What: Hallasan Mountain (한 라 산) in Hallasan National Park.
Where: Jeju-do is a famous destination in South Korea because it resembles Hawaii. A popular tourist and honeymoon destination for travelers, it has tons to do on this relatively small island. Elicia and I were fortunate to have a four day weekend for Korea’s Memorial Day June 6-9, so we quickly planned a trip to Jeju-do to check it out! A two day weekend simply wouldn’t be enough time on the island as it requires a bit of travel (bus, ferry, airplane, etc) to get there.
Jeju-do has two major areas:
1. Jeju-city in the north is where most ferries come/go and this is where the airport is. My perception before arriving was that it would be dominated by tourists with resorts everywhere. Turns out it seemed like a normal, Korean city!
2. Seogwipo in the south is the hub to see things on the southern coast. West about 10km from Seogwipo is Jungmun Beach, a very popular tourist area with resorts and museums. Naturally, when Elicia and I planned our trip and arrived to Jeju-do, we got out of the city as quickly as possible. We spent our time in Hallasan Park and away from the tourist-drama!
Hallasan (한 라 산) is 1950m above sea level, making it the highest mountain in Korea. Many of the other highest peaks are found on mainland Korea in a National Park called Jirisan, which isn’t too far from Yeosu so I hope to get there soon to begin climbing the other high peaks…
Get There: There’s options, it all depends on your preference and how thick your wallet is and how much time you have.
1. Airplane. Fly from Seoul, Busan, Gwangju, etc. This is more expensive, but quicker (if you live in a big city that has airport with direct flights to Jeju).
2. Ferry. Ferry ports in Seoul (Incheon), Mokpo, Busan, Jangheung and Wando have car and passenger ferries that will happily take you to and from the beautiful island of Jeju-do. Tickets range from about $30 – $50 one way, per person depending on what time and what port you leave from. Also be careful, some ships can get travel quickly while others are like tug boats. To get to the port, you can utilize Korea’s intricate intercity and express bus system… they are cheap, reliable, comfortable, and run on time. Have your own car? Bring it to Jeju-do. Would be way, way better than buses/taxis.
Elicia and I took a bus to Wando (about 3.5 hour journey from Yeosu) to catch a 3:00pm ferry to Jeju. This ferry took 1hr40min so we arrived at Jeju by 5:00pm. Without having done too much research on how to get from Jeju-city to Hallasan National Park, WHAT WAS NEXT? The sun would set in an hour or two and we needed to get camp set up.
Getting around in Korea is really easy. You can ask people. We got help, and we walked to a bus stop, took 2 minutes to understand the bus schedule, and hopped on a bus that dropped us off at the intercity bus terminal. 10 minutes later we were on bus #1131 headed for the National Park, where we were instructed to hop off the bus.
Only two trails in the park lead to the summit (called Dongneung Peak): Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak Trails. The only place to legally camp is in Gwaneumsa Campground, which is literally right next to the start of the 8.7km trail to the summit. No buses stop at the campground, so we got dropped off about 3km away and caught a $5 taxi to take us to the campground. After all, we wanted to save our legs for the big hike the next morning! Seongpanak Trail, 9.6km, is the more popular trail. City buses, tour buses, car parking lot, etc. Definitely looks like a national park. Where we camped, Gwaneumsa, was very relaxed, quaint, quiet, and beautiful. I’d highly recommend hiking UP Gwaneumsa and DOWN Seongpanak Trail.
Here’s how we arrived at Hallasan National Park: Walk from apartment to Yeosu Bus Terminal > Bus Yeosu to Wando > Ferry from Wando to Jeju-city > City bus dropped us off near Gwaneumsa Campground in Hallasan National Park > Taxi to Campground.
We arrived at Gwaneumsa Campground around 7:00pm and filled up with high-carb snacks at a gas station and plenty of liquids for the next day’s hike. As the sun was setting we set up our tent and by 9:00pm the entire campground was fast asleep, gathering as much energy as possible. *Note = there is a 7-11 Conviencence store right next to Gwaneumsa Trail-head.
Hallasan was incredible. I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to visit Jeju-do only two months into our stay in Korea. Besides that, we were blessed with really good weather and plenty of energy to make the 8 hour 45 minute hike a successful one. We even had plenty of energy left at the end to catch a bus to Seogwipo, the southern city, and from there a taxi to Hwasun Beach in the southwest corner of the island to continue sight-seeing. I read mixed reviews of hiking up Gwaneumsa Trail and down Seongpanak Trail because of the difficulty going up… but I’d highly recommend doing it simply because you avoid the crowd of hikers during peak season. We only saw about 10 people while we hiked up. At the top, there were tons of people, and as we hiked down Seongpanak we saw 100’s more heading up to the summit. While we hiked down we just thinking how appreciative we were to have camped at Gwaneumsa Camground and hiked up Gwaneumsa Trail because we avoided the rush, paced ourselves well, had plenty to eat and drink, and we were confident we could continue on the rest of our vacation in Jeju-do!