What: Woraksan National Park (월악산)
Where: Woraksan is in north-central Korea. From our cozy apartment in Yeosu, it’s about a four hour drive. Woraksan is a little harder to access with public transportation, so we were once again thankful for the comfort and time-savings that owning a car in Korea has provided us! We had a four-day weekend in early October, so Elicia and I had a crazy idea to first visit Deogyusan National Park on Thursday, then pick up our good friend Patrick and visit Songnisan National Park on Friday. After camping on Friday night, we’d wake up and finally drive further north to Woraksan National Park for one last day of hiking on Saturday. We arrived at Woraksan before 11:00am, so we had plenty of time to set up camp (for the third time in three days).
Elevation: Yeongbong Peak (1097m) is the highest peak in Woraksan National Park, and that’s just the peak we’d target for hiking on Saturday. Deokju Campground would put us in great position to begin hiking and reach the summit within a couple of hours, so we decided to park it at Deokju Campground and set up our camp. Like the previous two days, we began hiking around noon, giving us plenty of time to explore the trails and get a good loop in. Fortunately the campground had plenty of room for our two tents:
From the beautiful campground alongside a stream, we set out in a counter-clockwise fashion to reach the Yeongbong Peak. Admittedly, there aren’t many trails in Woraksan. There’s three access points, each with a a few trails for hiking, but this Deokju area has the highest peaks, and probably attracts the most visitors. Being that it was a Saturday, we noticed tour groups that came from Seoul to experience Woraksan. We set forth on the trail, and similar to the other national parks we’ve visited, the beginning section was quite easy. Here in Woraksan, we followed a nice trail alongside a stream and came across some beautiful flowers:
Well, the nice-n-easy path for walking led us up to a cool little temple tucked away into the slopes of the mountain’s rocky cliffs. This temple had some freshwater for the taking, so we took advantage and chugged as much as our bellies would take, and then filled up our water bottles one last time. At this particular temple, there was a neat stone carving:
We had looked at the trail map, and prepared ourselves for a “challenging” section to get us up to the top. It was colored black, so it was considered “expert” level from here on out. Up until this temple, things were pretty ho-hum, ho-hum, easy going. BUT, just like the trail map suggested, things drastically changed in terms of slope and difficulty.
Woraksan National Park is one of the ‘rockiest’ parks we have visited yet. We didn’t gradually wind our way up the mountain through dense trees and vegetation. Nope, not here. On this particular trail, the trees ran scarce and there was stairs that went straight up or a railing bolted to boulders so you can aid yourself up the steep sections. We could easily see why this was considered ‘expert’, because we rarely had a free hand. Our hands were constantly holding on to the railings or pulling ourselves up the rocky mountain.
It was pretty intense, but exhilerating and rewarding. It was like this for a little more than an hour… and eventually we saw Ma-aebong Peak (960m) just a few steps away:
This was a ‘false summit’, meaning, it was a little pit-stop on top of some huge boulders. It was indeed a peak called Ma-aebong Peak, and it stood 960m, however, in the near distance we could see Yeongbong Peak, our true destination that stood 1097m tall. Nevertheless, we hung out atop this little false summit for a few minutes, talked with a Korean family, and snapped some pictures. In the picture above, everyone was looking to the left while ascending the stairs because they were wow’d by the views off to the left side. Here’s some pics of what we saw on top Ma-aebong Peak:
Yup, everyone that joined us here was happy to have made the difficult climb, and we all enjoyed the views.
Next, we’d continue along towards Yeongbong Peak (1097m). It was only 1-2km away, but as we approached it we had feelings of excitement and even a little worry because it looked pretty intimidating. We assumed it’d be really steep, and Elicia’s and my legs were starting to feel the 32.5km we hiked total in the prevous two days. But we carried on towards the summit…
Indeed, we were right. More stairs going straight up. More difficult sections that forced you to hang on for dear life while you yanked yourself up a railing with two hands. It was enjoyable, and ultimately not too dangerous, but certainly the most difficult climb I have done in Korea so far!
Yeongbong Peak (1097m) was amazing! I don’t know if the previous two day’s hiking of 32.5km caught up with us, or it was simply just the difficulty of Woraksan’s climb, but all three of us were in a bit of a daze/funk. Maybe we were tired from camping the two nights, or maybe we were just hungry. I know one thing: my legs were finally pretty sore!
Relaxing at this summit was so enjoyable – we all agreed that we could take naps and probably not ever wake up! We smashed some crackers and tuna, apples, and other snacks and tried to regain some energy.
Other Hiking Highlights:
We headed down a different trail, continuing in the counter-clockwise fashion. The trail down was not as eventful as the trail going up. Going down this trail, it was heavily wooded and there wasn’t too many good viewpoints for looking out across the nearby mountains. Instead, we just hopped down the trail with pretty good speed. We were all a bit tired and couldn’t wait for dinner!
We got back to Deokju Campground before 6:00pm and I proceeded to hop in the stream. Now that it’s October, the water was pretty frigid! My legs were pretty sore, so I wanted to soak them, and it was indeed like an ice bath. I found some rocks that formed a ‘natural hot tub’ so I reclined in the freezing water… so refreshing!
We grabbed dinner across the street from the campground, and we had quite the Korean feast containing kimchi jiggae (spicy stew), pajeon (like a pancake), delicous side dishes, and of course a celebratory beer. It was the best Korean meal I’d eaten in a while, and it was fantastic to re-hash all the hiking we had done!
Well, Woraksan National Park was incredible. Plain and simple. As I’ve mentioned before, each national park we’ve visted is unique in it’s own way. They’re all slightly different. Woraksan was certainly rocky and challenging! Once we got up to Ma-aebong Peak (960m) and Yeongbong (1097m) we saw the huge lake (Chungju-ho), which was very unique and beautiful.
Finishing Woraksan National Park meant Elicia and I had hiked three national parks in three days! It was a little crazy, a little insane, but totally worth it! We had successfuly hiked 42.5km in three days, by far the most we have hiked consecutively while here in Korea. Similar to Patrick’s goal of wanting to visit every national park, Elicia and I are now driven to also achieve this goal. We have crossed six parks off the list, so only ten more to go in order to see all 16 mountainous parks!