7-Day South Korea Hiking Guide

Imagine a land where ancient temples nestle among towering granite peaks and where each trail promises both a physical challenge and a spiritual awakening. Welcome to South Korea, a hiker’s paradise that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, deep-seated culture, and breathtaking vistas. 

Although the pandemic hindered South Korea’s tourism, the country has done remarkably well to recover in the years since. In order to achieve that, the South Korean government has recently introduced two new visas, the digital nomad visa and the Hallyu visa

This 7-day hiking itinerary is designed to guide you through some of the most majestic landscapes and experience the best hiking in South Korea, from the rugged peaks of Bukhansan in the bustling capital of Seoul to the tranquil shores of Jeju Island.

This journey challenges hikers and offers insights into Korean culture and history. Traverse dense forests, climb mountains, and explore serene temples, all enhanced by local hospitality. Whether seeking solitude or camaraderie, this itinerary covers South Korea’s celebrated trails. Get ready for a memorable week of adventure.

Experience the best hiking in South Korea's luxurious forest trails and climbing routes

Day 1: Arrival and Exploration of Bukhansan National Park

Morning Preparation and Travel

Upon your arrival in Seoul, take some time to settle into your chosen accommodation. Bukhansan National Park, a renowned hiking destination, lies just north of the city, making it a convenient yet transformative escape from urban life.

To reach Bukhansan National Park from central Seoul, you have multiple convenient options. Public transport is efficient and economical; you can take the subway to Gupabal Station (Line 3), then transfer to a local bus (number 704 bound for Bukhansanseong Fortress) which will take you directly to the park entrance. The whole journey should take around 1 to 1.5 hours depending on your starting point in Seoul.

For those preferring a quicker, more direct route, a taxi or a rented car can get you there in approximately 40 to 50 minutes, traffic permitting.

Ideal Timing and Preparation for the Hike

It’s advisable to start your hike early in the morning to avoid the crowds and to fully enjoy the tranquility of the morning hours on the trails. Aim to arrive at the park by 7:00 AM or 8:00 AM. This early start will not only help you beat the heat during the summer months but also give you ample time to complete your hike and enjoy the scenery without rushing.

What to Pack

For a successful day hike to Baegundae Peak, packing efficiently is key:

Snacks and Hydration: Bring high-energy, portable snacks like nuts, granola bars, fruit, and sandwiches. These will keep your energy up throughout the hike. Hydration is crucial, so carry at least 2 liters of water per person.

Clothing and Gear: Dress in layers to adjust easily to the changing temperatures. Wear comfortable hiking boots or shoes with good grip. Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen to protect against the sun.

Navigation and Safety: A map of the park or a GPS device can be helpful, though the trail to Baegundae Peak is well-marked. Always carry a basic first aid kit for emergencies.

The Hike: Baegundae Peak Trail

This popular trail is known for its strenuous nature but also for the rewarding panoramic views it offers of Seoul and its surrounding mountains. Starting your hike early will allow you to ascend at a comfortable pace, with fewer people on the trail and cooler temperatures. The hike to Baegundae Peak typically takes about 4 to 6 hours round trip, depending on your pace.

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Start the ascent and enjoy the varying landscapes. As you climb, the urban views give way to rugged mountain scenery and natural beauty. The trail can be steep at certain parts, so regular breaks may be necessary.

Reaching the Peak and Returning

Upon reaching the peak, take the time to enjoy your packed lunch and the stunning vistas of Seoul below. The descent will be quicker but requires caution as the paths can be slippery, especially after rain.

Evening Return to Seoul

After completing your hike, return to Seoul in the late afternoon. This is the perfect time to explore Korean cuisine. Seoul offers a vast array of dining options ranging from traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap and bulgogi to various international cuisines. Enjoying a hearty meal is a wonderful way to end your day of adventure and reflect on the experiences and sights of Bukhansan National Park.

jjinbbang korean steamed buns stall

Day 2: Majestic Peaks of Seoraksan National Park

Early Morning Preparation and Travel

Seoraksan National Park, a gem in the northeastern part of South Korea, is approximately 2.5 hours from Seoul by road. It’s wise to start your day early to maximize your hiking time and experience the park in quieter, more serene conditions.

For transportation, renting a car provides the most flexibility and comfort, especially if you plan to explore more remote areas of the park. Alternatively, efficient intercity buses run directly to Sokcho, the gateway town to Seoraksan, from various points in Seoul like Dong Seoul Bus Terminal and Express Bus Terminal. From Sokcho, local buses or taxis can take you to the park entrance.

Consider packing a breakfast to eat en route, which can save time and allow an earlier start. Many convenience stores in Korea offer fresh, packaged items perfect for a quick meal, such as kimbap (Korean sushi rolls) or sandwiches. Alternatively, stopping at a local eatery on the way could offer a more relaxed start with a taste of local cuisine.

Hiking the Daecheongbong Peak Trail

Upon arriving at Seoraksan National Park, prepare to embark on the Daecheongbong Peak Trail. This trail, leading to the highest peak in the park, is not for the faint-hearted but offers some of the most spectacular views in all of South Korea.

Duration and Difficulty: The hike is challenging and typically requires 5 to 7 hours to complete round trip, depending on your pace and how often you stop to enjoy the scenery.

What to Bring: For this hike, carry ample water (at least 2-3 liters per person), high-energy snacks, and a packed lunch to enjoy at the summit. Wear sturdy hiking boots, and dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions, which can be quite variable at higher elevations.

Navigational Tips: The trail is well-marked, but carrying a map or a GPS device can help keep you on track and aware of your progress.

Evening and Overnight Stay

After descending from Daecheongbong Peak, consider staying overnight in one of the park’s lodges or a nearby accommodation. Staying within the park not only allows you to relax and recover from the day’s exertions in a peaceful setting but also provides the opportunity to start early the next day for more exploration. These lodges vary in comfort and price, offering everything from basic rooms to more luxurious options.

Additional Exploration Opportunities

With an overnight stay, you can plan a less rigorous, more meditative hike for the following day, perhaps visiting other scenic spots like Ulsanbawi Rock or Biryong Falls. Evening in Seoraksan also offers the unique experience of night-time walks and stargazing, conditions permitting.

This approach to visiting Seoraksan National Park allows you to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty and tranquil environment, making the most of your journey to one of South Korea’s most revered natural landscapes.

Day 3 & 4: Jirisan National Park’s Extensive Trails

Travel to Jirisan National Park (Day 3)

Jirisan National Park, sprawling across three provinces, is a centerpiece of South Korea’s natural heritage. Traveling here from major cities like Seoul can take approximately 3 to 4 hours by road. For a smooth journey, consider renting a car, which offers the flexibility to explore various parts of the park easily. Alternatively, direct buses to Jirisan from Seoul or other regional centers like Daegu and Gwangju are available but require advance booking due to their popularity.

Given the early start and lengthy travel, packing breakfast or planning a stop at a local eatery en route is advisable. Enjoying a traditional Korean breakfast can provide a hearty start to an active day.

First Hike – Nogodan Trail (Day 3)

Upon arrival, begin with the Nogodan Trail to gently acclimate to the park’s extensive and varied landscape. This trail is less strenuous but incredibly rewarding with its scenic vistas and accessible paths.

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Preparation: Pack light snacks and water for the trail, wear comfortable walking shoes, and carry a light jacket as temperatures can vary with elevation.

Trail Experience: This trail offers an excellent introduction to Jirisan’s diverse flora and fauna, winding through gentle slopes and well-maintained paths.

Afternoon & Evening Relaxation (Day 3)

After your hike, check into your pre-booked local accommodation. Options in and around Jirisan range from rustic hanok stays (traditional Korean houses) to modern guesthouses, providing a range of experiences that cater to different preferences.

Evening Activities (Day 3)

Spend your evening unwinding from the day’s activities. Many accommodations offer on-site amenities like hot springs or traditional tea houses. Alternatively, explore nearby villages to engage with local culture, sample regional cuisine, and perhaps catch a glimpse of rural life in South Korea.

korean butcher market stall

A Challenging Ascent on Cheonwangbong Peak Trail (Day 4)

Dedicate the entire next day to hiking the Cheonwangbong Peak Trail, which is among the most challenging and rewarding in Jirisan. This hike demands good physical fitness and preparation but offers unparalleled insights into the park’s cultural and natural significance.

Preparation: Start early to make the most of daylight hours and avoid afternoon weather changes. Pack a substantial lunch, plenty of water, and snacks to maintain energy levels throughout the day.

Trail Highlights: The trail takes you past several ancient temples, providing stops that are not only perfect for rest but also for reflection and appreciation of the area’s deep historical roots.

Duration and Difficulty: This hike can take between 7 to 9 hours, depending on pace and rest stops. It involves steep ascents and rugged terrain, which are strenuous but culminate in spectacular views from the peak.

Returning from Cheonwangbong, the evening can be spent reflecting on the journey, perhaps over a traditional Korean meal at your accommodation. This two-day segment at Jirisan allows for a profound connection with nature and an understanding of the spiritual and cultural fabric that defines Korean hiking culture. It’s a pivotal part of your week-long hiking adventure, offering both physical challenges and deep cultural immersion.

Day 4: Conquering Cheonwangbong Peak at Jirisan National Park

The Cheonwangbong Peak Trail

Set aside this entire day to explore one of the most challenging yet rewarding trails in Jirisan National Park—Cheonwangbong Peak. Known for its steep inclines and rugged paths, this trail demands good physical fitness and careful preparation.

Preparation: Equip yourself with sturdy hiking boots, ample water, high-energy foods, and layers of clothing to adjust for changing temperatures. Begin your hike early in the morning to ensure you have enough daylight to safely complete the journey.

Trail Features: The trail weaves through dense forest and passes by several ancient temples, offering both a scenic and spiritual hiking experience. These temples provide serene resting points where you can appreciate the cultural heritage embedded within the natural landscape.

Duration and Challenge: Typically, reaching the summit and returning can take anywhere from 7 to 9 hours. While it’s a strenuous hike, reaching the peak of Cheonwangbong provides exhilarating views and a profound sense of accomplishment.

Day 5: The Volcanic Landscapes of Hallasan National Park on Jeju Island

Morning Flight and Arrival

Travel: Catch an early morning flight from the nearest airport to Jeju Island. This quick flight takes you directly to the doorstep of South Korea’s highest mountain, Hallasan.

Arrival and Prep: Once on Jeju, travel straight to Hallasan National Park. Despite its imposing presence, Hallasan is accessible for various hiking levels, with trails leading up to its summit and around its base.

Afternoon Hike on Seongpanak Trail

Trail Choice: Opt for the Seongpanak Trail, which is longer but offers a gradual ascent to the summit, making it suitable for a steady day’s hike. The trail is well-maintained and showcases the unique volcanic landscape of Jeju, including diverse flora, rock formations, and the spectacular crater lake at the summit.

Experience: The climb is both physically rewarding and visually breathtaking, presenting a panorama of Jeju Island from the top.

Evening in Jeju City

Relaxation: After descending, spend your night in Jeju City. Here, you can indulge in fresh local seafood, explore vibrant night markets, and enjoy the leisurely pace of island life.

a feast spread of authentic traditional korean food

Day 6: Rugged Beauty of Saryangdo Island

Morning Ferry to Saryangdo

Travel to Tongyeong: Drive back to the mainland and head to Tongyeong, a coastal city from where you can take a ferry to Saryangdo Island.

Ferry Ride: The ferry ride itself is a scenic introduction to the maritime beauty of Korea, offering stunning coastal views.

Day Hike on Saryangdo Traverse

Trail Details: The Saryangdo Traverse is known for its rugged terrain and steep climbs, promising solitude and close encounters with raw nature. This trail is less frequented, providing a peaceful hiking experience.

Highlights: Enjoy unparalleled views of the sea and the surrounding cliffs, making every step worth the effort.

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Evening Stay on the Island

Overnight: Choose to stay overnight on the island to soak in the tranquility of its natural setting or return to Tongyeong for more conventional comforts.

Day 7: Serene Trails of Deogyusan National Park

Morning Travel to Deogyusan National Park

Start your day early to maximize your time at Deogyusan National Park, known for its dramatic landscapes and peaceful ambiance. The park is located in the southern part of South Korea, and getting there typically involves a drive of about 2 to 3 hours from major cities like Daegu or Daejeon. If you are traveling from Seoul, it could take around 3.5 to 4 hours by car. Public transportation options are also available, including buses from major terminals that will take you directly to the park entrance or nearby towns like Muju, from where local taxis or shuttles are accessible.

Preparation and Hiking the Muju Gucheondong Valley Trail

Upon arriving, prepare to hike the Muju Gucheondong Valley Trail. This trail is less strenuous than some of the other hikes earlier in the week, making it ideal for a reflective and relaxing day:

Start Time: It’s best to start the hike by 9:00 AM to enjoy the cool morning air and serene morning light filtering through the trees.

What to Pack: For this hike, carry light snacks like energy bars, fruit, and nuts, along with plenty of water. Since the trail is gentler, you won’t need as much food as on more strenuous hikes, but staying hydrated is crucial.

Hiking Gear: Wear comfortable hiking boots and layered clothing as mornings can be cool, warming up as the day progresses. The trail is well-maintained but can be slippery in damp conditions, so good footwear is essential.

Trail Features: The Muju Gucheondong Valley Trail is famed for its beautiful waterfalls and lush forests. It offers several scenic spots perfect for rest and photography, ensuring a pleasant walk that allows you to absorb the tranquil nature around you.

Duration of the Hike

The hike typically takes about 3 to 4 hours round trip, depending on your pace and how long you stop to enjoy the views and nature.

Reflective Evening and Return to Seoul

After completing the hike, begin your journey back to Seoul in the late afternoon. This drive can take approximately 3 to 4 hours, so it’s a good idea to leave by 3:00 PM or 4:00 PM. This timing will bring you back to Seoul by early evening, perfect for a farewell dinner.

Farewell Dinner in Seoul

End your incredible week experiencing the best hiking in South Korea with a celebratory dinner in Seoul. Choose a restaurant that showcases the best of Korean cuisine, offering dishes such as bulgogi, bibimbap, or something more adventurous like live octopus if you’re feeling bold. This is not just a meal but a celebration of all the memories and experiences you’ve gathered over your journey. Reflect on the trails, the landscapes, and the new insights into Korean culture you’ve gained, closing your trip on a high note.

posing as a tourist in Seoul

Conclusion

Over the course of seven days, our journey across South Korea’s diverse and stunning landscapes has offered more than just a physical challenge—it has been a gateway to understanding the country’s rich cultural fabric and deep connection with nature. From the panoramic views atop Bukhansan overlooking Seoul to the serene trails of Deogyusan National Park, each step has brought us closer to the heart of Korean wilderness and tradition.

This itinerary not only provided a detailed guide through some of South Korea’s most iconic national parks but also invited us to immerse ourselves in the local culture. The evenings spent exploring local cuisines and interacting with residents enriched our experience, adding layers of depth to our adventure. The trails we explored are etched with stories of the past, each curve and climb revealing insights into the spiritual and historical significance of the natural world in Korean life.

As we conclude this adventure, we are left with a profound appreciation for South Korea’s natural beauty and a deeper understanding of why hiking here transcends mere recreation—it is a vital element of the national psyche, a path to tranquility and personal reflection. Whether you are drawn to the rugged mountains for their challenging trails or to the peaceful temples for spiritual solace, South Korea offers a rich palette of experiences that cater to every explorer.

Embarking on this 7-day hiking journey through South Korea isn’t just about following trails—it’s about weaving through the fabric of an ancient land that is vibrant, alive, and waiting to be explored. Pack your gear, set your sights on the peaks, and prepare to discover the soul-stirring landscapes that make South Korea a top destination for hikers around the world.

FAQ

1. What is the best time of year to go hiking in South Korea?

The optimal months for hiking in South Korea are during the spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) when the weather is mild and the scenery is most vibrant. Summer is hot and humid, while winter offers snowy mountain trails suitable for those seeking winter hiking.

2. Do I need any permits to hike in South Korea’s national parks?

Most trails in South Korea’s national parks do not require hiking permits, but some areas may have restrictions or require a small fee. Check specific park regulations as some trails may be seasonally closed for ecological recovery.

3. What are some essential items to pack for hiking in South Korea?

For hiking in South Korea, pack sturdy boots, a waterproof jacket, layered clothing, a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Also include high-energy snacks and a map or GPS, as cell service can be spotty.

4. Are there any cultural considerations I should be aware of when hiking in South Korea?

Respect is crucial while hiking in South Korea; greet elders politely, dress modestly, especially at temples, and maintain low noise levels. Always carry out your litter to keep trails clean.

5. Can I find English-speaking guides or hiking groups in South Korea?

English-speaking guides and hiking groups are available, particularly in major tourist spots like Seoul, Busan, and Jeju. Tour companies often offer guided hikes with insights into local ecology and history, and platforms like Meetup.com feature groups for English speakers.

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Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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