We woke up at Seoraksan Morning inn in Sokcho looking forward to a 2 kilometer walk to Seoraksan National Park. The cute Korean couple who run the inn helped us find a local restaurant where Blaine, Katya, Masha, Varya, Nina and I ate some bibimbap before starting our stroll.
The road along our 30 minute hike was packed with cars and buses; we made a few friends with the waving children as their parents asked where we were from. Canada, America & Russia always got a laugh regardless of the order we mentioned our home countries. I guess Koreans don’t expect us all to mingle.
Leaves shrouded the roadway and as we hiked onward the mountain view we first noticed at our hotel crept closer. We passed a rocky riverbed and got our first real glimpse of the landscape. There were reds, oranges and yellows laced between the evergreens but an unfortunate number of bare trees too.
Another kilometer up the road we came to the entrance of Seoraksan Natoinal Park and an overwhelming number of Koreans. We stopped briefly for some gimbap to take as a picnic lunch before buying our park tickets for ₩2500. Just inside the gate Nina and I stopped at a ranger station to get trail maps and determine the best way to spend our short day here.
I was disappointed we couldn’t find a shorter route to the main peak, Daecheongbong (it was 6 hours each way) so I guess I’ll just have to come back again! The ranger mentioned a 2 hour hike to Ulsanbawi, a massive rock with a spectacular view, a 1 hour hike to the Biryeong & Towanseong Falls and the 30 minute cable car before a brief hike to Gwongeumseong, a “mountain fortress.”
We decided to buy late afternoon tickets for the cable car (₩9000) and got started on the Ulsanbawi hike right away. The main road in the park is filled with stores and a few hotels on either side. The leaves here were mostly intact and provided a red-orange glow to the scene; when the path suddenly opened into a cement clearing we discovered a massive Buddha and took a moment to bask in its greatness.
The trail was still well paved and crowded. We crossed over a bridge and back again before the cement was replaced with stone slabs and eventually we found ourselves on a dirt trail. Every kilometer or so we came across a little restaurant with dozens of Koreans enjoying their makeoli. We stopped for a few breaks on rock outcroppings but quickly returned to our trek.
As we wound through the path we were hit with sporadic bursts of color from the trees above. The ground was covered with brown leaves that crunched beneath my boots as a brook babbled beside us. A few more turns in the trail brought us to a temple with brightly colored lanterns hanging out front. There were dozens of Koreans paying their respects to the Buddha inside; we continued onward passing a yellow rock with Hangul hieroglyphs.
Our path quickly began to grow steeper as boulders were replaced with rock steps and eventually staircases. The incline continued to grow the higher we rose. Before long we found ourselves among the treetops listening to birds squawk as they soared past. The occasional Korean would mumble a phrase or two at us which I can only assume meant “good job” or “keep going!”
Our group split up; Katya and myself pushed forward with fewer breaks while Blaine patiently waited for Nina, Varya & Masha. As we took switchback after switchback up the staircases we came across an overlook with a gorgeous view of Ulsanbawi’s lower half and the valley below. Katya and I took a break for a brief photo op and were surprised to hear our friends calling us from above. They beat us to the summit where we signed the climber’s log and asked the rescue ranger to take a group photo.
The fierce wind at the top of Ulsanbawi forced the flag to flutter violently as we surveyed the season below. We had a spectacular view of Sokcho where we walked along the shoreline the night before and the colorful Autumn valleys of Seoraksan. We lingered long enough to snap off a few photos before heading back down to get out of the wind.
The hike down was quicker but tough on our knees. By the time we reached the bottom we had covered over 1600 meters of elevation change even though the path was only about 1 kilometer long! Halfway down we found a furry friend; he stuck around for a photo shoot after the girls tossed him a few nuts.When we were back on level ground we stepped off the path to enjoy our picnic lunch while resting our knees & basking in the sun.
We still had about an hour and a half before our cable car reservation; not quite enough time to make it to the falls and back so we opted to explore the temple on our way towards the main road. The gateway was guarded by 4 massive wooden warriors. Someone said that 2 were “good” and 2 were “evil,” we guessed those with the dragon’s were good since the dragon is a revered symbol usually reserved for royalty in Korean culture. The fall colors framed a beautiful scene of pastel rooftops beneath the main Buddha’s chamber. We walked around for a few more moments breathing in the fresh mountain air; a welcome change from the smell of Seoul.
It was a short walk back towards the entrance to get to the cable car. We crammed in; the only white people among a ton of Koreans when suddenly American music started playing and the glass enclosure burst into song as we flew above the trees.
Once at the top we found another great view of Sokcho. By now the sun was starting to set and oranges & yellows were creeping over the ocean horizon. The wind whipped through the trees giving even more chill to the air. We explored further and found a staircase leading up a solitary path. A few hundred meters down this path we found ourselves staring at a massive rock outcropping.
The gusts coming up the mountain made me shiver as I pulled my coat tighter around myself. Before us was a stunning view with an unthinkable drop into an abyss of rocks, trees and wind. Blaine and a few of the girls crept towards the edge for a photo op; I snapped away before we all agreed it was time to head back down.
The walk out of the park and to our hotel was uneventful. We grabbed a few bags we had left with the hotel owner and he called us 2 cabs. Before we knew it we were at the bus station; tickets were sold out until 2 hours later so we grabbed one last meal together before heading back to Seoul. We were back at the Express Bus Terminal in about 2 and a half hours; I know I’ll have to come back and see the spring bloom. Maybe next time I can hike Daecheongbong.
I fully recommend a trip out to Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park for anyone visiting Seoul!