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…
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.
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.