Woraksan National Park
Woraksan is one of Korea’s most challenging and certainly more beautiful mountains. Towering 1,094 m (3,589 ft), its landscape is home to several temples, Buddhist shrines and historical relics. Hiking up its craggy cliff walls is no easy feat but the views that await one from the summit more than make up for it.
Given its isolated location, it’s one of the least visited national parks in Korea. This can be a good thing. For those looking to get away from the chaos and congestion of Seoul, this is about as remote as it gets.
Blessed with verdant gorges, waterfalls, pristine lakes, fresh mountain water streams and Korean White Pines, the views are simply stunning. The park is also home to an abundance of wildlife and rare plants. Local officials have gone to great lengths at preserving Woraksan’s ecological diversity; trails are marked with signs indicating hiking courses are regulated to prevent forest fires.
A good point of entry is the Deokjusa Temple entrance, located in the quaint city of Deokju. From here there are a number of trails – the longest being 4.9km – that lead all the way up to the summit. The temple is also just over a kilometer from the gate.
Running alongside the trail is a crystal clear water stream that trickles down from the mountain peaks – perfect for dipping the feet in and nursing some beer after a long hike (which is exactly what we did!).
Also just up from the entrance is a walled fortress that stretches ten kilometers around the entire mountain. Dating all the way back to the Goryeo Dynasty, the fortification was once used as a defensive perimeter against invading Mongols, and later as a barrier against the Japanese occupation in 1592. It is the first of several historical relics along the journey up the mountain representative of what life was like thousands of years on the peninsula.
A little further up, on the southern foot of Woraksan to the east of Deokjusa’s Hall of Sakyamuni, is an enormous Buddha stone carving (마애물). From there, the terrain is hugely challenging and unforgiving. Those looking to reach the summit should be prepared for a serious workout, and should set aside five to seven hours to make it up and down. In some parts, the stairs continue almost at a forty-five degree angle for what seems like an eternity.
Getting there: From Dongseol Bus Terminal (Gangbyeong Station, subway Line 2). Buses leave every two hours starting from 6:40am. Fare is 13,000 KRW for the three- hour journey.