What: Gayasan National Park (가야산). One of the main attractions in Gayasan National Park is Haeinsa Temple. This particularly large and special temple makes up most of the ‘touristy’ part of the park. I’d love to go into detail about Haeinsa Temple, but I must remember this is a hiking blog, not a temple-blog! Long story short… Haeinsa Temple is so special that it cost 4000won ($3.75 USD) each to enter the park. Certainly no complaints from this guy whatsoever, but most of the other seven national parks we have been to were free, or maybe $1.00-$2.00 tops. Four greenbacks caught my attention only because we’re so used to visiting amazing attractions and parks for next to nothing. So, for $4.00 I assumed we’d be seeing some cool things in the park… and as you’ll see below, Gayasan National Park and the four bucks each we gave to the national park service did NOT disappoint!
Gayasan National Park is in south-central Korea, about a three-hour drive from Yeosu. It’s not too far from the large city of Daegu, and it’s positioned just east of Deogyusan National Park (blog post here), where the famous Muju ski resort is located. We hopped in our car and drove with our friends Alison and Kenny (their blog) who are always game for a road-trip and long hikes on a beautiful fall Saturday. We arrived a little before 11:00am and were pleasantly surprised by nice warm air and crispy, colorful leaves still dangling on some trees. It seemed like the picturesque fall landscape may have hung on for just one more weekend here in Gayasan:
Elevation: Besides Haeinsa Temple, the other main attractions to Gayasan National Park would be the two peaks called Sangwangbong Peak (1430m) and Chilbulbong Peak (1433m). As you see, one is only three meters higher than the other, and furthermore, a mere 200m of distance seperates the two peaks. Sure, they are separate peaks, but most people group them together and Sangwangbong Peak is more spacious and therefore gathers more attention, even though it’s three meters shorter. Sangwangbong and Chilbulbong Peaks look like this as you’re hiking towards the top:
Hiking Highlights: After finding a parking spot near the park entrance, it’s a 0.7km easy walk up to Haeinsa Temple. There were many hikers and families here today, but NOTHING like the masses we saw in Naejangsan the other weekend for the fall colors. We opted to skip the temple and instead hit the trail towards the summit first, as we knew daylights fades fast this time of year. This park is definitely one of the smaller ones, with not a lot of hiking options or loops. So, we headed from Haeinsa Temple up the one and only trail to the top.
This trail’s slope was quite moderate, and having supreme phsyically fitness is definitely not a prerequisite for entering, nor is being a hiking expert! Honestly, this has been one of the easier ones so far. From the parking lot it was 4.8km up to the top, and then 4.8km back down (with 0.4km for the inter-peak trail). In the beginning, the trail was nice and winding, the air was crisp but somewhat warm, and the trees still had some leaves. But, the leaves began to thin out as we got higher and higher… signs that fall is no longer hanging on, and winter is starting to win.
Eventually we made it to a nice lookout spot where we could see Sangwangbong & Chilbulbong Peaks, and we could also stare off into the distance…
After taking it all in, we pushed on towards the summit. And like so many times before, we found ourselves traveling up, up, up by way of nicely contructed stairs:
We quickly came to another beautiful lookout spot, where many groups of Koreans were taking pictures, eating lunch, laughing, and enjoying the scenery. We couldn’t resist taking a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the beauty ourselves.
Have I told you how much Koreans LOVE hiking, and how much joy pours of out them while they’re with their friends on the trails? This group was getting their picture taken, and I jumped in as a photographer and counted “hanna… dul… set… kimchi!” which is the equilvant to “one… two… three… cheese!” here in Korea.
YUP, they were happy. And so were we!
They were glad a foreigner took their picture. And so was I.
We made it to Sangwangbong Peak (1430m) and hung out for a while. Snacked on some lunch, exchanged stories, and looked out into the far distance. The sky was a beautiful blue, and we were thankful for that!
Walking from Sangwangbong Peak (1430m) to Chilbulbong Peak (1433m) was just 0.2km and took just a few minutes:
Standing on top Chilbulbong Peak (1433m) with Sangwangbong Peak (1430m) in the near distance:
More Hiking Highlights: It was a little after 3:00pm by this point in the day, so we thought it’d be best to scoot ourselves down the mountain to check out Haeinsa Temple. These plans got derailed because on our way down, we were approached by an English-speaking Korean man who motioned us four foreigners over to join his group to enjoy a quick snack. So, we folded our legs and sat down with them, enjoying the warm sun and small-talk. Next thing you knew, we had oranges, chocolates, and hot, delicious coffee getting handed to us. So generous! Koreans love hiking, and they love food in a social setting. This group was from a nearby city, and they were all friends from church. We also shared our caramels, trail mix and fruit with them, and they were loving it. It was a heart-warming experience to spend a few minutes with complete strangers. I swear, some of the most generous and inclusive peole can be found on these mountains (or streets) here in Korea. As we we departed, I’m glad I remembered to snap a picture of the group:
We began walking down the same trail we came up, now headed back down to Haeinsa Temple. The sun was creating some beautiful light as it reflected on the face of the rocky peaks:
Once we were low enough and back in the trees, the sun began to set fast, but it was really, really beautiful. It was a perfect conclusion to a perfect day!
Overall: Gayasan National Park is definitely one people should visit. We didn’t get to spend much time at Haeinsa Temple, but it’s possible to do a Temple-Stay there or spend at least and hour or two learning about all the history contained there. The hiking trail itself was quite easy, especially compared to the tougher hikes like Jirisan or Woraksan (to name a few!) They’re even doing some construction/renovation, but I don’t know what the projects are or when they’ll be complete. But, overall, the beauty of the two peaks and the panoramic pictures, in my opinion, are some of the best we’ve seen in Korea because of how rocky it is and how promiment the peaks are (did you see the header image on the top of the home page?) We couldn’t have asked for better weather in the middle of November!
PS – I kept my promise from last week in Kleaning Korean Mountains… I filled one plastic bag with wrappers, tissues, and other garbage that I found while hiking. The trails in Gayasan National Park are a little cleaner now! :)