What: Ulsanbawi (울산바위) is a dramatic formation of rocks in the northern part of Seoraksan National Park. It’s often referred to as the face of Seoraksan park and it’s beauty is used in promo materials (it’s on the cover of our Frommer’s Korea travel book). It has been on my list to see since coming to Korea, and we finally got a shot at checking it out after visiting Odaesan National Park during our recent 5-day weekend. As a refresher, here’s a map that shows our route:
Seoraksan is divided up into three sections: 1) Outer Seoraksan is the easiest to access (from Sokcho) and it’s the ‘main’ area and therefore the most popular. 2) South Seoraksan is the area near Osaek mineral springs and provides hikers with the shortest (and therefore steepest) route to the highest peak in the park, Daecheongbong @ 1708m. And lastly, 3) Inner Seorkasan is a bit harder to access but it still has fantastic views despite the lesser peaks and less foot traffic.
Elevation: 817m. It’s nowhere close to the highest peak in Seoraksan, but because of how rugged the landscape is, this hiking course really draws the crowds.
Hiking Highlights: Elicia and I chose to visit Outer (#1) first because we really wanted to see Ulsanbawi. Here’s a map of Outer Seoraksan:
The previous night we had set up camp just down the road in the national park’s camping ground. Because it was a holiday, it was pretty busy, but we found a patch under some trees in a more secluded location, made a ramen-concoction and swung in the hammock for a while, preparing for our Seoraksan shenanigans. The campground was just a short drive from the park entrance down a beautiful road with this kind of scenery:
We were in a special place, I was smiling from ear to ear. We paid to enter the park, and then to park the car. After gathering our drinks and food we set out towards the Ulsanbawi course. The Seorak-dong area (main park entrance) is pretty large and in-charge.. there’s restaurants, souvenir shops, tons of parking, and of course, tons of people! We arrived at about 7:30am, which is highly advised if you can do it. It’s pretty quiet before 8:00am.
First, we came across this Tongil Daebul (The Great Unification Buddha) located in Sinheungsa Temple, right after the park entrance. You literally can’t miss it because it’s 14.6m (48ft) tall.
After topping off our water bottles, we began heading towards Ulsanbawi. The signage is pretty good. The trail to begin is very wide, flat, and paved. It meanders over bridges:
And through different temples:
All while having a beautiful back-drop of these beautiful, rocky mountains:
The day was young, but we wanted to get to Ulsanbawi before the incoming crowds did, so we made our way up the path. It remained very gentle for the first 2.2km, taking us less than an hour to complete. After the initial 2.2km stroll, you come to a temple called Gyejoam Temple (게조암), tucked in the shadows of the Ulsanbawi ridge line. Needless to say, it was a good opportunity for some pictures:
Gyejoam Temple was really unique for two reasons: 1) There was a shrine built into a nice-sized cave within the rocks, best seen in this picture (entrance is under the brightly colored lanterns):
and 2) There’s a huge, round boulder called Heundeulbawi (흔들바위) which can be rocked back and forth if a group of people work together and push on it in sync. Elicia and I gave it a whirl, but couldn’t get it to budge.
Shortly after this picture, however, a team of 5-6 of us all pushed a couple of times, and I felt the boulder shutter and slightly rock. Without a doubt, it moves (check out YouTube if you want)! I loved looking up and seeing Ulsanbawi against the nice blue sky:
After Gyejoam and Heundeulbawi, the trail begins to go up, up, up. It’s only another 1.1km after the temple, but it’s fairly steep, often with winding stairs:
Looking out, you’re able to see the higher peaks within Seoraksan National Park:
We were able to spot the highest peak (pictured both above and below) called Daecheongbong. We’d be heading there to conquer the 1708m summit the following day!
In total, you can plan on about 2 hours from bottom to top (first hour is 2.2km and pretty easy while the second hour is 1.1km and pretty steep).
It was so beautiful up there on Ulsanbawi.
We hung out and relaxed for nearly an hour on top.
Clouds/mist kept rolling against and over the formation…
I’ll just let the pictures do the speaking:
There were even groups of people getting ready to do some rock climbing:
Overall: I absolutely enjoyed Ulsanbawi. Strolling next to streams, pushing on huge boulders, going in a temple inside a cave, getting a one-hour stair-climber workout, and enjoying the views for one hour atop possibly the most famous peak in South Korea… it was all very spectacular!
After stopping on the trail for some delicious bibimbap and pajeon (yes, they have a restaurant-type place way up on the trail) we made our way back down to the Seorak-dong entrance. It was about 12:00 noon and we were full of energy, well-fed, and ready to tackle another course within this area considered ‘Inner Seoraksan’. Stay tuned for hike #2 of 3 from Seoraksan…