You might not realize it at first, but Seoul is a dream city for hiking. The city is ringed by mountains, with smaller hills popping up in almost every neighborhood. Though I lived in Seoul for nearly a year and a half, I still didn’t make it to the top of every peak. But one peak that I did manage to hike more than a few times was Bukhansan, Seoul’s tallest mountain.
Bukhansan is a national park and a mountain with three main peaks. The park has many different access points and mountains worth climbing, but in this post we’re going to talk about how to hike to the top of Bukhansan Mountain. It’s a fairly tough 4km climb up, with several options for hiking back down.
How to Get to Bukhansan Mountain
Seoul has some of the best public transport in the world, so getting to Bukhansan mountain is incredibly easy. From anywhere in the city, just get on the subway line 3 and take it all the way to Gupabal station. Take exit 1 then find the nearest bus stop. You can take either bus 704 or bus 34 to the Bukhansan National Park stop.
If you’re confused, just follow the pack of older Koreans in brightly colored hiking gear. They know where to go.
Get of the bus at Bukhansan National Park and follow the crowds up the hill towards the Ranger station and information. From there, you have several choices of hiking trails that head up towards Baegundae Peak. Helpful signs point the way. I took the 4km trail, which follows a really nice river up the mountain.
Hiking Bukhansan Mountain
The trail begins slowly, following a rather beautiful river as it tumbles down large rocks from the pine covered peaks rising above you. After a short while, you’ll come to a road and a sort of open space. Keep walking around to the left to stay on the path for the Baegundae peak.
After about 1.5km of walking, you’ll come to another fork in the path with two options for heading up to Baegundae. I chose to take the shorter of the two routes, heading towards Wonhyobong Peak. Further up, the trail splits again, one heading to Wonhyobong, and another (our track) heading directly towards Baegundae.
You’ll pass a gate to a temple with Korean carvings all around, walk through the gate to visit the temple, otherwise continue up to the right. Not too long after that, you’ll come to the last fork and path for the peak.
Final Push up to Baegundae, Seoul’s Highest Point
The final half kilometer up to the peak of Bukhansan is classic Korean hiking at it’s finest. The trail, if you can call it that, cuts straight up the granite boulders. In some places, posts and metal rails are there to assist you in climbing. Cling onto these as you haul yourself bodily up the side of the mountain. Don’t forget to look up and be aware of descending hikers.
After some sweaty pulling and climbing, you’ll reach the top of the peak. You’ll know its the top because a) the trail stops and b) there is a Korean flag jutting proudly from the rock.
From the peak, you’ll get a great view of Insubong and Mangyeongdae, the two nearby, but slightly lower, peaks of Bukhansan. Mangyeongdae is covered in rocks and trees and the stairs leading up to it’s peak should be visible. Insubong is a smooth granite peak jutting up from the forest below. This peak is only reachable via rock climbing. On most pleasant days, you should see a few intrepid climbers scaling her steep sides.
Baegundae Peak has plenty of smooth, flat spaces to stretch out for some well earned rest. Not a bad idea to bring up some food and have a picnic alongside the Koreans. Just be careful how much Makkeolli you drink. You still have to get back off the mountain.
Hiking Back Down Bukhansan to Seoul
For the hike back down, you have essentially three options: go back the way you came (boring but quick), continue on the path to Mangyeongdae and then back to your starting point, or go down the other side of the mountain to the Baegundae Information Center.
I chose to go down to the Baegundae Information Center, as the sign said it was only 1.6km away and I was out of water. It was a mistake and I don’t recommend taking this trail down unless you’ve got plenty of time on your hands and love exploring every last nook and cranny of Seoul.
The trail heads down steeply from the peak until you reach the Baek-Woon Mountain Hut. This is a sort of traditional Korean house that has been built and re-built over the years. Today, it serves as a shelter and a small shop where you can buy water, drinks, some candy bars, and perhaps some soup or kimchi. It also marks the starting point for the ascent of Insubong (I think).
From there, the trail continues downhill more gradually. Stone stairs feature prominently. After a short time, you’ll come to the Baegundae Information Center, characterized by a large parking lot and coffee shop.
But lest you think you’re back into the city, you are not. No, from there it is a further 2km walk down a paved road with wooden sidewalk until you reach a bus stop. In my opinion, there are far more scenic ways to get off of Bukhansan park. I really don’t recommend taking the Baegundae Information Center route.
If you do end up down here, just follow the road off the mountain until you come to town, then continue until you reach a main road. When I was there in September 2017, they looked to be building a new subway line, but it was not yet operational. When it does become operational, the stop will be called Ui Bukhansan.
For now, I hopped onto the 120 bus and took it to Suyu station and back into central Seoul.
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