What: Jirisan National Park is famous because it’s the largest mountainous national park in Korea. It’s huge. Furthermore, it has several of the highest peaks in ‘mainland’ South Korea, but the highest is owned by Hallasan National Park on Jeju Island where Elicia and I visited in June during a four-day weekend. The way Koreans and expats talk about Jirisan Park, I got the sense it was the “grandaddy of them all”, meaning, it was for some pretty serious hikers and it’d be packed with beautiful scenery. This time, we were fortunate to have a five-day weekend because Chuseok, or Korean’s equivalent to Thanksgiving, was from September 18-22. We took advantage of the time away from school, the beautiful weather, and our desire to hike the 2nd tallest peak in all of Korea, Cheongwangbong Peak, which is located in Jirisan. We’d throw our tent, sleeping bags, camping food and hiking food, plenty of water, and hiking gear into our car and take a beautiful two hour drive from Yeosu to Jirisan National Park, positioning ourselves at the trailhead that would take us to the top.
Where: Jirisan is an hour or two north of Yeosu, depending on if you’re on the expressway or back-country roads like we took. I felt like a scenic drive. Windows down. Sunglasses on. Radio quiet. It was lovely! We arrived at our destrination, Jungsangri, at 9:30am on Wednesday morning. Jungsangri is one of the seven total points you may access Jirisan trails from, and this is the most direct route to the highest peak. We knew there’d be camping available at this site, so we paid our $5 for parking and $4 total for camping, set up our tent, got our backpack ready, etc. and by 10:30am we were on the trail headed towards Korea’s second highest summit. I still can’t get over the incredibly cheap camping prices here in Korea!
The park HQ at this location (Junsangri) was pretty neat. This is were we paid for camping and found some trail maps, along with information about the park’s history and rich biodiversity.
Elevation: Cheongwangbong Peak stands at an impressive 1915m. Here’s a picture of the peak after a few hours on the trail, making our journey towards the top:
Hiking Highlights: Just like all the other trails here in Korea, there’s not too many flat spots. This trail was no exception to the norm. We scaled large boulders, climbed many steps, and winded our way up and up the mountain side. Much of it was covered by trees, provided good shade from the otherwise intense sunglight (and moderate heat). We had ham sammies packed along with plenty of fruit and water to keep us going.
We followed this handy trail map. We started at Jungsanri (misspelled on the map), went to Kalbawi Rock (pictured above), to the Rotari Shelter and Beopgyesa Temple, up to the Cheongwangbong Peak. Total it’s 5.4km from bottom to top.
Unfortunately a few days prior, Elicia had caught a nasty cold that left her with a pounding head and really heavy/achy legs all day long. BUT, she was a trooper, kept a smile on her face, and plowed through the hike like it was nothing! Soon we found ourselves at the Beopgyesa Temple:
We carried on, and found these points of interest along the way towards the peak. It surprised me to see some leaves changing colors already! Time has really flown by. It’s hard to believe it was the middle of Septmber already!
The Summit: We were on the summit by 2:00pm and hung out there, basking in the sunlight for probably 30 minutes. There were a handful of other Korean hikers, but I am sure a lot less than the normal traffic (because most Koreans were with their families for the Chuseok Holiday).
Other Hiking Highlights: Elicia was up for extending our hike a little bit (despite her not feeling the best) to avoid an out-and-back hike on the same trail. I love seeing as many different trails as possible, so we scooted over to the Jangteomok Shelter first (1.7Km) instead of going straight back down. BEST DECISION EVER! The way to the shelter was downhill a bit, and along a ridge, which provded great scenery.
Looking back at Cheongwangbong Peak I captured this cool picture:
Soon we found ourselves on a trail following a freshwater river, originating in Jirisan. It was gorgeous, peaceful, and yet powerful. There wasn’t a ton of water flowing, so instead of raging white rapids, we saw the huge boulders.
Everywhere we’ve been in Korea, we see these little rock formations. Apparently they are prayers of people as they pass by. This particular area was near Yuampokpo Falls on our way back down to the campsite for the evening.
Overall: Jirisan was excellent! I’d love to go back some day and explore more. The park is really big. It’s quite intimidating, actually. Our good friends Alyssa and Patrick did an epic 3-day hike along the massive ridge in Jirisan, and they loved it. The shelters are available to spend the night (camping anywhere but the campsites is not permited). Perhaps the next time Elicia and I have a few days off, we may take the plunge and go for it. Everyone that has done it has said it’s the best hike in Korea, hands down. As you can see in our pictures from this 12.4km hike over Chuseok, we got a taste of what Jirisan National Park has to offer. We will be back to explore more someday soon! Within a few weeks, all the leaves will be changing and I think this park will become extremely beautiful.