Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju Island South Korea

The dormant volcano Hallasan is South Korea’s tallest mountain at 1950m of elevation, and dominates the subtropical Jeju Island (Jeju-do). Climbing it is a must-do for any hiker visiting the island. The Gwaneumsa Trail most is the most scenic of two routes to the top, and involves more gain in elevation over a shorter distance, which is my type of walk. At first there is atmospheric forest with a carpet of low growing bamboo, a number of boulder strewn dry creeks, and then the views open out from about 1400m of elevation, culminating in a crater lake at the summit.

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do

When Sophia and I first visited Jeju Island many years ago, we walked up Hallasan along the less scenic route to the summit, but only as far as the tree line, as they had closed the rest of the track for repairs. We also had to wind in and out of hundreds of school students, so it was just an okay experience. Consequently, I had only moderate expectations when we set out in early Autumn 2017 on the reputedly more scenic and less travelled Gwaneumsa Track, but the walk very much exceeded expectations.

The forest on the lower half of the walk is very atmospheric, and was probably more so on our descent through mist. The views really open out after about 1400m of elevation, topped off by a crater lake at Hallasan’s summit (although just a large pond on the day we did it). There was rain forecast for later in the day, so we set off at 7:30am (a record for us), but we got lucky as the rain clouds never reached the higher altitudes, forming a nice inversion which we had as our view on the way down. It did rain towards the end of the walk, and Sophia slipped on the wet and slippery rocks that form the track lower down the mountain, badly bruising her arm, so be careful in the wet. I think she was a bit tired by that point. Definitely a recommended walk. There’s also a temple at the start, but it was raining when we finished so we didn’t visit it.

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Korean style mountain safety sign haiku. Very abstract.

Track Notes

The Gwaneumsa Track is is really straightforward: It’s constructed and there are no significant turnoffs. There’s about 1400m of ascent/descent over 17.5km return. The other route (Seongpanak Track) is a bit longer with less gain in elevation, and is less picturesque. We got a lift to the start, but there are public transport and taxi options.

The Scenery

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Bamboo carpet.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
A carpet of bamboo
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Still very green at this time of year. The colours were just beginning to turn at higher altitudes.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
About 1400m of elevation.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
At about 1400m of elevation. The forecast was for rain but that didn’t happen until the very end of the walk.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Looking up towards the summit.

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Looking up towards the summit.

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Near the top.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
The clouds were always threatening but never made it to higher altitudes.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
They have these distinctive crows on the island. I tried to take a photo of one in profile to get it’s roman nose style beak, but instead I captured it in mid flight. Near the top.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
The crater lake on the summit at 1950m of elevation. I’ve seen pictures where this was a lot fuller.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
The view down the other side of the mountain.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
A ridge around the summit crater lake.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Ah the serenity. Actually, to be fair, there were relatively few people on the way up, especially for the biggest holiday of the year. And most of the people pictured came up the other route.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Sophia and me on the summit.

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do

Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Still near the top,
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Near the top.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Cliffs with just a few trees showing autumn colours.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Some big dry rivers full of boulders to cross.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Natural spring water. Yum.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Sophia
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
The first of the autumn colours.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
The Korean harvest festival and the somewhat isolated position of our accommodation made it difficult to get good food for this walk, but these Korean style slow cooked eggs were appreciated.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
That spot at about 1400m, but this time taken on the way down as the clouds closed in. It rained down the bottom just as we finished.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Misty forest on the way down.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
This low lying bamboo was everywhere. It successfully grows in the shade of the trees.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Lush forest on the lower slopes.
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do
Little pagoda cairns near the bottom

Actually, as a footnote, I almost didn’t get any photos of this walk, as half way up the mountain I dropped my rather expensive phone within 5cm of a hole in the ground toilet. I often wonder if phones have nine lives.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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