Short hikes for urban adventurersKorea’s mountains contain many hidden treasures ― beautiful forests, temples, flowers and sometimes great food. If you can’t afford to spend an entire weekend visiting Mount Seorak, there are plenty of alternatives. Mountains within Seoul, and on its outskirts, offer much the same hiking adventures in just half a day.
We’ve gathered information about some nearby mountains that would be good bets for hikers this spring. (For more English-language information on hiking options, check the Korea National Tourism Organization site at www.tour2Korea.com.) These peaks will take you back to nature, but they won’t take you too far from the comforts of home.
YANGJU, Gyeonggi ― One of the greatest advantages of hiking 468-meter Mount Bulgok is that on weekends, it’s less crowded than its neighbors. It’s just as alluring as nearby Mount Dobong, but not as well known to Korean hikers.
It might seem unfair to compare Bulgok to much-higher Mount Dobong, which stands at 740 meters. But there are several hiking adventures to be experienced at Mount Bulgok that are unavailable elsewhere.
Bulgok is a granite mountain. The trails leading to the peak are very rough, especially along the top. Bulgok has three major peaks of about the same altitude, which stretch from the northwest to the southeast, forming a beautiful ridgeline of about one kilometer (0.6 miles). In between, there are rocky slopes where hikers have to hold on to ropes.
Bulgok is also a historically meaningful site. One of its peaks is named Im Gyeok-jeong, after a folk hero of the Joseon Dynasty who spent his life poaching rice and valuables from the rich and giving to the poor. The area that surrounds the mountain, Yangju, is Im’s birthplace.
The trip from Seoul to the foot of the mountain takes less than an hour. Hikers can get off at subway line No. 1’s Uijeongbu Bukbu Station, take the southern exit, cross the overhead and take a village bus heading to Dongducheon or Deokjeong. The trip from the station to Yangju is about 10 to 15 minutes.
Hikers who’ve been here before should take note that the city of Yangju has gone through some administrative changes within the past year, as the area was officially changed from a county to a city; this has affected the signage, so that what once were townships (indicated by the suffix “-li”) are now neighborhoods (“-dong”).
From the bus stop, hikers can follow a stream past the Catholic cemetery, where statues of the Virgin Mary stand on a hill. Past the Bulgok Sanjang (031-840-7860), an atmospheric inn for hikers, is Buheung temple. Following the temple’s barbed wire to the left, a real hiking route begins. (Hikers who’d prefer to skip the light warm-up can take a cab the two kilometers from Uijeongbu Station to the temple.)
The mountain walkway at the foot of the temple is indicated by a sign that reads “Deungsan-no,” which means “hiking route.” About half an hour’s walk past the temple, the mountain comes vividly into view.
The first resting point for our group was somewhere between Im Gyeok-jeong and Sangtu peaks. Im Gyeok-jeong peak is surprisingly steep and grandiose for a mountain that’s only 400 meters high. It’s so steep that, from a distance, the hikers clinging to ropes look like they’re taking too much of a risk.
The traditional hiking route at Bulgok is to take the ridgeline from Im Gyeok-jeong to Sangtu to Sang peak, which is a hike of about 40 minutes.
From Im Gyeok-jeong peak to Sangtu is about 0.3 kilometers; from Sangtu to Sang, about 0.4 kilometers. From the ridgeline, a hiker can see Highway 3. The spring breeze at the peaks can be overwhelmingly refreshing this time of year.
To descend, a hiker can take the trail to Yuyang-dong past the Baekhwaam shrine. On the way down to Baekhwaam, there is a small well with fresh spring water. The alternative is to take the route to Yangju City Hall. Each route takes less than three hours. Both routes end near local road 98, which makes it easier for hikers heading back to Seoul to take public transportation.
by Sung Si-yoon
From the Number 98 communal road, there are several buses traveling to Uijeongbu Bukbu Station. At Yuyang-dong, toward Yangju City Hall, there are about six Korean restaurants specializing in sundae, or sausage stuffed with noodles and vegetables; this is a Yangju specialty. Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October, there will be various live performances at 3 p.m. at the Yangju Byeolsandae norimadang, or outdoor performance area (031-840-1380). A detailed mountain map is available at www.guidepia.com. Note, though, that until May 15, the park will be closed on some days due to fire hazards. The city of Yangju will announce the dates when the park will be closed; for information, call (031) 820-2454~8.
Thick woods, thick crowds
Mount Gwanak, a popular retreat for Seoulites, offers a number of challenging hiking trails.
An easy-to-follow trail near Seoul National University’s main gate takes you through the Yeonjuam hermitage to the Gwacheon Hyanggyo shrine, roughly a four-hour trek.
Another alternative is to leave from Hoamsa temple aiming for Yeonjudae, a Buddhist shrine perched on a cliff’s edge, for a walk of just over three hours. Hikers can also enter through the main gate for the half-hour walk to a pond surrounded by cherry blossoms.
These thick woods attract hordes on spring weekends. Sprinkled about the mountain are campgrounds, shelters and gazebos. To get there, take the No. 95 bus or subway line No. 2 to Seoul National University, and walk. For more information, call (02) 3677-2685.
Rugged trails for the hardy
At 740 meters (2,427 feet), Mount Dobong is one of the Seoul area’s most imposing mountains.
It’s famous for its sheer rock walls, and for several tall peaks, such as Manjangbong, Seoninbong and Jubong. Moreover, the mountain offers one of the most popular half-day hikes in the Seoul area.
A well-trodden trail departs from Dobong-dong, passing Dobong Mountain Cottage, Podae Ridge and Jaunbong Peak before arriving at Gujodae. At 8 kilometers (5 miles), this course takes about four hours. A slightly shorter choice for hikers is to start out from Ui-dong, passing Beomunsa temple and Gwaneumam hermitage on the way to Jaunbong Peak.
To get there, take subway line No. 1 to Dobongsan Station, which is a few minutes’ walk from the ticket booth. For more information, call (02) 909-0497.
Stronghold for shamanism
The granite Mount Inwang, which sits to the west of Gyeongbok Palace and north of Sajik park, is a national treasure.
It is also rich with mythology, including a tale about a Joseon Dynasty king who prayed to rid the mountain of its tigers. To this day, certain parts of Mount Inwang are still used by shamans, who perform exorcisms and other sacrificial rites to mountain gods.
Inwang is only 338 meters high, so it takes most visitors less than two hours to compete an out-and-back course. A convenient starting point is behind Sajik park, whose route leads through the Dangun sanctuary and Hwanghakjeong to a point with 103 guards.
To get there, take subway line No. 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station, or bus No. 2, 152, 156, 158, 159, 205, 205-1, 543 or 588-2 to Sajik park.
Downtown’s green thumb
What more can you say about Mount Namsan? It is one of the most- visited mountains by residents and tourists alike, and its park is a popular jogging spot. A green thumb rising from the city’s center, Namsan’s summit provides a 360-degree view of the city on a clear day.
Despite its dominance of the city landscape, Namsan proper is not tall ― only 260 meters. Within its folds are several trails through the pines, not to mention sightseeing attractions like Seoul Tower, with its cafes and museum.
A good route starts at the botanical garden and follows the old fortress wall. The 2.1-kilometer course takes about two hours.
To get there, take subway line No. 4 to Myeongdong Station, and use exit 3. By bus, take 79-1 or 83-1 to Namsan Public Library. For English assistance, call (02) 729-9497.