What: Naejangsan National Park (내장산)
Where: Naejangsan is nestled between Jeollanamdo and Jeollabukdo Provinces near the SW corner of South Korea. From Yeosu, it was a two hour drive. Gwangju is the nearest city to Naejangsan, and shuttle buses can be arranged from the U-Square Intercity Bus Terminal.
Elevation: Naejangsan has many peaks, most ranging between 600-700m each. This park isn’t huge, so it’s good for one-day hikes. The highest peak is Sinseonbong at 763m.
Hiking Highlights: The ridge course is 11.0km and covers all eight peaks. We originally set out to do this course so we could see as much as possible, however, as we got closer to the park we saw a TON of tail-lights and the road became a parking lot…
It’s the prime time to see the leaves change, and this is the most popular park to see the leaves because of all the maples and other varities of trees. And, since the foliage would be in its peak this weekend, we had no choice but to go and join the chaos.
Instead of creeping our way to a huge parking lot (which would have eaten up into our precious hiking time), I got really anxious and pulled off to a less-popular parking spot. We parked the car and modified our hike for the day. Instead of eight peaks we’d see six peaks, but it was better to be on the trails instead of continuing to participate in the traffic jam! Here’s a map of the park, with red arrows following the trail we completed on this beautiful Sunday:
So, we’d set out to cover 9.9km, and we began our journey a little past 10:00am. Our modified plan would allow us to go 1.2km up to Bulchulbong Peak (622m), then a beautiful 2.8km stretch with three peaks: Manghaebong Peak (679m), Yeonjibong Peak (670m) and Kkachibong Peak (717m). After another 1.5km hiking along a ridge, we’d come to Sinseonbong Peak, the highest peak in Naejangsan at 763m. Finally we’d make one final push of 1.1km over to Yeonjabong Peak (675m) before our 1.8km stumble down to the beautiful Naejangsa Temple.
The hiking itself was a bit more challenging than normal because I sprained my anke (or maybe tore some ligaments?) three weeks ago while playing volleyball. The trail seemed to be a bit more narrow than other parks, but everything was well marked. But boy-oh-boy was there SO MANY PEOPLE! This was the most crowded I have seen a park here in Korea…
Despite the crowds, it was so worth it to come here to Naejangsan! The morning provided lots of fog and low-lying clouds, which prevented us from seeing everything in the valley perfectly, but still made for great pictures and moments to sit back, relax, and enjoy nature:
Walking along the ridge, like always, was the most memoriable part of the park for me. You can usually look back to see where you were, or look ahead to the peak where you’re headed next. Despite the cloudy/foggy day, we could see super-brightly colored Koreans ahead on the trail, sprinkled along the trail like colorful dots:
We also found ourselves walking through beautiful woods along the ridge:
And even navigating near-hidden stairways tucked within huge boulders…
Because we were along the ridge for probably three or four hours, we had so many beautiful panoramic views of the park and outlying areas. We could see the beautiful colors beneath us, and it was really refreshing and energizing to take in the fall landscape.
Every peak we came to, it was quite crowded on top. At first I was slightly annoyed. We’ve been spoiled by having many trails to ourselves. Often times we don’t even need to share the peak with other hikers. Today, though, was a different story. People were everywhere!
BUT, on the brightside, we made some new friends, got offered plenty of snacks and alcoholic beverages along the way, and dished out several high-fives to Koreans who were excited to see foreigners hitting the trails right along side them. I ended up embracing the crowds, viewing it as a good thing that this nation loves hiking so much that people flock towards beautiful scenery and nature on the weekends… what’s there to complain about?
As the sun got higher and higher in the sky, it warmed up a bit and allowed the clouds and fog to lift. It turned out to be a gorgeous day for hiking!
We eventually finished our last peak around 3:00pm in the afternoon, a bit tired and hungry but extremely happy with our adventurous day. We had made a huge loop throughout the park, covering much of what the park had to offer. Beneath us we now saw Naejangsa Temple, and TONS of beautiful trees in the surrounding area.
As we approached the temple, there was a nice little clearing in the trees that provided this view:
Once at the temple we filled up on fresh water, and snapped some pictures. It was a really neat temple, but unfortunately we didn’t have too much time to relax or explore because daylight was running out, and we needed to get back to Yeosu!
Our car was parked pretty far from the temple, and we could have either hiked on more trails, cresting yet another peak, or stayed on roads/paths that was a longer distance, but surely it’d be faster time-wise. We opted for the latter and walked briskly along the beautiful roads along the park’s main entrance. Oh yes, there was a mass exodus of park-goers that were also heading to their cars or buses, starting their journey home at the close of a beautiful day!
Overall: Visiting Naejangsan was simply amazing, even though it was arguably on the busiest day of the year! All the crowds actually served us good company. Smiles, laughter, snacks and drinks could be found every peak of the six we climbed along the ridge course. I would venture to guess that fall is by far the most popular time to visit this park, so I’m curious to see how busy it is during other times of the year? Perhaps we’ll have to come back to explore even more of Naejangsan and find out for ourselves…