Sitting high on my Korea Bucket List for the past three years has been Seoraksan National Park. I don't have any good reasons for why it took me so long to make it out there, but I'm definitely kicking myself for putting if off for so long. A couple weekends ago, I took a trip with Adventure Korea out to this famous park to soak up the cool fall weather and to do some hiking. The park is gorgeous and one of the best places I've visited in Korea!
Seoraksan National Park is located in northeastern Korea, about three to four hours driving distance from Seoul. The park itself is massive -- 398.5 km² (over 98,000 acres!), with so many hikes and trekking courses for you to potentially follow. The weekend we spent in the park definitely wasn't enough, and I really wish I'd made more trips to the park during my time in Korea. (So let that be a lesson to you, readers! Don't follow my example!)
The first day we arrived, we hiked the popular Ulsanbawi course, which is probably one of the tougher hikes I've done in Korea. While being far from being the tallest peak in the park (that would be Daecheongbang, standing at 1,708 meters), Ulsanbawi is known for its unrelenting stairs and for the stunning view from the top. The jagged rocks along the ridge of nearby peaks has made the view from Ulsanbawi one of the iconic photo spots of Seoraksan National Park.
As we set off for Ulsanbawi, we looked doubtfully up at the clouds that obscured the mountain peaks. Not only was it threatening rain, but if we did make it to the top, we wouldn't be able to see anything! The rain held off during the hike, and when we got to the top, this was our surreal view:
So, no rocks spiking along the tops of mountains, and instead, blue-grey nothingness. While I would advise you to keep an eye on the weather, hiking into a cloud and being surrounded by sound-muffling fog was a new level of bizarre, and something I'm happy to have gotten to experience.
The hike itself isn't very long -- we went all the way up, with numerous rest breaks along the way, took photos, enjoyed our accomplishment, and made it all the way back down in under four hours. The stairs are punishing, especially the steep stretches that are literally affixed to the rock face, but while blogs online will say this hike is a rough one, it isn't impossible, and I highly recommend doing it.
Feeling rather jelly-legged after the Ulsanbawi hike, we opted for leisurely trekking on our second day, following the Yongso Falls course through Jujeon valley. This route took us along a small river that snaked through the valley, showing off the impressive mountains above us. The path to the waterfall was under construction, so we weren't able to see it, but we still had fun climbing on the rocks in the river and taking photos of the scenery.
Along this course, we also stopped at some of the natural springs to drink the Osaek mineral water. Osaek means five flavors, and drinking the mineral water is said to be good for digestion and upset stomachs. There are a couple spots at the start of the course where the mineral water can be scooped from holes inside of the rocky riverbank. The water had an interesting taste -- very metallic and bitter. The area surrounding the valley also has numerous spas where you can soak in the mineral water to relax aching muscles.
Seoraksan National Park was stunning, and I look forward to being able to spend more time there sometime in the future. Ideally, try to spend more than a weekend at the park, but two days is still a decent amount of time to hike around and take in its beauty!
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog and her Instagram for more of her adventures!