short plane hop from the mainland. Jeju is home to Korea’s highest peak, Hallasan, standing tall at 1950m. The Olle Trail that circumnavigates the whole island has been designed to be tackled in manageable chunks while ascending a volcanic crater at Seongsan Ilchulbong is a special experience. Add to that quirky museums like erotic Love Land, great food and beautiful beaches to relax on and Jeju cements its place as a must on any Korea itinerary.
DO: Enjoy the island’s incredible natural wonders. This is really the place to be for outdoor lovers.
DON’T: Leave without sampling some regional specialties such as abalone porridge or the famous Jeju black pork.
TIP: Flights to Jeju can get sold out during the holidays so book in advance or you might have to take the much-slower ferry.
For South Korea’s original National Park…
Jirisan National Park
Korea’s first national park was established in 1967 and plays an important spiritual and conservational role. The country’s second highest mountain is considered sacred and visitors flock here to tackle the Cheonwangbong Peak or to attempt various multi-day hikes, stopping off at various shelters scattered around the mountains. The park boasts almost 5000 species of flora and fauna including the Asian black bear, with projects to restore the population in the area ongoing.
DO: Stay on the trails! With the introduction of the Asiatic black bear, preservation is more important than ever. For your own safety and to avoid heavy fines, stick to the marked routes!
DON’T: Litter! Take all rubbish with you as there is nowhere to throw out your trash!
TIP: Staying in shelters is a great way to experience multi-day hikes in Korean National Parks. These normally have decent facilities, including running water, power outlets and even small stores to stock up on basic supplies!
For escaping Seoul’s hustle and bustle…
Namsan Park, Seoul
Mt. Namsan is located right in the centre of Seoul, making it popular destination for locals as well as visitors to the city. While it’s possible to take a bus or a cable car to the top, it’s the leisurely climb to its peak (262m) that’s most interesting. Making your way through Namsan Park, you will come across locals walking, cycling and exercising in free outdoor gyms. Couples stroll its leafy paths and students from nearby university relax between lectures. Once at the top, there is plenty to do with N Seoul Tower offering amazing views of the city as well as many cafes and restaurants. There is also a traditional pavilion, love locks installations and even remains of an old fortress wall. It’s a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
DO: Consider having a meal at one of the tower’s many restaurants or grab an ice cream from a cafe. This is the place to linger and enjoy the views!
DON’T: Be afraid of getting lost! There is plenty to explore in the park and you can always orientate yourself using the N Seoul Tower, Seoul’s second highest point!
TIP: You can get great views of Seoul without paying to head up to the N Seoul Tower observation deck! The views around the attraction are great with plenty of vantage points around. Alternatively head to one of the restaurants!
What are your favourite places to hike in Korea? Let me know!
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