Korean Natural Beauty: Guide to Trekking in Seoraksan National Park
GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- What is the perfect season in the Korean peninsula to hike and camp in Seoraksan National Park? I went up to the park with my family, then returned for a single day hike and thought a full Micro Adventure would be worth further investigation. The park is 398 km2 (154 sq mi), which is the largest of the mainland peninsula national parks in South Korea.
I decided to explore the park mid-winter, since the rainy coastal conditions at the end of January in Gangneung, Gangwon-do Province make cycling tough on components with salt and sandy roads. The mountainous area around Seoraksan National Park located west of Sokcho City is climatically equal to mid-winter conditions at inland locations across the Korean peninsula. The average daily temperatures hover around 5-10 degrees below 0 Celsius. Be prepared for the wind chill which can penetrate outer layers in these mountains on any given winter day. If it's sunny, you can remove layers since the hike is vigorous - almost entirely climbing higher into these picturesque mountain ranges.
I met a number of Koreans who were hiking to Daecheongbong Peak over several days. There were college students, spouses, retirees, and a few soloists like myself. From the park's main entrance the route follows the 2-Day Course until Daecheongbong Peak. In winter, the trail is buried with up to three feet of snow pack and can be difficult to cross over buried sections along mountain slopes. Given the conditions, I was surprised at all the different age groups actively crossing the park on the two and three day courses.
If you are active and fit, either route is optional.
There is public transportation from Sokcho City Express Bus terminal to parks main entrance to start the 2-Day Course which is the route I completed. There is also public transportation to the west of Seoraksan National Park to complete the 31km 3-Day Course, but the return-trip from entrance to Daechongbong Peak (대청봉) is quite challenging in mid-winter and advisable to stop at the surrounding shelters for a night, and return the same route back to the park's main entrance near the Sinheungsa Buddhist temple.
Best Times to Go
Visit the park on weekdays year-round, Monday-Friday you will avoid the crowds. Winter is the low-season and it is likely the best for uncrowded walks throughout all parts of the park. If you can't visit on a weekday, the park is still an ideal location for trekking throughout the 4-seasons. Being prepared for camping is a good idea for all seasons, considering the length of the trails to the highest peaks. Daechongbong Peak (대청봉) of Seoraksan reaches 1,708 metres (5,603 feet). I read in forums the 2-Day trek from the main park entrance at Sinheungsa temple complex to Daecheongbong Peak takes 8 hours in summer conditions climbing up and five hours on the way down.
How long does it take to reach the highest peak?
One avid hiker I met attempted the return-trip (2-Day Course) in 12 hours in mid-winter. However, he failed to reach the top in late January 2013, turning back two hours from the peak in attempt to return to the parks main entrance. Without carrying camping equipment, a soloist can put themselves at risk of injury or lack of shelter should something go wrong. Keep in mind that the trails are buried in snow and the trail is steep with long climbs on metal bridges and sets of staircases throughout the upper course to Daecheongbong Peak. Giving yourself two days in and one day out of the summer 2-Day Course is probably a good idea. The first shelter is damaged/permanently closed in winter and buried in snow, buildings were locked up. I slept under the metal bridge at this location after a late 13:30 starting time from the parks main entrance. It's best to start early entering the main entrance of Seoraksan National Park (6-8:00 a.m.) to have ample time to reach your desired destination in the upper mountains during winter months especially.
Places to sleep or public accommodations
Although there are shelters on this mountain in several locations, they tend to be crowded and noisy, albeit heated and comfortable using your own sleeping mattress/sleeping bag. They rent blankets for 1,000/won per night and these accommodations open at 6:30 p.m. for 7,000/won per night. Bottled water in 2L containers are 3,000/won. They have a cooking room with stainless steel counters, standing room only. The sleeping area can provide accommodations for up to 30 people. Reservations are recommended for summer season, or advisable to carry your own tent and wild camp for your own convenience. In winter, weather conditions can change suddenly and the trek from the park entrance to the upper mountain shelters can require 6-9 hours depending on your own speed. An avid hiker with a light pack and provisions can summit Daechongbong and return to the main entrance in 12 hours, approximately 24 kilometers return-trip.
Trail conditions, Maps and Entrance fee
The National Park information center usually informs visitors about current (winter) trail conditions located 300 meters after the ticket booth on your left. They provide basic photocopy maps of the parks main trail routes for free, upon your request. The entrance fee to the park is 2,500 Korean Won. Daecheonbong area Shelter (lower and upper) fee is 7,000 won/night, blanket rental 1,000 won/night, 2L water 3,000 won. Reservation only in summer, First come-First served in winter. Doors will open 6:30 p.m., arrive as early as possible. There is a 4,000 won/day parking fee for those driving to the national park. I would advise leaving your vehicle in Sokcho-si (City) nearby the Express Bus Terminal and buying a local coach bus directly to Seoraksan National Park. You can return to Sokcho the same way when you leave the park, and avoid paying additional parking fees.
Contacting the park for reservations or information
Seoraksan National Park Office
- Address : 43, Seorak-dong, Sokcho Si, Gangwon-Do
- Tel : +82-33-636-7700,7702~3
- Fax : +82-33-636-7494
- E-mail : email@example.com
- Website link for Seoraksan National Park (+ link to all other Korean National Parks)
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