Odaesan National Park, on the east coast of South Korea, near the city of Gangneung is not the most famous of national parks in the ROK, but has the potential to be one of the more rewarding hikes in Korea, especially if you are a novice hiker. As the summer slowly fades into autumn, the vast national parks of the great ROK become a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows and oranges, Odaesan will be a reward treat before the winter inevitability is upon us.
A Brief Overview: After hiking some of the more challenging mountains in Korea, such as Dobangsan, Odaesan was curious because I’ve heard mixed reviews about it. One opinion is that it is a challenging and strenuous hike, but others viewed it more as a casual, scenic stroll through the woods. Randall and I found that both descriptions were accurate depending on the route you choose. We decided to take the easy scenic route, which any person with two legs, hell even one leg could easily conquer in the morning. If you are inspiring to be Bear Grylls, you could sprint through the first part pass Guryong Falls, Manmulsang, and Geumgangsa Temple and head right to the daunting Noinbong Peak which touches the heavens at 1338m, than you could do that too; send me a postcard, I’ll be down at the base drinking maekolli and eating pajeon.
What to Bring: Like with any hike, you should bring a sufficient supply of water, food and a first aid kit. Also if you’re brave enough to tackle Noinbong, a good pair of hiking boots is recommended. However, if you choose to simply hike to the waterfalls and the temple, a good pair of running shoes will suffice. Naturally, bring a good bottle of maekolli (Korean rice wine) for the end of the hike to enjoy on the rocks by the stream, hopefully with some hiking adjummas.
How to get there: On a budget? Lonely Planet suggests that you take local bus 303 outside of Gangneung bus terminal. This will take you 50 minutes and will drop you off 500 meters from the park ranger station. From the park ranger station it’s another 500 meters to the hiking trail. So basically, you are hiking before you actually start hiking. Fuck that noise.
Want to get to the base of the mountain, right at the beginning of the hiking trail? Grab a taxi in Gangneung and spend the 35,000KRW. Seriously, between Randall and myself, we only spent 17,000KRW to get to the mountain in a cool, air conditioned cab. We saved at least an hour of prime hiking time. If you get a cab full of people, say at your hostel or hotel, you can easily make it up there and back for about 15,000KRW. It’s just solid value.
Taxi Scam on the Way Back: Okay, so despite my advice to take a taxi there, the way back to Gangneung is a bit of a scam. After a long hike, you’ll be tired and in need of a shower, food and if you are like me, a little nap before taking in the Gangneung nightlife. An old dude, will stop you on the way down the road towards the bus stop and ask if you want to take a taxi. Sure what the hell, I’m tired right? Now, normally this wouldn’t be a problem because you have trusty old mister Mastercard to charge the fare. Nope. Nope. Nope. The taxi the guy will call for you takes CASH ONLY, which for Randall and I would have been a huge problem unless we came up with the funds on the way down there. So, a simple word of advice: Cash is King.
Let’s Go to Geumgangsa Temple: Alright, let’s hit the trail kiddos. Smalls streams, lots of lust vegetation, and lots of bridges for great photo ops, Odaesan is a novice hiker’s dream. It’s about 2km to Geumgangsa Temple, so take your time and enjoy the clean fresh air, and have a drink or two before heading up to find your deity at Geumgangsa Temple.
Geumgangsa Temple: A small temple within the confines of Odaesan National Park, this temple is quiet and quaint. There is a small fountain for refilling your water bottle, a temple for worship, some living quarters, some statues, a some rock inscriptions and some dogs that will follow you around. They are friendly guys who are still searching for enlightenment, so be nice. We took a small break and headed onwards.
Guryong Falls: Guryong Falls is about 1.5km from the temple. Now, the falls themselves are not overly impressive, but the flat rocks around them make for a nice spot to have a break. Guryong Falls is actually a collection of nine waterfalls throughout the park, this one is the sixth and largest of the waterfalls. It has a small pool at the bottom, but it isn’t recommended for swimming. That said, if you are looking for a spot to have some lunch, this would be the place.
Journey Towards Manmulsang Rock: As with most of Odaesan, the journey to Manmulsang is a quiet, breathtaking adventure. The streams flowing through the valleys provides a peaceful and tranquil hike. Enjoy these moments.
Manmulsang: Manmulsang is a rock that has earned its fame by its unique formation. Known as the “rock with 10 thousand looks”, people who view it tend to see a variety of different pictures within the rock. Trippy.
Some final thoughts: Odaesan was such a rewarding experience, and is worth the trip to the east coast. If you are only here for a short period of time, and you are a novice hiker, this would be my suggestion. It’s a little over 3 hours to get here by bus, but once you arrive in Gangneung, it is smooth sailing. Soak in the moment and enjoy everything Odaesan has to offer.