Seoraksan National Park: Hiking to Daecheongbong Peak

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!

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!”

signpost, Seoraksan hike
A signpost near the entrance to the park

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.

Tongil Daebul Buddha, Seoraksan hike
Tongil Daebul Buddha

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.

riverbed, Seoraksan hike
The trail followed a riverbed for a while
walkways, Seoraksan hike
One of the numerous walkways on the trail

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.

Heading up through the Park, Seoraksan hike
Heading up through the Park

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.

mountain shelter price list, Seoraksan hike
Price list at a mountain shelter

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.

Map of the trails. Seoraksan hike
Map of the trails

But, first it was time to enjoy the incredible views of the rock formations surrounding a viewing platform.

Rock formations, Seoraksan hike
Checking out the rock formations

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.

Socheongbong Peak, Seoraksan hike
Socheongbong Peak

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.

Daecheongbong Peak
Daecheongbong Peak – almost there!

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.

Daecheongbong Peak
At the top of the third highest mountain in Korea
Chipmunk, Daecheongbong Peak
Friendly chipmunk

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!

Heading down to Osaek, Daecheongbong Peak
Heading down to Osaek

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.

Daecheongbong Peak, Daecheongbong Peak


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.

Top Tips

#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.

The Trip

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.

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!

 

27 thoughts on “Seoraksan National Park: Hiking to Daecheongbong Peak

  1. Garth says:

    Wow what an achievement, along with such stunning scenery. All those steps sound like really hard work! I don’t know much about South Korea, so your posts about the country are really interesting to read and to see what the country is really like. Like the chipmunk too! I’ve never seen one.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Garth, it was definitely a challenging hike but absolutely worth it! It’s a fascinating country and I am really enjoying writing about it for that very reason, as many people don’t know much about it! The chipmunks reminded me of my time in USA! They were everywhere!

  2. Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) says:

    Wow, what an adventurous hike you have endured but what fun! That is one of the best parts of hiking S.Korea. is the uncertainty of what you are going to expect on your hike. I was always prepared for the hike taking longer than usual. I sometimes wonder how they come up with those km on the posts because I think there wrong. hahaha. Stunning photos and great to see a mountain hike I have not yet accomplished. Makes me want to go back for some more hiking. #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      The distances sometimes change and the sign says you have longer to go even though you are supposedly closer! But it didn’t happen too often – the signage is normally great. You should definitely go back and do it – it’s one of my favourites!

  3. Anna says:

    Wow, the views are GORGEOUS but I’m pretty sure I don’t have the stamina to do this!! This sounds like a super tough hike. I for sure would not have gone for the expert path! But it sounded like it was worth it for the views. The rock formations are really pretty and how cool to be above the clouds. Such cute chipmunks too!

  4. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    Only you can decide to power through a 2D/1N trip in a day, most people would turn around but that thought never crossed your mind lol. What an adventure … what a story … what a hike! This would definitly not be for me, I am clumsy at the best of times and if you slipped and fell then goodness knows what would have happened to me, I’m just grateful I can hike this one vicariously through you 😀 Great photos though and I know you will have felt the sense of achievement by finishing! #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah I am not good at being told I can’t do something…sooo I just do it anyway! Was an amazing hike but I still have the scars from it!

  5. JB says:

    I went back there, and back there, and back there so many times during my years in Korea. It’s such an amazing place and tons of spots to explore.

  6. By Land and Sea says:

    I never imagined that South Korea would be a place for hiking or that it would have landscapes like this! This seems like a great way to spend a day or two and the views at the top are amazing! What a great adventure!!

  7. Siddharth and Shruti says:

    That looks like an amazing hike. Despite being mid afternoon, the weather looks good. Usually the heat melts us away and we try to avoid midafternoon treks. Love the mist surrounding the mountains. Beautiful photography.

  8. Only By Land says:

    This is probably the main benefit of traveling whilst your young, being about to walk an extra 6 km without any problems. I think the way you tackled Daecheongbong Peak is the way I’d do it, being lost in translation really worked for you on this day. The views at the top are stunning, well worth the trek.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Lost in translation with a native speaker in tow, too! But it worked out incredible – definitely a much cooler hike in the end!

  9. Sanna Vegancruiser says:

    oh my goodness, what a feat. Having climbed one munro in my lifetime and being so sore on the way down (oh my knees) I can only imagine what your return down must’ve felt like. Thank goodness for that kind bus driver who connected you to the service allowing you to return to the guesthouse. Some adventure – no wonder I cruise only 😉

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah we got pretty lucky otherwise we may have had to start walking back! And yeah going down is always tougher for me! Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Kreete says:

    How amazing Alexei! I think you and I should meet up somewhere in the world for a hiking adventure! Even better, come with me to climb the mountains in the Himalayas or NZ!!! I can’t believe you went for it when you found out its meant to be a two day trip! I can only imagine how tired your body must have been after six hours of going to the top only then having to come down by climbing up some more stairs haha! This was a constant struggle on my EBC hike too! I don’t know how does that even make sense haha. Loving your writing and the beautiful photography. What an accomplishment!

  11. Travel4lifeblog says:

    Seems like it was a very challenging hike so you must feel so proud! Good on you 🙂 We love your post about South Korea and they made us want to explore this country one day! Thanks for sharing it with us. We want to read more about this country please! Keep up the good work 😉 Patrick and Cécile 🙂

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