Seoraksan National Park. If you don’t visit here during your stay here in Korea, you are robbing yourself of an amazing experience. The park is located in Gangwon-do, in the northeastern region of Korea, near the North Korean border. The park itself is huge! Even the most enthusiastic hiker will need at least a week to hike the whole park. I only hiked Outer Seorak, and my knees, back, everything was worn down. That said, it was an amazing experience, with beautiful scenery and I can’t wait to go back before my time in the ROK is finished.
How to get there from Seoul: The easiest way to get there from Seoul is to take a bus to Sokcho. Unfortunately, there are no trains to Sokcho, which is a huge disappointment. For traveling with families, this could be an obstacle. I would be a little nervous traveling with anyone under the age of 5 on the bus. That said, if you are adults, it’s a quick two and a half hour ride from the Intercity Bus Terminal (Line 3, Line 7, and Line 9). The ticket is a reasonable 18,100KRW for an adult and 9,000KRW for a child. The buses run every 20 minutes from Seoul. Check out their English website.
How to get to Seoraksan National Park from Sokcho: Honestly, the easiest way to get there is to take a taxi to Seoraksan. The taxi will drop you off at the entrance of the park for about 12,000KRW. This saves the hassle of waiting for a bus in your hiking gear, and I would honestly recommend it. However, buses 7 and 7-1 go to the park for 1100KRW.
Hiking Preparations: There are a few things that I always carry in my backpack when I hike. The first thing is a lot of water. I usually bring two 2L bottles of water. Also, if you are a hiking hobbyist, I would suggest investing in some nice hiking boots. I got my boots at the base of Bukhansan National Park in Seoul for 140,000KRW. They are a pair of Campline climbing boots with Gore tex (waterproof). Honestly, they are an excellent investment, especially if you are planning to hike on a regular basis. A hiking stick is always useful, especially coming down. Obviously you should bring some food because you are going to be burning calories. Seoraksan is great because they have a variety of restaurants at the base of the mountain and on the mountain itself. I bought a couple of packs of beef jerky and three 김밥 (kimbaps). Also, a small package of tissues in case you get into “trouble” and a first aid kit for scratches and bumps. I actually twisted my ankle on this hike and unfortunately forget my first-aid kit. Don’t make the same mistake. Finally, a nice bottle of 막걸리 (makgeolli), a nice Korean rice wine for when you reach the peak.
LP Description: The Lonely Planet actually has a great map on page 128-129 with excellent detail. I would highly recommend picking up the guidebook for this trip if you are planning to go and want to map out your hike. Lonely Planet breaks Seoraksan into three parts (Outer Seorak, Inner Seorak and Souther Seorak). Each has their own iconic landmarks, but today, I decided to take on Outer Seorak, specifically Ulsan Bawi, Heundeulbawi, Sinheungsa and Gyejoam hiking trail.
Outer Seorak and Park Entrance: The park entrance consists of a visitor information centre and a variety of restaurants and shops to gear up for the hike. There is a 2500KRW (Adult), 1000KRW (Child) and 600KRW (adjuma) entrance fee to the park. I would suggest picking up a map too. It was useful and gives tidbits about the various landmarks on the trail.
Site 1: Sinheungsa Temple (신흥사): Only a small walk from the entrance. Sinheungsa Temple is worth seeing. Built in 590AD, it houses one of the largest bronze statues in Korea. The Bronze Jwabul Statue towers over 10 meters high, and is the central attraction of the temple. Very peaceful and serene, much like Buddha himself.
Site 2: Heundeulbawi (흔들바위) and Gyejoam (계조암): The rock that sits on a cliff, which people daringly rock back and forth is about 1.5KM from the park entrance. For me, it was an easy and rewarding hike. During the hike, we passed other boulders and cliffs which provided great photo opportunities. Once you arrive at Heundeulbawi, there is the Gyejoam (계조암) temple, a small, simple, but beautiful temple in the mountains. The ice cream stand beside the temple may dent one’s zen.
Site 3: Ulsanbawi (울산바위): Hands down the most difficult part of the hike. From Heundeulbawi (흔들바위) you can see Ulsan. It doesn’t look that far, but as the saying goes: Looks can be deceiving. It is a blood pumping, muscle burning hike straight up the mountain. You will need to climb over 900 stairs. It really took it out of me. After seeing the 1KM sign, I was full of confidence knowing that I was well over halfway to the peak. But damn, after about 20 minutes of nothing but straight up, narrow climbing, with my muscles screaming, I was almost ready to pack it in. However, I prevailed with plenty of breaks, water and a little makeolli for courage. At the top was a colorful man selling iced tea for 5000KRW… ugh.. capitalist pig. I grudgingly paid.
Summary: Cross one off the Korea bucket list. I really enjoyed this hike despite its challenging climb. The view of the Pacific ocean and Sokcho really takes your breath away. This is definitely a challenging hike, especially for people who are not avid hikers. I don’t consider myself an avid hiker, but I do like to hike at least two or three times a month. If you are planning to hike, be careful and pack lots of water. You won’t be disappointed when you reach the Ulsanbawi.
Who Should Visit Ulsanbawi, Heundeulbawi, Sinheungsa, and Gyejoam: This should be on everyone’s Korean bucket list. It really is an amazing hike with excellent scenery and almost a festive atmosphere at times.
Who Should Avoid Ulsanbawi, Heundeulbawi, Sinheungsa, and Gyejoam: Not that I’m a pillar of health, but anyone with cardiovascular problems should take it easy. It is a difficult hike. I would suggest, if anything just visiting heundeulbawi and calling it a day for beginner hikers.