Introduction to Hiking in Korea & Japan
Korea and Japan are both mountainous countries, so although Sophia and I visit the region primarily to see family and friends, we recently made the effort to get out of the cities and into the mountains. I’m glad we did, because we did some great walks. Read on for more info, or go straight to a list of the walks.
Koreans are mad about hiking, particularly those in their late middle age and early old age it seems. So although I respect this enthusiasm, it does mean the most popular trails can be quite crowded with brightly coloured hikers wearing the latest gear, and covering up their faces to protect themselves from the sun, or perhaps the air pollution if it’s a city mountain (or maybe it’s just to freak me out). Nevertheless, the crowds thin out on the more difficult tracks, and some of the scenery looks like those idealised scenes depicted in Daoist paintings (so not that idealised after all). I’ve done just the one recent walk in Japan, but if I can find my pictures from over 20 years ago when I lived there, then I’ll have a couple more to share.
Gwaneumsa Track in Hallasan National Park, Jeju Island, South KoreaIn Autumn 2017 we walked in both Korea and Japan, including the spectacular Seoraksan National Park (replete with peak Autumn colours), and Hallasan National Park on the subtropical Island of Jeju, both in Korea; and we snuck in a walk in the far western reaches of Greater Tokyo while on a short trip to see friends and drink too much beer.
Finding Track Notes
When planning my walks I used information from bloggers, and my wife looked up some of the walks in Korea, so I can’t recommend any central resource. As I post the walks I’ll probably describe them in a bit more detail than some of my others, or else link to specific sites where you can find notes.
The Weather in Far East Asia
The weather in most of the Far East ranges from hot, oppressively humid summers, often with a wet season, to frigid and dry winters; so you’d better be prepared for the conditions when you walk. The summers can be very hazy, limiting the views, and there can be lot of snow in winter, so spring and autumn are probably the best times for hiking, (and you can get bonus spring flowers and autumn colours during those times of course).
The Walks in Korea & Japan
You can browse through a list of the walks I’ve posted on so far…
Seoraksan National Park is reputed to be the most beautiful part of South Korea, and with good reason. I was lucky to time my first trip to the park with peak Autumn colours, so I got the full experience. Despite having walked for hours already, the scenery in the latter third of the walk was so fantastic that I bounded down the mountain like a manic mountain goat, feeling no tiredness due to the scenery-fuelled adrenaline in my system. Keep wading through my many photos to see this section, and also a few photos at the end of the Buddhist temple Sinheungsa. (more…)
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. (more…)
When visiting my wife’s family in Incheon in October 2017, we did a couple of suburban hikes, which are possible in many Korean cities because they often have small and sometimes not so small mountains within the city boundaries. What they completely lack in remoteness they gain in often extensive views of Korea’s impressively dense city scapes, and Gyeyangsan (395m) is one of these walks. (more…)
If you are travelling to Tokyo it’s possible to do some hiking in the far western reaches of the Greater Tokyo area. We did this walk up and across three peaks – Nokogirisan, Odakesan (1266m), and Mitakesan – in a day, travelling by public transport, and still managed to get back to Tokyo for a shower and then dinner (you’ll want to start early). The views are apparently excellent on parts of this walk (you can see Mt Fuji on a clear day) however not on the day we did it – winter is probably the best time for visibility. We walked in mid autumn before the colours had changed, and it got quite hazy by time we ascended, so we instead enjoyed the walk for the forest scenery, a number of small shrines along the route, and the impressive Mitake Shrine on Mt Mitake itself. (more…)
Obongsan (Five Peaks Mountain) is a diminutive mountain (in other words a hill) in southern Incheon, very close to my Mother-in-law’s place. We went up a few times to work off our holiday indulgences, and I imagine only locals would visit. A convenient and pleasant way to get outdoors and keep fit if you happen to live in the area. (more…)
The Island of Jeju is dominated by South Korea’s tallest mountain, Hallasan, and I presume this offers the best walking on the Island. Nevertheless, there is a trail called Jeju Ole that circumnavigates the island, and is broken up into a series of sections. We (my wife Sophia and a few family members) walked a short portion of section 10, around the extinct volcano of Songaksan. It’s an easy walk and doesn’t require any hiking gear. The scenery was nice enough, including views along the coast in both directions, and to small islands which form the southernmost points in South Korea. (more…)
There were two walks just a short stroll away from where we stayed on Jeju Island when holidaying there in 2017, so we paid the combined entrance fee to the short coastal walk and nearby temple/cave walk, perhaps not expecting all that much, but they turned out to be very much worth it. The rocks and cliffs of the Yeongmori Coast section made for great coastal scenery, and the Buddhist temple Sanbangsa is situated in an impressive spot below sheer cliffs on the 395m mountain Sanbangsan, with a cave and views a short but steep walk further up the mountain. (more…)