Songnisan National Park, Korea: A great place to explore in the middle of the country
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- When talking with family and friends about your time in Korea what do you tell them? Many of my favorite stories and memories are when I experience Korea's vast, natural landscape and wilderness.
A couple friends of mine and I took advantage of a day off together and jumped into a car with the GPS set for Songnisan National Park. We heard great stories from locals about the park and wanted to see it for ourselves. The beautiful countryside made the two hour drive an enjoyable ride. One suggestion is to have your car looked at prior to beginning a trip of this distance. I say this, because one hour into the drive our car began to have serious transmission issues. The transmission was having trouble shifting into the highest gear. Without the highest gear the engine was staying steadily above 3,000 RPMs. We took it easy driving there and even easier on the transmission driving home. Thankfully, we made it home without any significant automotive issues. We know many of the cars military members purchase in Korea have been passed down from one PCS'ing member to another aren't always in tip top shape, so be careful when traveling longer distances and always have a plan B.
Walking from the parking lot towards the park entrance, you will notice multiple restaurants lining the road. If you plan to eat, I suggest stopping at one of these for dinner after the hike rather than eating on the mountain. There are a few restaurants along the way, which sell food and drinks, however, keep in mind the higher elevation you are the higher the menu prices are.
It's a good idea to pick up a map of the park as you enter the national park and begin your hiking adventure. The park entrance officially begins at the large sign/map with the trails, distances in kilometers and the estimated time each path should take to travel.
The must see site of Songnisan National Park is Monjangdae Rock. The ginormous rock is located at 3,458 ft (1054 m) in elevation. There is infrastructure in place that allows you to climb to the very tip of Monjangdae Rock. There is an astounding view at the summit, which is the top of the rock. Anyone can take impressive photographs of the sharp granite peaks surrounding you. From the park entrance to the top is a 6.6 km hike. On average it takes about four hours from start to finish.
If you have a smart phone bring it with you on the hike, not only for selfies or to call for help, but there are posts around the national Park with QR code icons. Scanning one of the QR codes with your smart phone will give you significant information about the location you're at.
The beginning of this hike is a lot of fun for a beginner who is more comfortable on paved paths, but once you escape the city aromas and become surrounded by nature and smell the fresh air from the trees. You will leave feeling renewed from the time spent surrounded by pretty wilderness scenes and winding streams. Along the way you will see a hiking support center, watering holes with community cups and waterfalls. Some Koreans say there is a fine if you touch the water from the stream. However, you may see as I did multiple older Korean women walking in the stream to cool off from the heat.
Soon enough, the hike becomes is an excellent choice for someone who prefers a moderate challenge. Approximately 4 km into the hike, the terrain changes significantly. From here on out the path is mostly comprised of steps made of rock. These high step rock stairs is the most challenging thing you will encounter.
If you have more time, the Beopjusa Temple is another famous site in Songnisan National Park. My friends and I didn't have time to see Beopjusa Temple, so I cannot give you a personal account of it.
How do you want to remember your time in Korea? When I reflect upon the one-year timeframe in Korea, I will have more stories than I can count about the positive experiences that I made happen while in Korea. My time hiking in Songnisan National Park was one of my favorites. Where does your Korea story start and where does it end?
Location: Songnisan National Park is situated in the middle of the Sobaeksanmaek Mountains
Directions: Traveling by car and a GPS is the most common mode of transportation. However, you can take the Dong Seoul (West Seoul) bus from the Songtan bus terminal. After you arrive at the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, then take an intercity bus to Songnisan Mt. (속리산). The intercity bus schedule is 07:30-18:30 and it runs 12 times a day.
Cost: Park entrance is free, however, parking is 4,000 won (peak season: 5,000 won)
Beopjusa Temple entrance is 4,000 won for adults or a group price of 3,700 won per person.
Time: Day-trip due to the travel time to and from the park
Documentation required: No ID required
Who it's for: Nature seekers, hikers, walkers, and photographers
When it's open: Year round, weather dependent for certain paths or areas in the park: Seasonal Forest Fire Caution Period: January 29 - June 8, 2014
Walking Trails Closure: March 1 - April 30, 2014
Activity required: Little to Moderate. The walk begins on a wide paved path for approximately two kilometers.
What to travel with: Quality walking or hiking shoes with ankle support, compass, water (available for purchase throughout hike), snacks to eat and to share because it is tradition in Korean culture to share with the people you meet in the wilderness or mountains.
Korean words to know: mountain = san = 삭, Cheers = geonbae = 건베
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