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Bounties of Bukhansan’s Natural Splendors
With an abundant variety of mountains covering virtually the entire peninsula, it’s no small wonder that hiking is a major pastime in Korea. The labyrinthine expanses of trails that thread through provincial and national parks, though sometimes over-traveled, can offer welcome respite from the over-stimulation of city life. For visitors and residents of Seoul, however, the prospect of hitting the hills usually calls to mind visions of a few hours on a train, then hopping on a local bus with unfamiliar numbering systems and perhaps even convoluted maps drawn by locals on the back of napkins.
Since its inception in 1983, Bukhansan National Park has offered a quiet counterpoint to the city’s hurly-burly goings-on. Autumn is the perfect time to pay this city’s natural gem a visit; although the spring season’s cherry blossoms generally draw more attention, the myriad colors of the park’s deciduous denizens should not be overlooked, either from up-close or gazed down upon from up to over 800metres atop the mountain.
There are reportedly around 1,300 different types of plant and animal (mostly plant, unless squirrel species number in the hundreds) that call the park home, and all of them shine their brightest just before winter takes its grip on the windy peaks.
Formerly known as Samgaksan, or “three-horned mountains,” Bukhansan and its peaks cover about 13% of the metropolitan Seoul area. It may get a bit smoggy in summer, but that’s nothing compared to what air would be like without these vital, green respirators for the city.

→ For more on Bukhansan Mountain, click here!
Which Path to Take? The Choice is Yours

There are dozens of established trails through the park (though some of them are closed periodically) with tens of dozens of possible route permutations, the most commonly traveled being from near Bibong in the southern area to Baekundae and Insubong, and the more circular route around Dobongsan in the northeast area.

“Yes, it is a park just spitting distance from the subways and street vendors of Seoul, but it remains a collection of mountains to be taken somewhat seriously.”

Since the permutations of possible trail routes number literally in the hundreds, including side routes to minor points-of-interest, it’s probably in one’s best interest to get a detailed map at one of the trailheads and take it from there, although there are a couple of favorite routes. One of the less-strenuous paths is that to Dobongsan. Just about anyone can do it; the time it takes will depend largely on one’s fitness level and, on weekends and holidays, the number of other enthusiasts on the trail. From the Dobongsan trailhead, head up roughly west to Cheonchuksa, nestled amidst trees and granite boulders, where you can take a rest and a photo with hundreds of stone Buddha statues and imbibe some clean and refreshing temple water.

Fill your bottles, and continue on to the Dobongsan peak itself, which, at 740m, offers some fantastic views of the park and, on a clear day, northwards to Uijeongbu. From there, you can continue on to Mangwolsa before descending to the subway station there, or going around back to Dobongsan and backtracking down roughly the same path as on the way up.

It’s a fairly short route: only about 7 to 10 km, depending on how many side trails you explore along the way, but note that the trails around Jaunbong, Dobongsan and Manjangbong are quite steep and rocky. Don’t worry; there are some cables alongside the trail to help you along. These are usually very helpful and in good condition, but sometimes you may find yourself second-guessing as to whether or not you had your tetanus shot when you should have.

For something a bit longer, but with more sights along the way, the Baegundae hike shouldn’t be missed. There are several temples and points of interest along the way, most notably Daeseo-mun (just a few minutes from the trailhead nearest Gwanghwamun) and Yongam-mun, two fortress remnants of the Baekje Dynasty.

A little to the northeast is Insubong, a fantastic bunch of boulders well known by climbers for their variety in pitches and angles. If rock climbing isn’t your thing, you can always scramble to the top of one for a cool “Hey, Ma! I’m on top of the world!” snap.

One could reverse one’s tracking to return, but there are still more sights to see. From Insubong, navigate to the huts at Insu, Ui and then Bukhansan. If you follow the signs to Munsusa, you can hit up Munsubong for a better view of the city and some unique boulder formations, including one that looks suspiciously like a frog’s rear end, overlooking Jongno in the distance. To finish off nicely, it’s a smooth down slope jaunt to Bibong, spilling out just a short ways from Gyeongbokgung.

General Information on Bukhansan Trails

At points, the “trail” is essentially a scramble up and down steep, bare rock faces; there are railings sunk into the stone itself, but keep an eye on your footing anyways, especially on wet or Frosty days.
For the most part, the trails through Bukhansan are a fairly moderate mix of level walks along ridges and steeper climbs. Yes, it is a park just spitting distance from the subways and street vendors of Seoul, but it remains a collection of mountains to be taken somewhat seriously. Plenty of water needs to be packed, even on cooler days, and proper footwear is a must. Ironically, because the trails are sometimes so well worn, the footing can be even more treacherous — loose, light gravel, especially along flatter sections, can prove quite slippery; other places have large amounts of uneven rocks and roots exposed by erosion. Despite the number of septuagenarians in nothing more than slippers that you may typically encounter on a hike in Korea, ankle support is a must, lest you become one of the hundreds of weekend warriors airlifted from the park every year for sprains and breaks.

Fear not, however: one of the unique features of Korean mountains is the plethora of commercial establishments that spring up at their bases. Even the toughest of bruises or battered knees can be healed by the succor offered by any of the hundreds of bars and restaurants close at hand at day ’s end, from higher-end cafes with overpriced imported beer, to simple barbecue joints where you can dine under a canopy on rough benches and tables covered with linoleum. Whatever one’s fitness, experience or will, the trails of Bukhansan National Park offer a variety of difficulty levels and sights, just accessible from the northern heart of the city. So, before gritting your teeth and thinking about that long trip to Jirisan or Seoraksan, take the time to fully explore the gifts of nature found closer to home.

Trailhead Access

Dobongsan Station, line 1 (for Dobongsan and Mangwolsa). There will be no shortage of fellow hikers to follow to the trailhead. Gupabal Station, line 3, exit 1 (for Baekundae and Insubong). You’ll need to take a bus (#704) for approximately 20min to the entrance; alternatively, you can jump in a taxi near the station and tell the driver “Bukhansan-seong” for a marginally quicker way there.
Suyu Station, line 4, exit 3 (for Gangbuk-gu and eastern access to Daedongmun, Doseonsa, etc.). Bus #130, 1217 or 170 will get you there in 10 to15 min; get off at the Doseonsa Temple stop or, more easily, at the roundabout where the bus turns near the Ui-Dong Makkolli Maeul. You can head up the hill right there, or head down the right-hand side of the street to the temple and main park access.
[Related Articles]
- Best Hiking Mountains in Seoul

- National Parks in Korea
- Inwangsan, a Mystical Mountain
Written by Andrew Langendorfer
Photographed by Ryu Seunghoo and Chun Min-kyu
The Article Courtesy of Seoul magazine
Date 01/24/2008

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