Korea and Japan

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.

Gorge in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea
Gorge in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

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.

Waterfall in Seoraksan National Park, Gangwon Province, South Korea
Waterfall in Seoraksan National Park, Gangwon Province, South Korea
Misty peaks on the Gwaneumsa trail, Hallasan National Park, South Korea
Misty peaks on the Gwaneumsa trail, Hallasan National Park, South Korea

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.

Towering cliffs in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea
Towering cliffs in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

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.

Forest with bamboo carpet, Hallasan National Park, Jeju Island, South Korea
Forest with bamboo carpet, Hallasan National Park, Jeju Island, South Korea

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).

Shrines on the Mt Nokogiri-Mt Odake-Mt Mitake walk, west of Tokyo
Shrines on the Mt Nokogiri-Mt Odake-Mt Mitake walk, west of Tokyo
Autumn colours, Seoraksan National Park, Gangwon Province, South Korea
Autumn colours, Seoraksan National Park, Gangwon Province, South Korea

The Walks in Korea & Japan

You can browse through a list of the walks I’ve posted on so far…

Daecheongbong ascent, Seoraksan NP

Really spectacular hiking in Seoraksan National Park, on the north-east coast of South Korea. There were peak autumn colours, countless rock spires and sheer cliffs towering overhead, as well as waterfalls, super cute squirrels, and a significant Buddhist temple near the end of the walk.

Gyeyangsan, Incheon, South Korea

Gyeyangsan (395m) is a reasonable sized mountain in suburban Incheon that provides extensive views over the northern end of the city. A hazy day limited our views a bit, but in the right weather the views will extend to the sea, and probably to Bukhansan National Park in Seoul. Worth the trip out if you live in the area.

/ city, Korea, Korea & Japan, Moderate, mountains, views
Nokogirisan Odakesan Mitakesan, Western Tokyo

Three peaks on this longish walk in far Western Tokyo, the highest of which is Odake-san (Mt Odake) at 1266m of elevation. The views can be good if it’s a clear day, but there’s also attractive forest scenery and an excellent shrine near the end of the walk.

Songaksan Circuit, Jeju-do South Korea

An easy coastal walk around the small extinct volcano of Songaksan, on the southernmost section of Jeju Island. Nice if you are staying in the area.

/ coastal, Easy, Korea, Korea & Japan, views
Gwaneumsa Track, Hallasan, Jeju-do

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.

/ alpine, Hard, Korea, Korea & Japan, mountains, views
Yeongmori Coast Walk & Sanbang-sa Temple, Jeju-do

These two very short walks exceeded expectations, offering impressive coastal scenery, views of a big lump of lava called Sanbangsan, a visit to Sanbangsa Temple at the foot of the mountain, then up to a cave with views of the coast.

Obongsan, Nonhyeon-dong, Incheon

Obongsan (Five Peaks Mountain) is a suburban mountain (actually a hill at just 105m of elevation) situated in an obscure spot in southern Incheon that just happens to be close to my Mother-in-law’s apartment. It’s actually quite a nice walk, but perhaps not one to seek out unless you live nearby.

/ city, Easy, Korea, Korea & Japan, views