Korea Hiking 101

I wrote a post a few years ago about how popular mountain hiking is in Korea. But I wanted to give a bit more information for anyone who might be interested, since it's such an awesome way to spend a day, and it really is so easy. All you need to do is:

1. Go to a mountain.
2. Start walking uphill along any trail. As long as you see other people going the same way, it's all good.
3. If you get lost, just follow any trail downwards again, and eventually you will get to the bottom of the mountain, and then if you just keep walking you'll find a bus stop.

Seriously, mountain hiking is such a popular pastime here, all of the mountains in Seoul have very well maintained trails and are easy to get to by public transport, so there's no excuse not to go. I had never even been near a mountain before I moved to Korea, and now I don't know if I could live without them!

My tips for first-time hikers in Korea:
  • Buy a good pair of hiking shoes/boots. They should fit well, be comfortable and have good grip.
  • Wear comfortable, breathable clothing. Don't wear jeans or leggings - they will get uncomfortable and sweaty after a while. It's best to layer up because it can be colder higher up, but obviously you will also get hot from moving. A windbreaker style jacket is useful, as are gloves and a hat.
  • Don't be intimidated by all the Korean hikers in full mountain gear, expenisve brand outdoorwear and matching accessories. The mountains in Korea aren't that big and you don't really need all that stuff.
  • Do some stretches before hiking, to warm up your joints and muscles.
  • Go slowly, watch your step, and trust your shoes.
  • It's not too difficult to climb up big rocks, but getting down again can be much more challenging. Just be mindful of this, and see the point above.
  • When you first start hiking, stick to the popular trails where there are lots of other people around.
  • If you do stick to the popular trails, you will eventually get sick of the thousands of middle-aged people waving their hiking poles around, blasting old trot music from their phones and setting up boozy picnics everywhere. But don't worry - there are plenty of much quieter trails where you can experience the tranquility of the natural landscape in peace. You'll just have to explore to find them.
  • There are trails for every level of difficulty, ranging from easy forest strolls that are basically a walk in the park, to long and arduous scrambles to peaks, where you might need to use your hands to grab onto rocks and ropes to pull yourself up. So you can choose what feels comfortable for you.
Crowds at Seoraksan in Gangwon-do, famous for its Autumn colour
Korean mountain vocab:

산          (san)                mountain
폭포      (pok-po)          waterfall
휴게소  (hyoo-geh-so)  rest area
매표소  (may-pyo-so)   ticket office
바위      (ba-wee)          rock
둘레길  (doo-leh-gil)     a walking trail that goes around the base of the mountain, not up it
샘터      (sem-tuh)         spring*
약수터  (yak-soo-tuh)   mineral spring*

(*for water - see information posted at the site to check if it has been tested and certified safe to drink.)

Place name suffixes:

~산   (san)         Mount ~
~봉   (bong)  峰     ~ Peak
~사   (sa)           ~ Buddhist Temple
~암   (am)     庵     ~ Buddhist Hermitage
~묘   (myo)   墓     ~ Grave / Tomb

Popular Mountains to hike in Seoul:

Bukhansan (북한산)  - Massive National Park. Loads of different trail options, and lots of different sights.
Dobongsan (도봉산) - Also in the National Park area. VERY popular. Difficult but rewarding trails.

Gwanaksan (관악산) - Rocky trails, lovely temple near the top.
Cheonggyesan  (청계산) -Really easy to get to from Gangnam.

Achasan (아차산) - Easy, gentle trails; Fantastic views of the river and eastern Seoul.

Inwangsan (인왕산) - Small scenic mountain right in the middle of Seoul. Some areas restricted / No photo zones.
Bugaksan (북악산) - Particularly gorgeous. You can follow the Seoul Fortress Wall or explore the neighborhoods around the edge of the mountain. Some areas restricted / require ID to enter.
Namsan (남산) - Not really a mountain, but a hill that has been turned into a giant park. One of seoul's top tourist attractions, and a great place to go for a walk any time.

Happy hiking!


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