National parks afford breathtaking panoramas
UIJEONGBU – Any given day and especially on weekends, you see them on the trains. Korean men and women either in pairs or small groups, dressed in hiking clothes, hats, small backpacks and collapsible walking sticks.
They spread out across the country and make their way to Korea’s national parks. Hitting the trails helps them stay fit. But it also affords breathtaking, panoramic views of landscape, and, far out and below, of cities that they more often see only at the up-close and crowded street level.
I recently made such a trip myself, leaving behind the concrete jungle for the forested ridges that border Uijeongbu on the southwest.
This is the northern edge of Bukhansan National Park, which stretches from Uijeongbu south to the Han River in western Seoul and covers almost 31 square miles.
Bukhansan gets around 5 million visitors each year, which earned it an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Visited National Park per Unit Area.”
Armed with an Uijeongbu tourist map from the Camp Red Cloud One Stop office, a bottle of water and a camera, I set off for Sapaesan Mountain, which lies within the park.
In less than a 15-minute walk from CRC’s front gate, I started to leave the city behind.
For many, the valley leading into the national park was all the respite they needed from the confines of the city and the heat. Children splashed in the stream as their parents perched on nearby rocks and kept a watchful eye on them. Families spread blankets for a picnic next to the streams or ate at one of many restaurants along the banks.
The climb from the valley floor to the ridgeline was an easy trek. In order to preserve Bukhansan, steps have been installed in places to ease the climb and to help stem erosion.
I shared the trail with many other hikers and learned a very useful word to know – “an-yong ha-say-yo” – “Hello” in Korean.
The hikers proved a friendly lot and most of them greeted me with an an-yong ha-say-yo and a smile.
Toward the end of my hike I came upon a few ladies seated on a blanket. They didn’t speak English but invited me to join them. They shared their water with me and their food, potatoes, peppers and duck. Food is on my checklist for my next jaunt into a national park – food and my camelback.
At the summit of Sapaesan, Uijeongbu sprawled more than 1,650 feet below me. A line of peaks to the south towered over where I stood.
Bukhansan National Park isn’t just home to mountains, but also to more than 1,300 species of flora and fauna. For more information on Bukhansan National Park and the rest of Korea’s parks go to http://english.knps.or.kr/.
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