Escape the city and get back to nature
The best way to experience nature and break free from the suffocating urban smog is to visit one of 162 recreational forests that dot the country. The most popular of these are the 39 which are designated national forests.
Though located within the mountains, recreational forests are usually visited by people looking to relax rather than hike because of the amenities they provide. These forests have pedestrian paths that are conveniently designed to even accommodate baby strollers. Accommodation facilities and campsites can be booked for less than half of what they would cost elsewhere, but don’t be quick to judge the low price - the rooms are neat and offer good views.
Taking a walk or a hike are all good, but how about spending a full night in the forest and waking up to the sounds of birds and breathing the fresh, pure morning forest air?
The JoongAng Ilbo compiled a list of seven popular forests across the country where readers can enjoy the spring weather surrounded by nature.
The recreational forest at Mount Yumyeong is the first national recreational forest and also the first in terms of number of visitors by far. People may attribute its popularity to its close proximity to Seoul, but this forest has so much more to offer.
With its gentle slopes, Mount Yumyeong itself is a good place to go hiking, and a 600-meter-long (0.4-mile) pathway is available for those seeking a short walk. The combination of a small valley that winds through the forest and an arboretum make the Yumyeongsan Mountain Recreation Forest a popular destination for one-day school trips for kindergarten and elementary school students.
The large size of the forest means it takes visitors more than an hour to look around the whole thing. The accommodations are well-organized as well, with about 40 rooms and 112 decks on which to set up tents available.
79-53 Yumyeongsan-gil, Gapyeong County, Gyeonggi
Rooms start from 34,000 won ($29) per night.
Saneum National Recreational Forest
This forest is located in a wide valley between the summits of Mount Yonghwa, Mount Bongmi and Mount Danweol.
Branded as the healing forest by the National Natural Recreational Forest Management Agency, the forest runs a program that any visitor can try. A professional instructor leads the participants to stretch, meditate and take a light walk to relieve tension in the body and recover from fatigue. There is also a special prenatal program.
The most visited attraction in the area is Mount Bongmi. From the forest to the peak of Mount Bongmi is about 3 kilometers (2 miles). Certain camping spots in the forest are especially sought after. In particular, spot No. 223 is well-known among camping enthusiasts for having a stream flowing nearby and being somewhat isolated from other camping spots.
347 Gobuk-gil, Yangpyeong County, Gyeonggi
Rooms start from 34,000 won per night.
Mount Cheongtae holds historical significance in legends. One legend says the mountain was named by the very founder of the Joseon Dynasty, King Taejo (1335-1408). Located at an altitude of 820 meters, the Cheongtaesan National Recreational Forest is a natural air conditioner that makes it the place to be in the summer. Despite its high altitude, it is just 15 minutes away from the Dunnae Interchange on the Yeongdong Expressway.
The dense forest is also a habitat for wildlife, including roe deer, squirrels, rabbits and many more. Reaching the summit along six hiking trails, from which visitors can witness these animals, takes about two hours, depending on the route. Many recreational activities for kids are available, too: carpentry, tree climbing and an Indonesian Traditional Exhibition.
Due to the nearby ski resorts of Wellihillipark and Phoenix Park, the forest is also a popular destination during the winter.
610 Cheongtaesan-ro, Hoengseong County, Gangwon
Rooms start from 34,000 won per night.
Jangtaesan Recreational Forest
The Jangtaesan Recreational Forest was founded and nurtured by forest expert Lim Chang-bong. As a forest created by the hands of an individual, it is the first recreation forest certified by the Korea Forest Service. Since 2002, the forest has been supervised by the city of Daejeon.
Lim planted imported metasequoia trees from the United States when creating the forest, on top of the already present chestnut trees, pine trees and royal foxglove trees.
Along with more than 10,000 metasequoias within the forest, the Jangtaesan Recreational Forest is known for its Sky Tower. The tower, which rises 27 meters from the ground, grants a commanding view of the metasequoia forest.
From the top of Sky Tower, the tops of the tress are within visitors’ reach, too. There are forest experience programs for groups on weekdays and for individuals on weekends.
461 Jangan-ro, Seo District, Daejeon
Rooms start from 40,000 won per night.
The Byeonsan Mountain Recreational Forest in North Jeolla opened only last February. Thanks to its novelty, the reservation rate for rooms and campsites at this forest surpasses even some of the most popular ones.
Positioned at the shores of Buan County in North Jeolla, this forest is very different from other recreational forests which are surrounded by trees. The Byeonsan Peninsula National Park and the Byeonsan Mountain Recreational Forest are known for their combination of mountain and sea views.
Despite its unique qualities, the recreation forest nevertheless has the usual 3-kilometer-long walking passage and accommodation facilities. But it also has a swimming pool and wetland observatory, and the other famous tourist attractions of Buan County in the vicinity. There are also many kinds of seafood indigenous to Buan County that visitors should not miss out on.
3768 Byeonsan-ro, Buan County, North Jeolla
Rooms start from 42,000 won per night.
Namhae Pyeonbaek Recreational Forest
As the name of the forest suggests, the Namhae Pyeonbaek Recreational Forest is filled with pyeonbaek trees, or Japanese cypress. Despite its remoteness from the nation’s capital, the forest is popular thanks to the rare species of trees growing here.
The recreation forest with a such high density of more than 50-year-old Japanese cypress and Japanese cedar trees is particularly rare. The shower of green light experienced while walking under the trees offers unrivaled solace. Except for Jeju Island, the Namhae Pyeonbaek Recreational Forest has the highest average temperature of all forests, making it a viable travel option even in the winter.
At the tail end of a kilometer-long pedestrian path, there is an observatory from which visitors can behold the eye-pleasing sight of the southern sea. The Namhae Daraengi Village, House N Garden (gardening village) and a German-themed village are a few of the other nearby attractions. Camping decks have a considerable amount of space in between, providing privacy to visitors.
658 Geumam-ro, Namhae County, South Gyeongsang
Rooms start from 37,000 won per night.
The Jangheung Woodland located on Mount Eokbul in Jangheung, South Jeolla, is another recreational forest with many Japanese cypress trees over 40 years of age. Within the forest, there is a monument honoring Son Seok-yeon, who planted the trees across 120 square meters from 1959 to 1964.
As with the Namhae Pyeonbaek forest, the Japanese cypress trees found here provide a sense of solace, and there is a scientific reason for it. A chemical called phytoncide released by these trees has been found to cure atopic dermatitis, relieve stress and strengthen the lungs and intestines.
A unique feature of this forest is Korea’s first so-called forest bath. Called the Vivi Ecotopia, the facility provides light paper gowns that visitors can wear to soak in the fresh air. Visitors can also choose to wear their own clothes, or go naked inside a hut or a designated area, and enjoy the cool forest breeze.
273 Udeuraendeu-gil, Jangheung County, South Jeolla
Rooms start from 60,000 won per night.
BY CHOI SEUNG-PYO, HONG JI-YEON [email@example.com]