Tucked in the northeastern side of the country, Seoraksan National Park creates a fairy tale like experience. For hikers, you can climb these steep pinnacles to gaze upon a stunning array of peaks scraping through the clouds. We also encountered dedicated rock climbing groups.
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that Seoraksan National Park wasn’t one of the main reasons we went to South Korea. Before flying into Japan, we had to plan out our exit. A quick search on Skyscanner pulled up a flight from Tokyo, Japan to Seoul, South Korea for less than $80 USD.
I’ll be honest, when I saw that ticket, I knew nothing about South Korea. Eager to escape the summer heat of Southeast Asia and buying time to wait out New Zealand’s winter, we were open to exploring different options for late July and early August. South Korea definitely fit the bill. After discovering a post with the most gorgeous hikes in the country, we had an onward ticket booked. Yes, Seoraksan hits number one. Once you see that fog slowly slip behind the dramatic jagged peaks, you’ll see exactly why. The country actually displays several stunning mountainous regions, which caught us by surprise.
We hit three of the seven “most gorgeous hikes” during our three-week adventure, but that’s a story for a different post. For now, let’s stick with these dramatic rock formations.
Seoraksan National Park was by far the most iconic mountain range. It goes without saying that this is South Korea’s most famous national park. Celebrating the unique terrain and features, UNESCO designated this national park a Biosphere Preservation District in 1982.
With only one and a half days dedicated to the park, we had to be intentional about which hikes to do when. We kicked off day 1 with the Ulsan Bawi hike. The trek to the top of the peak is 3.6km. Plan three to four hours for the round trip hike.
You start off with a fairly easy hour to navigate the first 2.1km which takes you to the most intriguing temple you’ll encounter.
To enjoy the full experience, you have to climb around the rocks and see the temple built underneath a giant boulder.
Continuing on, you’ll start to get to the incline. Luckily, before being overwhelmed by the dramatic vertical, you can look out over the valley and see the endless rise and fall of the lush mountain scenery.
But you can’t hide from the climb forever. Tucked behind that rock ledge is a grueling, grueling, grueling staircase. Don’t worry, to keep you going will be the groups of older Korean hikers. It’s hard to feel bad or pause when you’re being passed by sixty or seventy year olds. The activity level in the retired population is admirable! That is, unless it keeps passing you on the trail. Either way, it’s motivation to keep on going on.
Eventually the stairs disappear and you look up to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The view is worth every single stair you struggled up.
To tackle Seoraksan Mountain we opted for the cable car. This five-minute ride whisks you up 1.2km to the mountain. If you’re looking to drink in the jaw-dropping sights, I suggest you try to go early. It’s not just to catch those breathtaking views, I’ve read that the lines for a ticket can take hours in the afternoon.
We opted for the early morning route. Unfortunately, the majority of information about Seoraksan National Park is in Korean. Even checking the signs on the building the day before we couldn’t decipher an open time. A quick Google search brought up a post saying the cable car opened before sunrise, which was about 4am in July.
It seemed unlikely that a national park off the beaten path would be operating at those hours, but after hiking Mt. Fuji in Japan in the middle of the night, we decided anything could be possible when it came to Asia and hiking. Well, we were wrong. Luckily we didn’t actually get up there at 4am. Instead, we got there shortly after 6am.
Still unable to decide when cable car opened, we went to walk around the grounds. It’s possible we might have taken a nap on some rocks near a stream…. Hey! It was early in the morning. We returned to the visitor’s center at 7:20am and the doors were open with a line of tourists waiting and the cable car in operation. Basically, you can count on the doors opening sometime between 6am and 7:15am.
Taking the morning ride doesn’t give you visible views on the ride up, but it’s worth it to see the fog slip away around the rocks. This view (above) greets you right as you walk out of the building holding the cable car. There we a few flickers of beautiful views while riding up, but they quickly disappeared in the fog.
Exploring the Grounds & Short Hikes
Even if you’re not eager to set out hiking endless stretches of stairs or waking before dawn to catch the cable car, the park offers an abundance of sights. From temples to waterfalls to beautiful buildings, this park is definitely worth a visit. That’s before you factor in the “most stunning” hikes!
To get here, we took a three-hour bus from Seoul to Sokcho. There are local buses running from the main bus terminal to the entrance of the national park. Park admission is 3,500 won per adult, and you’ll need to pay each day you visit. Round trip for the cable car is 10,000 won for an adult.
Hiking Korea in August means hot temps and excruciating humidity. Pack lots of water and work to start as early as possible. What we don’t have photos of is us – drenched in sweat – once we made it to the top of our hike. While the sights were beautiful, we were, well… less than stunning at the top.
Go early to beat the heat (and get skip the cable car lines). The bus from town starts running around 6am. While the cable car ticket office doesn’t open until later (time still unknown), you can get into the park then.
Unknown to us, this park is a huge haven for rock climbers. We rode the bus into town with a group of seven of them (and gear). Let’s say it was a cozy bus ride for several stops. Climbers don’t exactly travel light.