For a Window Full of Colors, the Baekdu Mountains BeckonThe first place in South Korea to burst with fall colors every year is Mount Seorak in Gangwon province. From there, the seasonal multichromatic display spreads south, and by late October virtually all the nation's mountains and valleys are covered in spectacular reds and golds.
The Korea National Tourism Organization recently designated seven driving routes in and around the Baekdu Mountains as the best in the area to enjoy the autumnal hues. The roads take in mountain passes such as Gangwon province's Dakmok-jae and Manhang-jae, North Gyeongsang province's Haneul-jae and Magu-ryeong, and North Jeolla province's Deoksan-jae, Ppae-jae and Yeowonchi.
Of those seven passes, Dakmok-jae, with an adjacent village boasting loads of old-world atmosphere, and Manhang-jae, the highest pass in the nation, offer the most sensational scenery.
One of the most interesting sections of the Baekdu mountain range, which extends southward from Mount Baekdu in North Korea, is a jagged 13-kilometer-long ridge in Gangwon province called Daegwallyeong. Dakmok-jae is the first pass south of that ridge.
To get to Dakmok-jae, head toward Daegwallyeong and turn right onto national road No. 35. You'll start seeing beautiful groves and vegetable gardens along the road. Pass Obong Reservoir and continue to the Wangsan-gyo intersection. A left turn here will take you to Jeongseon county; but turn right, toward Godan-ri village, to get to Dakmok-jae.
The scenic pass is about midway between the 11-kilometer drive from Wangsan-gyo to Godan-ri. From the pass two nearby peaks can be seen: Neunggyeong-bong (1,123 meters) and Mount Gorupogi (1,238 meters). The ascent from Wangsan-gyo to the pass is an especially good place to take in the autumnal reds and golds and browns. The route, however, includes a series of sharp and steep turns that call for careful driving.
The pass Manhang-jae, at 1,313 meters, is located between three small coal-mining towns: Sabuk, Gohan and Taebaek. Manhang-jae is the low point on the ridge connecting Mount Hambaek, which at 1,573 meters is South Korea's sixth-highest mountain, and Mount Taebaek, whose peak is just six meters shy of its neighbor's.
Manhang-jae offers very nice views during the day, and is also a beautiful place to stargaze at night. On a hazy evening you can drive up to the pass and see the heavens shining above the country fog.
At Manhang-jae, near a Buddhist temple named Jeongamsa, is a quaint village called Manhang. The denizens there used to depend on coal mining, but these days most of them make their livings as farmers.
Heading down from Manhang-jae toward another pass, Hwabang-jae, affords some magnificent views of Mount Taebaek. This road is also very windy and steep, so caution behind the wheel is advised; but many people think it the best route to take in the fall colors. There are also many tourist attractions along this route. Some of the most recommendable are the Taebaek Coal Museum; two scenic ponds, one of which, Geomnyongso, is the source of the Han River; and the attractions known as the Eight Sceneries of Hwaam-ri village, which include a natural underground cave and a turtle-shaped rock.
by Kim Sae-joon