|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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Best Hiking Mountains in Seoul
National Parks in Korea
Inwangsan, a Mystical Mountain
by Andrew Langendorfer
Photographed by Ryu Seunghoo and Chun Min-kyu
The Article Courtesy of Seoul magazine