Ironically, the most visited national park in South Korea was left as the final endeavor for my wife Elicia and I. Somehow we managed to visit the 15 other national parks first before finally getting to step foot in the most accessible (aka closest to Seoul) playground for outdoor enthusiasts likes ourselves.
We were primarily in Seoul to take in the DMZ Tour and learn about the history between North and South Korea post-war. The following day we woke up early, hailed a taxi and somehow managed to direct the kind driver to get us close to Bukhansan National Park. I had pinpointed a specific trailhead to start, and as you can see in the map below that was near Seogyeong High School. It was a bit off-the-beaten path, but it provided a very nice starting point due to the lack of tour buses and plentiful little shops open so we could stock up on the essentials of kimbap, drinks, and other snacks for the day’s adventure.
Hitting the trail around 8:00am we headed up and up and up the trail, passed Naeweonsa Temple until we came to a neat and interesting fortress wall that appeared to span a great distance.
The date was October 26 and the leaves, up in elevation where it was a bit cooler, had sprung and began to show off their brilliant reds and oranges.
By this point we had covered most of the elevation gain, but the trail was never too strenuous or difficult; just a steady gentle climb through the relaxing, peaceful, and tranquil woods just a few kilometers from one of the world’s largest metro jungles.
We continued to follow the trail, which happened to simultaneously hug the fortress wall. This continued for a kilometer or two, and the views were quite impressive, especially in the awesome autumn.
The next point of interest in this particular route was a fairly large intersection where the trails collide into a massive sitting zone… primarily used for a quick rest and fueling-up session of various foods and drinks.
After a quick pause to read some information posted about the fortress wall, we carried on in the direction of Baegundae Peak, which as the sign promised was a mere 2.5km away from this intersection.
The trail continued to be beautiful as were clipping along. The amount of people began to increase, naturally, as we got closer and closer to the peak. Seeing as there’s several trails to reach the peak, this wasn’t a huge surprise.
Despite the haze/fog/clouds or whatever the true definition is, views of the nearby peaks brought smiles to our faces as we marched up and down the undulating trail.
Alas, we had made good time through the 2.5km section and our eyes finally caught a glimpse of the prize, the highest peak in Bukhansan National Park, Baegundae Peak (836m).
From here we were reminded in a not-so-gentle way why we perhaps saved this park for last… the swarms of people jockeying for position on the trail! Elicia and I have always preferred quiet, not-so-visited places. That being said, I 100% understand that national parks are gorgeous, and I admire all the people who want to get out and explore just like us. However, going up and then down a single-track trail with a thousand other people wasn’t necessarily the highlight of my hiking career in South Korea. But hey, it HAD TO BE DONE!
Once on the narrow path with railings, it was stop-n-go, stop, stop some more, go a little, and stop some more, all the way to the tippy top. The views were impressive and so we cast our eyes outward to the lovely views… they were much better than the guy’s butt in your face if you looked ahead at the trail.
More scenery shared with more hikers. It was turning out to be a lovely morning/day.
Inch by inch and patient minute by patient minute we finally made it to the top! Sure, it was steep, but the trail itself was not technical. Just the sheer amount of people to shuffle in and around presented the largest challenges. When we summited this particular peak, it was the capstone to our national park journey. We had officially visited all 16 parks and climbed to the highest peak in each one! YAHOO!! It called for a quick celebration.
With all that hard work we needed to be sure and rehydrate ourselves.
For fear of making a bigger spectacle than we already had, we got off the large rock up on top so others could knock themselves out with their own summit selfies. We chowed down some snacks and enjoyed the views in the classic rocky, picnic style gathering. Oh, and we people-watched hardcore.
The scene reminded me of a giant swarm of ants, all in a line, going up to the food source, grabbing a little bit (quick picture) then bumping into each other all the way down. I will say, however, lots of hikers are generally happy people so saying hello and meeting a few memorable characters along the way is always welcomed by us. :)
A quick TV timeout to highlight my beautiful bride and her wonderful companionship throughout this entire escapade of national parks in South Korea. I couldn’t have done it without her. Her desire to do more, see more, continual smiles and laughter lit up the trail. She made cloudy days into bright and sunny ones, and made even the coldest, wettest hikes so memorable and enjoyable it’s hard to put into words. I owe a lot to this woman, my klimbing queen.
That joyful smile says it all.
To avoid an out-n-back we headed down in the direction of Gwanseongsa Temple, which is straight west of Baegundae Peak we had just summited. The rocky trail was full of steps down, clearly steeper than the way we had gone up to start our morning. Scenery down here at this trailhead was quite spectacular, I must admit. That is, if you weren’t distracted by all the hiking stores and street shopping for all the hiking gear you could ever imagine.
Nearing the bottom, we set our eyes on a taxi line, which required a bit more of a walk to get out on a main road.
Leaving the park we felt accomplished: it had been a dream/goal to visit all the parks, but this goal wasn’t realized until we were well into the process and several parks had already been visited. Visiting all 16 was no easy feat, but, pairing them together and taking long weekends to visit two at a time helped speed the process up.
The trails in South Korea are simply beautiful. They are countless. And they are urging to be explored. Trails like this in Bukhansan see hiking boots all day every day. But many of the national parks have trails with few crowds and view visitors… I’d encourage you to take a leap of faith, download Naver Maps, and set out for a little hiking adventure in South Korea. You’re set up for success, so get out and explore while Klimbing Korean Mountains!