Soyosan Mountain – Wonhyo Falls (원효폭포) and Jajaeam Temple (자재암): A Buddhist Retreat on One of Korea’s Most Sacred Mountains

The journey to Soyosan Mountain is a long one. The last stop on the Number 1 Line, ends at the outskirts of Dongducheon City, just outside of Seoul. Although it is a long journey, seeing open spaces with *gasps* farms and crops, and small buildings is a refreshing sight compared to the endless dominos of apartment buildings and skyscrappers of Seoul.

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How to get there: The easiest way to get there is to take the subway to Soyosan Station (Line 1). There is only one exit, so departure isn’t a problem. Once you exit the station, make a left to the first cross walk. Cross the street, holding hands with a loved one and make right. You will see signage to the entrance of the park and as with most parks in Korea, a slew of kimbab restaurants and outdoor clothing shops. walk through the gates and continue pass a variety of restaurants and the Freedom Protection Peace Museum. Entrance fee to the park is 1000KRW for adults, 600KRW for youths and 300KRW for kids.

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My Big Mistake (And Hopefully Not Yours): After two months of gluttony in the United States, Canada and Cuba, I was in dire need of a hike to shed off the layers of ham accumulated by DiCara’s Deli and to remind my heart that it’s not settling in for retirement just yet. My goal was to hike Trail 1, which would lead you through Wonhyo Falls (원효폭포) and Jajaem Temple, en route to Habaegundae and Jungbaegundae peaks. However, I severally underestimated my water supply and my strength. Please remember to pack enough food and water! Instead, I hiked up to Jajaem Temple and turned around as my water supply and energy dwindled. Avoid this problem by drinking a ton of water before the hike, as well as protein and carbs during the hike. In the dead of summer, slather on that sunscreen big boy.

An Easy Stroll Into the Park: The stroll into Soyosan was an easy, relaxing and shaded with virtually no incline. A shaded walking path with rows of flowers, various monuments and a gentle stream with people playing in the water and enjoy a drink were a relaxing beginning to the hike. If you are just looking for a chill day, I would recommend bringing some lunch and a bottle of Maekgolli and just relax in the stream.

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Choose Your Destiny: Soyosan consists of four courses for hiking. Soyosan is not a relatively high mountain (only 587m at its peak) but still some of the courses require more time than others. Course One is the easiest and quickest and so fittingly, Course Four is the longest and most strenuous.  Choose wisely my friend.

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Wonhyo Falls (원효폭포): Wonhyo Falls is a small Buddhist sanctuary in the side of Mount Soyosan. The waterfall is only about 20 feet or so, but is still quite beautiful. Contrary to popular belief, you can not actually go into the waterfall yourself. The rocky formations make this a great place for a cool down before hiking up the mountain. There is a small cave, with a stone Buddha carving with candles and stone stacking.

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The Journey to Jajaeam Temple (자재암): The journey to Jajaeam Temple is a quick one from Wonhyo Falls and should only take about 20 – 25 minutes to get there. On the way, is the beautiful Wonhyodae (원효대), which provides a great photo opportunity. There are actually plenty of restrooms and when you arrive at Jajaeam Temple, there is a water filling station to refill your canteens or bottles with fresh mountain water.

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A Little History of Jajaeam Temple:  Originally built in the 14th century by High Priest Wonhyo during the reign of the King Sun Dug of the Shilla Dynasty, Jajaeam Temple has been rebuilt multiple times, most recently, after the Korean War. High Priest Wonhyo originally constructed the temple to pursue truth and it would be the spot where he would eventually reach enlightenment. Jajaeam Temple is still an active temple today with a group of monks overseeing its maintenance and providing religious services. The highlight for me was the large waterfall and the golden Buddhas in the temple. I was lucky enough to observe the end of a service when I arrived.

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Final Thoughts: A quick little hike, with some culture thrown in never amounts to a bad day. Soyosan is one of the mountains that doesn’t get as much publicity as the mountains in the city such as Namsan and to a lesser extent Bukhansan, but has still has its unique charms Although it is a little out of the way, it still makes for a great day trip, and if you really want to explore, grab one of the love motels by the entrance and stay the night. It would feel like a vacation away from the city without actually having to leave it.

5 comments

  1. beautiful shots! great post. not sure you took enough pics though 😉

  2. I love this place! I live a bit closer in Uijeongbu and try to make it up there when I can. I think the fall foliage here is the best in Korea but was very crowded during this time.

    1. I couldn’t agree more!!

  3. Gorgeous photos. We hiked a shorter trail at Soyosan with our 9-year-old and weren’t able to catch the visits to the Buddha and temples. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the hike!

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