Top 6 Hiking Trails for an Adventure in South Korea

Hiking in South Korea isn’t just a pastime, it’s an integral part of culture. Simply head to any hiking trail and you’ll observe groups of Koreans enjoying time away from the bustling cities. Here are six of the best hikes around the country.

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Photo © Two Wandering Soles

Though South Korea is a relatively small country, roughly 70% of the land is mountainous, making it the perfect hiking destination.

1. Bukhansan: most convenient hike for a short trip

If you want to get out of the craziness of Seoul, but don’t have much time to venture outside the city, this is a great choice. Located in the north of Seoul, hiking Bukhansan is a good way to experience nature, even if you have a short time in South Korea.

There are a handful of trails to choose from, but the most popular leads to Baegundae Peak and takes most hikers around two hours. At 2,744ft (837m), this is the highest point of the mountain, from where you can admire the large granite rocks and a panoramic view of Seoul sprawling out below.

One interesting feature of this hike is that you’ll walk past a replica of the ancient Bukhansanseong Fortress wall.

Word of warning: This hike is easily accessible from Seoul, so expect crowds the entire way. 

2. Jirisan: tallest mountain in mainland South Korea

Jirisan is the tallest mountain in mainland South Korea and attracts 280,000 hikers each year. There’s a variety of trails, from a quick three-hour return hike offering beginners a taste of the mountain to a multi-day hike that includes a sunrise view from the top of 6,283ft (1,915m) Cheonwangbong peak.

Jirisan National Park is the first national park and largest mountainous national park in South Korea, and spans over three provinces. With seven Buddhist temples, ancient stone carvings and an emphasis on biodiversity conservation, this park is known for more than just hiking.

3. Seoraksan: best sunrise view

Sprawling down the east coast of North and South Korea, the Taebaek mountain range is home to some stunning scenery and epic hikes. At 5,603ft (1,708m), Seoraksan is the tallest peak in this range.

Reaching the highest point, Daecheongbong Peak, is breathtaking at sunrise when it’s shrouded in a thick cloak of morning mist. Daecheongbong Peak can be reached in as little as three hours, depending on your starting point.

If you don’t feel like working up a sweat, you can ride the cable car and glimpse the park from above. Located just 2.5 hours away from Seoul, a trip to Seoraksan is a great addition to your South Korea itinerary.

Descending from the top of Daechongbong Peak, Seoraksan. Photo credit: iStock

4. Hallasan: Epic volcano on Jeju Island (plus, the tallest mountain in South Korea!)

This volcanic island is often referred to as the “Hawaii of Korea”, so it’s no surprise that relaxing on beaches and hiking a volcano are some of the most popular attractions on Jeju.

Towering at 6,397ft (1,950m) above sea level, Hallasan is the tallest mountain in South Korea, and many people visit Jeju specifically to climb to the top. Hallasan is a sacred place to some Koreans, who believe that spirits live in the mountain, and worship it.

There are five trails that lead to the summit, each with varying degrees of incline. Although Seongpanak trail adds an additional 900m, it’s the most popular trail due to its gradual incline.

Depending on the trail you choose and your fitness level, you can reach the top of Hallasan and hike down in a matter of hours or a full day.

Stairs leading up to the volcanic peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong. Photo credit: iStock

5. Naejangsan: best autumn colors

Known for its stunning foliage, this mountain range in southwestern South Korea is particularly spectacular in the fall, when you can look out over a sea of crimson leaves. This beloved mountain is located in Jeolla province, and the surrounding national park is home to famous waterfalls, temples, and endangered wildlife.

Even if you’re not visiting Korea during fall, hiking Naejangsan is still sure to impress. In spring, azaleas and cherry blossoms are in bloom, the park is surprisingly green in the summer, and winter can be spectacular when the rocks are covered in a blanket of snow.

6. Juwangsan: off-the-beaten-path nature

If you want to get off the well-trodden path and do some hiking in a place few foreigners ever see, make your way to Juwangsan National Park in Gyeongsangbuk-do province.

With caves, waterfalls and plenty of hikes suitable for all levels, this area is packed with adventures to be had – even though it’s the smallest national park in South Korea.

We planned a fall camping trip to this National Park with a group of friends and weren’t disappointed. We didn’t see any other foreigners during our weekend in Juwangsan, and we were able to try the apples which make this region famous!

If you venture to this National Park, make sure you come prepared with your own food – there aren’t many dining options out there!

Interesting fact: The word for mountain is “san” in Korean. That’s why each mountain’s name ends in “san”.

Rock formations in Juwangsan National Park. Photo credit: iStock

Tips for hiking in South Korea

1. Dress in appropriate hiking gear

Koreans are serious about their hiking attire and dress the part – trekking poles and all – even on trails suitable for beginners.

This isn’t to say you need to get a whole new wardrobe of athletic gear, but it’s a good idea to be prepared with layers, as temperatures can vary along the trails.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not always appropriate for women to show their shoulders in public. If you feel most comfortable wearing a tank top while hiking, be prepared for a few sideways looks.

2. Pack snacks

Often, when you reach a viewpoint, you’ll see groups of Koreans taking a break with snacks. Take this as an opportunity to join in and interact with locals while enjoying the view and a tasty treat – like fresh fruit, nuts or kimbap (the Korean take on sushi, which is a surprisingly popular hiking snack).

Koreans are very friendly – don’t be surprised if someone offers to share their food with you!

3. Carry out your trash

You won’t find trash bins along most trails, so if you plan to bring snacks, be prepared to carry out any rubbish. Picking up a few pieces of litter you see along the way is also a nice habit to practice.

4. Time it right

South Korea experiences four distinctly different seasons, and it’s best to avoid hiking in the heat and humidity of summer if possible.

The best times for hiking in South Korea are when temperatures are more moderate. Spring will reward you with cherry blossoms and in the fall, hikers can take in colorful foliage.

Want to know more about South Korea? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. Is it safe to visit right now? - How hikers might find themselves invited to a family picnic - Beyond barbecue (and the secret 'man food') - and how to score yourself the best value round-the-world ticket.

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9 Comments

  • sang said

    It is not allowed to eat snacks and soju (Korean alcohol) at National Park from 3 May 2018.

  • Cris said

    Nice article! Another country that can be considered a hiking paradise is Romania..just so many trails. Most trails are built with minimal impact to nature. Piatra Craiului National Park, Fagaras Mountains, Retezat National Park, Bucegi Natural Park, Rodnei to name just few. Fairly cheap everywhere(free entrance with 2 or 3 exceptions) and in many places the mountain spirit is being preserved. Strongly recommend!

  • marry said

    I also explored your shared all these places during my last journey and get great experiences about these fantastic places.

  • Md Alamin Hossain said

    I have hiked Bukhansan, Juwangsan, and Seoraksan. They were just awesome and I think these hikes are not for not fit people. I need to go hike Hallasan. When is the best time of hiking Hallasan?

  • Jonathan Carter said

    I look forward to experiencing the beauty of Korea.

  • Gyuseong Yi said

    Mostly accurate but there's a slight error: Hallasan is the tallest mountain in "South" Korea only. There are 60+ mountains that are way much taller than Halla in the North.

  • Ellen Hall said

    Hi Gyuseong Yi,
    Thanks for flagging - we have made the correction.
    Cheers,
    Ellen

  • what said

    'koreans are very friendly' tf is that they are human beings thats like saying uk people all drink tea or people from the us are all iliterate

  • Ner said

    Many thanks for the article! Super interesting. WOuld it be possible to have a bit more information on how to prepare and organise the multi-day hike that includes a sunrise view from the top of Cheonwangbong peak? Are the paths well marked as to go with no guide? Thank you!

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