Korea’s hidden gem boasts pristine ecosystems, stunning views and more
Written and photographed by Gregory Curley
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine
One of Korea’s most challenging and certainly more beautiful mountains, Mt. Woraksan’s incredible scenery is also home to several memorable temples, Buddhist shrines and historical relics. Hiking up its craggy cliff walls, which tower up to 1,094 m (3,589 ft), is no easy feat. But the views that await one from the summit make it all worthwhile.
Often referred to as “Little Mt. Geumgangsan,” after the country’s much-revered mountain, Mt. Woraksan borders Lake Chungjuho and intersects the provinces of Chungcheongbuk-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do. It is the main draw of Woraksan National Park and brings in hundreds of thousands visitors every year.
The United Nations Environment Program and the World Conservation Monitoring Center even designated Mt. Woraksan a “Global Park” in 2004. And for good reason. Of all the mountains layering the Korean peninsula, Mt. Woraksan easily ranks among the top five most spectacular peaks.
Because of its isolated location, this is one of the least visited national parks in Korea. This can be a good thing. For those looking to get away from the chaos and congestion of Seoul, Mt. Woraksan is about as remote as it gets.
Blessed with verdant gorges, waterfalls, pristine lakes, fresh mountain water streams and Korean white pines, Mt. Woraksan offers views that are simply stunning. The park is also home to an abundance of wildlife and rare plants. Local officials have gone to great lengths to preserve its ecological diversity: trails are marked with signs indicating that the hiking courses are regulated to prevent forest fires.
A good point to enter the park is the Deokjusa Temple entrance, located in the quaint town of Deokju. From here, a number of trails—the longest being 4.9km—lead all the way up to the summit. The temple is also just over a kilometer from the gate.
The entire walk up to Deokjusa is very pleasant. Running alongside the trail is a crystal clear stream that trickles down from the mountain peaks. As cars are allowed to drive to Deokjusa, a series of eco-trails has been set up for hikers.
Just past the entrance is a walled fortress that stretches ten kilometers around the entire mountain. Dating all the way back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the fortification was once used as a defensive perimeter against invading Mongols, and later as a barrier against Japanese attacks in 1592. It is the first of several historical relics along the journey up the mountain representative of what life was like for thousands of years on the Korean Peninsula.
A little further up the southern flank of Mt. Woraksan, to the east of Deokjusa’s Hall of Sakyamuni, is a ma-aebul, an enormous Buddha stone carving. From here onward, the terrain is hugely challenging and unforgiving. Those looking to reach the summit should be prepared for a serious workout, and should set aside five to seven hours to make it up and down. In some parts, the stairs continue almost at a forty-five degree angle for what seems like an eternity.
Yet despite the head-scratchingly steep climb, Mt. Woraksan is a must for serious hikers wanting to explore arguably one of Korea’s greatest mountains.
- A hearty bowl of sanchae bibimbap and bottle of makgeolli at Tobaki Garden (010-5457-5207) cost a mere 10,000 won.
- A very good option is Woraksan Deokju Pension (T. 011-482-9611). Located minutes away from the Deokjusa entrance, rooms for two start at 50,000 won for the night.
- Woraksan National Park is open from 8am to 6pm. Check out Korea National Park Service’s English-language website, http://english.knps.or.kr, for more information.
- Direct buses to Deokjusa depart Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon Station, Line 2) every two hours, from 6:40am until 6:40pm. The journey takes 2 hours 50 minutes and costs 13,000 won, one-way, for adults.
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine