If you’ve ever visited South Korea, it’s no surprise that hiking is a popular activity. After all, over seventy percent of the peninsula is covered in mountains, and the country has 22 designated national parks. Groups of colorfully clad hikers frequent the popular hiking routes each weekend. If you go on one of these trails, you are bound to hear old Korean ballads and laughter as people stop for mid-hike snacks and drinks.
But do you ever feel like hiking to get away from the bustling, noisy city--including the people? If you’re looking for a nature retreat away from crowds, then you’re in luck. There are plenty of mountains off the beaten path, well, MORE off the beaten path in South Korea. Read our list below to explore some of the best, lesser-known hikes in Korea.
This challenging hike is located in the Yangnam Alps mountain range in Gyeongsangnam-do. Sinbulsan has an elevation of 1,209 meters. The hike is suitable for experienced hikers, although beginners can choose to follow a paved road to the mountain’s summit. The best time of the year to hike Sinbulsan is in Fall when the silver reeds are in full bloom.
Some of the highlights of Sinbulsan include a waterfall, rope climbing up a steep rock wall, and scrambling across a jagged rocky ridge (seriously--wear proper hiking boots with this one). There’s also a nice ramen shop at the summit, so you can indulge in a little treat before your descent.
To get to Sinbulsan, take the KTX to Ulsan station. From the station, you can take bus 304 or 323 to Sinbulsan. At the base of the mountain, there’s a welcome center where you can find maps and more information.
Saryangdo is an incredible island off of Korea’s southern coast, near the port city of Tongyeong. One of the main attractions of the island, the Saryangdo Ridge hike is appropriate for all levels. Beginners can choose to complete just part of the hike, while more experienced hikers can walk along the entire ridge.
The Saryangdo trek includes suspension bridges, 400-meter peaks, ropes, and jagged rocky ridges. It really is full of surprises. The best part, however, is the endless view of the deep blue seawater.
The hike can take anywhere from four to seven hours to complete, depending on your fitness level. While it’s possible to travel to Saryangdo for a day trip, you might want to stay on the island for a night and take advantage of the beautiful beaches.
To get to Saryangdo, take an intracity bus to the Tongyeong bus terminal. From there, you can take the local bus 670 or 675 to the Gaochi (가오치) terminal and hop on the ferry to Saryangdo.
Located in the valleys of Ulju in Ulsan, South Korea, Daeunsan is a unique hike: the majority of the ascent is adjacent to a long, cascading waterfall. The peak of Daeunsan sits at 742 meters, so it’s not too long of a trek. This beginner-level mountain is suitable for all hikers, but a hot tip: avoid hiking Daeunsan after heavy rain. The majority of the trail consists of rocks, and it can get quite slippery. The trail is also under a canopy of trees, so be aware that you won’t be getting much sunlight.
While you’re in the valley, check out the Naewonam Hermitage or cool off in one of the valley’s numerous swimming holes. This hike is beautiful at any time of the year, but especially in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom.
It’s easiest to get to Daeunsan by car. If you don’t have access to a vehicle, take a KTX to the Ulsan station. From there, you can take the 5004 bus to Namchang High School and call a taxi to Daeunsan ip-gu, or Daeunsan entrance.
Okay, a national park isn’t necessarily off the beaten path; however, Woraksan attracts fewer visitors than most of Korea's bustling national parks. Perhaps this is due to Woraksan’s location: it sits directly between two other popular national parks. Part of the Sobaek mountain range, Woraksan helps to form the boundary between North Chungcheong and North Gyeongsang provinces.
There are numerous trails in the park, but the most popular (and the highest) summit is Yeong-bong, sitting at 1,097 meters. Although the trail starts at a gentle, slow incline, it gets steep very quickly. This hike is not for beginners or those who haven’t exercised in a while, but there are stairs to help your ascent.
It’s easy to access Woraksan from Seoul; just take a bus at Dong Seoul bus terminal to Woraksan.
These are only four mountains to get you hiking away from busy trails and a bit off the beaten path in South Korea. However, in a country practically made of mountains, you’re bound to find plenty of other beautiful hikes. As Koreans would say, mountains and fresh air are a necessary part of “healing time,” and these four hikes will do the trick.
Now get out there, and get hiking.