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The Seoul Trail is 157 kilometers of urban terrain combined with the ruggedness of the outdoors. Seoul is one of the few major metropolitan cities in the world that such a trail could exist. You may only be a few hundred meters from a subway station, but you feel as though you have left the hustle and bustle of the city to find yourself in a serene forest high in the Himalayas.
A Brief Overview: Since it would be nearly impossible to hike 157km at one time, I’ve decided to break The Seoul Trail into a series of 20 – 24 articles over the course of the year. Korea is such a beautiful country and although I could probably hike the whole trail this winter, I think it would rob you the diversity of the ecology and landscape this trail has to offer. The Seoul Trail is broken into eight parts which encompasses the entire city. My goal is to hike two parts every season with each part being broken down into three subparts. I do not want this to be a rush job and I feel that the trail should get the detailed description and photography it deserves. On a related note, it took us three hours to hike this first part and that was enough for me for one day!
Who Should Hike the Seoul Trail?: One of the appeals of the Seoul Trail is that it feels as though you’ve hiked a mountain without actually hiking up to the peak. Anyone, of any age, could easily hike the trail without too much difficulty. I am blessed to have an excellent hiking companion (Thank you Ryan!) whom was eager to help me with this project. He is a great guy, an excellent hiker and a good friend. He is also in great shape and was very patient, as a few times, I had to take a breath while he had barely broken a sweat.
Things to Bring: This first hike was a trial run. I decided not to bring my hiking boots just to see how difficult it would be to hike the trail with ordinary running shoes. To my surprise, it really wasn’t that bad. My sneakers held up in the snow, and there were only a few tricky declines when I wished I had my hiking boots. If you are a casual hiker, I would not hesitate to simply wear a pair of running shoes. As for the hardcore hiker, the boots are, as always, an excellent option. This first hike was only a few hours, with lots of stopping for photography and note taking. We had a brief break in the middle of the trail to grab a quick bite of hotteok. That said, I would still highly recommend bring about 2L of water and a power bar or some other form of snack. There were a couple of times where we were about 200 meters up from the ground, and it would have been tricky to immediately decline down the mountain for water or a snack.
Section One of the Seoul Trail: Dobangsan Station – Hwarangdae Station (14.3KM or 6 hours and 30 minutes)
The first section of the Seoul Trail covers mainly Northeastern Seoul (aka my home turf). I’ve always felt the the northeastern part of Seoul doesn’t get enough attention as other popular mountains located more in the heart of the city. The two mountains which are the main focus are Buramsan and Suraksan mountains. Suraksan is an amazing mountain with several Buddhist temples scattered throughout the mountain. I have never actually hiked Buramsan completely, but I have walked along the base, so this will be an exciting opportunity to explore some more mountains. Obviously, if you are planning to do the whole section in one day, please be prepared both physically and mentally. I can assure you, as a moderate hiker, after 6km of hiking up and down Suraksan, I was ready to call it a day.
How to get there: Alright lets get started! The beginning of the Seoul Trail starts at Dobangsan Mountain, one of the more iconic mountains in Seoul. To get there, take the subway to Dobangsan Station (Line 1 and 7) and depart from Exit 2. Be careful NOT to get off at Dobong Station, which is one stop before. Once you’ve left via exit 2, make a left and cross the street and enter The Seoul Iris Garden. The hike around the city begins at this very spot!
The Beginning of the Hike: The first part is not very strenuous and is mainly situated in the city. There was only an easy walk through the Seoul Iris Garden and a couple of rivers and bridges. This easy walk was about 1km and only took about 30 minutes to hike. Once you arrive at the Surak Valley, things begin to get a little more challenging.
Surak Valley – Byugun Park – Nowon Valley (2.5Km): The hike from Surak Valley to Byugun Park to Nowon Valley is about 2.5km and has its share of inclines, but with that said, I did not find it that stressful at all. In fact, despite the cold, it was a rather relaxing and refreshing hike. A couple spots which stood out was a frozen river and some excellent foliage which refused to give up the fight to winter.
Rest Stop: It’s Hotteok Time: Nothing beats a warm treat in the cold. Hotteok could not have come at a better time. We were about a third into the hike and we noticed a small street located just at the base of Suraksan. This is actually one of the entrances to the Suraksan mountain. Definitely grab a quick, sweet and warm snack before heading on. If you tackle this part in the summer, some kimbab would fit the bill nicely.
Suraksan Entrance to Seoul Design Street (1.2km): A little more difficult, but a lot of beautiful scenery including a lookout point at 갈림길 4 (Crossroads 4). This lookout was amazing with perfect photo opportunities for Bukhansan and Dobongsan mountains. It is about 20 meters off the trail, but there is a sign pointing in the direction. Please take advantage of this opportunity to really soak in some breathtaking scenery. A couple of notes to keep in mind. Once you approach 갈림길 4 (Crossroads 4) you will need head straight down the hill. There is no sign directing you. Coincidently, at 갈림길 5, someone has taken down the sign. You will need to make a right and head down the hill.
Half way there – Seoul Design Street: We are 4.7km into the hike. Seoul Design Street would be a great place to stop if you are looking to call it a day. Suraksan Station (Line 7) is nearby and there are several restaurants nearby which serve a variety of food including octopus, Korean BBQ and of course Makgeolli (Korean rice wine).
Seoul Design Street to Danggogae (Danggogye) Station: The final 2.7km is without a doubt the most challenging. At this point in the hike, I was beginning to feel the fatigue. There is a lot of self reflection when it comes to hiking. As the ancient Greek aphorism states, “Know Thyself”. If you are feeling tired or worn-down, I would highly suggest calling it a day at Suraksan station. However, if you think you can make it, carry on my wayward son, it will be worth your effort.
Final Thoughts: A great start to the Seoul Trail. There was excellent scenery, great lookout points for photo opportunities and a vigorous hike that will satisfy the seasoned hiker. In a couple of weeks, we will hike the second part of the first section of the Seoul Trail. If there are any suggestions or corrections, please email me or comment below so I can make the change. Until next time, keep on RoKing.